4 tricks for uncovering your next great product idea

our e-commerce business’s first Diaper bag was a flop.

It was actually a sales rep’s suggestion (after she rejected us) that we design a unisex model, which lead to the development of the Charlie Diaper Bag – our first bonafide success.

Then, while Amy was standing at a tradeshow with a single $175 diaper bag product, she noticed how much easier it was for companies selling $30 products to make a sale. She decided to develop a line of lower cost products, which lead to the development of our lunch box line, and later our backpack products.

But there have also been a number of failures along the way. Product ideas that, for whatever reason, failed to get any traction and generate significant sales.

Looking forward

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been putting together an Investor presentation for our e-commerce business which has brought up more questions about where we’re heading, and what our product mix might look like in a few years.

There are so many directions we could take things!

But while I love dreaming up new possibilities, the strategic part of me is aware of how important it is to maintain a focus on a simple, unifying concept.

The bottom line is that our business will live and die by the value that our products deliver to our  customers – but not every product is guaranteed to be a success.

Always be planning your next product.

Getting the first version of your product out the door is just the starting point. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t succeed right out of the gate – most entrepreneurs don’t.  Developing a successful product line is a long process of getting feedback, tweaking, rethinking and launching anew.

Think about how you will grow your product selection: will you create variations on a single product idea, or expand into related products? How will future products relate to your overall brand and what story will they tell as an entire selection?

Struggling on where to take things next? Here are a few ideas for diving deeper into your product development:

Poll your audience

As soon as you have customers, ask for feedback! You can put together a survey using a tool like Survey Monkey or better yet, just call them up and talk to them.

I do this on a regular basis. I look at some of the customers who have made multiple orders through our online store and offer them a piece of free merchandise to speak with me for 30 minutes by phone.  

This has lead to invaluable insights into how they are using our products, how they discovered our e-commerce business and what they think of our brand. I also ask them what they would like us to make next. Who knows, a customer may give us our next great product idea!

Push your products to the limit with personal testing

We always integrate our samples into our daily lives and our kids have gotten especially good at abusing our products. Put your products through extreme scenarios to test the limits of what they will withstand and think of ways to make them more functional or durable.

You should also try using them in unconventional ways for which they were not originally intended. You may discover a completely new market or use for your product that you hadn’t considered.

Explore new suppliers

To maintain or increase profit margins you should constantly be assessing your manufacturing process and product sourcing – and a good supplier can be an invaluable partner in your product development.

If you are trying out new suppliers, get their input on your designs and what changes they might suggest either to improve the products or reduce your manufacturing costs. Review the products they are producing for their other clients and see if they include any features that you might incorporate into your products.  

Look beyond your direct competition

By all means, track your competition with an eye towards differentiation rather than following in their footsteps. However, some of your best ideas will come from thinking about how brands outside of your immediate competitive set have evolved their product line. Is there a pattern, a key insight or a general approach that can be applied to the way you think about your products?

For example, recently we were discussing S’well Bottles, who generated $50 Million in sales last year – just 5 years after founding. They’ve stayed extremely focussed on a single product in 2 sizes – but have continually expanded their color, finish and customization options. This is a great lesson for us as we think about how to expand our line.


Having a product fail does not mean the end of your business. By continuing to stay focussed on product evolution and new product development, the process of creating great products will start to happen organically.

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