Product Design 101 with Tracy Hazzard from Get Known Now with Jill Lublin
Creating and launching a successful consumer retail product isn’t just about inventing something for buyers. It also means having a great product design. In this episode, Tracy Hazzard talks to Jill Lublin of the Get Known Now podcast about how she got into product design and how it is important in the life cycle of a successful retail product. Jill picks Tracy’s brain on what inventors need to know about their products and why an outside view is critical to launching a product. Tune in and learn more from Tracy’s insights towards launching a product for consumers.
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We have Tracy Hazzard. She has designed over 250 consumer retail products. Things you buy every day and those products have generated almost $800 million for her clients. In fact, her process is featured in an entrepreneurship course at Northwestern and she is also a podcast host. Welcome, Tracy.
Thank you, Jill.
What inspired you to help small business owners?
Originally, I was working mainly with large companies. Companies over $100 million, $200 million in sales per year. What I realized is that they all started small at one point and then they made a bunch of mistakes along the way. When I get involved, it’s almost too late to help them. If I help with small businesses and inventors specifically because this is product related then I could maybe head some of those serious mistakes so that they could make it faster to the hundreds of million and not end up cash strapped and in difficult places.
That makes a big difference. How did you get to this point in your career? You’ve been designing. You’re featured in Northwestern entrepreneurship course.
It’s one of those things where it’s just happenstance. You’re in the right place at the right time or just crazy things happen. For me, how we ended up in Northwestern and this is my partner is my husband, which is an unusual thing as well but common for a lot of small business owners. They relate to us well. We had a business back in the late-’90s, early-2000s and it was all based on an invention, which many small businesses based their first product on a patent or on one thing.
It was for stylus pens for handheld computers. We got infringed upon by IDEO, one of the largest industrial design firms in the world and Palm Computing, which at that time was gigantic in the tech industry. Our patent got infringed on and we didn’t know what to do. We flipped out. I cried a little and just thought, “I’m losing my business. What am I going to do?”When you're small, you get a little scrappy. Click To Tweet
When you’re small, you get a little scrappy and that’s exactly what we did. Because of that, exactly what we did and how we won our lawsuit without going to court, it was what ended up being a part of that entrepreneurship course. A combination of how we use design, patent process and how we also fought it with using PR. It’s a lot of press release, it says, “Do we detect a bit of pen envy?” At that time, the internet was new. It went, at that time, what you would consider viral.
Isn’t that wonderful? It makes my PR heart happy. What do you like most about what you do?
I love getting to use my superpower every day. When I see somebody’s program and their line and the products that they’re putting into the market, I know instantly what’s wrong with it. It resonates with me and I know exactly what we need to do to fix it and I see the path clearly for them. The problem is especially with a lot of small businesses, you have so many things you’re juggling and you can’t see the forest for the trees. Because I can see that clearly, I can guide them right out of it.
What do you see as common mistakes clients are making particularly when they’re growing their business?
They treat their products too much like a baby. You hear this all the time especially with inventors. They’ve worked on this for years and it’s their thing and you have to treat it a little less precious. When you do that, you can see that it’s okay to make changes to it, that it’s okay to pivot, flex and adjust for what the market needs are. Also, they don’t listen to the market very well because they’re so focused on what they are making instead of how they’re getting it to market.
How do you solve those problems?
Typically, it’s the outside view that helps and also, having as many years of experience as I do. 90% of the time it’s that they aren’t seeing and understanding that. The majority of consumers are women. There’s just a little something wrong. The color is not quite right, the finish isn’t quite right. It’s not got the right message that’s coming across in their packaging. There are, honestly, a lot of little things that we can fix that don’t cost a lot of money that can make the change.
What technique do you wish that more clients knew about?
I wish they knew more about these low-cost prototype methods and a low-cost way to sell fast. It’s probably one of the most expensive and risky ventures that you’ll do in your small businesses if you launch a consumer retail product. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money before you’ve tested the market. If we can do things like prototype low-cost or even make a very small 3D printed first run, we can have a lot of those things off, test the market and make some final decisions before you spend tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on tooling.
What do you wish you knew when you started that you know now?
I wish I knew a lot more about how to talk clearly to the clients about the design process because it sounds so fuzzy. You’re just making it pretty but there’s so much success and failure designed into a product from the beginning. I wish I had known that I should be more expansive about my services and how I approach my clients, which is what I do now but it took a long time to get there. I could have headed off and made even much more successful products for clients if I had done that earlier.
What’s been your biggest mistake? More importantly, what did you learn from it?There are honestly a lot of little things that we can fix that don't cost a lot of money that can make the change. Click To Tweet
My biggest mistake is probably a common mistake for most small businesses and that is not paying attention and preparing for the ebbs and flows of cashflow because, in my business, a lot of my income comes from royalty. That’s based on the same seasonality of the retail market. I have a heavy fourth quarter and not as good in the first and second. It’s one of those things where I don’t always have the right type of clients teed up. In the off season I have more fee-based clients and that’s always been a struggle, even still.
That’s a big thing for every business owner if they’re honest. What’s your biggest challenge now?
My biggest challenge now is flexing my business and moving into different genres. Tom and I had been designing together for a long time. I’m shifting out of that and I’m pulling away a little bit doing a lot more writing, a lot more podcasting and other things like that. Handling a lot more of the marketing side of our business and he’s handling a lot more of the technical and design side of the actual day-to-day. It’s a shift because it’s so used to being intertwined in how we work.
Let me just ask you, being an author myself, what are the three best books you’ve ever read that have had the most impact on your work?
I’m a huge reader. I read about 200 books a year, believe it or not. I consume everything. When I wanted to learn how to podcast, I read Naresh’s book, I know you interviewed on your podcast, which was one of my favorites. I read 10 or 12 things around a subject so I can get a broader view and understanding of what it is.
It’s the research to me but probably the biggest books that have an impact on me have been classics. Early on, Great Expectations, probably one of my all-time favorite books. One of the lines in there, you cannot except to be part of my character and that is that, “Everyone you meet and all the things you read and all those things become a part of who you are.” I just love that thinking and the impact people have on you.
My other favorite is Crime and Punishment. That sounds like a weird book but Dostoevsky is a brilliant writer. For current books, Think and Grow Rich for Women was eye-opening to me. You study successful men and you just study all these success manuals and all these things but to finally see it put into women, that inspired me.
What about just another business book you want to throw one more in?
Rembrandts in the Attic. It’s the one I referred to all my inventor clients. It’s a way of thinking about utilizing your invention and intellectual property as an asset, instead of thinking of it like it’s the thing. This is an asset. I can sell it. I can utilize it. I can help give my company a higher evaluation. It’s a different viewpoint on intellectual property.
That’s one I haven’t heard. How do people get ahold of you?
Thank you for that. If you could do it all over again, what would you want to change?
There’s still a little I would want to change. All the difficulties and the things we’ve gone through formed who I am and how I design and how well I can accomplish things for my clients. The last few years because of some hardships, we closed ourselves off a little bit and we stayed just the two of us with a few of various limited clients and it wasn’t as rewarding. It was earlier this 2016 that we stepped out and that’s how I met you. We’ve been stepping out all year and I found that expansiveness and being able to help more small businesses and more inventors. That is so much more rewarding and I wish I had done that sooner.
Thank you, Tracy, for coming on with me and sharing your wonderful wisdom with our readers.The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money before you've tested the market. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Jill.
You’re so welcome. Thank you for reading. I know that you’ve learned something more from our wonderful guest, Tracy. I want to remind you that your message matters. Bye.
Watch the episode here:
Get Known Now With Jill Lublin