Will Your New Product Be a Hit or a Flop? Answer These 5 Questions to Find Out

Last Updated Jan 20, 2011 8:46 AM EST

As the CEO of Quirky, a social product development company, Ben Kaufman has learned a thing or two about successful product launches. Since he started Quirky just 18 months ago, fledgling inventors, who spend $10 to pitch their idea to Quirky's 50,000-member online community, have submitted 80 product designs. The community then helps develop, name, and tweak the designs; if there are enough pre-orders, the products then go into production. So far, 25 products are shipping and another 30 are in production. And Kaufman, who landed $6 million in venture capital last April, just inked a deal to start selling Quirky's products on HSN at the end of this month. Think iPad cases, high-tech retractable dog leashes, collapsible laundry baskets, and wobbly toothbrush holders, to name just a few. So do your napkin doodles have the makings of a successful new consumer product? Kaufman suggests you ask yourself the following five questions:
  • Am I solving a problem? "When people submit idea, we say 'what's the problem and what's the solution?'" says Kaufman. "If you're not solving a problem, the world won't care. The Snuggie made a ton of money, but it's over now because it wasn't solving a real problem. If you do it right, the product will be around for a good long while." A good Quirky example of that: the PowerCurl, an ingenious yet simple device that tames both ends of your Mac's power cord.
  • Am I keeping it simple? "Sometimes, people layer in way too many features," says Kaufman. "And the product becomes too narrow, or results in being too expensive, or it's not poignant enough for the marketplace." The result: consumers have to think too long and too hard about whether all your bells and whistles justify your price.
  • Have I tested the market? "You need to talk to the people who will use your product," says Kaufman. "People think they have to wait until they have a patent, but you're better off talking to people and having an idea killed quickly." Or use the feedback to iterate. "Don't be afraid to realize that what you have really sucks and if you did x, y, and z it could be so much better," says Kaufman.
  • Do I know when to say "no"? Sometimes the market doesn't know what it wants or doesn't understand the ramifications of its desires. Case in point: Quirky's iPad case, called the Cloak, doubles the weight of an iPad because "the community wanted it to have a bunch of features like a typing stand, a hard core and a soft interior, and a clicking hinge," says Kaufman. The company built the product accordingly but Kaufman thinks it's way too heavy and says the design would never get past Quirky's development team today. "Quirky is just as powerful in killing ideas as in pushing ideas forward," he says
  • Am I sweating the small stuff? The devil is in the details, says Kaufman. "You need to pay a lot of attention to the details, the packaging, the brand, the communication around the what the product does," he says. "People spend so much money on research, design, and manufacturing and then get to the last stages and they cut corners." Remember, he cautions, "at the end of the day, an iPod is just an mp3 player, but Apple did such a great job of making it cool."
Do you have a cool new product idea that meets these criteria? Let's hear about it.

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