How To Get Started On Designing Your Next Product Idea With Tracy Hazzard From The SharkPreneur Podcast With Seth Greene
Want to know the secret to designing an idea for a product that sells? Then you’ve come to the right place! In today’s show, Tracy Hazzard joins Seth Greene of The SharkPreneur Podcast to break down the design process that allowed her to create products with an 86% success rate. As a ghost designer, Tracy has helped push over 250 products from an idea to the shelf. She shares valuable advice on how to avoid spending money on creating a product that won’t sell. Tracy also gives tips on what to do before you invest in an idea and know which ones to pursue. Stay tuned for more product creation and design advice from Tracy!
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I am here with Tracy Hazzard of HazzDesign.com. She is the CEO of Design from HazzDesign and co-designer of over 250 consumer products bought every day, generating over $750 million in sales for her clients. Through her Inc. magazine column By Design and the book IP Battle Scars, Lessons and Evasive Tactics, she pushes companies of all sizes to strategically and tactically design to succeed and accelerate business growth. Tracy is also a co-host of the WTFFF?! 3D Printing Podcast, the Start Point for the next industrial revolution. Tracy, thank you for joining us.
Thanks for having me.
How did you get started?
It’s that typical entrepreneur story where you get thrown into and you didn’t realize how much you’d loved being an entrepreneur. My husband, who is my partner, had this great invention. He decided that we should go for it and he was going to start a company. I looked at him and said, “You’re a great designer and a great inventor, and this is a cool product, but you can’t run a company.” We dove in and I loved working for myself and I loved being the person who steered the ship. That’s how we got started and that was back in the late ‘90s to early 2000s.
How did you get from, “Let’s try this,” to this point in your career?
It’s a lot of great experiences. I was lucky enough to work for Herman Miller back when they were inventing the Aeron chair and I worked for a great company called Milliken & Company, which does textiles. They train major executives to come out of there and learn how to run about any business division, which I found very supplemental to my art degree. It’s been one of those things where it was one experience after another that kept leading us. We had patent infringement happen to us. We had licensing deals we had to learn how to do. It was all of those things combined to realize that design is greater than just drawing pretty pictures.
“Design is greater than just drawing pretty pictures.” That is a writer downer right there.
It’s a whole process so that’s what we learned. We learned that we had to embed design throughout the whole process of launching a product or launching a business.
What do you wish you knew when you started that you know now?
When I started, I was green and young. You make a lot of mistakes but you also don’t have quite that filter that says, “You shouldn’t take that big risk.” I wish I had a little more of that. I wish I had that still. That is a great benefit. At that time, I thought it was my liability but looking back on it, it’s a strength.
That is a great way to look at it. Let me ask you this. Not every product is a grand slam home run. What have been some of the products that didn’t work and what did you learn from them?
Sometimes you invent or design something and you don’t know how successful it’s going to be. What we do and the reason why we have many successful projects and products is we prolifically design without regard for whether or not this is something that’s going to work. We screen it through a process we call Prove It. We look at, does this fit the market needs? Does this fit everything? Does this fit the possibility that it will sell? It is extremely important at the end of the day. When we screen it through that, we then toss ideas out but sometimes we put them on hold too.
It’s a series of being able to look at everything. Being prolific in the design process and the invention process is the key there. You can’t hamper it whether or not you need to design for this particular market or keyword. You see a keyword in Amazon, you think, “I’ve got to design for that.” It almost doesn’t work like that. It has to start from the, “I have a need and I have a solution,” then, “Will that solution sell?” is your next question.
$750 million is a mind-blowing number. What are some of the secrets behind your blockbusters?
The reality is we are ghost designers. I didn’t have to invent a brand for each one of those designs, which makes a huge difference. If you are private labeling or doing any of those types of things or you’re out there marketing your own brand, it is very costly and time-consuming. My clients bear that cost. It makes it easier for me to be free to do my job and design well for their brand. That’s the key. They’re already on the shelf somewhere.
My job is to keep them on the shelves and to explode that out maybe across new product categories or new design ideas, and expand on the market that they already have. A big mistake is that most people spend a tremendous amount of money building their brand, but then they get distracted and they go off to the next shiny thing that doesn’t fit the market they already have.
That makes a lot of sense. I’m sure my marketing magicians would want to know some of the products that we use every day that you’re behind.
We have the bestselling office chair at Costco that’s only $99. We have a lot of juvenile products at Target and Walmart like kids play tables, little lounges for kids and gaming chairs. We’ve done a lot of gaming chairs. We’ve designed some furniture for Martha Stewart at Staples, which I don’t know if that is still in the market right now.
Martha didn’t design it all herself?
Sometimes the celebrity’s brands expand into a new category. They say, “We’re going to go into this and establish this relationship with the store.” They have, “We’ve got to launch everything in six months.” If you don’t have a core competency in a particular product category, things can go wrong. That’s typically when they bring us in.
You get brought in not just to create things but to fix them.
That’s why my Inc. bio says I’m a product fixer because that’s what I can do. I go into a company and I say, “Let’s look at your whole line. You have too many SKUs and products. Let’s cut some and we’re going to get you 20% back in terms of operational excellence and operating income.” We clean up some because sometimes they’re out of trend. We clean them up, then they generate about another 20% in incremental income. We then say, “Now, let’s use that money and grow you for the future.” At retail, that’s 12 months to 18 months so it can take a while
What do you like best about your business?
I like that it’s never the same thing twice. It’s always a new product and a new client. It’s always something new tomorrow. It’s exciting and interesting to dive into a new category and apply the same principles. What we found is that our same process, plan and our sequence for how we do things work every time and it’s worked across many categories.Design is greater than just drawing pretty pictures. #TheSharkPreneurPodcast #SethGreene #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
What do you attribute your success to?
I have to attribute my success to my great partner, Tom. We work well together and it’s great to be able to be a woman in the workplace and be able to talk like that. I could say, “Women aren’t going to like this or that.” It’s great that we can talk about that because most of the mass retail and the large percentage of the consumer market, over 80% is influenced by women. When you can’t talk freely about that in your work environment, you can’t be as successful. A little sexism in the office is a good thing.
With all the success you’ve achieved, what’s your biggest challenge now?
My biggest challenge is marketing because it turns out that when you’re an Inc. columnist, you have to market yourself. It’s always a challenge. I started another business on top of my business and it’s interesting that nowadays, we’re on our own at building our own following and our own market. It’s everyone’s problem. We are our own brands.
How do you do that? What are the things that are working for you?
I get to talk to interesting people like you, Seth. That always helps. I’ve been trying to reach out there and say, “If it’s my problem, then maybe it’s my reader’s problem as well.” I’ve been reaching out to people who can provide solutions and ideas.
Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client is someone who has a product idea perhaps and they haven’t fully resolved it. I definitely don’t want them to already have a patent. That drives me crazy because then you get locked in and there’s little that I can do to help, and they’ve also spent a ton of money. I want to help them layout a tactical action plan for getting their product to market. Proof check it to make sure that it has the right market and put it in an action plan to take it all the way.
$750 million is a huge number. You mentioned some household names in the Fortune 500 companies but your description is different. Are you looking for the Targets and the Herman Millers of the world or are you looking for brand new inventors and small business owners? Are you looking for everybody in between? What you would charge Target is going to be different from anybody else, so how does that work?
The retail market is broken right now and in the future. Part of why we started our 3D print podcast is the future is going to be in the hands of the smaller businesses, the individuals and the inventors. That’s because of the way that Amazon has restructured the way retail works and the fact that you have a reach even if you’re small. Also because retail itself is only doing direct sources right now. They have cut out design at many levels and they have many inexperienced buyers picking products that there’s not enough good design in the process and it’s frustrating to work with that. You can slap a celebrity brand on a product that you direct source in Asia but at the end of the day, it’s only that brand that’s carrying it. It’s not a great product and I want to make great products.
That makes sense. In the $750 million, do you get a percentage of that?
I do. It’s anywhere from 3% to 5% but you’ve got to keep in mind that it’s probably spread out over twelve years. It’s not like I got that all in one year.The future is going to be in the hands of the smaller business, in the individuals, and in the inventors. #TheSharkPreneurPodcast #SethGreene #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
You didn’t get a check yesterday.
No, but my best product probably does about $250,000 per year. It’s a single product I designed and it’s usually designed three years earlier. My business run and my daily bills are paid by work I did three years earlier. It’s like a residual model and it works well as long as you continually have projects in your pipeline.
Let’s say you get someone who isn’t Target and who doesn’t have a patent yet. Do they pay you to design it or do you help them say, “Target should carry this? Let me talk to my client or whoever the VP of whatever is over at Target and see if I can help you get your distribution.”
We touch on the whole thing. We sit down from the beginning. It’s like a brainstorm box, in a sense. We sit down, we talk about the idea and we help refine the idea. Yes, we get it to a design level, a prototype level, a patentable level, where it’s ready to go to someone like that. We have referral partners that we use. It depends on where it’s going to go. We always recommend every new product to get on Amazon. The reason for that is a lot of buyers now want to see that it’s already selling and you have some sales proof. The easiest way to do that is to get it ranking on Amazon.
We have a partner that we usually refer who will do that in a short period of time like 90 days. You get it ranking on Amazon. At the same time, you have a great sales partner who’s going in and pitching to the buyer. We try to get some press or some market proof on the other side like testimonials and reviews. We make sure that they’re all in place so the buyer sees a whole package that you’re willing to market your product and you are capable of running a business.
What drives you crazy about your business?
We get a lot of inventors. I say that they’re inventors because that’s what they are. They may spend so much money making a product that’s never going to sell. I want to save them. I want to stop them from risking their families, livelihoods, homes and all of that on something that they’re so far down the road in that they feel like they have to keep going. I want to head them off.
It’s like Kevin on Shark Tank who says, “I forbid you. Take this out behind the barn and shoot it.”
I’m not that mean about it. I always think there’s a way to save it but when you get that far down the road, you almost can’t. That is the problem. I want to stop you before you spend $100,000 wasting money on something. Usually, it’s a problem with pricing. You’ve over-engineered it and it’s not going to meet its pricing.
People should contact you. Do you have some type of consultation service where they can hire you before they start for a small amount of money to find out if it’s worse than bothering to do?
We started this new venture called Mentors 2 Inventors. It’s on Facebook and it’s a group where inventors can join at any stage in their process. We help baby them through the process until they’re ready to use our services. That way, we are trying to head them off. That is the idea. We’re trying to get them to listen to the right people about how to build your business and how to build a good foundation under your invention or your product idea.
That is probably a very valuable service. Your products touch many different places in people all over the world. To stay on top of design trends in many different industries, how do you stay on top of that overflow of information?Start marketing as early as possible. Market buzz is never a bad thing. #TheSharkPreneurPodcast #SethGreene #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
It’s not easy but I read about 200 books a year. I probably read dozens of publications every day, and listen to 2 or 4 podcasts. It’s information overload so I’m in constant information-gathering mode but the reality is that over time, I’ve honed it down to getting the essence quickly on what’s happening. Because I’m constantly following it, I don’t have to relearn something. I already know what’s been going on like, “That’s something new,” and you can dial right into that. If you don’t keep up on it, it’s impossible. It’s overwhelming.
That makes a lot of sense. What are three of the best books you’ve ever read that have had the most impact on your work?
I completely love to read. It’s my hobby and a significant part of my business. Rembrandts in the Attic, I’ve mentioned it to multiple people. It’s a great book about how companies like Xerox, IBM and other things have all these patents and all this intellectual property and they don’t know what to do with it. It’s all in the attic and they haven’t leveraged that. It transformed the way that we approach intellectual property and how we use to design and patent to become an asset for a company, and it’s worked.
In fact, for two of the companies that I designed for, we worked with them for over two years. Each one of them got themselves sold for a higher value because they had all this IP now. That one has been influential in forming the way that we work our business. I love 10X. That’s been such a great influential book. I am reading Dave Austin’s Be a Beast. He’s a sports focused and extreme focused guy. He’s helped many athletes and other things develop focus. That’s an important thing for the inventors and entrepreneurs that I talk about in how to get them focused. I dove into the first few chapters and I’m thrilled with it. It’s a visualizing way to approach that extreme focus and I love that.
What do you want to share with our marketing magicians that I didn’t ask you that I should have?
The important part is to start marketing as early as possible. That’s where the kinds of tips and things that you talked about are critically important. A lot of people think, “I’ll launch the product,” and that’s when marketing starts and it doesn’t. I call it soft launching, but you to market all along the way. You’re always marketing about it even if your product is not ready yet. Most entrepreneurs and businesses underestimate that. They get worried like, “What am I going to do with these people? What are they going to do?” Market buzz is never a bad thing.
For our marketing magicians who have a product or a product idea, what is the best first step for them to take?
The best first step for them to take is to start googling it and Amazon checking it. Go out there and look and see what else is out there. If there’s nothing out there, that’s a big red flag. If you think there’s no competition, start to dial in and think about your ideas harder. Revolution doesn’t happen that quickly.
What is the first step for them to take to work with you?
The best thing is to find Mentors 2 Inventors on Facebook or you can find that directly off our page at HazzDesign.
This has been Seth Greene with Tracy Hazzard of HazzDesign. Thank you for joining us. We greatly appreciate it.
Thanks, everybody. We’ll talk to you next time.
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