Built in the Garage
Inventors often start where it matters, in their homes. They tinker countless hours between 7pm and 2am; just to wake up and do it again, until they are ready to launch. Sounds easy, right? The next steps is where most inventors or founders fail - they missed the mark - they didn't test, research ... and they built it in the garage. This is about the why the garage is a great start but just that, a start.
Inventors prepare to take the next step and the paths are laid out in front of them, each have pros and cons but all but one will dead end some where. So you found a problem and solved - tested with family and friends and the samples were also built by you in the Garage. You now have to decide from the following:
• Launch building your self and managing your inventory
• Finding and one trade shop to produce
• Hiring a Firm of experts
• Patent and find funding
Launch building your self and managing your inventory
The lowest barrier typically you hear from start-ups and inventors is the early production, we will just produce in house. Turn our garage into a production line and my wife/ husband will help manage the shipments and orders. This sounds nice...a nice hobby. If you are serious about launching a product focused business, you have to see the major cost of this route. You are assembling or producing each unit, most do not take into account the labor cost or units of production per hour to establish any amount or profitability. Moreover, the quality is hindered due to the simple fact you can only hold your self accountable. If the product suffers - you cannot fire yourself.
• Low start up cost
• Speed to customer could be quick, initially
• Low quality
• Inefficient Labor efforts
• Low Profit; low asset
• Not appealing to investors
Finding a one trade shop
You think you outsmarted the market and say you only need to go to a plastic fabrication shop to build you your widget. I get it, you need to stretch dollars and can not afford a firm to focus on the product and market fit. Typically, this is a HUGE mistake. When a fabricator looks at a problem or a design, they will find solutions within their capabilities. Your market may require a stainless steel finish and luxurious feel with a fabric handle, however a "one trade shop" will provide you a plastic case with a sheet fabricated handle. This means you will fail and be in debt to the fabricator or a your savings are gone.
• Lower cost than a hiring a firm
• A skilled labor force is producing
• Accountability for quality.
• Limited in solutions
• Market fit and demographic is not considered
• Not expert in design or engineering
• Focused of function not business sustainability
Hiring a Firm
You have some capital - need to be cautious but if the design is off, not engineering for price point, and the end consumer not considered, you know your destined to fail. The down side of firms, they are like lawyers, their time is their value. They are skilled experts in their fields. They have a work load and your fall into their queue. The time to market slows down and their process is in depth. For example, originally you wanted use general steel for your product, a firm will ask what grade. With a puzzled look you shrug your shoulders. An engineer will hear what you want it to and realize you actually need a 6061 T6 Aluminum. Now you will get to the right solution but it will take a little longer - after all this is not your garage.
• Expert in Design and Engineering
• Networked with industry experts
• Accountability for quality
• Market and consumer focused not just function
• Favorable to investors and partners
• Price point conscious
• Higher cost
• Slower process
• Process follows a repetition of implement and test
Patent and Funding
You have a great idea but need capital - need to pitch to angel investors. The best idea since sliced bread, and your the not the only one that can do it, so you need a patent. You call a patent attorney and file. If this your thought, just save your money and stop. Filing a patent first leaves you limited to future design and engineering changes. I know, you will say the IP is what investors want - and you're right but you have assumed may things including the market exists, the product can be produced at a low enough cost to sustain a business, that investors want THIS IP (some IP can be useless such as design patent for a coffee mug), and YOU are the one that should found and run this business - yes, I am saying you may be the wrong person to run a company. You will spend money and file a patent that constrains you rather than protect you.
• IP protection
• Cost for assumed valuable IP
• Design and Engineering Constraints
• Even slower speed to market
• May still require Engineering Support
• Not market or business sustainability focused
All in all, you have an idea and the hand your dealt. The wise thing to do is get out of the garage, sign and NDA, and speak to a firm - one that does not charge for a consultation. Ask the right questions about the overall picture, explore the idea with their team. at the end you should have a rough idea to what needs to happen next. If the IP is valuable - they should be honest and advise a trusted attorney, if they believe the materials should be a specific type to fit a market - they should be able to give you an idea of cost for tooling or production. The reality is out of all these options - the safest is to speak to an expert - they will help you, at least I know we would.