The “Making Of” Blog Series–from idea to product

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shroud historyI’ve explained the “why” of my products: the Pocket Safe hammer shroud, the Wall-Saver safety cylinder, and the Triple-O knife. In large measure, “Why?” can answered simply: “Because I wanted one, so maybe other people want one, too.”

The “how” is a whole different question, though. Making yourself a single example for personal use is one thing, but churning out hundreds at a price and quality level that allows you to offer them to the public is a whole different animal. There’s a lot of trial and error (emphasis on the error!) and, if you don’t have a huge budget, a full shop, or a staff of experts, there’s a lot of “making do” with tools and techniques that might not really be meant for what you’re using them for.

As I was considering starting a business, I read a lot about the “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP. The principle is that instead of building the World’s Greatest Widget, an entrepreneur should build something simple and basic and see if anyone wants to buy it. Most commonly, this is illustrated with some kind of smartphone app or website service: don’t spend a million bucks creating the perfect filesharing service app for the iPhone, with editing and automatic back up and perfect social media integration and an entire billion-dollar data center in West Virginia, just build a website with some storage and let people stick files up there and email a URL to the recipient. If people want that and actually pay for it, you can add on features one at a time, and see what people use (or don’t), and what new customers your new features draw in (or don’t), and what your volume is and just how much server power you need to meet it. That way, by the time you’ve spent a million bucks, you’ll have brought in at least half a million to help defray it, and you’ll have a mountain of data to show that the ROI on your next project is going to justify the expense.

What is the MVP for a hammer shroud? Or a set of gun grips? Or a knife? When something is literally a small piece of plastic formed into a special shape, how can you possibly delete features to make it cheaper and easier to make? Can you imagine “Gun grips 2.0, this time with screw holes!!!” as a sales pitch? For a simple manufactured product, your MVP is also your final product, from which no further improvement is likely.

Well, it took me a long time to figure it out, but the answer is this: the MVP of a simple manufactured product is that product made in a labor-intensive, but capital-light, way. It may suck up an hour of your time to make each one, but you didn’t spend $12,000 on your first prototype…and $12,000 on each of the subsequent 14 prototypes, either. And, to tie it back with Ash Maurya’s thinking, the labor-intensive model doesn’t work at scale the way that expensive industrial tooling does—but why are you thinking about scaling up to 1000 units an hour when nobody has even bought 1 unit yet?

Thankfully, I’m a handy guy. I can make stuff using a variety of different processes, and what I don’t know how to make, I learn to make. So that’s how all my products reach you: from my hands and my basement to your door. When the time comes that I need 1000 an hour, I’ll invest in that, but until then, it’s all me.

Over the couple months I’ll be offering a peek inside product development: how I got from vague idea in my head to what arrives in the package when you order. You’ll get to see all the ways I wasted time and energy and money to—finally—deliver something I can be proud to put my name on. And I’ll also show you what I had hoped would be my first product, some awesome grips for the 1911 that I haven’t been able to deliver yet because cost and QC have proved to be much bigger challenges than I had hoped. I haven’t forgotten them, though, and when I eventually master the production process, those of you who preordered a pair will get it for free.

Look for updates a couple times a week. Hope you enjoy the look behind the curtain, and I hope if anyone out there is thinking of trying this product-development idea, I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into!

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