Launching a Product From Start to Finish

Got a new product idea? Get the inside scoop on how to launch it into the stratosphere.

It came to you in a vision--that brilliant idea for the next new product. As soon as you get it to market, you're sure consumers will love it. But for now, you're full of questions: How do I research my market? How will I create my prototype? Who will help me with manufacturing, distributing and marketing the product?

First things first--how quickly can you launch your product? "It's possible to do it in less than a year if you can get a company to help you," says Don Debelak, author of Bringing Your Product to Market... in Less Than a Year: Fast-Track Approaches to Cashing in on Your Great Idea and host of inventor-help website www.dondebelak.com. "The first thing you want to do is get a local contact who can help you." Research the industry in which you hope to launch your product-is the product for children? Pets? Athletes? Cooks? It's a safe bet that any industry you venture into has trade associations, publications, trade shows and, above all, experts from whom you can learn. Debelak suggests reading trade publications to look for listings of distributors and manufacturers who know the industry. "Contact them to see if you can get one of them to help you-one who'll like the idea and promote it," he says. "You're really using [your contact] first as an information resource."

Seeking out this kind of information certainly helped Heidi Jacquin launch her line of tWibbles--plush, collectible toys aimed at the tween market. This Freestone, California, entrepreneur had a background in product development, so she knew how to find the right people to help her launch her product. When she started tWibbles LLC in 2004, she wanted to create something cool for tweens that would combine the collectible nature of Beanie Babies and the fashion sense of a funky accessory. "[I thought,] why not have [something like] a Beanie Baby that was small and would look good as a pendant?" recalls Jacquin, 35.

Your product packaging is also important, according to Molly Miller-Davidson and JoAnne Stone-Geier, co-authors with Michael B. Levinson of Launch It! How to Turn Good Ideas Into Great Products That Sell. "One of the things I see people doing wrong is putting [their products] in the wrong type of packaging," says Miller-Davidson. "Understanding who your customers are [and what packaging appeals to them] is important."

For Jacquin, doing research on the tween market was vital. She studied other products that were popular with the age group, paying attention to why tweens liked the products and what kind of packaging spoke to them. "The first time around, we didn't really do the best job," she says of her original packaging. "This time, we talked to people who've been there. I looked at 50 packages in the toy world and in the tween arena. And I read a lot of articles to figure out what kids are looking at." That's how she landed on her packaging strategy: graffiti-style graphics on the outside, with two identical tWibbles inside--one for a kid to keep, and one to give to a friend.

Culling from past business relationships, Jacquin found a licensed cartoonist to help her design the characters, including Clippety the Horse and Mamby the Panda. "I took those designs to a factory in China and had them start prototyping," says Jacquin. "About 15 years ago, I worked with a guy from Hong Kong who knows a lot of factory owners, and he put me in touch with the right contact."

Finding the right people to help you is key to a quick launch, says Debelak, because when you're a startup, you can't figure out "all the little details--what are the markups for the industry, who are the key contacts? But people in the industry know [these things] like the back of their hand."

It was through another industry contact-a housewares sales rep with whom Jacquin also used to work--that she hooked up with a toy sales rep who had relationships with major retailers. Now sold in Target stores nationwide, tWibbles expects 2006 sales of $4 million.

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This article was originally published in the June 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Prepare for Takeoff.

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