Transform Your Idea into a Product

cadjanson.jpgStart Up Princess and guest blogger, Nancy Cadjan, www.signbabies.com shares with us her experience and insights from creating award winning products of her own, sold in over 100 stores and catalogs.

In her own words:

Getting a Product Developed

Over the past three years, I have spent time developing and marketing Sign Babies ASL Flash Cards. I never started out to create and market products. However, when a product just begs to be created, sometimes you have to take matters in to your own hands and get it done.

However, on this journey, I have realized that there are three questions that you must ask yourself if you are thinking about developing a product. Each one of them takes you closer to the decision whether or not you want to start a company or be a manufacturer. I will explain my own journey as I tell you about these three crucial questions.

Question 1: What product would I buy that is not available today or what changes would I make to an existing idea?

I call this my Green Light Question since anything goes here. Let your imagination take you anywhere you think there is a need to solve a problem—even a problem that people don’t yet know that they have (some of the best products created the need and the solution at the same time). Or, as it often happens, you are in need of something that you just can’t live without and go searching for it only to find that it has not been created or that it has been created in a way that doesn’t work for you. For me, this moment came when I was teaching my son basic ASL signs to facilitate communication before he could speak. I have a Master’s Degree in English and a passion for books. As a part of our daily life, my son and I read lots of books. However, I had a hard time finding enough books that had the topics we were signing about. These were simple things like eating and going to bed and animals. But, it always happened that I would start a book with him and we would get to a page where there would be something I did not know how to sign like Aardvark and it would just throw me.

So, I decided to create my own board book in a photo album by placing pictures of things we were signing: his teddy bear, his books, his shoes, his sippy cup, our car, and so on. I also wanted to facilitate learning to read so I included the word associated with the object on the facing page. I took the book to work and a friend said, “If there is not one out there, that is a product you need to create. I will be your first customer.” So, I started thinking and that is how the idea for Sign Babies ASL Flash Cards was born (why they are not a board book comes later).

When you start to develop a product, you really need to take a lot of time to ask what is wrong with what is out in the market and is it so WRONG that it begs to be redone? If something is missing and it really needs to be created, that is your answer. If something already exists and needs to be changed, does it need to be changed so badly that others will see the benefit in your product?

For me, there were books and flash cards for learning American Sign Language, but they were all geared for children and adults who could read. No one had created something for babies. And everything existing for young children had two large flaws that made them unworkable for babies: 1) they relied on the word to get the idea across and 2) they assumed that someone could learn the signs from seeing the picture and using the standard ASL descriptions of signs. These two things are problems for both babies and parents. First, babies can’t read the word APPLE, but they know an apple when they see it. Second, they can’t learn a sign from a picture on a paper with a description. They have no concept that a picture can stand for an action that needs to be completed. Third, the language used to describe how to make a sign is difficult for parents to understand as it presupposes experience with ASL.

Question 2: Will others need it?

This is a Yellow Light question, meaning you should proceed with caution and a lot of objectivity here. You have to be willing to objectively think about your idea and ask yourself will other people really want the same thing you want? Don’t just brush it off and say that because you want it, of course others will. You might want to do some market research and see what your target market is and what they are looking for. Ask if the products out there are ready to be challenged and what benefits can you bring if you challenge it. If you have something that doesn’t exist yet, this is difficult to do and you may have to go by your gut.

Since products for my target market did not exist, I had to use my friends and contacts on Internet chats as a gauge. I listened to them and found that they too were looking for something to sign with their babies. On the Internet, parents shared the names of books that were not too hard to sign and my friends all wanted me to make them a copy of my photo album book. I knew something could be created in this space. But I was not sure a board book was the answer. The reason was that a board book did not solve all my problems. First, it required that the word, the description of how to make the sign, the sign, and the object that the sign stands for all had to be on the same page. This makes it hard for babies to learn and that was my target audience. Second, if I created a book, I took away the parents ability to choose the signs they wanted to sign with their babies. The great thing about my photo album book was that it was customized to the exact signs we were working on. I wanted that same experience for other parents. That is why I decided to do 4 x 6 sized flash cards. They would give parents the flexibility to create a book in a photo album like I had and take away the confusion of having the sign and the description on the same page.

Question 3: Do I have the resources, time, and knowledge to create it?

This is the hardest one of all and I call it the Red Light Question because this is the one that should stop you if you really are not ready to proceed. Lots of good ideas die because people don’t have the ability to make them a reality. You need to ask yourself the following questions:
• Who will help me if I don’t know how to do all the steps?
• What kind of financing do I have to create this?
• What contacts do I have that can help me?
• What knowledge do I have?
• Am I considered an expert (do I need to be)?
• How much time can I devote to this?
• How fast do I imagine getting returns on my investment and can I wait that long? (It generally takes three years to see a return on an investment if you are lucky.)
• Is there someone better suited to taking on parts of the task and should I partner with them?

Be very careful when answering these questions and take your time to investigate each one.

In my case, I had been in writing and publishing and knew how to get a product printed. I had a friend who I wanted to be the artist and I had some cash. I knew my market and how they thought and had experience marketing to this target. I was not an expert in ASL, but I was an expert in the sense that I was the exact type of mom doing the exact thing that the cards were made for and I had dozens of friends in the same situation. I was very conservative about my ideas on return on investment and decided I could only start on a limited basis. I asked my artist to work for free and take royalties off sales and told her I would front all the costs myself. We worked for a year on the first set. The whole process was very painful and drawn out. But, I knew we would be OK when we sold 500 of the first 1,000 in the first month and had to order another printing.

I have learned what things I am good at and what things I want to hand off to others. And there are things I am good at that I still hand off because they take up time that I could be doing other things that someone else can’t do for me. I have found that I have very big weaknesses in some areas and I am still searching for the right person to help me in these areas. I think that process never ends.

I am on my third year now and my husband is still asking when I am going to take a regular paycheck. I keep investing back in to the business to create the next product and make things grow. However, I have had a lot of success. I have sold over 40,000 sets of flash cards in 2 years and created a revolution. Now, there are a couple other sets of flash cards geared towards babies (but they still don’t understand the magic that we have) and I get lots of email and letters telling me of the fun ways kids and families use the cards.

That is what makes it all worth it. Knowing that I started out to solve a problem for myself and knowing that I solved a problem that other families didn’t even know they had. People tell me that their communication with their babies is better because they learned more signs and had more fun with their babies when they used Sign Babies ASL Flash Cards. I get requests all the time for more sets to come out and more products to be developed. I am working on these things while being a mom to that son who started it all and his new baby sister who gets to have her own set of Sign Babies ASL Flash Cards for our reading experiences.

So, if you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, think about the journey I took. Ask yourself the three questions:

1. What product would I buy that is not available today or what changes would I make to an existing idea? (the Green Light Question)
2. Will others need it? (the Yellow Light or Caution Question)
3. Do I have the resources, time, and knowledge to create it? (the Red Light Question)

Then, if you still feel like going ahead, do it. You may be scared every day and wonder if it was the right decision, but if you develop yourself along the way, it will be even if your product does not succeed. The best thing I have received from my journey is the personal development of character and qualities.

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  1. Janet

    Nancy,
    Thanks for this informative article! You should get it printed in a magazine. Just add headlines and break up the text. In fact, why not submit a version to ezinearticles.com and in the bio put a link to your product? Have you done press releases on PRWeb or Businesswire?

    Then, something off-topic. Do you know where I can get a few hundred paperback books printed? It has to be fairly fast, reasonably priced, and easy to work with. You can email me at grocerybike at gmail dot com.Thanks
    Janet

  2. Janet,

    Thanks. I have not tried those sources, but I will now. I am a writer by trade so I write a lot of articles and have never posted there. I bet I could dig up some good things to post.

    Printing cheap and quick is a hard combo to come by. I found that printing in the US is 4 times more expensive than printing overseas. That is the sad fact and the reason why most everything is printed in China or Taiwan. Presses in the US are not reasonable until you get in the hundreds of thousands of copies. However, I will email you what I know and get more details about your specific project. There may be ways around this with Docutech printing.

    Thanks for the uplift in my day!

  3. I suggest to work with MCRL Printing, they have just printed my book and it turned out great plus saving me thousands of dollars.

    You can check that out at http://www.mcrlprinting.com




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