The 7 Essential Steps From Idea to Product with Tracy Hazzard from Hack The Entrepreneur Podcast with Jonny Nastor
Have you ever wondered what it takes to turn your idea into a product? More than that, have you ever wondered what it takes to do it successfully? Tracy Hazzard joins Jonny Nastor to discuss the key steps on how to choose and develop an idea into a sellable product. From hiring the right people to predicting marketability, they cover all the bases on how to take your vision to the market. Tracy also talks about having a healthy business partnership with her husband and what crucial skills helped build their business. Tune in on this episode of Hack The Entrepreneur to learn more!
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My guest is a retail product manager, a 3D printing expert, a writer and an entrepreneur. She is Cofounder of Hazz Design Consulting where along with her cofounder and husband, they have designed over 250 retail products that have generated more than $750 million in revenue. My guest is also a contributing writer to Inc. Magazine and she cohosts a show called WTFFF?! Now, let’s hack Tracy Hazzard.
We have a very special guest. Tracy, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
It is my pleasure. I have a good feeling about this one. Let’s jump into it. Tracy, as an entrepreneur, can you tell me what is the one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?
As an entrepreneur, I know when to hire the right resources. That’s because too many times I didn’t hire the right resources and things went phenomenally wrong. When you choose to hire the right resources, they save you money, they speed you to market, and they help you avoid a lot of risks. Knowing that and when the right time is to do it, you need to make the money to make that happen.Know when to hire the right resources. #HackTheEntrepreneur #JonnyNastor #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
This is where we usually find it out too late. How do you continue to learn when to hire the right resources?
On one side, I am the right resource. Many people come to me and it’s too late for me to help them. I see it from that side as well. We get a lot of product inventors and other things who come to us. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have tooling that doesn’t work or a product that’s just sitting on a shelf because it didn’t function properly. They thought they were being safe.
This happens with manufacturers in the US and Asia. It’s not exclusive to a specific country or difficulties with that. They come to me and I’m like, “You spent all your money. You don’t have any money to hire me to fix this problem, but if you came to me before, I guarantee you, we would have spent half that.” Seeing it from that side helps me. Early on, we invented the stylus pens for handheld computers back in the late ’90s
We went to a local manufacturer in New England and we thought, “This is great. We’ll source locally. This will be easy for us to maintain. We’ll be able to visit them and see how it goes,” but they’d never made pens before. Shortly after the first round got shipped out to all of our customers and it was a big deal, we were in business and we were super excited about it, the pens started exploding. They started popping apart right at the joint. We were like, “What’s going on?
It turns out they messed up the threads and they were in the wrong direction. They would unscrew as you wrote. It was because they didn’t have experience doing pens. They had great injection molding experience but not doing pens. We have always made it a policy since then. Luckily, I learned that within the first five years of my career. We try to hire someone who has walked in our shoes before. Been there, done that at least in the category and recognize when we know we’re asking them to do something they’ve never done before.
I need to go into this because I know for a fact that you are right. First of all, I didn’t expect you to say that you’ve seen it from the other side when people come to you as the right resource. This is something that people do. I know my readers and I know people around me in this creation and entrepreneurship space. We come up with ideas of things we want to invent or create. It seems like most of the time it’s gone about in the wrong order.
What would be your recommendation for somebody who comes up with let’s say it’s a pen again. This special new way to create a stylus pen didn’t exist yet and somebody had this idea. Do you think that they should go find somebody who’s been in this before? I know people are going to be like, “I don’t want to share my ideas.”
We get that a lot. We have 35 patents. We just filed 36. For us, the way that we do it is if we have something so secretive and so inventive, we split it up between manufacturers but always with manufacturers that know what they’re doing for the particular product type or material type we need. That way, in the early prototype days, you can hide it and they don’t know what they’re making. That’s an easy way to do it. We always file provisional. We don’t even bother with nondisclosures most of the time. I know all the attorneys out there are going to send us nasty hate mail.
We don’t because they’re not enforceable. Are you going to have the money to sue them, especially when you’re a solopreneur or an entrepreneur? That’s how we do it with the protection side. Speed to market is so much more critical to protecting your idea than anything else. If you hire the wrong people or you try to do it yourself and it takes you three times as long, you’re more likely to lose your innovation than you are if you get it to market fast with the right resources.
The provisional is not a trademark. Is it?
No. That’s a patent. For utility patents, we don’t do that for design patents. We don’t file that many design patents but if there’s something unique in the way it functions, we do that. In 3D design, copyright applies. We do file official copyrights when our product is done but your copyright is protected from the moment you design it on the computer. That works as well. People who design apps and coding, it’s copyright.
Do you have the resources to go fight it when you could be spending your time, energy and resources getting to market quick? People can take your code and do whatever they want with it. By the time you figure it out, get them to court, win and get any money from them, the market’s been saturated.
I have a personal experience with that. We know that when you win, you lose. It distracts your business. It costs you a tremendous amount of energy and money. At the end of the day, you will not end up with any money. You might cover your costs for having hired lawyers. If you settle, you might but chances are pretty good you will get $0 out of it. We are talking about the stylus pen. We were infringed upon by IDEO and Palm Computing in 2001. We did take them to court. We didn’t go all the way.
We had no money so all we did was file the initial filing. We didn’t even do any discovery, nothing. It costs us $5,000 at the time and that was all we had. At the end of the day, they settled because they were trying to go public. There was a lot of pressure. There was an indemnification clause. It was a whole bunch of circumstances that made it go our way but at the end of the day, they killed the product. Any royalty stream from that disappeared. We learned early on exactly why you don’t do that.
That’s the rule that people should follow. Let you learn that from them rather than try and learn them yourself. Tracy, I went back through your career. I think from the outside that you’ve been entrepreneurial for probably most of your life at this point but you also worked for a lot of other great companies doing other things. In the last years, you’ve been full-time in this. I know going through it, it doesn’t always make sense but looking back, often it does.
I would like it for you to answer me about this time in every entrepreneur’s life when they realize something about themselves, that they have this calling to make this difference in the world or they found that they’ve somehow become unemployable. I would like to know which side of the fence you see yourself on and when it was you discovered this about yourself.
I have worked for some great companies very early in my career. That’s exactly where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a corporate designer and have a high-powered career like that. I worked for Milliken and Herman Miller, great design-based companies. I thought this was going to be exactly where I wanted to be. My partner, who is my husband, invented that stylus pen back in the late ’90s. He always wanted to be an entrepreneur. He’s an inventor by nature. He said he wanted to do this.
At that moment, I was a little unhappy with what was going on in my career. I said, “If you’re going to do that, I’m not going to let you run the company because you can’t do it.” I got forced into that situation of being a copartner and an entrepreneur at that time as we started up a business right before the tech bubble burst. We got forced into this business. I felt like I was good at it. Even though there were lots of circumstances and everything but it was also stressful and risky to have both people in it. I have kids.
Having that at the time seemed so much so we were happy to have time off after we sold off all our intellectual property. It ended well. I had had enough for a little while. I took some time off. I started blogging and writing. He went to work for a company but he was so unhappy because he always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Years ago, he got fired and it was at the worst time. It was 2009. I was two weeks from delivering a baby. Some extreme situations happened with that. He had a non-compete clause and they were suing him. It was horrible. I’m about to deliver a baby.
The only choice we had was to tap our networks and get the first project we could take. It launched this business that we didn’t know we were going to be in. I was dragged back into entrepreneurship and dragged back into a partnership at a time that I expected to have my little sweet miracle baby and have this great little time. It’s in the last few years that I found that I love it. It is my calling. I’m good at it. I have so many people I can help with how I do things. Now, I don’t want to do anything else.
It seems like these stories don’t make sense as you’re going through them, but then you look back and it’s like, “There it is. It totally makes sense.”
I had to go through all that risk. I had to go through all of that and see it from that dark side of it to understand how to design a process that does it differently.
I need to go back a little bit into this answer because it’s good. I love the idea that you are cofounders. You’re a partner with your husband. Partners need to be as polar opposite as they can be because it’s most beneficial to have that. In the beginning, your husband has always wanted to be an entrepreneur and go into business.
You said that you’re not going to let him do that because he wouldn’t be good at it, and then a couple of minutes later you said that you felt that you are good at it. What did you see about your husband? Not to offend him. That’s not what we’re trying to do here. I want to know. This is why you are successful because you are polar opposites. Why is he no good at entrepreneurship? What do you see in yourself that makes you good?
I wouldn’t say that he’s not good at entrepreneurship. He’s very good at designing, inventing and doing all of these very self-propelled types of things, things that you have to be very driven to do. From that side of it, he’s very good at it. At the end of the day, an entrepreneur is building a company, building a business. He is a little more on the product and the invention side of things where he’s focused on the what and not the how. I feel that I am much stronger at building the how.
I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I thought that was going to be a crucial thing there and you made it even more crucial. He focused on the what and you focused on the how.
This is for people who aren’t in business with their spouse or it doesn’t work for them. We have the same why, the same purpose, the same mission and the same direction in life. Our why is to build a great life for our family. Our why is that we want to help other inventors and entrepreneurs from making the same mistakes we’ve made. Because we have that same why, our paths are aligned. Too often partnerships get misaligned paths. To me, a partnership is a marriage, whether you’re married or not. That all-in commitment is required. Thankfully for us, that is easier.An inherent part of taking a lot of risks is there’s always going to be some ups and some downs. #HackTheEntrepreneur #JonnyNastor Click To Tweet
The what not the how, but you have the same why. In your business as an entrepreneur, you know when to hire the right resources. That’s your one thing. Now every blog post, every expert, as you probably know because you write for Inc. at this point, everybody talks 80-20. Do 20% and get 80% of the results. Do what you’re good at and delegate the rest. Tracy, I would love it if you could tell me something that you’re not good at in your business.
I can hire the right resources and things but I am not good at delegating. When it’s these small tasks, I’ll be like, “I’ll just get it done.” It’s those little things that bug you down quickly in your business. I’m at that stage where I’m like, “I have to take my own advice. I have to do this. I have to get myself a real assistant. I have to let go of these things.”
What’s your next step to doing that?
It’s finding the right person. We have a home office so we’re about to break out of that home office in the next couple of months. When that happens, it’s the right time.
Let’s move to projects. Project is a very loose term. Take it as either a new product that you want to create or even with the podcast, how you decide to start that whole new project. I would like to know what your process is, whether that’s an internal process you go through or a written process. What is the process you go through to judge an idea of a new project and decide when it’s worth your time, energy and resources?
We’ve honed this process over 24 years. It is exactly the sequence. We know it works every time. It prescreens and forces fast failure at the early stages before you spend a lot of money or a lot of time. We call it the seven P steps. It’s proved it. We don’t make anything at that stage. We’re proving a concept of something. We might have to draw something but we don’t go that far. We’re checking market and product fit. It could be a market and podcast fit. It doesn’t matter what it is. It works for products and services.
We prove it and then we go onto our next step, which is where we start to plan. We start to look at where might we need these resources, who they might be, and where are our risks in the process. We identify those. We call them launched landmines. From there, we go on to price it. That’s the key for us. That is that sequence that most people do out of order. That step. We price something before we make it, before we design it and before we prototype it.
Because of that, we make sure that it will be the right fit. That’s so critical. We prototype it and then we patent it or protect it. It depends on what it is, but sometimes those two steps overlap as you’re prototyping. You have to patent, copyright or do any of those things. We then go on to predict it. Here’s yet another step. You realize we haven’t gotten to the seventh one and we haven’t made anything yet officially.
Predict it is where we forecast and where we figure out what happens if this explodes. The next most common problem we see besides pricing, making everything go wrong is when you grow too fast and you can’t achieve the volume. This happens mainly because we’re in the mass retail world. You’re talking about high volume, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of units. We then produce it. We make it. That’s our seven-step.
Is it true or correct that at any of these, whether it’s step one or step four, if it doesn’t move past there, is that where you determine failure and move on?
It’s a gated process. There’s always a review, revise and reject stage there. We might table something at a stage and come back to it. It happens all the time. It’s just not the right time for something where we don’t have the right resource and we know we need it so we keep looking for it. It depends. We never completely reject something but we never keep working on it either and that’s a mistake people make.
You use this seven-step process, the seven Ps, to force fast failure which is cool. How do you determine when you’re going in that direction, even if you’re just at the proving its stage? If you feel something in your gut is right and you don’t prove it right away, how do you determine whether you need to push through it? Maybe this is another peak. Do you push through it to prove it or just take it as feedback that it’s a bad idea?
With 3D printing, for instance, the market’s not ready for what we have to offer. We can design amazing consumer products via 3D printing but there’s no retail store that wants to carry our designs yet so who’s going to pay us to do it? We looked at that and we said, “We’re too soon for the market, but we believe strongly this is coming and this is going to happen.
What should we do to continue to position ourselves to be ready for that market?” That’s exactly why we decided to start a show. We lay the groundwork if it’s not ready yet. It’s a way for us to continually test that market to prove it out. When it hits a proof point, where we say, “It is ready,” then we go forward. We’ve done that. It’s been years and we’re just hitting our proof point.
You’re building up an audience with that market.
That’s what we thought. We’re ghost designers normally so you don’t know that you’re buying the products that we designed in the mass retail world, but once you’re a 3D designer, it is your design and you’re right out there. We thought we had to build a following first so that’s what we did.
Tracy, this has been an absolute blast. I want to wrap up one final question for you. This idea I’m calling the entrepreneurial gap. Meaning that as entrepreneurs and dreamers, because we’re always projecting our successes into the future, oftentimes no matter how successful we look from the outside, from the inside we feel like we live in this gap where we are never successful, no matter what we accomplish. If we set a huge goal in 1 month, 3 months or 6 months down the line, right before you hit that goal, you’re going to set bigger loftier ones into the future to continue pushing forward.
Sometimes we end up in this gap. You’ve accomplished a lot. You got to work for some brilliant companies, coming out of school, which probably felt like a success in its own right, and then moving into creating a lifestyle business and successful brand with your husband working from home up until this point. It looks like it is an absolute success. I would love it if you could stop, turn around, look behind you, everything you’ve done and accomplished, the highs, the lows, the win, the losses and tell me how you feel about it up until this very moment.
If I were to say if it was a resounding financial success, I’d have to say no. With my business for stylus pens, we sold it off and we returned a moderate investment to the Angels who helped us out there but I never felt like that was a success, even though at least I didn’t go bankrupt in the process. I didn’t feel like it made the money that I wanted it to make.
I looked back and I think that there are various things over the time that I didn’t quite make as much money as I should have or I didn’t feel like it was as successful from a financial perspective but I do feel very successful as a person. I feel fulfilled. I have a great family. I love working with my husband. I love the people I meet every day. I love my clients. From that, I feel extremely successful and also grateful.
We’re always going to feel that things weren’t perfect and didn’t work out exactly as we wished but that’s why you get to move forward.
It’s an inherent part of taking a lot of risks. It’s always going to be some ups and some downs. Overall, you got to look at it. If you feel successful as a family person, as a husband, wife, whatever it is, at end of the day, it’s more important to me.
Tracy, we’ve got to talk about your business and also your podcast, which has possibly the greatest name of a podcast ever. We’ve got to talk about them in passing but could you specifically tell the reader where to go find out more about both of those?
You can find my business, which is HazzDesign.com. That is our design consulting. It also has links to my Inc. articles. WTFFF?! is the name of our podcast, which stands for What the FFF. FFF is Fused Filament Fabrication, which is a geeky term for 3D printing. It’s an inside joke. We’re focused on people who want to learn how to 3D print, want to learn about 3D print or who are building businesses because we do give a lot of business advice around 3D printing.
It’s @HazzDesign on Twitter and WTFFF?! podcast on iTunes. Tracy, thank you very much for taking the time to stop by. I truly do appreciate it. Please keep doing what you’re doing because it is awesome and inspiring to watch.
Thank you so much, Jon. You keep doing it too.
Tracy, thank you so much for joining me. I truly do appreciate the conversation. I had a lot of fun. I’m glad we got to do that. I hope you out there enjoyed that as much as I did. It’s interesting. As a consumer, I forget that these products are designed. It’s not even just that they’re invented by somebody but then they’re also designed to become a better product to sell better and to affect the customer in a more meaningful and impactful way. That’s what Tracy and her husband do. That’s awesome.At the end of the day, it is more important that you feel successful as a family person. #HackTheEntrepreneur #JonnyNastor #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
After this great conversation, I got to go back and listen to what Tracy had said and how she had responded to the questions. There were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 things I went back to. They were good. I got rid of two so I got into four. I went back again and I got it down again to two. I went back one more time and there was this one thing that Tracy said that was so very clear to me. Did you get it? Let’s do it. Let’s find the hack.
“An entrepreneur is building a company, building a business. He is a little more on the product and on the invention side of things where he’s focused on the what and not the how. I feel that I am much stronger at building the how.”
That’s the hack. Tracy, I love this. You out there reading, I wonder if you knew that I was going to pick this one because even when Tracy said it, it knocked my socks off as they would say. There are a couple of things that are important here. If you are the inventor type, if you are the person who comes up with those ideas and can create those, it’s so essential to admit to yourself if you are not on the business side of things, it’s a weakness. It’s not one of your fortes, one of your strengths but it doesn’t matter.
It’s irrelevant to the overall you as a human being but you have to admit that because so many brilliant products, so many brilliant inventions, so many brilliant things never get to see the light of day. They never get to get the audience that they deserve because there isn’t a business side person behind them. It doesn’t mean that the product is better than the thing that even ends up on the shelf and sells millions of versions of it because that had a better business person.
You need to know this and admit this about yourself. Take it as that’s cool. That probably makes you a better, more focused inventor and creator. Don’t partner up with another inventor. Partner up with somebody who is the entrepreneur, who can build the business. This is very key because what an entrepreneur does is builds a business, builds a company. Focus on that. Give them a product. They will take it to market and they will sell the crap out of it. This is what you want. I love the idea of partnerships always. I’m big into partnerships.
You know that about me or you should, but I’m only into them when you come from polar opposites. When you can work together and you each have different strengths that can be brought to the table and use to make the company better, stronger and more able to succeed. It’s so essential. I love the idea. This might help you to figure out what type of person you are. Think about it. Do you think always about the what or do you think always about the how?
To me, that’s awesome. That’s profound. The E-Myth Revisited is a pivotal business book. It was written I believe back in the 1990s. It was started in construction, contracting and stuff. It’s the business that I grew up in as a kid. I see this all the time still. It’s that people have their craft. They have their trade of being a carpenter, a plumber or a graphic designer. They’re so focused on the what. They’re so focused on their end product that they don’t think about the how of building a business around it. It never ever gets to be fully developed.
The E-Myth Revisited is an excellent book. It makes you look and step back. It gives that 30,000-foot view of your business and your actions so that you can systematize things and make the business grow. It makes you think like an entrepreneur and takes you out of what it is you’re doing. I love that, Tracy. I love the clarity of the what versus the how. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for joining me. I truly do appreciate it. HackTheEntrepreneur.com is the website. Head over there and get onto the email list. Stop by the website. Check it out if you haven’t yet either. iTunes is a great place to leave a rating and a review for the show. It helps very much. Three hundred and thirteen of you have done that so far. I thank you for it.
If you can leave your Twitter handle there on iTunes so that I can go and thank you personally on Twitter, I would love to do it. I’ll follow you too. How about that? Is that a good deal? Is that a trade? We’re not allowed to trade for reviews so I’m not trading it. We’re just friends. That’s what we do. I won’t take any more of your time. I appreciate you stopping by. I truly do. Take care of yourself. Until next time, keep hacking the entrepreneur.