Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Leeds Inventors Group 17 – 6 – 09 Mark Coulman

Leeds Inventors Group 17 – 6 – 09 Mark Coulman, Rapid Growth Advisor, Business Link. “Product Feasibility & How to Measure it: How to determine whether your product has a market”Mark explained that he’s part of Business Link’s Business Development team which looks at new products and services – working with individuals and established businesses. He himself has worked in industry in a number of areas and runs his own business.

Mark set out a specific process which he believes anyone should go through when trying to determine the feasibility of a new product:-

The first thing you have, of course, is the idea. Mark suggested that there are three types of idea: Someone else’s idea – ie something which has been done before; a Personal idea which solves a problem you’ve got and is based on what you know; a New idea – a genuinely new idea is very rare. Most ideas are improvements or variations on what has gone before. You must define what this is.

The next step and the most critical, is market research. The inventor needs to ask what problem is being solved? It may be a small problem but it could, nevertheless be a significant one. At the same time, if nobody but the inventor sees it as a problem then nobody will be interested in the solution. Who might use the product? If the answer is “everybody” (which is what an inventor will often say) then in Mark’s view, you are deluded!

You need to target a potential market. Why might anyone use your product? Different people might buy a product for different reasons – expectations might be different, and the price they’re willing to pay might be different.

What is the competition and why would your product be seen to be better? This is particularly important if you’re competing with a product which has a well-established market. What would customers be willing to pay for it? Is it a budget product, or top of the range? These are all questions which need to be answered. Some general information may be found in existing reports such as market research held by Business and Patent Information Services, some may be found through your own specific questionnaires. You may then need to go on to more detailed investigation but you need to know what your market is.

You then need to think about Intellectual Property. Is the product new? Can it be protected? Information on patentability and searching can be found on the Business & Patent Information Services website. Protecting your product takes time and money and isn’t always the most effective way of proceeding. It is particularly useful if you are intending to licence the product. However if the market is short-lived or small the best procedure might just be to get the product on to the market as quickly as possible. Once again, your market research may indicate whether IP is worthwhile.

It is important not to forget about technical issues. This is something which many inventors assume someone else will sort out for them. Knowing how the product works, the materials required and some understanding of the production process will help you to determine the cost and therefore the feasibility. If you don’t know the production cost you won’t be able to determine the retail cost.

This leads into operational issues. What is required in order to produce the product? Whether you intend to do it yourself or involve others thought will have to be put towards whether it will be produced here or abroad. If you are doing it yourself you will need to think about equipment, premises and staff.

Delivery issues will follow. To a large extent this will be determined by whether you’re going to be doing it yourself, whether you’re doing it through an agent or a partner. How will you get it to the market, and how will you promote it? Just as importantly, will you be able to deliver if sales grow significantly – can you satisfy demand? It may seem an obvious statement, but it is vital to be certain that the product does actually work – before it gets to the market.

In order to measure the feasibility of a product you need to be confident that you have made a commercial case for it. Having been through the process outlined above the financial information you need should fall into place. You need to be clear about what will make it commercially viable. If the cost of production and marketing means that you need to sell a million units in your first year you are taking a big risk.

Feasibility is all about turning an idea into a workable plan, or giving you warning that perhaps the idea is not as good as you had originally thought.