5 Steps to Developing Your Tech Product
With the world obsessed with technology, innovation and disruption, many entrepreneurs are trying to develop ideas and services in this space. But often, it can be a bit daunting.
Have no fear. While developing your own tech product may seem overwhelming, it is achievable -- even for non-techie entrepreneurs.
You just need to break it down into steps.
1. Clearly define your product and goals.
Create a document specifying all of the details for your product including features, functions, size and target retail price, to name just a few.
Keep in mind, this phase, product development, is a balancing act between pushing new limits and making compromises. As with life, you can’t have everything.
For example, when developing wearable tech products small size may be your highest priority, meaning that other specifications such as performance and battery life will need to be compromised. The most common compromise is usually in regards to cost – and this sort of give and take occurs at startups and big corporations.
One of the more famous product compromises was the decision by Steve Jobs to eliminate dedicated keyboards on portable devices. At that time, other product designers insisted it was essential to have a physical keyboard. But Jobs felt that appearance and larger screen size were more important than a real keyboard. That compromise proved to be a wise decision that changed the very nature of portable devices.
2. Hire an electrical engineer to design the electronics
An electrical engineer will first select all of the components (microchips, displays, sensors, etc.) based on the features and specifications in your product definition. Don’t be surprised if some of those compromises are necessary at this step. After all of the components are selected the engineer will then connect everything together in an abstract blueprint-like diagram called a schematic circuit. Depending on the design the engineer may also run computer simulations to confirm functionality.
Next, a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) layout will be generated based on the schematic circuit. The PCB is the board that contains and connects all of the electronic components. Whether your product is a tracking device, a Bluetooth headset, or a new type of smartphone, the electronics will be placed on a PCB.
3. Produce the prototypes
Your electronics engineer will now send the PCB design files to a prototype shop to make a few units for testing. Electronics prototyping can be broken into two steps: making the PCB itself, and attaching the components. Each step requires completely different expertise and equipment, so two separate vendors are commonly required.
4. Evaluate, program and debug
After you receive the assembled boards, now it’s time to make them work. I usually like to perform an evaluation of all the non-programmed parts of the design first, such as the power management section and oscillators. Then I move on to programming.
Any problems found with the electronics during programming will need to be fixed on the next PCB version. The hope of course is there will be no problems, but in reality that never happens.
As a design engineer for a big-tech company I witnessed countless products being developed, and never once was the first version the final version. This is always the case when developing something new and non-trivial. You need to plan on it taking multiple revisions to get your product ready for market.
5. Develop the case
This step should really be performed in parallel with the development of the electronics. If appearance is critical for your product, then you need to hire a talented industrial designer to make your product look really amazing.
As with the electronics, it will take several iterations for you to get a custom case ready for market. Development of the case is also complicated because different technologies are used for prototypes (3D printers) and production (injection molding). If appearance isn’t a high priority, you might consider using a stock case, at least initially.
Never strive for perfection when developing your product. You want to get it on the market as soon as possible so you can gather sales feedback. Most likely, you’ll need design revisions incorporating what you learn from your initial sales before going to full production. Only after pleasing the market have you truly developed a winning product.
John Teel is president of Predictable Designs a company which helps entrepreneurs bring new products to market. Teel was formerly a senior design engineer for Texas Instruments where he created electronic designs now used in millions of portable devices (including some from Apple). He is also a successful entrepreneur who developed his own product, had it manufactured in Asia, and sold in over 500 retail locations in three countries. Download his free cheat sheet for developing your new hardware product.