We are all makers. Many of us build incredible and amazing Arduino projects. However, we rarely move past the Arduino stage. It has always been a makers dream to make and sell a real product to real consumers. After a bit of research, I discovered that the skills necessary are not difficult to learn, nor, are the resources hard to find. With a bit of guidance, you can turn your ideas or Arduino projects into real consumer products that produce cold hard cash.
Arduino projects are a great way to start! For an example, throughout the rest of this instructable, I am going to use a bluetooth speaker project that I created starting with an Arduino.
Step 1: Define Your Product
It is important to define the main purpose of your product. If you are not clear on what you really want your product to do, you will get lost very quickly when you try to decide what features need to be integrated.
Determine the focus and main functions. From there, you must make every feature complimentary of that function.
Step 2: Thinking Perfection
This is the most important step of the entire design process. It does not require labor in any shape or form, but it is what happens in this step that will shape the final outcome of your product.
You are no longer a DIY, anything goes type of person. You are developing a real consumer product! If you make it through this step and get just a small taste of success, you will never look at your Arduino the same!
As DIY type of people, we tend to just slap things together, making use of whatever happens to be within our reach but, we are now competing against large companies who spend thousands of dollars on the development of their products. It sounds impossible to compete with them by yourself, but it's not! It is actually quite easy.
There is just one simple secret! We must THINK LIKE THEM! When designing a new product, we have to stop thinking, "Oh, this should work just fine" and start thinking, "Will this in ANY WAY make my product seem unprofessional?"
Now that we are in the correct mindset, it's time to get this on paper!
Step 3: Sketch It
We know what we want the product to do, and we are visualizing a professional version of it in our minds. But, we need to get it on paper where we can shape, form, and refine it. The best way to do this is to just grab a pencil and paper (as old fashioned as it seems) and roughly sketch your product as you picture it in your head. You don't have to sketch it in some fancy, 3 dimensional way. Just sketch it in whatever way works best for you. But, while you sketch, keep in mind that you want it to look as clean and practical as possible. Look at Apple's products. If you can copy their excellent sense of design, you will be a winner.
Step 4: Outsource or Learn?
This point in development is up to you as an individual.
You are going to need two basic skills in the development of any electronic related product.
First, you must either learn how to design circuit boards or outsource the work to someone else. It will be well worth your time to learn this skill. Not only will it save you money, but it will avoid the horrible frustration of attempting to explain what you want to another person.
I suggest that you download EagleCAD from here, and learn how to use it.
Once your boards are designed and ready for fabrication, send your files to oshpark.com I promise you won't be dissapointed.
The second basic skill is CAD or 3D modeling. This too may be outsourced, but, again, I strongly encourage you to learn this skill, as it will prove invaluable to every project you work on in the future.
The easiest modeling program for beginners is called FreeCAD, which can be downloaded here.
Once you have your first model finished, it's time to prototype!
Step 5: Build Your First Prototype
You've done so much planning and hard work. Now it's time to get a real prototype in your sweaty little hands!
Depending on the type of product, the steps here will vary. Commonly though, they consist of assembling your circuit board and ordering a 3D print of your model. Both of which are beyond the scope of this instructable.
Do whatever it takes to get your product together. Don't stress out if things don't fit right. Use scotch tape to hold things in place if neccessary.
Step 6: Analyze for Improvement
Once you get your prototype assembled, look for the problems, because there will be some. Trust me! Unless you have years of experience, you won't see possible design flaws until you are holding the product in your hands. That is why it is very important to hold a mockup in your hands as soon as possible. The more you can touch and feel your product rather than look at it through a computer screen, you are guaranteed that much more success.
After you decide what needs to be changed and worked out, build your second prototype. Don't get discouraged. Keep repeating this step until your electronics no longer go up in smoke and you begin to feel a sense of completeness about your product.
Step 7: Beta Testing
Your product is well rounded and functioning as you have hoped. Just sit back and stare at what you've created! You have moved on from being a slap-it-together, DIY type of person to a professional, design-aware, perfectionist.
This is the fun part! If you cant contain your excitement, call some friends out for pizza. Make sure they are the type that will be interested in testing your product for you. All too many times we are enthusiastic about what we create only to find that a lot of people just plain don't care. But, don't give up! It is just important to find the right people because I promise there are people out there who are passionate about what you have done.
If you can't find someone around you, find a forum and ask for Beta Testers. They should use your product for a week or so and report back to you. If they have suggestions or design improvements, don't be hurt. Analyze if you think the change is necessary. Use this step to further polish your product so you can rake in the cash later!
Step 8: Packaging
Your product is ready to sell! But, there's still one thing that you need. Packaging. Don't make it complex or expensive. Use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method. That's right. I'm telling you to KISS your packaging!
A brown cardboard box is about as simple as you can go, but it will do! However, to achieve a look of quality, be sure to at least have your product name printed on the side with a practical font.
Step 9: Marketing (The Easy Way)
Companies spend thousands and even millions of dollars on marketing their products, but you don't have to do that for success. The best way to start is to build a few complete products, and sell them on Amazon. For starters, only build 4 or 5 to keep in stock.
Many companies go through all kinds of certification processes and lots of other expensive things. This isn't necessary for you. It is important though, that you put a disclaimer where any prospective buyer can see it. Call it your "Product Policy". Be sure to state that you are not responsible for any fires, damage, etc. that may be caused by your product. This will prevent any type of lawsuits being brought against you, should your product be the cause of any freak accident.
You must also stand good for your product. If it is dead-on-arrival or goes bad within 30 days you must replace it. As a first time seller, I would not recommend a 1-year warranty. Remember your profits are never secured until after the warranties duration.
Step 10: Pull in the Dough (But Don't Stop There)
It may take days or even weeks to make your first sale. But as soon as you receive your first order, pour yourself a beverage of choice and celebrate!
If you have a winning product, you will begin pulling in good cash. Many of us would just take it easy at this point, but think of all you have learned. It's time to get back to work again.
Begin developing your next product. You will be surprised how quickly and easily you will breeze through the steps. Every time around, you will get better, faster, smoother, and smarter. Now go out there and make a killer product!
If you are a maker who has brought a product to market, I want to hear from you! Put a link in the comments or tell me your process. Product development is a wonderful experience!