This week on the Full Stack Leader we’re talking with Kevin Bailey the President at Design 1st.

A passionate product designer and business executive, Kevin Bailey helps guide CEOs, start-ups, and established companies through the maze of hardware product development. Spending over 35 years in the detailed designing of hardware products, Kevin is now an expert at assessing risk and opportunity when making the hundreds of decisions required to move from a vision to a physical product that customers find helpful and businesses can manufacture.

Kevin’s Top Leadership Tips:

Below is a summary of the Top 5 Leadership tips shared during the interview this week. Take a listen to the episode to learn more about the thoughts behind these tips.

  1. Understand The Buyer
  2. How Complex Is Your Product Idea?
  3. Who’s The Best Development Partner?
  4. Who’s The Best Manufacturing Partner?
  5. Balance Your Risk And Opportunity

We hope you enjoy the episode. You can find even more Full Stack Leader episodes here:


Show Transcript

Ryan: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Full Stack Leader podcast. This week I’m here with Kevin Bailey, the president of Design 1st. He’s worked in the connected product and engineering space for years. We’re excited to have you here. Kevin, welcome. 

Kevin: Hi, Ryan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I don’t often get a chance to actually share some of the knowledge I’ve picked up over my lifetime in hardware product development. That’s a terrifically complex area and I’m hoping In our conversation, we can actually share some of the knowledge and help other people. 

Ryan: Yeah, it’s always great to look back on things and kind of think about how those big pieces you’ve been working on have come together over the years.

Maybe you can start a little bit about how you got into this in the first place. 

Kevin: Sure. The it goes back a long time. I’m 62, so I’ve been working in product development since, you know, effectively high school. But, you know, I think creativity, and I’m a designer by nature, not a business guy.

By nature. I like business and I’ve always treated it as a necessary element. But for the most part, I had a designer for the first 15 years of my life in the eighties and nineties, which was a very exciting time, You know, digital. Integration and connectivity in the world came to pass in the early eighties and the advent of mass computers and things.

So it was a great time. And yeah, I’ve always, you know, built things with my hands. I’m a hardware person. I like materials, I like how they go together. I like manufacturing processes and, you know, doing things I think most of us are that are creative. You know, build something or make something or create music or whatever.

So, it started a long time ago. I’ve been in this 35 or 40 years now, and I’ve got to see many different types of companies, types of situations sizes of budgets and global situations that lead to decisions as you go from an idea to a product or hardware or physical product in the market.

Ryan: What are some of the early things you designed and what was that process like as you were just getting into learning how to do. 

Kevin: You can go right back to the beginning where, you know, Lego was a piece of my life, but you know, come high school and onward building small speed boats and things that I could do on my own or with, you know, plans.

And, you know, back then you, there was a magazine that showed up in the mail and it said, Here’s a kit that you can do something with. And, you know, I would order and get the plans and they would get mailed to me.

And I would do sort of small electronics, you know, color organs that you know, change colors to music. I built speedboat so that it started with that sort of need to create things. And then through my schooling and through my. University going in as mechanical engineering. That’s you know, learning the process of physical ways to analyze things and do things.

So the engineering really teaches you how to approach problems. It’s not teaching you how to design. I was lucky enough in the early eighties to get out into the market at the time when Nortel Networks, a global company, was launching the first digital equipment. They were about eight to 10 months ahead of some of the other companies in the world.

And so they actually got a great foothold on digital servers, network architectures for moving voice data only. And then through that in the integration of companies like Cisco that brought data to the world and the integration of those platforms through the nineties to bring data and voice together.

And then the advent of companies like Apple that brought, you know, mobility to it music to it, eventually smartphones. And just watching that whole migration of taking what we could only call mobility within a home, which was a cordless phone to mobility outside the home, in the cars. And now finally, not only you know in our workplaces, but I can take one phone and travel the world where when this all started and through the nineties, I had to decide whether I’d take my phone on an international trip because it wasn’t gonna work, you know, where I needed to.

So it’s been great to watch that migration where we all just assume that everything is seamless when we wanna connect with people and when we wanna do our. 

Ryan: The migration that literally made Star Trek a real thing. It’s been wild to see exactly how that has gone so quickly from you know, tethered lined telephones from the early days to much more much more accessible and wireless experiences that can go anywhere, like you said.

Kevin: How did you, Yeah, and that brings up a really interesting point. The You know, there’s always the people that when an innovation or an invention comes out when did the actual creative elements start? And so, for example, at Nortel Networks, I was with a team of a hundred people, the corporate group that was looking at new innovations specifically around people that wanted to communicate.

And those data came in. Communication meant a large screen and a large screen on a mobile device meant that you wouldn’t be putting it up to your ear because you had to look at the screen. Therefore this critical element of separable audio became a key innovation. And so our design groups would do all kinds of research around how do I separate the audio and do it in a convenient way where people don’t lose it.

So we had all kinds of sort of, Concept models and things that we tested across different places in the world that were around sticking an ear butt back into the top of the phone, you know, the phones were bigger back then, you could actually do that Now. It comes, you know, the ideas of the inventions were all done in the early nineties about meeting it.

The actual implementation was tried and failed many times over the next 20 years, and Apple came. You know, one of the, I mean we went through the wired ones where I think everyone knows that how fast you have to buy a new one with wired stuff. And so the wireless, but it took 20 years for the convenience of separable audio.

To be useful and not frustrating. And now it’s, you know, it’s widespread the last five years of really high quality headsets, but you still have to carry ’em separately. There was that thing as, Oh, I left my audio somewhere because I, you know, it’s in my pack and I forgot to where we, ideally from a user’s perspective, when we’re with the behavioral scientist in the early nineties, it was, it really needs to be part of the phone so you don’t forget it.

And that really didn’t come to pass cuz phones got smaller and there’s no available room. . 

Ryan: Yeah, that makes sense. But how did you take some of those concepts at Nortel and start to transition them into your own company? That I think it sounds like it really expanded the types of things that you were doing.

Kevin: Yeah. Well, I was lucky enough I had a full suite of. People to work with, including production people. So when we dreamed up, like we dreamed up a smartphone and it had a large display and it had a Slidable key ad cuz we believed that you were gonna need a keep ad separate. And these things were bigger because we had to put, you know, our envision what the next five years of technology was gonna allow us.

So they’re slightly bigger phone, but they were above the same size as smartphone. And a bit thicker. And we did that work and we did the first production units in 1995. Okay. And we found that they’re completely unusable, not because the phone’s unusable in the interface that we developed for it’s unusable.

It’s because the internet. And the bandwidth speeds weren’t ready for, and delays and latency and issues, people would never use the product. There’s just too much unpredictability in the ease of use that kinda remind. So I got frustrated at that point, mid nineties with developing some really neat stuff.

They never really went to market. And you needed large companies for this because when you talk about smartphones, they’re not a hardware product. They are a hardware. Device that lives within what a person would call a product or an experience. A user needs the network. You know, they need other elements to have the proper user experience.

And this one device, your smartphone is just one of those elements. So, I I was good at making the devices, but it needs a large company to do connected products of the scale and scope of a smartphone, but there’s many other products out there that don’t need that level of sophistication.

You need to understand the network. You need to understand hardware. And there’s many companies out there and many individuals and inventors and startups that need help to figure out how to get that hardware component through product development and still be useful at the other end, and still have quality and still be at a reasonable price point.

And I had that knowledge as a individual working with these large programs and traveling the world and working with manufacturers and things and sort of seeing. It is fairly easy, but to the average person, not the big corporation that already has large teams, the average person or the small corporations and things that really have innovative ideas that they can’t bring to market because it’s, you know, they just need a guide.

That’s where I saw the opportunity, and so by mid nineties I decided to actually hang a shingle. I got some work from the large company that I work for in terms of developing the next generation of. Phone for them at the time. An internet based phone. So I did some work there to start out as I built the team and grew from there.

But that’s really the motivation was to get out and provide this level of capability to people that otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. 

Ryan: So That’s amazing. And the company started with this kind of initial client and it grew and you ended up taking on more clients and more 

Kevin: project.

Yeah. And in doing so, I had the luxury of the model back in the big company saying you need people that understand users. So user interface specialists, user experience specialists you needed cognitive sci psychologists, you need behavioral psychologists. You have to go and figure out, you know, is there a user needs before you jump in and say, Now here’s the right configuration and the right set of features and the right.

So, You really have to start with the user first and work backwards as best you can. And so because I had that rich experience plus all the engineering teams and the manufacturing teams, we got to do some really neat stuff. So I knew that I needed a bigger team, but I’m an expert in physical design.

I’m an expert in the mechanics in the user interface. I got enough experience as the manager in in the large coast. So I kind of knew the team I wanted, but that team needed to be, you know, 20 to 30 people and I had five. So what do you do there? And so the. 15 years was building that larger, more diverse team so we could represent all the different expertises.

So a company that comes along isn’t buying just a piece of the service, and then they’re gonna go have to manage all the other people that have to feed in to make the right product. They can actually get most of it in one place. . 

Ryan: I imagine some of the people you were going after to round that group out had a lot of very specific expertise within their field, correct?

Kevin: Yeah. I mean, there’s, there absolutely. Our hardware electronics team are all sort of 20, 30 year veterans have, they’ve been in doing what I’ll call system based products because. Standalone products and there are system devices and as we I said earlier, a device in a system is not the product.

It’s only one of the devices that creates the experience for the user. . So I’ve got a team of people that understand the not only the design space but the intricacies of, you know, which chips you pick, you know, which are the ones that are a little more, a little newer, maybe a little less defined.

Not all the situations have been sorted out for certain devices, but to go in and figure out risks, and really our business is risk management as good choices are made or opportunities are addressed. The experience of risk and risk identification and risk reduction for any, anything but the most important features of a product where you’re actually taking risk on that new differentiation.

The new innovation is to try to minimize all the other risks as you move forward so that you actually increase your chance of success. 

Ryan: How do you share an ethos like that across diverse team that has lots of different touch points within a particular process so that they really kind of get behind that as an organiz?

Kevin: It’s an ongoing challenge, but I create a level playing field and I was lucky enough, again in the big corporation, that’s how we thought, you know, you have to put people in a room and you have to work through details. Where maybe the software design is uncomfortable having the conversation about their feelings on what the product should do.

Cuz everyone has an opinion on what the product should do and how the feature should work. But tying that to data what’s working, what isn’t and making sure that those teams interact and talk. And getting engineers and industrial designers in the same room to come up with a single solution has always been a challenge.

If you look at the education industrial design organizations within universities or colleges and engineering within university or college, I thought that was gonna migrate together in the nineties cuz it’s a natural fit. Product design areas, but it really hasn’t there. I mean, it’s coming along, but I thought it would happen naturally.

And so getting the people that Think they know what a product should be and the people that are collecting data to inform on what the product could be, getting them together to have a conversation and make a decision around different configurations and focus on the ones that are highest value and lowest risk is an ongoing conversation.

And we just happen to have, with our 30 person team, we’re doing 70 plus projects a year now where you can practice and improve the team skills and our approach to how you. Come up with configurations, assess risks, and look for a look for feedback and test with potential users or the target users, preferably and and come up with a team that understands that decisions are not made because in your head you believe it’s the right decision for the product they’re made.

You bring ideas to the table, but the solution is a team based so, Yeah, that collaboration 

Ryan: seems like it’s really key, especially when you have a variety of disparate parts that have to come together into a really unified feeling experience. Do you when you put those teams together into rooms, do you have any specific way in which you actually guide conversations with them and work with them?

Kevin: Yeah, and I find two, two major groups of individuals. The people that. Believe they know what’s right and really don’t wanna work in a team. And they don’t last long, right? They typically move on and the people that bring ideas to a table, but understand that, you know, that they’re just one data point.

And I’ve got some really talented people. They bring great ideas to the table and. There is this subjective allocation of priority. Not only which solution might be better for any given situation, because when you think of a product, it’s not a product as a whole. It’s a thousand little solutions of which most of them.

People can make that are competent within an area, but there’s ones that actually compete across areas and there might be five or 10 ones that are fundamental to the solution itself and will drive successor failure on some of those key decisions and identifying those key five or 10 elements of a product, understanding the risk, understanding how you’re gonna make that decision process and whether you’re just gonna wing it.

Cuz our clients sometimes just say no. Wing it. I. I know what I want, so I’m just gonna wing it. We’re gonna make that decision the way we go and that configuration gets accepted. And we just move forward. Or you can use more data and the data doesn’t have to come from large studies. It can come from creative and careful conversations with people that Can inform us or provide insight into the issues with a particular configuration, and then we can, you know, we can move forward with a better sense of the risk.

But in every case, you’re taking risk cuz we’re breaking new ground. . 

Ryan: Yeah. And it sounds like you have to get your team to be flexible, but at the same time know how to kind of work into a process together. Is there anything when you’re like recruiting people or trying to find people that you’re looking for in that and asking those kind of questions as you’re building the team or interviewing?

Kevin: I think the experience of I don’t know, everything comes from. Doing a few products on teams and we have, but it’s rare brought someone at out of school or a one or two years experience. And the exception comes because that particular person, when you look deeper, They’ve had a product mindset their entire life.

And you look at what they’re doing outside of their schooling and, you know, they’re already seasoned experiences in the not in teaming, but in, in the passion to design. And then you’re looking for those soft skills as a person works with other people and brings really creative opportunities and potentials to that team.

And and is okay with the, you know, the learning cuz when you walk into our organization, there isn’t many. People that don’t go, Wow I wanna do this if you happen to be a designer, or, I can’t believe this exists. If you happen to be a person that really doesn’t understand how products get brought to market.

And so I think very quickly, someone newer to design becomes very respectful because the rest of the team they’ll be working with is, you know, highly integrated already. So you’re not gonna be stumbling very much, right? You’re gonna be learning like crazy, drinking from a fire. 

Ryan: Yeah that’s absolutely true.

You know, what I’ve noticed is there’s more hardware, software integration across most products these days. Even things that we wouldn’t have traditionally thought there might be like a let’s take like a you the thermostat, right? It, and now with a lot of the hardware comes, software, do you find that?

As you’re trying to bring those two types of teams together, those two types of engineers, that there’s a general difference between them or is it all like one big engineering mindset for you? 

Kevin: No. It’s a really good question, Ryan, because there’s a line that we’ve purposely drawn between if a user experience is.

Thermostat that involves both a hardware component, which has an interface of some sort on it and a software component that may live in the cloud. It may live on the smartphone, it may live both places, so your desktop or, but that software component requires a particular skill set that we have not developed in house for a reason.

A fully inclusive experience team would say you have to have that. So we control all aspects. What we’ve said is we’ve, we work. Partners that actually do that component that actually help us to define the full user experience for the customer or with the customer. And we do it because we used to do it on our own.

But what we find is you do need a very large team not to do the design. You need a large team to actually debug the design and keep it operational in the field after the product is launched. And you really need a smart Software, you know, testing process across many different types of devices and situations and stuff.

And you just need a much larger team to do that. So we are the hardware people that actually work on the device that fits into a bigger user experience. When we do system products or what I call system products that aren’t standalone, they have updateable software, they have an interface that’s picked because it aligns or helps the user understand that.

Thermostat on your wall that has four buttons and a little tiny display is only good for a couple of things locally, but it maps to the iconography and the user experience you’re having within your smartphone or desktop or whatever else is envisioned for how the person will control that smart device.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s great. And I absolutely understand cuz we do the software side of that kind of thing a lot. And so I understand the real distinct difference between these two things, but also like the handshakes that are having to go on between them they’re so important in today’s market.

Kevin: what I found, if I can add to that, Ryan. Sure. What we found is that the hardware component limits what the software team can do. So we end. Not only creating the communication document for the protocols between the hardware and the software we end up because of the limitations of, you know, the device memory, the chip memory, or the, you know, there’s just a whole bunch of limitations where you can do more in software.

They end up saying, you know, what about this, what about that? And we’re having to figure out whether it’s possible on the hardware device to either, you know, present data or send data. And. And that’s one of the biggest challenge we end up being central in the definition of. Software on the devices for some elements of the user experience because of limitations of the hardware chosen, which in many cases could be the cost.

You know, there’s only, it can only reach this cost, which means it can only have this chip set with this memory. And the display can only be this size. So now you’re, now you’ve just constrained all the user interface aspects in what you can do. So we designed the user interface on the device.

The design of the user interface on the other end requires careful collaboration, but then you’re back to this bigger team. You have to have good inner working, you have to have good protocols and communication and you have to solve the problems. And typically as you get farther along in a product implementation, into manufacturing and final tuneups and things.

We’re heavily relied on to keep everyone organized because the software teams that are doing the software apps really don’t understand the implications and the hardware. And so as they make changes and problems come up, we have to do all the debug and sorting out as to why the situation is as it is.

And in many cases, it’s because, you know, the chips are new they haven’t always been put into certain situations, so you have to go and do some testing to figure out what’s possible. So maybe you can’t show the. Three decimal places on a data point that you’re showing to users, you’re gonna, you’re gonna fudge or you’re gonna, you’re gonna show ’em an average over a minute versus real time, or, you know, there’s lots of little things you do in the fine tuning of an interface that provides a more predictable user experience so they don’t get frustrated.

Ryan: All that makes sense here. Here’s an interesting question because I’m, I am working. Tandem across a variety of hardware projects as well. And what I’m noticing is that on a software side, the world of remote working is a really accepted thing, and in fact, it’s kind of really baked into the culture of software development at this point.

But how is it in terms of working with your team? Do they have to all be local or like on the hardware side? Can you do remote work? Is that something that is still not okay in that particular side? 

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m much more articulate now with the you know, people work from home the last two years.

What’s feasible, where the obstacles are. Then I was, you know, in 2019 when I said, you know, work from home might, might be a problem for us. As people asked and said, you know, can I spend time at home? Because the biggest challenge was that when a person worked from home and we all sat in boardrooms or on conference calls, that person at home.

Was skilled, needed to become skilled in the remote tools, were the people at work. Oh yeah. We’ve gotta, you know, set up the board and we’ve gotta link that person in so they can be part of the community. And it just wasn’t a normal trained part of everyone’s, you know, interaction. Well, we all did go home.

It’s a hardware company. It scared me, you know, two years ago where we said, you know, this weekend moving home and it. Really affect us at all. In fact I’ll, if you don’t mind I’ll add a little bit to that of what Yeah, of course. It is the nuance of software versus, versus hardware because we have to build stuff.

So what my first experience was that People were being more productive at home because we’re in a busy environment in the office, and some of it’s open concept and there’s slab and things. And so, it’s noisy and the ability to focus sometimes on what you’re thinking and creating is hampered and, you know, but you have to get through.

So headsets and different things. So the ability to work at home I think really helped foster creativity. And then I’m really thankful that Zoom came along at the right time because it was critical. To be an easy to use tool where we all got up to speed on it within a week. And now that we all have normal remote working tools, you know, we’re two years later and we’re only a third of the people working back in the office, but only part-time and it’s still very effective.

In fact, it may be more effective including, you know, the time to travel to work and whatever. It just it’s a better situation with the caveat that we’re a hardware group. Prototypes have to be built. Sometimes electronic breadboards, sometimes it’s you know, full housings and integration of 50 or a hundred or 300 parts into a product concept that has to be shipped.

And so our teams are dynamically adjusting their schedules based on do they need to get together if so, when, or do we ship the prototype by courier to different houses as people do different elements of it. And so the team has the choice of how they’re gonna go. But overall, I believe we’re in a more efficient process than we were as an environment, than we were when we all just came to the office and sort of put our timing together.

And I think there’s lots of positives to that going forward where we can provide some choice as people are wrestling with. Is it a creative thing where any quiet, is it a prototyping thing where I need to be with the group, with the caveat that we’ve told everyone that, you know, it’s.

Output and efficiency. So make your choice. But you know, it’s gotta be something that’s positive for the company in terms of the particular situation. 

Ryan: That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing that. And I know that thinking through some of those challenges we’re probably not on your list of things to do in 2019, in Southern 2020.

It’s like, okay, well let’s, This is a whole nother innovation we’ve gotta solve. And it, it’s funny cuz I do think a lot of the world. Actually evolved kind of nicely into it because the foundations were laid to some degree. I kind of liken it to the vaccine, like the vaccine. Already being developed and kind of in a preprepared state.

I think that was the way the working situation had to be to handle the pandemic as well. So it was interesting. 

Kevin: Timing is everything. Yeah. So we, I think it was just a fortunate if it happened 10 years earlier, you know, we’d be outta business I would think. 

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you. It was great to hear your thoughts on that and hear a little bit about how you do things from the hardware side.

Well, we’ll be back in just a minute to talk through your top five tips. But we’re really glad to have you here today. 

Kevin: Fantastic. 

Break One 

Ryan: Disrupting the product space not only requires an innovative product team, but a leader with a strong sense of how to elicit and guide that innovation. Kevin reminds us that a talented creative leader must be able to sense trends and adapt to waves of change. Kevin also has a deep understanding of what it takes to create successful products, and this knowledge translates into his ability to guide and motivate his teams to achieve great results.

His 30 years of experience has given him valuable tools to help his team avoid common pitfalls and make better decisions. And Kevin’s tenure in the product innovation space makes him an excellent leader and a valuable resource for anyone looking to create successful products.

 Welcome back everyone. We’re here today with Kevin Bailey of Design First. He’s working on the hardware side, and we’re really excited to hear some of his top five tips. So Kevin, why don’t we jump in and tell us tip number one, what do you have?

Tip One (Understand The Buyer)

Kevin: Great. I would say tip number one from a designing products point of view is when you design a product understand the buyer. And the user intimately. And the user might be users or classes, depending on how complex your product is and how many markets it’ll serve. But if you’re starting something new, typically it’s a very focused exercise and there is a target set of users and there’s a buying process or buyer.

And if you understand both of those well, you can guide your technical teams and your design teams towards something that is intended to meet their needs. Because products are really task oriented elements and we’re trying to. Do something better for the person performing the task in a way that they would see is better, better enough where they would actually change what they do today.

There’s many products they put out there that people say, Yeah, it’s better. And people go, Well, it is, but I’m not changing what I got. Because it’s not that much better. So don’t assume, you know. The users, unless you really do, There are some people that do know their users and they’ve spent the time there.

There’s many companies that and actually I’ll add this because I think this is an important thing to to understand in developing or designing products when you have an idea you really, it can fall into a couple of categories. You’re breaking new ground or you’re making improvements on something existing.

And when you’re making improvements on something existing, sometimes it’s quite incremental. And there’s many companies out there that are gonna do a refresh of their product and they’re gonna give it a new look, and they’re gonna give it a, you know, display and a new interface and things. And that’s a much more contained exercise than I’m gonna bring a new product to the market that no one’s ever seen before.

And it’s gonna provide a feature that’s similar to other. But it’s done differently. So now I’ve got a barrier to entry and people go, Well, what does it do? Or How do I use it? Or is it gonna be useful? And those are big things to overcome as you get into marketing and selling a product. So when I understand the buying experience and understand the users is really important.

Ryan: Absolutely. That makes complete and total sense. All right, tip number two, What do you have? 


Tip Two (How Complex Is Your Product Idea)

Kevin: It’s really building on what I just said. How new and complex is the product idea you want to bring to market. And one way to do that is bring it into two scales. So, ryan I’m gonna put you on the spot. Is do you have a product idea?

And it don’t give me anything that’s intellectual property, but just a simple product idea we can use as a reference point to have this discussion. 

Ryan: Yeah, here’s one. My kid dropped his switch off the second. Floor of our house. And I was thinking like, how do you make how could you make switch controllers more protected and than what I’m currently seeing on the 

Kevin: market?

That’s a really good one. So it could be an accessory to switch, cuz you don’t wanna invent a new switch, right? Some people do, they wanna invent a new switch. Other people say, Well, the problem isn’t about the new switch, the problem about, you know, putting something protective around it, for example.

And so, the as designers, we say, Okay, well is there anything else in the market that does that in a different context? And the answer is, yeah, their skins glow. They’ve been developing skins for smartphones, but they also develop strategies and skins for laptops and other devices that have electronics and displays that, you know, you’ve gotta protect ’em a certain way.

So if we said, how complex is that product idea? The likelihood that the solution is one or two parts is very, So if I have a scale of zero to 10 incremental design or fundamentally new design, that idea is a one or a two at most. Because I’ve got references in the markets, I’ve got lots of materials out there I can use.

The problem of drop production has been around for eon. So as design, development and engineers and things, we know where to go, what to do. There’s lots of factory set up that will provide a new configuration and we can come up with something innovative. If you’re doing a new switch, that would be the other end.

You know, say I wanna do a new switch like a Dell. Laptop that has hardened corners and better displays and things because the product may survive, but your display may break if you drop it off the second floor. So now I gotta protect my internal components and mount them differently inside. So it’s not just about putting rubber corners on and letting it bounce.

Your display will still break. It’s about understanding all the components that are fragile in a product. And so as you decide on the solution, the complexity of the. New idea and how to execute on it. How much customization is there, electronics involved that swings you along a scale? You know, where the 10 on the scale is?

The Elon Musk of the world where they’re, you know, sending things to orbit. Right now that’s way off the scale. You need thousands of people, you know, working on solutions cause they’re quite complex. So. The product you mentioned is a zero one or, you know, whatever. Right. But we deal with products that are in the four to six level.

We don’t do, we’re not doing cars, we’re not doing you know, there’s a bunch of products at that far end that you gotta decide. So decide on your complexity. This number one? Yeah. 

Ryan: So the that particular idea I just gave you, the, that has another layer to it, which was I wanted to, every time he dropped it, be able to, I want to have a running dashboard tally of how many times the switch has been dropped, essentially.

So thinking about like how to go from. That concept into something that has a whole nother framework to it. That was one of the things that kind of keeps coming up, and I guess that goes down that evolutionary path that you were 

Kevin: talking about. And that’s perfect. Right? Cause actually my next step in this discussion is once you’ve decided the complexity, you can add complexity or double it by saying, Okay, I need something.

It’s kinda electronics so I can do this next feature. So, you know, feature in, feature out the rubber mount that protects the drop is the 10 or 15 or $20 product. The smart protector, skin skirt, whatever the solution ends up being. Maybe a hundred dollars because you’ve now added smarts to it.

You’ve gotta have a way to communicate with the switch or communicate with the wifi or, you know, somewhere else to get the data out. And useful to you. So you’ve just increased the complexity by an order of magnitude by wanting that one feature. 

Ryan: Yeah, and I imagine increase the amount of teams that have to come together to pull it off as well.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly right. So now the idea of of how the complexity sales is how complex I’m trying to do and complexity can take on different forms. Like there’s no other product in the market, you know, it’s that I’m gonna be breaking new ground here. And so I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta be careful that I don’t make something people nobody wants cuz they don’t know what it does or don’t see it as useful.

Tip Three (Who’s The Best Development Partner )

Kevin: So I’m gonna have a hard time selling it. But the other one is the customization scale. So how much customization goes. And in, in order to do this. And that leads to the, how big is the budget? How, you know, as you say, a customizing a shape to fit around a switch is an overnight process. You could actually just go directly to a manufacturer and say here’s what we’re trying to do.

We’ve got some high level designs to hire industrial design firm. Here you go. They may come back with a couple of solutions and you can get your way through a skin that might work. And you wouldn’t need a design. Well, you need a design firm, but you don’t need an engineering firm and a you know, a prototype and test firm and a supply strategy firm and a marketing firm.

You know, you can probably find your way through as a small, you know, entrepreneur to coming up with something. But as you add electronics, now you’ve just created a problem for yourself. You’re gonna need far more help, guidance, cuz your odds of failure are gonna go way. And going to manufacturer is one route, but there’s all kinds of risks with that.

Manufacturers want solutions. They don’t want to help you develop the solutions, even though many of them say, We will help you. If it’s incremental and they’ve done it before they will take some risks, but ultimately you to the man manufacturer makes money on the supply of goods. They will sometimes discount your design because you’ll secure, you know, they’ll write a contract where you secure the, they are your manufacturing partner for X number of units.

And so as. Group. They want your business to make products. They don’t necessarily want your business to develop products. And that leads to the middle, and that’s where we live. In the middle, we’re the guys, We’re the people that come and go and support you as you find your manufacturing partners as you.

Qualify them for right, for your particular situation. And and work with them on the details. So the odds of those things being shipped in boxes go way up in terms of customers liking them, the quality being good enough where you don’t have a returns nightmare, and the other million things that you have to do once you hit the operations side of your business.

Well, I guess 

Ryan: I’m finally ready to launch my switch protector dashboard thing. Stuff, . 

Kevin: Yeah, exactly. So now the next, the third one is who is the best partner? And we’ve touched on it a little bit here, so I didn’t have to go in too much detail, but Yeah. Yeah, you’re gonna need a partner, an expert, a guide of some sort.

You can do it yourself and then, Connect with, you know, right to the end, to a manufacturer and they become your partner and your guide. You can introduce a design company like Design First. That really is design and supply. You can introduce a design company and then you can introduce a, you know, do your own prototyping or have the manufacturer do the prototyping.

Write all the quality documents. Do that. But that’s where it gets tricky cuz even the simplest of products. People will do the minimum amount they have to get the products out the door. So you might find your manufacturer while they’re doing all the work and developing a product. They don’t give you any documentation.

They don’t give you the 3D cad, you have no mobility in moving to someone else or things go wrong. The partners in the middle, like design first, we help with the process, the detailed development, the documentation, the revision control all the things that make sure that you. In full control as you select your manufacturing partner.

And should it not go well, you can transition to other solutions on your supply side and your operation side. 

Ryan: That’s amazing. Thank you for all of that detail. So as we’re jumping into tip number four now, 

Kevin: I believe, correct. I think I’m running ’em all together, so I, I apologize, so no.

Tip Four (Who’s The Best Manufacturing Partner) 

Kevin: Best, Who’s the best development partner was number three. Okay, great. And I actually overstepped And who’s the best manufacturing partner is number four. Okay. You have to get both of those right. And if the best development partner is yourself and you’re gonna do it yourself, that’s your choice. If it’s more complicated and you understand the complexities of hardware development and many companies that.

You know, the marketing team has a new idea. It’s an established small business. You’re gonna do a jump to a new product, or maybe you’re only a software company and you’re gonna be jumping into hardware because you need that enabling piece of hardware to do a better. Solution for customers and have a better experience where you’ve got the software, you need the hardware, those business teams do not wanna do hardware development if they can possibly avoid it.

Learning hardware development takes a long time. And those pitfalls are massive. Those thousand decisions and the 10 important ones it’s really critical that you do that properly or you become one of the 80, 90%. You know, park it as a failure or you spend a lot of money cuz it, Small entrepreneurs fail startups.

You know, abandoned and small businesses keep iterating or reduce feature sets or take out risk and come up with something eventually. Right? Cuz they’re putting invested dollars to work fairly. Do they get abandoned because they’re a little bit more organized in the outcome and in the development process.

The choice of the product development partner that’s appropriate to the complexity and the customization is really important. Know what you’re getting into, know the budgets associated with that extra feature on your switch idea the protection idea that also you wanna collect data.

Just know what you’re getting into. You know, cuz that takes a 50 K program and turns it into 300 K program. If you happen to need, you know, you’re gonna be doing inventory and stuff. So your budget size dramatically increases. As you add features, Add electronics, add customization. So that’s a choose a partner that’s appropriate to your customization and complexity For design development, choose the manufacturer who becomes your partner for your production of the thing that you’re doing.

And that could be you, it can be you and you know, there’s many small businesses which get parts and supplies and sub assemblies, bring it into your facilities and then do the final quality control assembly and verification. That’s a great process if that’s, Appropriate to the volumes you’re doing and your, you know, your business strategy of, you know, made in USA or so that’s done many times and that’s a really good solution.

You can do, especially as startups and smaller Enterprises, they don’t quite know your yearly volumes, and the larger manufacturers are just gonna ignore you. You just, you don’t have the volume for them to be interested. So you’ve gotta get that smaller volume going, establish your markets, grow the, you know, grow the revenue budgets from your new product, and then you can migrate to larger, more established contract manufacturers.

So choosing a contract manufacturers one other choice. But figure out who you trust to manufacture or your supply strategy and your manufacturing strategy is going to be depending on your company and your situation. 

Ryan: That’s amazing. Thank you. I don’t know if the fifth tip was baked in there, but if you have it fifth tip.

Love to hear it now. 

Tip Five (Balance Your Risk And Opportunity)

Kevin: It’s implicit in every of the in the other four. That’s what I thought. Yeah. It’s a balance of risk and opportunity. Right, eh, New innovations, new ideas are opportunity. Your smart switch dropped six, you know, survives and you know how many times it survived. You know, is the goal.

That’s the objective. The risk and opportunity around what you bring to market and those little elements, you know, the risk of It’s surviving two feet and not hurting internal products that, or sorry, internal components of the switch that you can’t control that’s done by the manufacturer.

Maybe it’ll only fall one meter before the parts inside break. So while your goal was to get it to fall, two stories, you’re gonna be faced with one meter. And once you know that, the answer is, do you continue on, Do you keep, you know, is that product gonna be successful? So risk. Look at the opportunity you’re trying to develop.

Look the risk associated with actually being successful at it. Define what those risks are and focus on the 10 high important risk. Don’t focus on the thousand little decisions. That’s why you hire the experienced product development teams to get rid of those other 990. Decisions cuz they’re making ’em based on knowledge and materials and quality and, you know, the drawing sets and revision controls.

All the other ways you can fail when you put a product in the market that you know, leaks and get water into it. Or just there’s a million ways you can fail in hardware. But focus on the risk, on opportunity of that short list. Understand what they are, make sure that the team and the development teams understand what they are and they use a client.

And those are business risk, marketing, risk user risk and product. And the product itself, the device itself risk, there are force. All categories are important, and there’s usually one or two elements in any given product design that you really wanna make sure everyone understands and everyone is thinking about it as they make their trade off decisions and what’s in, what’s out, and what are the final specifications for each of the components and the overall product.

Ryan: Well, I know there’s a ton of people who are trying to do really innovative stuff in the hardware space today, so we really appreciate you taking the time to offer your perspective and your approach to how things are done. Thanks for being here today, Kevin, 

Kevin: and congrats to you for actually bringing this information out and taking the the platform forward that actually allows people to understand this and bring people like me in to be able to share this.

Ryan: Awesome. I appreciate it. Thanks so much.

As your business grows, it will face different challenges. As a leader, you must be able to adapt your style and methods to fit the need of each stage. Kevin demonstrates why a buyer-centric perspective is key to the success in the product and engineering space. This involves understanding not only what the customer wants.

But also how they want it delivered. Leading teams in the product sphere requires this level of intimate knowledge to be able to truly empathize with the needs of those you’re trying to serve. Only then can you accurately assess what is necessary to create a product that will truly meet the needs of any client.