Inventing · Product Marketing

How do I start getting hardware product ideas off the ground with no funding?

Brett Fourie Freelance Production Assistant (Film Industry)

May 12th, 2016

I have a couple of (i think) really innovative products that I would love to develop and get off the ground. I just have no idea how to start this process. I need some expert advice and guidance please :)

These are physical products/inventions that would need to be designed and manufactured for resale.


Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

May 12th, 2016

A few thoughts: 

  • First, you say "I have a couple of (i think) really innovative products that I would love to develop". Before you spend a lot of time and money developing products, it's important to develop and validate the market for those products. There is a lot of information about tools like the Business Model Canvas and Lean Startup here on FD and elsewhere on the web. I'd strongly recommend you check them out and choose an approach. 
  • You have already identified that you need technical help. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, you need to form relationships with people with that expertise. If you are developing a mechanical product, someone with mechanical design skills, electrical product - probably an electrical engineer, plastic - plastic manufacturing experience ... you get the idea. 
  • Less obvious is that you need to decide what kind of relationship you are going to have with your team. Are you looking for co-founders? Contactors/consultant? Employees? Where will the money and other resources come from to pay these people and build prototypes? 
  • Finally (at least for now), remember that your idea is not your product and your product is not your business. As you build your team, make sure that you are building the capability not only to design and manufacture your product, but also to get your product sold in sufficient quantity to sustain your business. 
Hope that helps! 

Ken Anderson Director, Entrepreneurial and Small Business Development, Delaware Economic Development Office

May 12th, 2016

Protect the product or service as much as you can, and then share the idea with a moderately trustworthy industry the industry most likely to benefit or in need of the product or service, and see if there is a real demand or anticipated demand in the marketplace. Step number one.

Andy Barkin Chief Lubrication Officer at Andy's Super Oil and Inventor of the Sleep With Us Pillow

May 12th, 2016

Hi Brett,
Check out Stephen Key's book - "Open Simple Idea." It's directed at someone exactly like you. It will guide you through the process and probably save you a lot of time and money.

Best of luck!

Martin Omansky Independent Venture Capital & Private Equity Professional

May 12th, 2016

Some suggestions from an inventor/investor with a lot of scar tissue: (1) form a corporate entity to keep track of expenses and protect yourself from liabilities; (2) find an affinity investor (someone who trusts you and understands the technology/markets involved. (You can't launch products without some money; (3) do a patent search; (4) engage a patent attorney; (5) engage a securities lawyer to give you general guidance; (5) hire a world-class product designer - like Alan Schinazi of Pawtucket, RI - to help with the engineering and product design; (6) resist the temptation to do everything yourself; (7) prepare for a long slog. Sent from my iPhone

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

May 12th, 2016

1) Do a financial forecast: the first step is to confirm the potential size of the market and your likely share of it. Simple Google research should find you some top down estimate of total available market (TAM) size. Then figure out the bottom up serveable available market (SAM) of customer prospects you actually know how to reach. Then calculate the likely Share of Market (SOM)you are likely to win of the prospects you touch. Now calculate your expected number of customers. Multiply by your expected product price to calculate your expected top lime revenue. Multiply expected customers time expected unit costs including cost of customer acquisition to calculate Cost of Good Sold, COGS. Subtract COGS from revenue to get your Gross Profit. Estimate your other Operating Costs which are not sales volume dependent. Subtract Operating Costs from Gross Profit to calculate estimated bottom line net profit EBITDA. Together these numbers constitute a simple pro forms financial forecast. Repeat for first 24 months. 2) Is the net enough to be worth your effort? If you will need investors, is their share going to meet their Return On Investment ROI expectations for the amount of money you will need them to invest? If these are not both true look for a different venture and count yourself lucky you dodged a bullet before spending any money. 3) if you pass the ROI test, check your customer interest assumptions. Create a small list of target customers you think will be early adopters. Can you contact them for equal or less than your forecast customer acquisition cost above? When you contact them, does your SOM percentage respond favorably and are they willing to sign a non binding Letters of Intent (LOI) that if you make what you say for the price you propose they will buy? adjust your customer forecasts and financial forecasts in light of these results. 4) if you have the money to self fund, go hire a designer and manufacturer to build you prototypes and market test them. If you need money take your forecasts and LOIs to prospective investors and raise thee money. You will probably find the best prospects among your LOI customers or your suppliers or distributors. Scott McGregor,, (408) 505-4123 Sent from my iPhone

David Austin Relentless problem solver and innovator.

May 12th, 2016

Brett, I created a webpage of resources for entrepreneurial inventors like yourself.  Check it, and contact me if you have any additional questions: 

Ellen Henson Engage and align product teams for customer satisfaction and business success

May 12th, 2016

Hi Brett -
What capabilities do you personally have in product design? Mechanical drawing? Access to 3D CAD? Can you create a physical mock-up?

Where are you located? Is there a TechShop or equivalent near you?  For a minimal investment you get access to classes, equipment (3D printers) and experts that would enable you to create initial prototypes.

Having an initial prototype will enhance any conversations you have with people who are in the relevant industry and/or potential customers for your products.

Ben and Joe both point out the need to understand potential markets and customers. You indicate that you are a freelance production assistant in the film industry. Is your current experience relevant to the product ideas? Or - what makes you the 'expert'? What value would your products add to the market, to the customers? What need are you potentially filling? Validating this need is critical to making progress with your ideas.

Erik Brun Principal Engineer and Co-founder at Ripple Design and Redshift Sports

May 12th, 2016

Hi Brett,

I run a small product development company that specializes in physical products of all types (mechanical, electrical, etc.). I would be happy to chat with you and give you some advice and guidance. Shoot me an email and we can setup something up: erik (at) rippledesign (dotcom).


Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

May 12th, 2016


Start with the idea you have the strongest gut feeling about. And definitely start with the idea that you will enjoy working on the most. But, don't let the enjoyment of working blind you from any reality about it. In your time off, try to fail it as fast as possible. Try to come up with solid reasons why it would fail...but truthful reasons. Not ones that have anything to do with the amount of effort or passion on your part. Contact potential customers. What do they think about the idea? Would they pay for your idea? Don't let them just say that they would, many people are afraid of hurting feelings and that's why they say 'yes'. Try to get them to pre-order your product. The way I see it, without this or a strong gut feeling based on reality, there really is no reason to start manufacturing and wasting money. Do with as much with as little as you have. 

Good luck,
My best,

Nidhi Khator

May 12th, 2016

Try Regards, Nidhi Khator Twitter: @ndkhator