Birth of a Product Company Pt. 1

This is the first installment of a four-part series.


A friend of mine is a stylist to the stars. If there is a movie or TV show shooting in the region, she’s on the set, making hair magic. She gets flown around the world at times. She’s in demand. She also runs a boutique high-end salon in Memphis. People await her return and pay 2x-5x normal rates for a new hair-do because going to her is an experience.


She not only knows her craft well, but is also a genuine inspiration and joy. Passion exudes from her like a form of electricity. In an odd way, she is the premium product, offering a service but wrapping it into a unique, touching experience.


When I entered her enchanted lair—dance music at an inviting level, lights just right, art deco appointments—last week the experience was further enhanced with strong, attractive smells of well-mixed essential oils, new products.


Touching the tester items felt so good, silky, not sticky, and not greasy. I felt drunk in the best way, not woozy, but uninhibited. The sensory overload was heady and bewildering.


I came to my senses holding some hand-crafted objects, lovely designs, beautiful packaging with hand-tooled wood filled with small batches of shaving solids, solid shampoos, and a small selection of other wonders. Perhaps it was the environment, perhaps it was the novelty, but I knew I must take some home.


Until I saw the price, handwritten on a sticker on each object. As I imagined my bank balance draining instantly with each possible purchase, my friend walked into the room.


“Congratulations on creating these products!” I proclaimed, “smells, looks, and feels sublime. Did you make them with nectar of the Gods?”


“What do you think?” she asked, knowing I have helped hundreds of companies conceive, create, and launched new products into the marketplace. Her question was loaded; she was looking for real advice from experience.


“It’s too late. You’ve made several critical errors,” I said, sensing the need to be helpful and honest, as she is clearly devoting time and energy to this project. “You’ve fallen in love with your products, are unmindful of what the market will pay and how much they will cost to manufacture them at scale, and I assume you created all of these stunning works of art without writing a business plan.”


“A business plan? I don’t know how to do that,” she responded.


“My advice would be to back up, stall your product development and prototype creation—you have enough as a proof-of-concept. You’ve put enough attention and care on the products; however, you have fallen in love with the products and are smitten with your creation. This love will endure only if you fall in love with the business-side of the equation. May I ask you a few questions?”


“Of course,” she said, “you are the one who helps people go to market,”


“That’s only partly true. I also help product developers find new areas of opportunity around which they can create new solutions. You didn’t start with people, or a plan, you started with the products. Now, you’ve fallen in love with your creation. Hemingway said ‘kill your darlings’ and the same advice holds true for the product development cycle.”