While commercializing a new product can be one of the most fulfilling and exciting journeys entrepreneurs embark upon, it's almost always an arduous process. From narrowing down production partners, project managers, and marketing affiliates to deciding your product's launch cadence and more, the path to commercialization is littered with obstacles and even potential landmines.
While there will be no shortage of opinions on how you should launch your first product (your investors, friends and family will all have their own theories), here are some of the most commonly overlooked elements that entrepreneurs should consider when nearing the commercialization phase.
Go local for your pilot run
Instead of spending millions on workshop tooling overseas, consider hiring local industrial design and manufacturing firms first. The industrial design phase is very fluid. You need to be hands-on, attentive, and ready to drop everything you’re doing for a conference call or meeting (in person meetings are best, but only possible at the drop of the hat when you’ve hired a local firm). Not only will going local significantly cut down on initial production costs, but you'll have a much easier time performing QA in your own backyard. You'll be making the most improvements to your product in the early days (a.k.a. the industrial design phase), and local firms will enable you to do so quickly and efficiently.
N.B. Prototypes from your pilot run can be an invaluable asset for meetings with potential investors. Humans (investors included) are much more receptive to new ideas when presented with something tactile.
Ensure management is aligned on the final product
You'd be surprised at how often management members get confused about the direction of a product after months of revisions. The solution? A formal product requirement document, or PRD for short.
While PRD's are a natural step in the commercialization process, many companies avoid drafting them for far too long. At a certain point, you may just have to lock everyone in a room until they emerge with a finished document. However, be warned: this meeting can go from banal to volatile, depending on the complexity of the product. Hard lines will have to be drawn on things such as product features and capabilities. For some reason, determining final features is an emotional stage of product development for many people. It’s when you tell Billy that the product will not come in a “chartreuse” color palette.
Nevertheless, having your team aligned on what the final product will actually look like (and how it will function) is worth every bit of momentary tedium and conflict.
Conduct market research, but move beyond it
No amount of market research can fully prepare you for your product's launch; in my experience, entrepreneurs typically overspend their time and resources in this department. At a certain point, you simply have to use the knowledge available to you and execute on your plans to the best of your ability. Focus groups are only so effective. If market research appears to support the commercial viability of your product, move on to more pressing matters—otherwise, you may find yourself trapped in a never-ending cycle of expensive market research and product naming exercises.
Marketing is not an afterthought, it should be your every thought
Assuming your product is quality, its success will lie, in large part, on the strength of how it is marketed. Translation: go top-shelf and plan to have a new marketing campaign kick off every month, at a minimum. This means your marketing begins when you are 6-9 months out from product launch. You don’t start marketing after the product is complete—you initiate marketing long before the product is built.
As your team is engineering the product, you should be building anticipation for it. Your marketing budget will likely be 3-5X what you spend on product development.
Commercialization Is An Emotional Marathon
The commercialization process is more than just a test of a company's organizational and logistical capabilities. It's an emotional test for its management team and employees, leading them to ask challenging questions like: "Will people hate our product?" and perhaps most critically, “Does what we're making make a difference?” After all, few products succeed; even fewer are able weather the storm of the cultural zeitgeist.