Barriers to product launch and breaking through them

I have been invited to attend a few pitches by budding entrepreneurs over the last few years, sitting on a panel of judges, or dragons as they have now become known, following the popular tv show Dragons Den. Some are to simply judge the best pitch for a prize, and others have been to actually consider investing in these early start-ups.

One common theme seems to run through each pitch, and its need for money; to build a prototype. No offers are usually made, but many dragons offer to discuss their needs at the after party and express their interest. It’s at this point that I usually offer my advice, which is this:

Prototyping is not building a finished product, it’s about showing that your product can work, or can’t, is functional, or not, and helps demonstrate that to lead you to the next stage.

Prototyping used to cost typically upwards of 10k, now with the advent of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing it can cost as little as £30, or even free. Not only are there places where you can go and actually manufacture your own products for free, such as the FabLab in Manchester UK, with more opening across the country, and more universities around the world also offer funded product prototyping in various metals to assist local, new and small businesses. There are also websites devoted to helping you 3D print your own products such as 3DHubs. I’ve used 3D hubs myself, not only did I find someone to rapid prototype a case for me, but I also became friends with them, found another community, and attend their regular meet-ups.

That’s physical products taken care of, so what about software and apps. In a bootstrappers world, software development can be a real barrier if you have no coding skills. Not only that, but software can require knowledge in languages and frameworks you may not know. HTML and CSS can be relatively easy to pick up, but PHP, Ruby, Objective C and other languages are harder to learn. Here you have only a few options, either learn to code, or save up and pay someone to do it for you. There are pro’s and con’s in doing both. You need to outsource as much as you can so you can focus on building your business (selling!). Yet you don’t want to become too dependant on outside parties, in doing so, you may then find you are locked in to a particular development company and are hindered by lack of funds to continue development of your product. If you are launching a mobile app, then using services such as oDesk or Elance is a good way to go, write-up your project in to two phases, design and development. Then put these out and choose the best response. These services can also be used for traditional software development, but the management process can be a little trickier. There are plenty of posts around the web detailing how to do this effectively.

So prototyping, and even launching actual products can easily be achieved with minimal barriers. It’s the persistence that’s hard, the actual focus and dedication it takes to get it done that is the real barrier. But as the saying goes, as I am often reminded by a friend of mine whenever I complain it’s too hard, “If it was easy, everybody would be dong it”.

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