January 18th, 2012

5 Lessons You Can Apply to Prototyping New Products


Last year, I built and sold my first cleantech product. It is a tool used to install solar PV modules more efficiently.

Here is the story and what I’ve learned about prototyping in the process. Hopefully, it will be useful to you as well.

Here’s a quick snippet of what I learned.

  1. Closeness with customers is key, especially if you’re getting them to change their behaviors. If you’re building a new product and are not building relationships with beta customers, this is a problem. It is critical for time between iterations and testing. This is also critical for them providing you blunt feedback. Lastly, with many cleantech products you’re interrupting existing operations. If they don’t trust you, they won’t want to risk it.
  2. Don’t assume you know the answer. I was the target customer but 15 minutes of feedback on our alpha prototype enabled us to reduce manufacturing costs by 400% for our beta. This is key because unlike software or internet products, cleantech products are EXPENSIVE and tend to require face to face relationships.
  3. Work on your communications. The concept must be clear to the customer quickly or it will be difficult for them to provide useful feedback that can use to enhance the product.

Click below to read the full story. Also, apply for Cleantech Prototyping Academy if you want to learn best practices of how to build products faster (and cheaper) in order to impress investors or find beta customers. CPA is taught by Ethan Labowitz.

October 5th, 2011

Two Questions to Ask About Any New Product Feature


In the past 3 weeks, I’ve had 10 conversations with people about creating new products, both physical and software, or discussing how an existing product will be sold; pricing, messaging, including a sales video or not, etc. I’ve noticed that that the decision about including a feature in a product or not is boiled down to 2 questions and 2 possible next steps.

Here are the questions to ask when determining a product feature or how to sell a product.

  1. Do you have any evidence that people are buying your product because of this feature (or because its priced this way, discussed in xx way, etc)?
  2. Do you have any evidence that people are NOT buying your product because it has this specific feature, or more commonly, because its sold at this price, or discussed in this way.

Based on your answers to these questions, there are two possible outcomes.

  1. If you can answer one of the above questions, you’ll know what to do. Make sure your answer is based on actual customer feedback, not a guess made by someone on the internal team. If you can’t answer either of these questions then you must make decision #2.
  2. Create an experiment where you can test the product, feature, pricing, etc with a customer to see if it will make them buy, or not buy. When looking for evidence keep in mind you should have a way of measuring it both in terms of anecdotes and hard metrics, best would be combination of both.

I find this logic especially important for cleantech companies, that are dealing with physical products that are very capital intensive, because it will force them to strip down the product to things the customer actually cares about. Not only is this important during the product development process, but the sales process as well. Many cleantech companies are dealing with customers that have very long sales cycles and their tends to be a large investment put into each sale. Thus, eliminating the waste from the sales process allows the development of the sales process to happen faster and also makes it more standardized.