In the Pizza with Experts posts, I’ll be sharing with you advice gleaned from guests to my classes. The title comes from the fact that when I have guest speakers in my class, we celebrate the occasion by having pizza. The students love it. We get great turnouts for the events, and I think the pizza helps activate the brains of everyone involved. Plus, I have a masters degree in economics, so I understand the concept of incentives—and pizza works with students!
Earlier this semester, our guest was Divakar Dev Singh. Divakar is a student in the Ball State Miller College of Business MBA program. He has an impressive background. Divakar has an engineering degree and is currently serving an internship in commercial lending at Merchants Bank in Muncie. He brought us great insights about the middle ground between business and engineering. My friends in the corporate world tell me the most impressive businesspeople are those that can integrate ideas from different disciplines to move projects forward. That’s the type of training I try to give my students. If they start their own businesses, they’ll have to bring together people with different expertise to make it work. And if they go on to a corporate job, I hope they get interesting opportunities to work on cool, innovative projects.
Divakar’s talk was focused on how an aspiring entrepreneur could turn their idea into a real product. If you’re a person with a business background, you might not know how to integrate the technology issues with the consumer idea you have. Here’s some of the key points Divakar shared with students regarding how to develop a product from an engineer’s perspective:
STEP 1: ENVISION YOURSELF USING THE PRODUCT
In the early stages of concept design, you don’t want to get too technical yet.
Come up with ideas through the eyes of the customer. You’re essentially asking yourself, “What is needed?”
STEP 2: LOOK AT WHAT’S ALREADY OUT THERE
Once you know what the customer needs, now you ask yourself, “What is possible?”
So, is your idea possible? Well, you might want to answer these questions to find out:
Do I have the capability to do this?
Do other people have the capability to help me do this?
Is there intellectual property on the market I have to be aware of?
What are the technological needs of the product?
Will I have to invent technology for the product or use someone else’s?
If I need to use someone else’s, can I get access to it?
Will I have to license or buy it from another company?
Can I partner with a company somehow with a win/win arrangement?
Is the supply chain accessible?
Do I have the knowledge to pull this off?
Can I hire people or bring them on my management team to make this happen?
Can I contract with someone to help bring me the knowledge requirements I need to this product?
These are just a few of the questions I might ask myself as I assess my capability to bring the product to market.
You can get answers to these questions, but it’s going to take a lot of hustle talking to people from many different disciplines and industries. It can be done. You see, rarely do you need to invent a product from scratch. There are people out there who you can bring on board your company, contract with, or partner with.
And as you do this, you need to focus on how you can be different and better than your competition.
Remember, companies are always making design decisions as to what their product can do, how it can look, how long it will last, and how much it will cost. There are a lot of possibilities for what a product can be, so chances are that current companies have missed things some customers might want.
Here’s an example of how you might work through this:
One of my student teams is working on an audio product for cars. I won’t give the details of the product, so that I can protect their idea. Divakar told them to seek answers to these questions:
“What audio equipment is already out there?”
“What cars are using this equipment?”
“What are the features of these cars? What’s their size? What type of cars?”
“Can all cars use your audio equipment? Or will only certain types of cars have it?”
“What’s the age group of the customers who usually buy this equipment?”
“Is this product ‘after market’ or does it come with the purchase of the car?”
“Is it a Do It Yourself (DIY) product or does a professional have to install it?”
“Is it sold directly to the consumer (B2C) or is it a Business to Business (B2B) product?”
STEP 3: TEST YOUR PRODUCTS OVER AND OVER UNTILY THEY’RE READY FOR MARKET
Okay, so let’s say you’ve gotten answers to a lot of those qeustions, and you’re moving forward with the product. Is everything going to be great now? Probably not, but that’s alright. The product may not be perfect, but it will probably be refined once it’s on the market. However, you do want to make sure that any glaring problems are addressed before launching. This is where engineers come in.
If possible, to avoid making any catastrophic mistakes, you most likely will need to bring on board, contract, or seek the advice of the following experts:
- SOMEONE WITH EXPERTISE IN TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS. Engineers really appreciate looking at diagrams and descriptions that capture what the product is. It’s one of the key tools that helps them think through your product.
- A MARKETING SPECIALIST who knows how to bring the product to market.
- FINANCIAL EXPERTS that understand the reality of bringing a product and company like yours into existence.
- A PROJECT MANAGER who can work with the different groups and move the project forward.
- A HUMAN FACTORS EXPERT for tweaking the technical specifications to address how a person actually uses the product.
So, how do you find these subject matter experts? Well, it’s not easy, and it’s this step that often separates the serious entrepreneur from the person with just a good idea. You’ll have to put some miles on your shoes, car, and frequent flyer membership. You have to go where these types of experts meet. That would be places like clubs, trade shows, and hangouts like cafes and coffee shops. You want to seek out different people with different backgrounds and inputs.
Now if you’re willing to do this, you’ll be surprised how much people will help you. Go getters are impressed by other go getters. Just go up to them and start talking to them. People love to share their ideas and advice. Tell them what you need help with. A good way to say this is, “I need help with X. Do you know anyone who can help me with this?” And then follow the trail. You’ll be amazed at how things come together when you do this.
For more help, here are some resources Divakar shared with my students for doing these steps:
- MS Visio–For flowcharts and basic PM processing.
- Arduino Chipset—Arduino can integrate with various platforms and can be expanded as needed. It’s limited only by your creativity.
- Raspberry Pie—It’s a mini computer that’s pocket friendly as well.
- WBS–Work Breakdown Structure
- Kickstarter—This is probably a familiar site with most Millennials. It’s a good place to get ideas and see patterns on how to go about a start up project.
- US Patents You can search for patents here.
- Google Scholar Search You can search for research about technology and R and D here.
- Another cool thing, and this is out of India is the FDI philosophy–First Develop India. Make In India
- A good source of extensive technews is IEEE
Divakar’s final tips for the class were about commercial banking. The bottom line was if you want to get a bank loan you have to show the ability to pay it back or to offer something as collateral if you don’t. Banks don’t like risk, so you need to demonstrate you’ve mitigated it. Positive cash flow and assets are a good way of showing this.
Thank you, Divakar, for these insights. I’m sure your tips are going to help my readers get their gears turning on their next big idea.