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Behind the scenes with Flintu's design process

Behind the scenes with Flintu's design process

Hey Friends of Flintu, Luke here! It's been a wild couple of months leading up to our upcoming product launch. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, jump on our mailing list to keep up to date.) 

As product manager at Flintu, it's my job to make sure that the final product meets the needs of our customers in a way that's simple and intuitive. A major component of that process is overseeing the industrial design, or the process of defining how a product will look, function, and feel. 

For us the design process starts with a couple cups of coffee and ends with a list of essential features and a sketch. From there, we slowly refine our design, through CAD drawings, 3D prints, user testing and, yes, the occasional heated discussion. 

Our new product, SideKick by Flintu, has quite a few design restrictions which has made for a particularly exciting process. The design nerd in me loves every second of making a product that's functional and designed to fit users' everyday lives. They say that working within constraints builds creativity, and we've got two major restrictions.

First, SideKick is as feature-packed as a swiss army knife. As you've seen from recent blog posts, SideKick does a lot, and yet it still needs to be pocketable. That means every millimeter of the product has to be engineered meticulously! We've spent a lot of time testing and iterating to find the best configuration for all of the pieces that make SideKick tick.

Second, SideKick by Flintu lives in a very harsh environment -- your pocket or handbag. This means both design and materials need to be smart and tough! Like I said earlier, my job is to make sure that the product meets customer needs, so it's especially important to me that we end up with a product that can withstand the rough and tumble of real life.

There you have it. That's our design process in a nutshell. We're in the thick of product development for SideKick by Flintu, so we're living and breathing this stuff. At best, the process is smooth and linear, at worst... well let's not talk about that ;o)

What Kickstarter doesn't tell you

What Kickstarter doesn't tell you

The Kickstarter process isn't as simple as it seems.

Why? Making a campaign video and a product prototype is significantly easier than taking a product to market. And the very nature of Kickstarter means reasonably inexperienced people will be out of their depth.

In the case of our first product, Plan V. We spent around 10k AUD producing a prototype, put together a campaign video, and set it live. We had no manufacturing partner engaged. We had no idea of global distribution. We had no customer support processes in place. And to top it off, we both had full time jobs.

We took a risk on an idea half expecting to end up on the scrappy floor of broken Kickstarter dreams. Instead, Plan V became a success. We had created a product with a demand. High fives ensued.

Not so fast! That's not where the story ends. It's not that simple. Taking a prototype design to manufacturing is a challenging prospect for companies both small and large. There are many (very time consuming) challenges that must be overcome.

Manufacturing partner

Before the launch, no one wanted to know about us or our idea. The manufacturers that did reply to our requests were keen to know how many tens of thousands our first run would be. It was a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Without the demand, we couldn't find out the essentials to do business. And without the manufacturing insight we couldn't estimate product cost. Enter risk #1, the product-cost gut decision.

Distribution
To drop ship from China or to freight to Amazon? It's a tough decision to make before knowing distribution numbers or packaging weight and dimensions. In the end we partnered with sendfromchina.com, despite some negative online reviews. Their service was fast, varied, and reasonably priced.  China's mail system is government subsidized to keep the flow of goods rolling globally. Not knowing exact product size and weight, we needed to take risk #2. The gut price of global shipping $5AUD

Mass production
I still remember the conversation I had with Evan after our Kickstarter campaign ended. I said, "The campaigns done. The CAD files have been delivered. The hard work is over."  I cringe as I think back to that moment. The road between prototype and mass production is long and winding and ever dotted with Chinese public holidays. Don't underestimate this process. Just because you can make it easily in small batches does not mean you can mass produce your design.

Quality Control
Does your manufacturer care about customer satisfaction? Yes and no. Mostly no, Certainly not as much as you do. They care about the business and they care about further business. However, you cannot rely on them to ensure 100% of your products will be fully functional. You need a strong QC process from an external party. Test, test, and test. We learned this the hard way.

Having said all of that, Kickstarter allowed Evan and I to do what we love most. The learnings were immense, and interacting with our backers was like nothing I've ever experienced. You guys really are an inspiring bunch. We couldn't have made it through our first Kickstarter campaign without you. 

Needless to say, this time around we'll be doing things differently, By the time we take Failsafe to Kickstarter, it will be mass production ready, thoroughly tested by our Beta Team, and it will be distributed by Amazon (so no shipping delays or disappearing orders)!