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New Product Development and the Adaptation Curve Part II

In our 4 part series dedicated to new product developers, innovators and inventors, we explore the 8 top considerations when developing a new product.  Whether a seasoned marketing professional or first timer, these eight critical components include aspects related to product design, positioning, manufacturing, distribution and financing.

What You’ll Need to Start: Ample Capital  

Beyond personal savings, innovators look to family and friends, explore small business loans and even tap into retirement accounts to raise money for their startup products. The initial outlay of inventory capital—that which could be tied up for months is often the greatest obstacle to overcome. Minimum order requirements (MOQs) by factories usually cause a lump in the throat for the first time product developer.  Even if you have the greatest gadget in the world, how do you plan on financing that first big P.O.?  You’ve likely invested significantly to develop your innovation—a figure that has hopefully been taken into consideration for ROI and overall budget.  While established corporations have ample cash flow for typical starting inventories, this may be the greatest initial hurdle for those new to the process.

Inventory Financing / Purchase Order Funding / Factoring

There are a half dozen inventory financing groups (IFGs) in the U.S. who provide bridge capital, purchasing and taking title to inventory which goes to a third party distribution warehouse. You then pay the IFG as for the cost of goods plus any in and out fees required by the warehouse as you sell merchandise.  Purchase order financing is a new twist on Factoring, an older practice in which small businesses sell invoices at a discount for faster recovery of cash, providing the factoring company with a substantial fee.  The caveat is that the invoices must be to reputable clients, i.e. Walmart to be considered.

Advantages

These can be good options that allow you to purchase greater quantities thus commanding volume discounts.  Another benefit is that you don’t have to give up equity to outside investors.  Many times the factories’ terms require money down at the time of placing the purchase order.  IFGs make it possible to abide by these terms.  These companies will want to know:

  1. Your sales and marketing strategy (refer to Part I of the series) and about your team
  2. The quality of the products produced
  3. Your margins
  4. Inventory turns
  5. Your credit worthiness and track record

Disadvantages

Personal guarantees and background checks are almost always standard protocol which usually means demonstrating some form of net worth whether savings, retirement funds, property, creditworthiness and no criminal records.  They may also not take a chance on a new client—one who has no real balance sheet to speak of.  Another downside is that these lenders charge interest rates that can be as high as 40% annually.  Lastly, there is always a time requirement (term) for making good on these loans which are usually around 60 days. If you are unsuccessful in meeting your sales plan, stiff penalties may be imposed.

 

Crowdfunding

In just the past few years companies like Kickstarter have created tech based forums which bring creative projects to life and are open to investment by the general public.  To date, over five million people have pledged over $800 million and funded more than 50,000 projects to date on Kickstarter in categories such as films, music and the arts, video games and inventions.

Advantages

Crowdfunding is catching on and becoming more accepted as a means of raising capital.  Investors do so at their own risk and there is little to no governance or regulation meaning no reporting or other administrative overhead.  Crowdfunding is really an eco-system for philanthropy and those playing in this space have an entrepreneurial spirit.  Mostly, investors do not generally require any form of equity or preferred stock so your ownership is not diluted.  On April 12, 2013 the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business) Act, was signed into law and is designed to increase job creation and economic growth.  The good news is that it eases fundraising regulations imposed by the SEC enabling more entrepreneurs to raise capital.

Disadvantages

Because blocks of investments can be minimal—as low as $1,000 or less, investors may be less motivated to provide insight or contribute to the long term success of a project.

Seed Capital / Angel Investors

Advantages

The difference between Seed Capital and Venture Capital is that Seed money comes from individuals vs. institutional investors. Most angel (seed) investors have a wider appetite for risk and a savvy track record for assisting startups with building their businesses.  These professionals are also versed in providing feedback on pro-formas (financial targets for top line revenues and margins; cash flow models and debt.  Generally seed investors are less hands on in the day to day running of the business once they have a sound idea of your business plan.  Seed investments are less administratively complex with less formal corporate contracts and governance.

Disadvantages

Seed capital usually comes at a cost—Equity. There is risk on both sides.  The investor may never recover their investment or you may give away too much ownership.  Usually the latter results because it is just so tempting for the inventor to commence their dream.

Read Part III of New Product Development

Will China Remain a Strategic Manufacturing Destination?

We continue to hear about the dynamics affecting China’s place as factory to the world. Increased labor costs, currency fluctuations, and shipping cost increases have affected decisions about whether or not offshoring strategy makes sense. Certainly there are products that simply aren’t feasible for contract manufacturing scenarios. Here are the top five reasons China is still an ultimate destination for products that are highly labor intense or are in the startup phase.

Labor vs Other Countries

Labor costs may be up to 30% lower in other countries like Viet Nam and India. However this is offset by superior supply chain advantages such as roadways and utilities. Skill levels are also higher thanks to Western training and a little osmosis over the past 15 years. This means China’s productivity continues to rise other countries in Asia are less efficient overall.

Flexibility

Because China’s manufacturing base tends to be cellular, meaning a production or assembly line can be producing one thing today and another tomorrow, China workers are frequently adaptable to ever changing tasks. Much of this can be attributed to the highly seasonal nature of Western retail needs such as Christmas lights or plush toys. China also presents many options for qualified suppliers whose initial minimum order quantities are less than traditional manufacturers. Often a China manufacturer will begin with molds having less cavitation than is generally required until volumes reach a critical mass. This all translates into less startup cost, quicker return on investment and greatly reduced risk.

Availability of Materials and Manufacturing

Because China now makes a fifth of the world’s manufactured goods, there is a ready source of supply for various components, parts and necessary materials. China is also home to thousands of industrial parks thanks to investment by not only the Chinese government but also foreign direct investment by Western firms. Shanghai and Guangzhou are known manufacturing hubs and have some of the heaviest investment and infrastructure along with some of the largest workforces in the country. Special Economic Zones created by the PRC have attractive tax incentives for FDI and are given more independence on international trade and economic activities.

China Innovation and Investment

Because as we mentioned China’s skill levels have vastly improved, China is now focusing more on innovation and creative manufacturing practices. Also, with labor increases have come increased capital investment in the form of automation—something that used to be last resort if a task or function could be completed manually. So what does this all mean?

Ideal Product Development

China continues to be an ideal partner for new product developers and innovators. While labor costs have increased over the past five years, China’s productivity has increased tenfold. China offers the flexibility required to take on a variety of new projects and with lower minimum order quantities. There is a steady supply chain for materials and different manufacturing services and China continues to invest in technology, facilities and innovation. While China may not be suitable for some manufacturing due to increasing freight costs and currency fluctuations, every project must be carefully weighed and evaluated on its own merit.