Designing a physical product is the hardest thing I've ever done

Last January, I had the idea for Workshop Tactics - a curated deck of product team workshops. So naturally, I spent weeks pissing about with a logo and a fancy content filtering system in WordPress. After I realised I was procrastinating, I knew I had to suck it up and do the hard work if I wanted this to happen. I wanted to make something remarkable that I was proud of.

So I did what I had learned to do for my clients. Test the idea. I launched a landing page with email capture and ran some ads to LinkedIn. I had never designed a product for myself before, it felt different and unnerving. Forcing myself to create a landing page helped me clarify what I wanted to make, and the value it would bring to others.

A couple hundred quid later, the results were in. 20% of visitors registered their interest! I thought this was a pretty good number. Though I wasn't quite sure what to do next. My gut told me to learn more, so I did. I sent out a basic survey and spoke to as many people as I could. I asked them what they thought the product was and how they could see it helping them. Next I made a rough 'alpha' prototype and sent it out to the early subscribers for free. While the feedback loop was long and slow (as is the case with 'hardware') - the insight I gained was invaluable.

Now the came ultimate test, would people buy it? I listed the beta product on Shopify and wrote an email to my followers. I crossed my fingers and hit send. The next 10 minutes was silent. No sales. This was it, no one actually wanted it. Then my phone went off with the distinctive 'cha-ching' notification from Shopify. Then again, and again. That evening I made 10 sales, and over the next week, I sold 45 beta decks that didn't exist yet. I couldn't believe it. This is was a pivotal moment. Those first sales gave me a lot of confidence and motivation to keep going. Little did I know that the hard work hadn't really begun. I was in for it.

Developing a physical product is the hardest thing I've ever done. The long periods of silence from beta customers (not everyone runs a workshop every day!) was tormenting. It took hours and hours to find the right manufacturer I could trust. I went in circles with the brand proposition, nailing down who it was really for. I had severe bouts of self-doubt wondering whether the whole project was even worth it. I worried that the brand I was developing was too childish. I sweated over details that no one will probably ever notice. I wondered how I was going to distribute it in the long-term. Was a daily trip to the Post Office going to be my life? I wrestled with my ego - and suffered from "The IKEA effect". A cognitive bias in which people place a disproportionately high value on products they created. There were some tough pills to swallow navigating all of the feedback.

The thing that sucked the most, above all was the hours and hours of copy editing and proofreading. I didn't and couldn't do it alone. It must've been proofread and edited at least a dozen times by a lot of helpful people. The Pareto principle was in full effect. 20% of the work took 80% of the effort. Even getting the post-production sample back from the manufacturer and trying to iron out every last detail nearly killed me. The initial feeling of excitement had changed. The cha-ching of Shopify was once a novelty. Now it was a welcome reminder - people are still interested, so keep going.

Then COVID hit. Why would people still want a deck of cards if they can't share it with their team in the office? How would word-of-mouth work if there was no one to see it being used? Every last sale I got, I was sure would be my last. I thought I would reach 'The End' and that would be it. Until I made another sale. To my pre-order customers, you have no idea how much it means to me that you are a part of this!

Now I'm here, a few weeks away from the real deal. Yesterday I hit a milestone of 200 pre-orders. That's 200 people who have taken a chance on me, and a little idea that brings real value to people that use it. If you had told me last year that I would've designed a product and generated nearly £12k in revenue (and break even on the production costs) - without Kickstarter... I wouldn't have believed you.

It might not seem like a big deal. It's just a deck of cards with some workshop exercises. But for me, it's been the wildest of rides. The people I've connected with on this journey, the things I've learned, and the mistakes I've made have been truly humbling and eye-opening. I'm sure I'll look back again in a year at this moment with fondness. I look forward to the next chapter. Which is hearing and seeing how all of my lovely customers get on with the cards.

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