Invention – Market Research

So you’ve had an idea and turned it into a prototype. Can it be sold? Do people want to buy it? Investigating the market is a basic step required before starting a business. Research the basics of business. There’s plenty of information online.

Basically, what you need to ask is: Is anyone willing to buy this? How much would they buy it for? What will they expect with the purchase? These are the basic questions for all market research. If you developed it because you needed it then how many others need it? If it’s a common product then you can search industry reports. If it’s a niche product then you can search information forums. Niche communities exist online, and they can be quite useful. Suppose you created a simple and small CNC machine for grinding non-spherical lenses. Optics communities, astronomy communities and laser communities might be interested. Seek out those communities and listen to them or talk with them. You may even want to connect with several and send them a prototype, so they can play with it and provide feedback. While their feedback is good, consider this marketing rather than product improvement.

Getting feedback from users is important, but never use that directly in a design. An idea may not fit with the product, or the feature they envision may not meet their needs. Get requirements or needs from users but don’t directly use their ideas in your product. If you’re building something then you’re spending hundreds of hours focused on it. Odds are they won’t do the same, so you will think far more than they will. The process of creating a prototype gives you far more experience than they probably have. The way they use your product may differ from your intention, so keep that in mind.

When analyzing the market there’s always a push to add more features. More features mean it will appeal to more people, increasing the potential market. Unfortunately increasing features also complicates the product. Given a choice, people would use a product that’s simple rather than one that’s complex with lots of features. You may find the market is split, so one group needs a certain set of features while another group needs another set. You will need to choose whether to combine those features or potentially provide two products, one geared for each use. There’s no right or wrong outcome, but each possibility has benefits and drawbacks.

Ultimately, you need to sell a product so you need to determine a price. Some inventions have emotional responses that people are willing to pay for, such as a movie prop replica. Some inventions have practical uses. Practical uses can be quantified by the amount of time they save or additional benefits they bring. If the invention replaces a person, such as a factory worker, that can be factored into the price. If the price is too high then it encourages competition. If the price is too low then you can’t earn an income. So part of this process is to see if the product will earn an income. Projected unit sales and price is the projected gross revenue. Subtract estimated costs and a reasonable amount for your time. If the end result works out then you have a viable product. If this number is low then the business is not viable. It should be either abandoned or improved further, until it’s viable. You can reduce the costs or reduce the labor through automation which could make it viable again.

For example, suppose you invent a desktop plastic injection molder. These already exist and are priced around $10,000. So the market exists, but you would have to estimate the number of yearly sales. If you can figure out a better way of making injection molding machines then you may be able to lower that price to $1,000. This would let you take over a good portion of the market and potentially open the door to new customers, expanding the market. (The difference in price may make the product attractive to hobbyists, who normally wouldn’t purchase one.) So how much would the market expand and how much profit would you make? If the device looks attractive, or is especially high quality, some people are willing to pay extra for that. Make all decisions with equations. Come up with estimates for each price point and the number of units sold. Surveys can help with this. Use this method to optimize profits.

Most invention begins with ideas but some begin with market research. You can investigate the market to determine where a product is needed. If you find good niches then you can invent products to fit them. Established businesses often begin with market research then move to ideas. If you are constantly full of ideas then this may be a good route. If ideas are difficult then you may have to have an idea before checking the market.

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