According to Science Magazine, close to 12 Million metric tonnes of plastics enter the ocean every year. This hurts marine ecosystems, leading to ecological degradation while at the same time, contributing to biodiversity loss.
Fortunately, companies like Stay Sixty joined the anti-plastic movement with a product aimed at reducing the use of single-use water bottles. Stay Sixty is a design-focused water bottle brand. They have been featured in the Guardian, Refinery 29, Elle and BBC. Even though reusable water bottles are far from being a novel product, Stay Sixty discovered a niche in a crowded space and spent more than 2 years designing, prototyping and manufacturing a water bottle unlike any other.
Was all that effort worth it? Listen to the entire episode to find out.
A Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is designed to attract early adopters with enough features before a hard launch in order to generate market feedback that will drive future product iterations. During our discussion with Kirpal, he covered 3 essential aspects that entrepreneurs should first look at when deciding on an product direction:
Skipping this step is a sure way to at least make it harder for your business to success, if not fail entirely, before it even gets off the ground. You need to know who your target demographics are, is there a market for your idea, are there any competitors to look out for, or are you a niche product? You should also conduct market surveys (there are a lot of free tools to help you with this part), and never be afraid to ask for feedback.
Every new venture comes with different types of risk. Anticipating potential issues that you might face, if and when it becomes a reality, being well-prepared will minimize earnings impact, time loss and productivity loss. And overall, have the least impact on your customers.
This goes without saying – having a clearly outlined budget from the start and, if possible, using your own funds at this stage, will give you the highest flexibility and control over your business.
Differentiation as part of strategic planning is what will set you apart from your competitors. Hence, your MVP launch will need an adjustment to your marketing strategy as it can be especially difficult to advertise a product that is in its development stages. If your roadmap includes various updates and feature versions, or, alternatively, your MVP pivots and goes into a completely different direction, your marketing strategy needs adjusting to match. It is also likely that your initial USPs and positioning will change over time as you roll out more updates to your product.
Kirpal talked to us about how they managed to get initial traction by leveraging TV and public media. He notes you shouldn’t be reluctant to opportunities as they arise, and take advantage of the possibility to advertise your product. When invited on the British TV show Dragon’s Den (the equivalent of Shark Tank in the US), Kirpal was able to tell their story in a creative and compelling way, which in turn, got their product in front of more users.
This might not happen to everyone building an MVP, but you should take advantage of the tools available to you – which includes leveraging the power of social media. Stay Sixty used Facebook to tell their story and advertise their product, which is what brought their name in front of the media in the first place.
The difference between a hard launch of a final product and marketing your MVP is noticeable. When you think of hard launches, you think of securing product placements, speaking engagements in the media and investing in commercials – which also comes with a high cost, a cost that MVPs don’t generally sustain. With this approach, you showcase a product, trust it and provide immediate value to your users as is. With an MVP, however, you have a product that you plan to upgrade, and purposely ask for consumer feedback, which will direct the way your final product looks.
Your best approach to marketing is start building buzz around your brand, try and secure free placements in the media, generate backlinks and leverage social media to build a community of supporters around your brand – they’re the ones that will test your product first, give you feedback and whose trust will propel your product in the future once you implement their suggestions.
Mature products are the result of many years of R&D and significant resources spent. One of the main reasons why people prefer building an MVP first is because it allows testing a product in your target market and prevents over expenditure. This isn’t to say there is no investment – but it is a significantly lower financial commitment than traditional R&D routes. Once your product gains initial traction and you gather user feedback, it will drive your investment in development in a targeted and data-driven manner.
With MVPs you can go from idea to a usable product, add features, upgrades or pivot (if needed) in a relatively short time. Since they require shorter development times, you are also flexible and able to react in a short time to user feedback.
There are a lot of ideas and products that changed the world. Can you imagine what first went through TimBL’s mind when he first came up with the idea of the World Wide Web? However, this idea didn’t come up as a final version of a fully market-ready product. They went through several rounds of changes, upgrades and fine-tuning. This is where an MVP helps – you develop a first version of your idea, see what works and what doesn’t for your market and improve. It helps spot big issues in time, validate market needs and product fit early on before it snowballs into years of development for a product that ends up having no traction.
As a business owner, Kirpal experienced first-hand that developing a leading product starts with having the right suppliers and manufacturers.
Oftentimes, many entrepreneurs find themselves in a tough spot when it comes time to actually source their product. And if you’re planning to outsource production, this step of the process just got a whole lot more challenging. Reliability, quality standards or protecting your IP rights are just some of the initial challenges incurred at the initial stages of the product development cycle.
So how did Stay Sixty do it? In our podcast, Kirpal went over the basics sourcing valuable manufacturers for your product, where to look for them and what to ask.
The first decision you will need to make is whether you plan to source your products domestically or from abroad. Typically, production facilities located overseas (e.g. Asia) come with a lower cost per unit, but there’s a lot more to the decision than just pricing. Longer shipping times, communications barriers and costly on-site visits are some of the reasons why selecting a quality manufacturer is paramount.
But where do you begin your search? Of course, industry directories, Google searches or even referrals are all good places to start. Yet, what Stay Sixty did was choose a more personalized route. Kirpal used LinkedIn to initiate conversations, discuss project details and ultimately build a direct relationship with potential manufacturers, thus ensuring no communications mishaps later on.
Finding various manufacturers isn’t the most challenging step in outsourcing production. With a seemingly endless list of suppliers available, all claiming to make a quality product, how do you ensure compliance with quality and other production standards?
Before you select a final supplier and place an order, there are a few steps to take in order to set clear expectations and ensure they continually produce to your standards. And there is no better way to get an idea of a supplier’s production capabilities and quality standards than to visit their factory to carry out an audit. If you are unable to go on-site, there are a number of third-party audit organizations, based locally, that conduct factory audits following internationally accepted ISO 9001 quality management standards. Kirpal also stresses the importance of not skipping this step as doing your due diligence will help you answer questions like:
· Does my manufacturer have the relevant licenses and certifications?
· Is there a Quality Control System implemented to ensure our standards are met?
· Can my manufacturer cover my production capacity?
· What sort of manufacturing process does the supplier have?
· Where are the raw materials sourced from? And so on.
Trust is paramount when it comes to manufacturers. And Intellectual Property (IP) protection has been a critical concern for organizations manufacturing products overseas. While local laws and regulations reflect international standards and urge OEMs to enforce those standards, some challenges remain. At the same time, IP infringers grow sophisticated and seek to infiltrate legitimate distribution networks.
But, years of outsourcing have equipped corporations with a set of tools that help to develop a sound IP protection strategy. This prevents IP issues before they occur and takes care of IP infringement once discovered.
The discussion on IP protection is much more detailed, the first item on your to do list should always be to register your IP in the manufacturer’s home country. Filing a registration form in your location is not enough as, apart from copyright, it doesn’t offer you any protection abroad. Without ensuring local registration, there is little to be done to protect your intellectual property rights. The same goes for Trademarks and Patents – the more you do in your manufacturer’s home country, the higher your likelihood to protect your IP.
While ensuring legal compliance for IP protection, you should also keep in mind that physical protection adds an extra layer of security. Things like dividing the manufacturing process across different OEMs with final assembly in your own facility will ensure that no single manufacturer knows the full details. Furthermore, access to source codes or design schematics should be accessed on a need-to-know basis.
Stay Sixty develops products that will make a positive environmental impact for years to come – and we could all do with a little less plastic, don’t you think? Even more so, when as a design-led brand, their alternative for plastic bottles are a fashion statement as well.
We’ve learned a lot from Kirpal. There's no roadmap to going from an idea to a product that's making an impact, but listening to the episode will give you a pretty good clue on where to start.
Join us and subscribe for the latest episodes to learn from world's top ecommerce operators and entrepreneurs talking about brand building, growth mechanisms, operations, marketing strategies and so much more! The Growth Theory podcast is available on Apple and Spotify.