TABTalks #3: from product idea to reality

By The App Business under Design 02 March 2017

TABTalks is our new programme of bi-monthly talks from leaders and tinkerers across creative backgrounds. It's an opportunity to invite our industry heroes to share with TABbers their experiences and insight, swapping stories about the interesting ways they have applied technology and design to make things work better and develop new ways of working. 

For our third TABTalks, we had the pleasure of welcoming Tom Evans, founder of Bleepbleeps, to TAB HQ. Tom shared with us his story, creating a successful range of connected parenting devices, in a great talk that looked at how to go from product idea to reality.

Starting off as a Graphic Designer, Tom fell in love with digital when the internet was rapidly growing. Encouraged to start his own agency and to later work as an advertising creative director at Nitro, he has had the chance to create and lead digital projects for big brands such as Levi’s, MTV and the BBC.

One late night in 2008, whilst taking the temperature of his sick baby, Tom found himself having to painstakingly Google the answer to a common question: what temperature is too high? Frustrated at this lengthy, frictional process, it was at that moment that the idea of Bleepbleeps came to him. Surely, he thought to himself, there was an easier way for parents to quickly get vital information like this - seamlessly, and straight to their phones? By 2013, Tom’s idea had evolved into a range of parenting devices from Tony Tempa (the digital thermometer) to Sammy Screamer (the aptly named motion alarm). All of which connect to mobile devices.

Tom’s lack of technical expertise made his shift from the world of advertising to creating hardware more difficult than he had anticipated. Faced with never-ending technical questions, as well as multiple challenges sourcing a team of experts and raising funds, Tom had a lot of learnings to share.

tom evans inspiration perspiration bleepbleeps

As a Designer myself, it was inspiring to hear how he took a completely unknown path, building a range of products he needed - and believed would help others. Below, I share my key takeaways from the talk.

Naivety is your rocket-fuel

Bleepbleeps was Tom’s first venture into the world of connected hardware, or even just plain old hardware at that. He confessed that if he knew how hard it would be to transition from designer to producer, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to pursue his idea. As a result, naivety in situations such as these can actually act as a boost to motivation, giving us the kind of blind courage and belief that is sometimes needed to start a new endeavour. Knowing all the roadblocks you will have to face throughout your journey, right from the start, will probably put you off. Naivety can help you address one problem at a time.

Tackle the easiest challenge first, then work from there

Tom was passionate in his belief in the value of attending meetups to share ideas and welcome peer advice as well as objective feedback in environments that foster innovative thinking.

When seeking advice on his initial idea of a connected digital thermometer, the response Tom received highlighted a list of obstacles he hadn't even considered. This was a learning curve, encouraging him to take a step back and put the thermometer on pause. Instead, he chose to tackle the easiest product challenge first, and so it was that Sammy Screamer was where Tom got to work first: a motion alarm that sends a notification to your smartphone when it’s moved.

My key takeaway from this point in Tom’s journey is that creating successful consumer products is challenging enough without the added pain of trying to tackle everything at once. Don’t make your journey harder than it already is. Instead, start with baby steps to tackle the easiest challenge first. Then, learn as much as possible whilst jumping your first hurdle, and then be open to putting your product in front of people to see what they think about it. This process repeated will give you the feedback and tools you need to take on bigger challenges and improve your product(s).

Prototype vs. production-ready

Creating a prototype before the final product helps to validate and communicate your idea better to people before you turn it into a reality. 

Nowadays, as we know very well at TAB, there are a variety of physical and digital tools that allow us to create prototypes more easily and cheaply than before. Tom spent time prototyping his idea using tools like Arduino, Raspberry Pi and 3D printers before embarking on the final product design and build. Yet, he highlights, a great prototype doesn’t necessarily mean it can be efficiently produced. Sometimes, you might be able to achieve a very high level of fidelity to what you expect from your final product, but it doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump into production at scale.

Making it production ready is another and completely different challenge. You have to make sure that your idea is achievable within the technology of production, costs and timeline constraints. Sometimes you will have to adapt or drop features to be able to meet production targets. Having the right people in the room from an early stage, people that design, produce and sell, will save you a lot of time.

The perfect storm

In recent years, IoT has developed a head of steam, allowing for entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into reality, more than ever before. Tom attributes this to the swell of services, or as what Tom calls a ‘perfect storm’ - an ever-growing number of crowdfunding platforms, tech platforms, business support ecosystems, supply chains and prototyping tools...all available at your fingertips. All of these services are granting startups with access to similar resources that multinational brands such as Coca-Cola, had in the 90’s. Having this toolbox of resources, places a ‘renewed emphasis on product excellence, brand and design’. Entrepreneurs like Tom are now able to dedicate more time to the consumer experience.

And finally, in sharing his journey, Tom’s biggest piece of advice was to pursue an idea that you are passionate about and that motivates you every day. There are many roads from zero to one, but each will be challenging and tough. His parting words of wisdom remind us of the truism that it’s about 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration - commitment and dedication are essential, but being passionate about your idea is what will keep you going when the road gets rocky.

Like Tom, at The App Business, we are passionate for the craft of making meaningful products: it’s what pushes us every day. To learn more about our approach to designing products people trust and love, get in touch.