Of course. Yeah, absolutely. Definitely. Why not? All answers you can expect from your local hobbyist inventor (and possibly yourself) when asked if anyone is sitting by the (smart)phone waiting for their latest, greatest product. But is there really such demand for a drone that delivers books or a pneumatic tube that shoots you across California? Some simple tests will tell you whether you should keep on down that road, or change direction.
- Who have you asked about it? Too many of us get wrapped up in the product story inside our head. We think, "Well, if I were a working Mom, I would absolutely want a sustainable bamboo stroller with condensed soy wheels and tofu-based sunshade." "Duh, any commuter wants a cupholder on the shift knob. How else will they drink while shifting?". We're not just often fooling ourselves, we're wasting our time. Sometimes we "want" something because we know it can be made, not because we need it. And they only way to separate ourselves from that is to ask someone else if the need is legit or have a really keen sense of empathy. Otherwise, you'll always get the same answer from yourself: "YES".
- Perhaps that seemed obvious, but this sometimes isn't. Can the users of your invention afford your product? You've established that there is a need for it, but there are many wonderous inventions that just aren't cost-feasible. Flights to space (or at least the upper stratosphere) are possible, but out of reach for most folks. Is your invention reaching for the stratosphere, too? Maybe the initial embodiment is a bit feature rich and can be scaled back for cost. It's important to consider risks like this before getting anywhere near a kickstarter and actual production, or you could be digging a hard to escape hole for your new company.
- Is the problem that your invention solves a real problem? I saved it for number 3, but only because it is cliche and so many people overlook 1 and 2 above. But the twist on my take is that many people focus on whether their invention solves a problem, but is it a real problem? Inconsistently cooked microwave eggs is a problem. But it's not a real problem. Dirty aluminum siding is a problem. But it's not a real problem. I won't bore you (or actually, depress you) with examples of real problems, but they are numerous and they are the problems worth attacking for innovators. Not only because they may have some social value, but they also tend to be the most profitable. It may be almost laughable, but free and efficient access to information has been one of the most profitable problems ever facing humanity.
- What next? Every product gets better with time, and the first incarnation can arguably race to market and work out some of the kinks later. A good idea is just that, and even if it's not 100% of its potential, it needs room to grow and improve. But that is actually a far underrated part of an overall strategy. If your product has a clear evolution in front of it, that truly could separate the winners from the losers. The steam engine, the combustion engine, the transistor, the computer, and so many countless wonderful innovations were far from perfect at first incarnation, and that's what made them so worthwhile to invent.
- Can you see yourself in business with this product in 2, 5, 10, 15 years? Developing, manufacturing (or coding), and selling a product idea is laborious, time consuming, and occasionally completely maddening. If you want it to succeed, you need to put in the hard yards and dedicate yourself and your resources. If you aren't willing to shepherd your idea through the process, nobody will. And even if you're not interested in sticking with it 5 years down the road and would prefer a quick sale of IP and/or assets, a minimum of 2 years equivalent full time work is the minimum for most products to get up and going, often quite a few more if you can only devote part time aside your day job.
None of these are hard and fast, but hopefully there is some inspiration to look at your product development process a little bit differently, and approach it with a customer view. Now get to it!