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Taking a product from concept to reality is an overwhelming process. There are countless doubts that creep into the mind of any creator that can cause enough fear to halt the entire production before it even begins. How will this product look? What material will I use? How will I even get in contact with a factory to make this happen?
These were the exact thoughts we had when we first conceptualized the Burger Lift. All we knew was that we wanted a device that would elevate a burger off the plate so the bottom bun did not get soggy sitting in all the burger’s juices. We had no idea how to go about designing this product, how to build a prototype, or find a factory to mass produce the Burger Lift. Piece-by-piece we figured it out, but we learned some hard lessons along the way and thought we might use this posting as an opportunity to share our experiences. Below are the six main steps that we uncovered that helped us take our product from start to finish.
Step 1. Brainstorming
We started with a simple idea. The Burger Lift needed to be a platform with holes or slits that would allow the juices and sauces to fall through and give the the burger buns a place to rest above the mess. But again, we had no idea what it was going to look like, what it was going to be made of, or how it was going to be created.
At first, we would have long, drawn-out discussions but those verbal interactions led to ideas not being articulated completely or entire miscommunications. The real progress began when we stopped talking and started putting visuals to our ideas. This included finding images of other products with elements that we liked and creating unique ideas of additional thoughts and concepts for our own design. These sketches did not need to be masterful works of art, but they just needed to be visual representations of what was in our brain. A 10-second sketch could do more to communicate a specific idea than an hour long conversation.
So we discovered that the brainstorming process was most effective once we learned to shut our mouths and start creating imagery to share ideas.
Step 2. Prototyping
Prototyping was an incredibly intimidating word to us. How do we take these sketches and construct them in the real world? We investigated a variety of techniques but found the best thing for us was to go cheap. Pipe cleaners, cardboard, and clay all make for fantastic prototyping mediums because they all allow immediate feedback and are so inexpensive there is no hesitation to explore a new idea. Our very first Burger Lift prototypes were constructed out of aluminum foil and they were an extremely useful tool to help us design the general size and shape of the final Burger Lift.
Only when we had a more grounded sense of the shape and design did we transition into some more advanced prototypes. We used a MakerBot to create some simple 3D prints of the Burger Lift in plastic before enlisting the help of the company ShapeWays to have stainless steel Burger Lifts 3D printed for a very reasonable price.
Step 3. Testing and Feedback
Once a functioning prototype was created we wanted to test it in the real world. We took the Burger Lift prototypes to cookouts and dinners with friends and forced (and I yes, I chose the word “forced” over “asked”) everyone to use them to get feedback.
The key element of this step is to shut up and listen to the feedback. People are smart and come up with fantastic ideas all the time and they can definitely help you develop your product. We had been staring at the Burger Lift design for months and getting fresh eyes and fresh opinions on it went a long way in helping us define the size, the look, the thickness, and ultimately the final product.
Step 4. Finding a Manufacturer
This step was the most daunting part for us. We did not work in manufacturing and had no connections to factories or anyone else. How were two computer-graphics artists and a Middle School math teacher supposed to strike a deal with a factory to manufacture a product?
Luckily, we live in the world of the internet and websites like Makers Row that could easily put us in contact with multiple manufacturers. We put out our designs and received dozens of offers from various manufacturers before landing on one we felt comfortable with. They had good ratings, positive customer reviews, and they gave us a price that we could work with. In an ideal world, we would have traveled to each factory but with limited resources this was a good alternative.
Step 5. Testing Production
This is the step that we completely skipped and paid dearly for the consequences. We found our manufacturer, developed a rapport with them immediately, and felt confident that they would be able to create our Burger Lift using the metal injection molding process they pitched us. No need to invest lots of money creating molds and a prototype in the factory, right?
So we launched a Kickstarter project and within 30 days we had over $11,000 in pre-orders and a slew of new customers. We turned back to our manufacturer and started production. Almost immediately we hit a huge problem. The injection molding process would not work because the individual bars of the Burger Lift were too thin and liquid metal would not solidify at that diameter. The manufacturer had never tried the process on something so small and had no idea that would happen.
This setback resulted in over a year of delayed production due to figuring out a new manufacturing process. We needed to send multiple apology updates to our 200+ customers and respond to daily inquiries about the delays. These types of problems can certainly be quantified in dollars and cents, but the real toll is on the number of stressful days and sleepless nights caused by not being able to give your customers what was promised to them.
We can’t stress highly enough the necessity of testing production before launching your product. It will cost you a little more financially at the onset, but it was well worth it when you consider the potential headaches saved.
Step 6. Mass Production
Finally, we got production back on track and we were all systems go! The Kickstarter backers all received their orders and to date we have shipped Burger Lifts to restaurants and customers in US, Canada, Costa Rica, Japan, China, Lebanon, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway, Holland, Australia, and Ireland.
The moral of the story is that there are countless times when your brand new business will encounter these types of seemingly overwhelming obstacles. How do I create a website to sell my product? How do I design/create packaging? How do I get the word out about my product? All these tasks can be broken down into similar step-by-step processes to make the large task more digestible.
Mmmmm…Digestible….anyone else want to get out of here and go get a burger?
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