The challenge for any consultant product developer is to apply your wisdom and expertise to help develop better products for your client. But what lessons do you learn when you decide to design, manufacture, launch, and market your own product?
In 2012, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released a small, basic and affordable computer called the “Raspberry Pi 1.” This single-board computer was intended for the classroom with the aim of providing students with hands-on computing experience. But the device proved significantly more popular than anticipated and was adopted by all sorts of enthusiasts and hobbyists, applying the platform to a huge range of applications. Invetech designer, engineer and Program Manager, Craig Wilkinson, had been thinking about developing a product in his personal time for the experience it would provide him when his computer engineer brother, Judd, suggested that the growing Raspberry Pi market showed potential.
The opportunity, they decided, lay in the external case options that were available at the time. Like customizing the appearance of your mobile phone through different cases, cases for the computer were available, but were basic and lacked sophistication. Craig identified that he could significantly improve not only on the aesthetics of the cases, but also affect how people would use the computer.
“To my mind, there were deficiencies in the way the Raspberry Pi was laid out,” said Craig. “For example, the power cable port was on the opposite side of the device to the other cable ports, so if you wanted to use it as a media center, and plenty of people did, it ended up looking like an explosion of cables in the center of the room.”
Craig started developing the new product by routing the power cable to the same side as all other cables resulting in a very clean and neat outcome. And with this small improvement, and an elegant design aesthetic, the new product was born.
And what do you call the perfect case for a Raspberry Pi? Short Crust, of course.
Success and challenges
They expected to sell around 500 units, but after winning a design award and getting great reviews in magazines, the orders started rolling in. To date, they’ve sold around 30,000 units (based on two different designs).
But with any new product launch, it is not always smooth sailing. The original business plan was to sell in lower production volumes directly to the customer via standard mail services producing a tidy profit on each unit sold. But standard mail offers no tracking, and potential for lost deliveries, and therefore the burden of product replacement costs. Using a courier service would cost more than the product itself, so they decided to engage the services of an experienced third-party distributor.
“Having to engage a third-party distributor proved a blow to our financial model as our margins took a hit” said Craig. “But I take it on board as another learning experience, and as an Invetech project manager, understanding some of the challenges my clients can face in their product development journey has helped make me a more rounded adviser. Product design, engineering and manufacturing is typically all we see in our day job, but the intricacies of supply chain and distribution, price models, business case challenges, market pricing, margins are an integral challenge for our clients.”
The importance of understanding your market
One of the reasons successful products gain traction is that market insights are incorporated into their designs. For Short Crust, creating high-quality aesthetics and clever features for the media center market ensured a solid launch, and with further insights substantially contributing to the second generation’s success.
This new model is assembled and expandable with no requirement for fasteners or tools. Significant attention has been paid to the quality-feel of the caseworks that snap together tightly, no creaks or groans from the plastics, and come apart just as simply. Mounting holes are incorporated into the design since these devices are now being used for broader applications where they’re being affixed to other surfaces.
Possibly Craig’s greatest insight from Short Crust’s journey is to take time upfront to listen to your market and make the right decisions early.
“You’re much better off spending a bit more time in the early stages of your design, ensuring you’re making the best decisions, based on the market insights,” Craig said. “If you leap into the design stage too early, you end up with problems down the track and potentially put customer loyalty and satisfaction at risk.”
What next for the future?
Given his knack for spotting unexplored market niches, what next might we expect from Craig? He has recently given thought to ideas in the food industry but his passion for snowboarding might yet determine the next innovation (but we don’t want to give away any secrets just yet!). What he does know is that he will spend much time on research and business modeling. And that he will choose a development that is as much about enjoying the journey as the end outcome.