So you’ve got an idea for a tech product and now you’re ready to put those wheels into motion and transition your idea from concept to reality. You’re already on a great path. Many entrepreneurs, tinkerers, makers, and designers come up with solid ideas, but don’t have strong enough execution to see it all the way through.
And there’s a reason for this: building your first prototype can be an intimidating and arduous process. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With the right steps, you’re well on your way to creating your first product and building a business around it. Here’s what you need to know.
1] Commit It to Paper
This might seem like an arbitrary tip, but it’s highly effective. Many first-timers take their ideas straight to the digital drawing board. And while a computer rendering of a product is a must, starting by hand and paper can prove to be much more effective than you might think.
This way, you’re able to create a visual roadmap, detailing where various parts and features will go, and what its design will look like.
Additionally, you might have several variations of your design running through your mind. When you sketch by hand, you’re able to filter through those different conceptualizations until you reach a final sketch you’re fairly certain about.
And lastly, you can use these initial sketches when you file for a patent, and can also use it in court if you ever find yourself in an intellectual property dispute.
2] Create a Virtual Sketch
By now, you’ve sifted through a multitude of product versions by hand, and it’s time to design a virtual version using product design software. These 3D illustrations will help get you as close to the physical product as possible, and will be the ultimate steering wheel for you as you proceed to bring it to life.
You can even go the extra mile with 3D printing to create a highly detailed illustrative version. If you aren’t proficient with this type of software (like AutoCAD) and/or don’t want to pay a hefty price tag, you can hire a product engineer or product designer to do the work for you. You can find great freelancers on sites like UpWork, or you can advertise at local tech schools and universities.
3] Source the Right Products & Build
Sourcing the right products for your prototype is important. For starters, you can use a comprehensive electronic components search engine like Octopart to curate the parts you’ll need. Using a database allows you to compare different products and prices-all in one space.
If you wanted to work with parts sourced from only US-based manufacturers, that would be possible, too. The pieces you choose will depend on your budget and technology, however, during your early stages, you might want to consider staying on the lower end of the spectrum.
Although you want your prototype to be effective, you’ll still need to work out the kinks and design flaws before you transition into the final product. Then, you can get to work building.
And just as with your digital design, if you’re an idea mastermind without the technical prowess, you can always hire someone to do this part of the work for you. In this case, always ensure your patents are filed and your NDAs are solid.
4] Choose Your Manufacturer
Now that you’ve sourced all your parts and built a working product, it’s time to start looking for manufacturers that can replicate that. Choosing a manufacturer can easily become one of the most frustrating aspects of making a prototype come to life. There are multiple different types of manufacturers, and you’ll have to do extensive research to determine which is best for you.
For starters, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is whether you want to keep your production stateside or go overseas. There are pros and cons to both.
Of course, producing your prototype overseas allows you to save more money, which might be a priority for you when you’re just getting your feet off the ground. On the other hand, working with a local manufacturer makes it easier to visit them in person and build trust.
You’ll also need to consider the amount of product you’ll want. Because you’re creating the first prototype, chances are you don’t want to go straight from prototype to thousands of units. To err on the side of caution, your first batch shouldn’t be in the thousands, or perhaps even in the hundreds.
You want your initial batch to cover just enough to either sell to your first group of customers (which may be family and friends), to show at a trade show or conference, or demonstrate to various investors.