You might remember that we helped Entrepreneur Steve Hartman with the product development on his Cyclemower, a product that eventually ended up being featured in the Inventors Spotlight at the Las Vegas National Hardware Show. It’s time to check back in with the Entrepreneur Mr. Hartman and the Cyclemower to ask a few questions pertaining to product development and lessons learned along the way.
Q: Steve, what have you learned about product development?
A: The learning curve on prototype development is a long one, which I am still going through. At first, I had a design in mind, which I though I could just kick out and be done with it. I soon learned that there were a number of design details, at least with a relatively complex product like Cyclemower, that caused one problem to exacerbate another. With my first prototype, I was looking to prove that I could achieve my expected blade speed, which I succeeded in doing. I was unable to cut grass with it, and the design was really ugly. When we finally got to our current design, it was still not what I initially envisioned, but it had all the functional elements. It not only spun the blade at speed, but we eventually were able to cut grass. It has a cool look as well, but we also have found a number of weaknesses that makes it unsuitable for a final product. Notably, its too heavy, and the bottoms of the sideplates drag on uneven terrain. This causes the blade to stop spinning. We also can’t seem to get the back roller to function, so we can’t establish an even cutting height. For demonstration purposes, we are basically limited to perfectly flat and well tended lawns, which are hard to come by. To summarize, I think the biggest thing I learned is that the details never stop, and you can never assume that you have figured them all out.
Q: What did you learn from attending the Las Vegas Hardware show?
A: I learned from the hardware show that it is not necessarily a good place to find manufacturers who want to invest design and engineering resources into a new product. The hardware show is a good place for existing manufacturers to show their products to distributors and retailers.
Q: When building a product again, what will he do different next time?
A: If we need to develop another prototype, it will become all about the details. We will want to take all the shortcomings we have learned from our current design, and eliminate them, one by one. We will also want to directly compare ourselves to our competitors, in order to point out the superior aspects of our design. This is a long and tedious process, but one where nothing can go unaccounted for, no matter how seemingly insignificant. We will want our design to be perfect, from form and function all the way to packaging and shipping.
Q: Suggestions for others building hardware for the first time?
A: My suggestion for others would be to take a long, hard look at what you are trying to accomplish, and identify potential shortcomings in a brutally honest and thorough way. I can’t overstress the issue of details, as it only takes a small malfunction to make your whole design look bad. Have faith in your convictions, but take all the advice you can and apply good ideas that make sense to you. One thing I learned along the way is that there will always be people who will tell you how stupid your idea is. Most of the time, these people should be ignored. On occasion however, someone will come up with a legitimate criticism which should be considered and applied to improve your design. Inventing is hard work, and most people can’t do it. Quitting is easy, and most people do that all the time. There are so many obstacles to overcome in creating a new product, but you have to keep at it while maintaining faith in yourself. No one is going to succeed for you.
We would like to thank Steve for taking the time out for our Q&A. If you are an Entrepreneur entering the product development cycle, it’s great to hear from people that have been there and done that. They can help shed some light on the process of product development, prototyping and product marketing.
Need more information? Please contact us with any questions or contact me directly at joseph.donoghue ( at ) leardon.com