Winning Concepts began as a three person group of Matt Fling, Jean Ray, and Stuart French. The group quickly went through three ideas and were struggling to come up with a solid, feasible concept to pursue. At this time, we acquired a new group member, Tim Devino, who had a great idea for a phone accessory. This accessory would be an attachment to the back of a phone where users could wrap their ear buds either during or after using them. This would allow them to keep their ear buds tangle-free and prevent them from getting damaged.
We kept our blog updated throughout our entrepreneurial journey:
Recorded customer discoveries and our final video can be found on our YouTube channel:
We went through two phases of prototyping which resulted in the use of two groups of resources: craft store supplies and supplies in the ISAT lab. In our initial attempts at a prototype, we used small wooden pieces from Michaels Art and Craft store. We took a larger piece and glued it to a smaller piece. We then used carpenters' tape, which is double-sided, to connect the device to the back of a phone. This tape strongly held the device to the phone yet would pull off without leaving a residue. These supplies were relatively cheap, with each device costing less than $2 to make.
We then re-analyzed our approach to manufacturing and found a 3D printer located in the ISAT building on East Campus. This relatively new machine takes a digital drawing produced on the CAD software 'Softworks' and converts the design into a physical, three-dimensional object. This is done through what is called an additive process, which means that the object is made by adding extremely thin layers one on top of another to the specifications that were put into Softworks. The printer used ABSplus plastic which costs $280 to purchase (in block form). As JMU students, we were offered an opportunity to produce as many prototypes for free until we decided on a final design. In order to develop the designs for our prototypes, we needed someone to help with Softworks. Our ISAT resource, John Wild, put us into contact with Travis Knight, an engineering student at JMU, who had extensive knowledge and experience using the program. We met with Travis and put together a detailed blueprint of what features we wanted the device to have and exact measurements and specifications. After four prototypes, we decided on our final design and starting to scale up our production.
Our group developed a rough prototype using Velcro strips but looked for ways to manufacture a product that would effectively attach to the device. After a few weeks of research, we found that ISAT could manufacture any design we came up with for free using a 3D stereo lithography printer. Once we found our final design, we would be required to pay $250 for the use of the plastic material. We went through four prototypes before deciding on our final design. These prototypes and final design are pictured in the following slideshow.
Prezi about Bud HubEdit
Business Model CanvasEdit
When developing something innovative, improving a product and differentiating yourself from competitors is essential. This is exactly what we did when deciding to create the Bud Hub. From the very beginning we knew we had an innovative product that satisfies the needs of a wide range and variety of customers that separated ourselves from similar products. While other companies have created phone cases designed to help keep your ear-buds tangle-free, we decided to create a piece that can easily be applied and removed without changing cases. We realized we had an innovative product in the Bud Hub through the fact that it:
- Keeps your ear-buds tangle-free, neatly wrapped, and easily accessible
- Easy to apply and remove without the hassle of changing your case
- Can be customized to match your case
Through close customer discovery we realized that people liked that fact that it wasn't a case and kept their ear-buds neatly wrapped on their device. Nobody wants to have to change their case every time they use their ear-buds and most cases out there are not very aesthetically pleasing. To help with this, we decided to provide customizable pieces, in addition to the traditional black and white, so people could create their own to match their case. Making it quick and easy to remove and apply, while maintaining durability, was important towards the creation process of our final product, which we attained by using double-sided adhesive tape that doesn't leave any residue. Through these detailed aspects of our product, it differentiates us from competitors and allows us to provide a product that no one else has with room for growth, improvement, and further innovation.
Before launching our product, there were some initial assumptions about who would be our early adopters and what type of customer segments we would target. Since JMU is a college, we first thought that the Bud Hub would be perfect for any and every college student who frequently struggles with keeping their ear-buds tangle-free. With "college students" being so broad and there being a mix of personalities and backgrounds on any one college campus it made sense to be more specific. After careful consideration and analysis we narrowed down the characteristics of our early adopters.
- College Student
- Frequently listens to music when walking on campus
- Appreciates organization
What We Learned:
Defining your target market early on in the venture is important for any organization but can cause you to miss out on potential customers you never thought existed. Being college students, we wanted to create a product that met the needs of college students. When we created our customer profile we tailored the product to meet the needs of that type of customer. Quickly we learned that the Bud Hub would need to go through a couple of different designs as we receive new feedback.
Critical Success FulcrumEdit
Success can be measured in a few ways. Some look at profit, while others focus on the experience, whether they are financially successful or not. However, we believed success was about creating an innovative product that is easily accessible to the college population with favorable profit margins. In order to do this we needed to find a cheap and effective way to produce our Bud Hubs, which we attained through the 3-D rapid prototyper located in ISAT. This easy-to-use machine allowed us to quickly make design changes and produce our own Bud Hubs without using an outside manufacturer and having to worry about lag-time and accessibility issues. Mentioning the use of the 3-D printer seemed to intrigue customers and increased their interest in purchasing the product.
The phrase "it's not what you know, but who you know" is an important lesson we learned in our success. Using outside resources and making contacts can benefit your business in ways you wouldn't think possible. We decided to take advantage of the resources provided to us by our teacher Dr. Wales, by contacting a few guest speakers for advice and to build a network. This information gave us good direction and much to think about as we continue to improve our business moving forward.
The design of our product was a huge factor on whether it would be successful or not. We spent countless hours tweaking and tuning the design to best fit our customers through convenience and ease of use.
Scaled Up Too Quickly
The first failure we encountered was the fact that we scaled our production up too quickly. We did not have an established market to sell our product to and thus were not able to sell the devices once we manufactured them. This led to an inability to reach our breakeven point or to profit from the venture. Having spent over $400 in manufacturing, packaging, and promotional costs, we put ourselves in a deep hole that we never got out of.
Having ramped up production quickly, we needed to have secured a specific customer segment that were sure to buy our product. Our early assumptions of what an early adopter for our product would look like were eventually proven wrong later in the semester. Unfortunately, we failed to pivot to a new customer segment in time to recoup what we had spent on production. In hindsight, we should have looked into a larger market then JMU students such as businesses or expand our online sales. We did not inquire about selling the Bud Hub at local businesses until late in the semester. We also determined later on that starting a Kickstarter project could have been a huge help figuring out our exact target market and selling more Bud Hubs.
Lack of Promotional Force
Our promotional efforts took place in the form of setting up a table in Showker and Festival, hoping people would stop by the table, and trying to sell in a reactive manner. We also waited until late in the semester to start these efforts because we did not have a finished product to sell. However, we could have built up an anticipation about our product while we were going through the final design phases. This anticipation could have helped spread the word about the Bud Hub and built our market. We also could have been more proactive in the way we made sales. Instead of sitting stationary at a table, we could have been trying to sell on the move. We think this could have been more successful due to the fact that when we walked around campus getting customer discoveries, we found a lot of people that were excited about the potential of the product. Once we had the product in hand, we could have capitalized on this excitement and made more sales.
Everyone enjoys a little "heads up" before engaging in creating your own business, so we here at Winning Concepts have a few words of advice to leave you with:
- Fail Early
Every entrepreneur has heard this before, but not every entrepreneur actually follows this. It takes a little while to realize which idea works and which one doesn't. That time spent on figuring out which products do not work is less time spent then on the one that does. This means doing your research before getting into groups, and coming to a consensus when put into groups. Just remember, the quicker you fail, the faster you can succeed.
- Know Your Groups' Strengths and Weaknesses
Team dynamics and cohesion are more important than you think. Match up with people who share your vision but also be very flexible. Certain team members are better in one aspect of the business development process than others so its crucial to know who's in charge of what and what is to be expected.
- Don't Get Discouraged
Every group encounters a few stumbling blocks when creating a start-up, which causes doubts and frustration about your product and business. Don't let this stop you from continuing to improve and finding that one thing that makes your product exceptional. If one avenue doesn't turn out the way you expected, continue to search for one that does. Its always easier to quit when things get hard, so find a way to keep team spirits high and optimistic.
- Enjoy Yourself
One classmate made an very good observation stating that students in this class chose entrepreneurship as a major because we want to find a career and not a job. A career involves enjoying what you're doing day-in and day-out, while a job is seen as an obligation. Even if your not excited about your product, enjoy the learning process and the evolution of your business, which makes it easier for you and your teammates.