Whether you’re a born inventor, insanely curious, or have just been struck by a good idea out of the blue, it can be quite the process to actually turn that brilliant lightbulb moment into a tangible product.
Electronic innovations are far from useless — there’s no telling where they could take you!
Zach Supalla, current CEO and founder of Spark is one example of someone who took a clever idea (programming lights to flash every time his father — who is hard-of-hearing- received a text from his mother) and turned it into a marketable product.
Supalla built off his initial innovation to create Particle (formerly Spark), a very successful open-source platform that allows all of its users to create Internet-of-Things prototypes and to turn them into finished products.
Success stories like Supalla’s can be intimidating, but it’s much better to view them as inspiring – after all, it only takes are a few simple steps to take your idea from concept to reality!
1. Get Organized
You’re never going to get from Point A to Point Z without figuring out all of the steps you’ll need to take in-between. Set aside some time when you’re first excited about your idea to come up with clear and specific goals about what you hope to accomplish.
You may want to consider:
- The specific tasks that you want your invention to accomplish
- How you will know that you have completed your task (what will the end product look like?)
- How much time you have available to dedicate to your project, and the overall timeline for when you want to have different phases of your project complete
Ideas tend to get lost if you don’t have a plan in place for turning them into a product — there are a lot of organizational web tools and calendar apps available that can help you to stay on track, but without an organized start to your creative endeavors it’s unlikely that your project will ever get off the ground!
2. Do Some Research
It’s impossible to complete a project without doing at least a little bit of online research. Some research topics that you may want to look into include:
- Has anyone done something similar to your project before? If so, how will yours differ from theirs? Can you build off of their process to improve your own?
- What kind of resources (finances, materials, time, etc.) are you going to need to access to complete your project?
- Are you going to need to gain new skills to complete your project? Where are you going to access this training?
- Is there a need for your product? Who are you going to want to market it to?
- Patent research – What kind of patent are you interested in? What steps will you need to take to file one? (Google Patents is a great place to start searching for patents held by other people or patent trolls, and this Patents, Copyrights, & Trademarks for Dummies Guide is the perfect resource for an elementary understanding the patent-filing process).
3. Seek Out Funding
It’s almost impossible to create a new product without a financial investment. If your project is small enough, you may find that you’re able to finance it on your own using some rainy-day money.
However, if you’re looking into creating something a little bigger you might want to look into external funding sources such as one of the many crowdfunding sites online, reach out to potential investors, or even investigate grant programs.
Apart from the crowdfunding sites mentioned in Angela’s article, many other specialized sites have come up. Take a look at:
4. Learn New Skills
Is creating your project going to require you to pick up a new skill or brush up on a skill you haven’t used in a while?
Whether you learn best through video tutorials, eBooks, or question and answer with an expert, there will be a learning resource out there for you. Enjoy this chance to fully immerse yourself in your interests and to explore new avenues for the directions that you want your product to take!
Sometimes there’s no way to build an entire project independently, or you may not have the time to master all of the skills that your project will require.
If this is the case, don’t be afraid to reach out to other experts who can help you accomplish the pieces that you’re less sure about.
You can ask around through friends, post job openings online, or network with others in your area of interest. Sometimes bringing in outside help is a great way not only to create your product more efficiently, but also to ensure that your product is the best that it can be.
Be sure that you clearly define your expectations for anyone else that you bring to your project so that your working relationship can remain as positive as possible!
6. Make It Happen
Illustrator John Kelly singles out the villain in this inspiring animated video.
At some point you actually have to do the work and bring your project to fruition. Follow your plan, use your new skills, and collaborate with any people you’ve hired to see your idea come to life!
7. Write a Press Release
Once your project is fully conceptualized and you’re sure that it’s going to work, it’s time to get people excited. One of the best ways to do this is through a well-written press release – trust us, a poorly written press release will get you nowhere!
Free PR Toolkits are available online. The PR Toolkit from PR Newswire and Yahoo is well-known.
If you’ve never written a press release before, Debbie Leven (a PR Coach) has a great introduction to press releases that should keep you from making common mistakes and highlighting all of the best parts of your project in a way that will capture your audience’s attention.
8. Start Online Marketing
Online marketing can be one of the most difficult things to do — there are many companies out there trying to get their products noticed, and it can feel impossible to set yours apart.
Choosing to advertise on social media is one of the best ways for your product to gain interest and momentum, as long as you carefully target the platforms and formats you use to the audience you hope to reach.
9. Consider Open Source
Many developers choose to present their final products (both hardware and software) as open source. This means that the source code and design files are available online and can be accessed, viewed, and modified by any interested users. (If you do choose to go the open source route with your product, be sure to choose the right kind of open source license.)
While it may seem strange if you aren’t familiar with the open source philosophy, there are a lot of reasons people contribute to open source software, and you can still make money with open source products!
Once your product is available, enjoy seeing how users build off of your existing source materials, the suggestions that they make for improvement, and how your product is modified, improved, and enjoyed over time!
10. Show Off Your Finished Product
One of the most fun parts of turning your electronic idea into reality is getting to show it off to people that appreciate it! The following websites feature users’ creations on a regular basis, and can be a great way for your project to be recognized:
- Arduino: If your product was created with a Arduino or Genuino board, you can fill out this form for the opportunity to have it featured on the main site. Please note that all projects submitted must be original and completed, and your submission has to be accompanied with a simple description of the product.
- Autodesk 123D Circuits: If your project was created using Autodesk 123d’s online tools, publish it on your userpage and tag it so that other users can find it using the search feature. If it’s a stand-out project it may be selected as a featured project!
- Grand St.: Grand St.’s purpose is to act as an online marketplace for creative technology, and they’re quite picky about which hardware they choose to publish on their site – all products are reviewed based on their creativity, reliability, user experience, design, and the elusive ‘delight’ factor . Hardware can be featured as a completed project, a pre-order, or as a Beta-test option.
- bitLab: The bitLab describes itself as an “app store for hardware”, and features products that are currently under review, in production, or ready to buy. Ideas for new “bits” can be submitted during set submission rounds.
- Edison Nation – Edison Nation is unique because it is set up to provide you with the resources you need to turn your ideas into successful products. You can submit your product for feedback at any point in the design process and receive guidance from in-house product development experts.
- Quirky is an invention platform that allows you to get your ideas out into the world without worrying about having your plan totally in place. The platform links you with renderers, sketchers, and enthusiasts who can help you build your ideas, and then allows you to submit strong ideas into a weekly product evaluation. If your product is popular enough it can then be pitched to big brand partners who may choose to invest in producing your product!
- Maker Faire For an off-line alternative, consider bringing your invention(s) to a Maker Faire near you! Maker Faires highlight the creativity and productivity that they believe is inherent to everyone, and are hosted worldwide – check the homepage for local events, or use a larger Maker Faire as an excuse to travel with your creations! Please note that individual events have specific product guidelines, so it’s a good idea to check them closely!
What Are You Waiting For?
Whether all you’ve got is an idea, or if you’ve got a project that just needs a couple finishing touches, there are tools and strategies to transform it into a polished creation that you can be proud of and that can be marketed to others!
Have you jumped into the Maker Movement? What strategies do you use to transform your brilliant electronic ideas into reality? Are there any additional steps that you would choose to include on this list?