6 considerations in choosing a product development firm
Is a firm good at early concepting? Is it more comfortable taking a rendering and doing the engineering work? Does it help with manufacturing?
BY JEREMY LOSAW
Product development requires many different skills, and no one can master them all. So a good product development firm can help inventors like you bring products to life.
Prototyping, CAD design, molding, 3D printing and electronic engineering are some of the skills in which a competent firm should be fluent. But choosing a firm that’s a good fit for your product can be difficult.
Inventors are passionate about their ideas. They need a development firm that can take that passion and maximize its potential. So when choosing a product development firm, carefully consider these factors.
Above all else, choose a firm that has experience bringing products to market in your idea’s category. Experience means a firm will understand the past, present and future trends of the market. The company will use its knowledge to provide design guidance that is innovative but within the bounds of what consumers expect.
Good product development firms also have knowledge of the regulatory environment. They are able to design a product that is safe and compliant from the start, which can save thousands of dollars. A firm with broader experience is valuable, too, as some ideas can be modified with input from other industries to create a stronger product.
Where does a firm’s experience start and end? Knowing that answer is important.
Is a firm good at early concepting? Is it more comfortable taking a rendering and doing the engineering work? Does it help with manufacturing? An inventor often has some portfolio of work—including sketches, prototypes, samples, or a business plan—so you should know if a product development firm can take those materials and go from there.
The right tools are crucial for getting quality prototypes. Whether produced on 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters or other prototyping tools, a development firm should have a robust set of equipment and the knowledge to use it well. When evaluating a firm, ask what tools it would use for your projects and samples of its prior work.
Any development firm will likely outsource some parts of a project. No team has every tool available. So when vetting companies, find out what parts of your product they are likely to make with a third party. You should also get a list of who a firm would contract with, where that third party is located, its typical lead times and that it is bound by a nondisclosure agreement.
Enventys Partners has a full suite of equipment to handle any prototyping challenge, including this Stratasys Origin One 3D printer.
You are going to spend a lot of time with members of your product development team, so you need to know and trust them. Ask your firm if you can talk directly with designers and engineers who will be assigned to your project so you can ask about their experience and interests. You will likely get more inspired work from a development team that has personal interests and experience in your category of work.
A good product development firm employs people with a variety of skilled backgrounds and interests. Ensuring that a firm has the right people to complete all (or most) aspects of your project is essential. For example, Enventys Partners recently designed and prototyped the components for a new head lice treatment device, including 3D-printed parts and the electronics that power the device.
A team with experience building great products can help weather any challenge.
References are a great way to hear from past clients what it is like to work with a firm. Most firms have testimonials on their websites, which are a good place to start, but be aware that these are often carefully curated examples.
To get a fuller picture, do a quick Google search of the company and read their Google reviews. Google reviews provide more candid feedback from a variety of customers.
See what people are saying about the company and contact people who had positive and negative experiences with the firm. You can also ask the firm for a list of references. Doing this reveals the product development firm’s specific strengths and weaknesses.
Because the goal of a development process is to mass manufacture a product and bring it to market, it’s vital that you understand how the firm transitions from design to production. If the firm has manufacturing facilities, ask about its locations and capabilities to see if it is a good fit for your product.
If the firm does not have manufacturing available or its capabilities are not the right fit, ask how it transitions to contract manufacturing.
Does it have a sourcing team that can find a right-sized factory? Does it have experience preparing files and prototypes for factory review? Can it provide services to help during the manufacturing, should design changes be required? Be sure the firm can help with mass production once the product is fully designed.
It is crucial to understand cost and payment structures so the firm can work efficiently and stay on budget. The two primary models are fixed price and hourly.
Product development is a service with an unknown endpoint, because what you are asking to be built has never been done. So, do not be shocked if a fixed-price bid is higher than an hourly estimate; firms have to account for iteration and potential scope changes.
For hourly billing models, make sure you understand how many hours per week the team will typically provide and make sure the hours are reported to ensure time is being used efficiently.
Knowing upfront how billing is done and what is billed helps avoid confusion and slowdowns later in the project. Ask whether a deposit is required, how often billing is done, payment options and terms, how third-party costs are handled, whether meeting times and calls are billed, and what happens if there are overages and change orders.
You must have clarity on the financial aspects of your collaboration to ensure the firm’s services align with the project needs while fitting your business plan and overall budget.