You can’t please everyone — Entrepreneurs could greatly benefit if they create products and brands that provide great experiences to a specific group of people rather than trying to please everyone and ending up with mediocre products. By trying to please everyone, there is a tendency to fall into the trap of “feature creep” and that doesn’t usually go too well.
As a part of our series called “How To Go From Idea To Store Shelf”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tarun Kalia.
Tarun is a product designer, mechanical engineer and co-founder of Outdesign Co (https://www.outdesign.co/), a product design company based in India with clients across 15+ countries. Tarun has been awarded by NASA’s Center of Excellence and Collaborative Innovation twice and has worked on several “World-Firsts” and award winning products that have garnered a lot of media attention. Through Outdesign, he helps startups, inventors & SMEs around the world create easy to manufacture products that stand out.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Thank you for interviewing me. As a child, I was always curious about how things were made. While most children enjoyed playing with toys, I had more fun taking them apart to see how they worked and hoard the motors, gears etc. to use later in my own projects. I probably still have a bucket or two (or three) of those parts stored somewhere in the house.
This curiosity and passion led me to studying mechanical engineering at university where I got to learn more about what actually goes into making something work. After graduating, I discovered the field of industrial design which I found even more interesting and decided to study it further on my own. Soon after, with my company Outdesign, I found a way to take my passion for product design & engineering forward and also help others along the way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The harder I work, the luckier I get” by Samuel Goldwyn is something I find to be very true. Either you can sit and wait for things to happen to you or you can take action and make things happen for yourself. I am glad that this realization came to me sooner rather than later and I did not fall into the trap of relying on luck.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I find biographies interesting. Elon Musk’s story is one of my favorites and it’s amazing to see how much he has been able to accomplish. Starting with a web software company and now at the forefront of innovation, tackling some of the most complex challenges. His ability to fearlessly challenge the status quo and bring disruption is what impresses me the most.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How can a potential inventor overcome this challenge?
Starting a business is not easy, especially launching your own product in the market. It requires the ability to quickly learn new things, wear different hats and ofcourse quite a lot of financial investment. No wonder people struggle to turn their idea into an actual business.
Potential inventors can overcome this by doing thorough research about each aspect of the overall business (not just the idea) learning from other’s mistakes and also by having a practical approach towards failure. By being better informed they can increase their odds of success and reduce some of the uncertainty.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
Many people who get in touch with us to develop a prototype of their idea, have this belief that you need to come up with a radically different idea in order to create a successful business. But the truth is, that simple, meaningful innovations to existing products that make people’s lives easier can be just as successful.
One can search online on whether the product they envision is already being sold, or if similar patents have been filed. Google Patents or USPTO website can help with deeper patent search.
People dismiss their idea thinking that someone else must have thought of it already, but they need to understand that a good idea is just one small part of the equation. A viable business requires a lot more than just an idea.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps that one should go through, from when one thinks of the idea, until it finally lands on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
Getting a product to market is a complex and lengthy process, so I’ll try to give a brief overview of the steps involved :-
Research includes finding out whether similar products exist on the market, is there a big enough market for your product, is it technically feasible, can you make a viable business from your idea and more. Inventors should take their time to research thoroughly about all aspects of their idea, all the way from development to planning the route to get to market.
Before going ahead with learning how to file a patent, inventors should question whether its even worth filing a patent for them. I have seen many inventors who are quick to spend thousands of dollars on a patent, only to find out later that there is not a big enough market for their product. The limited funds during the early stages are better utilized for prototype development.
A provisional patent is a relatively low cost way to secure your idea and it gives you enough time to decide whether an idea is worth pursuing further or not.
To file a patent, inventors should ideally use the services of an attorney who has a background in the relevant technical discipline.
There are various types of prototypes that are needed at different stages of product development. For inventors who have just started out with an idea, they need to develop something known as a POC (Proof of Concept) prototype that proves the basic functionality of their idea. It can be as simple as a few pieces of cardboard joined together for simple ideas or by using 3D printing or Arduino for slightly more sophisticated ideas or electronic products.
As they progress further, there are other types of prototypes, for example, “looks-like” prototype, “works-like” prototype, pre-production prototype and others. It would make this interview too long if I describe all of them here so inventors can read more about prototyping on our blog or website if they wish.
Prototypes for crowdfunding or presenting to investors need to be more refined in how they look and function. These usually require professional design services which cost money. For inventors, who want to get started at a relatively low budget, we also offer something known as “virtual prototyping” that can be used for investor buy-in.
Once an idea works as envisioned, inventors then need to secure funding in order to scale up. Here I will share more about those inventors who want to launch their products on their own instead of licensing to a bigger company. Crowdfunding is a popular way to raise funding but more so to prove the market demand for your product. Funds from crowdfunding alone are usually not sufficient to cover all the costs, but it gives private investors more confidence in your idea and helps you secure outside funding.
Going from prototype to manufacturing is severely underestimated by most inventors and startups, as can be seen from so many crowdfunding campaigns which raise several times their funding goal yet fail to deliver. It’s a common misconception that once you have developed 3D CAD files for prototyping, all you have to do is send them to a manufacturer. There is a difference in making 1 of something vs 10,000 of something. Sometimes this means completely re-designing the prototype from scratch to make it ready for mass production processes like injection molding. Apart from “Design for Manufacturing” (DFM) there is a lot of work to be done after the prototyping stage like testing and validation, sourcing manufacturers, tooling and molds, designing the packaging, setting quality standards, getting regulatory approvals, certifications and much more that take several months and thousands of dollars to accomplish.
There are several channels to get your product into the hands of your customers, inventors could start a direct-to-consumer brand with their own website but that will need a robust marketing team, or they can use ecommerce platforms like Amazon or Ebay to reduce some of the marketing burden but at a price, another way is to find traditional brick and mortar retailers. Depending on your product and target audience, you may find some channels to be more suitable than others.
Trade shows are a great way to get your product infront of the key people from major retailers like Walmart and securing just one such retailer can take your business to new heights. A successful crowdfunding campaign goes a long way in establishing your credibility in front of retailers.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
The very first step is to research as much as possible, on whether a similar product or patent exists, is there a market for your product, how will you create a sustainable business out of it, is your idea technically feasible and so on. Once you have developed a sound understanding of where you want to go, proceed to the next steps of prototyping, refining, gathering feedback, patents and the rest.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
There are a lot of factors in choosing between bootstrap vs venture capital and there are pros and cons of each. Among other things, with bootstrapping you have all the control (and risk) but the downside is that the growth is slow. With venture capital, you can scale up quickly at the cost of giving up equity and control.
Usually though, the initial stages to get to a prototype are bootstrapped by inventors. Later on, once the idea is proven to be feasible, VC is required to scale up the manufacturing and grow the company fast. However, successfully bootstrapped billion dollar companies are not unheard of.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. You won’t be doing the “fun work” most of the time
One of the reasons why I started Outdesign, was to be able to work on the design and engineering of interesting products. Little did I know, that most of the time I’ll be doing other things that are required to run a business.
2. Learn about running a business
I come from an engineering background and I had no idea what it takes to run a business. If at least I had known the basics at the time of starting, I would have had a little more sense of what I needed to do as far as running a business was concerned.
3. Document processes and results
It’s easy to delegate complex tasks to others when you have clearly documented processes. It is also important to document successes and failures to reflect on them later and learn from them.
4. Embrace the uncertainty
Uncertainty is a part of business and needs to be embraced. There are both ups and downs in a business and one should not let either of those affect them.
5. You can’t please everyone
Entrepreneurs could greatly benefit if they create products and brands that provide great experiences to a specific group of people rather than trying to please everyone and ending up with mediocre products. By trying to please everyone, there is a tendency to fall into the trap of “feature creep” and that doesn’t usually go too well.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As a product design company, we have a great role and power in shaping up the products that we develop for our clients. I consider it important to educate clients about sustainability in the use of materials, processes and better design solutions whenever possible.
One such sustainable process we adopt at Outdesign is the use of “virtual prototyping” With virtual prototyping and advanced simulation tools, we are able to cut down the number of prototype iterations, test product variations without making physical prototypes and optimize products for the best performance and cost. Since the overall wastage in creating physical prototypes is reduced, this leads to a more sustainable, low wastage product development process and better designed products.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think creativity and innovation is what drives growth and will help in solving a lot of the world’s problems. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to reward creativity among students and introduce them to entrepreneurship at a young age. It’s the innovative entrepreneurs and inventors who have the power to change the world for the better. But at the same time, I think it is also important to focus on ethics when talking about entrepreneurship.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Among the biggest names, If I could only choose one, then I think that would be Elon Musk. But I would also love to talk to the lone inventor or entrepreneur working passionately on great ideas and not giving up.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.