Whether you have a business that sells gadgets and widgets, or a sophisticated software product, or if you are selling your experience via consulting fees, you offer a product.
I could fill this column with the many flowcharts and graphs that you can get when you Google “product development,” but I’m not a flowchart kind of guy. The concept is simple; you design your product to fill an unmet need, and you test it along the way to make sure it meets that need, is affordable and is easy to use.
So, I guess that’s it. End of story? Not quite. Staying the course from concept to commercialization really does require you to use graphs and flowcharts to make sure you cross all the Ts and dot all the I’s. It’s important to use a process and not just run aimlessly to market.
Regulatory approvals are a big obstacle that may be tossed into your process to commercialization.
This might be the Federal Drug Administration if you have a medical device or product, or even HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) laws if the medical records product, for example, deals with personal information. In the medical industry, even a small change to an existing product can bring tears to your eyes — and stop your business in its tracks.
In my company, NOMOS Corp., we had both hardware and software products involved in patient cancer therapy. The hardware products delivered the tiny radiation beams to cancerous tumors. Pretty important, yes. But the software products actually directed the beams to a sub-millimeter accuracy, enabling the beams to hit the tumor and spare the important surrounding tissue.
Any small change in the hardware or the software could have an effect on the radiation delivery. So, every improvement we made, necessary in this competitive market, required us to consider the approvals required by the FDA.
One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer any entrepreneur is to stick to one thing at a time. Don’t try to branch out a new idea into other new ideas and products until you have your base product humming.
Currently, I am a co-founder in a company, JTM LLC, which is focused on a novel product in the travel industry. We are focused on applying the product to one segment of the travel industry, the cruise market, in order to get the company launched and the brand accepted in the market. Then we will branch out to other travel segments and build a more complete and more robust solution.
This will not only create a more stable and profitable company, it also preserves cash, which ultimately creates much more value for a potential acquirer. If we try to address the entire market as a startup, we would be another statistic, like one of the 80 percent of all startups that fail, according to a Bloomberg study.
John W. Manzetti is the managing director of Manzetti Group LLC. John is an award-winning, visionary financial and business leader, technology entrepreneur, startup adviser, investor and expert on the topics of economic development, venture capital formation and the commercialization of innovation. He wrote a book in 2018, “Small Bites of the Elephant,” where he uses straight talk and anecdotes to help small business owners and entrepreneurs address complex business issues.