Project analysis — why didn’t it work out?

In the end I spent about $3000 to run my project and about $600 to get rid of my project’s remains. I purchased hardware for 100 kits, manufactured 44, and only sold 7. From what I can tell there were three aspects of my project that were not done optimally. I’d love to hear your feedback also.

Marketing

I’m really glad that Andrew and Jesse and a few others told me (via WeChat) that doing Maker Faire while running a Kickstarter was insane. It turns out I was struggling to manufacture in time for the trade show let alone doing everything else that one should do for a trade show (marketing, print business cards, etc.).

My rudimentary knowledge tells me that for someone to buy a product they have to be exposed to it several times. So in order for Maker Faire to have been a success, I should have been pushing the product and building a community around it in advance. I have zero marketing or growth experience so I think I would find a collaborator to help me with this on the next project.

People

I was extremely lucky to have many generous friends who helped me with things I couldn’t do alone: moving buckets, cleaning buckets, drilling holes in buckets, and manning the booth at Maker Faire, to name a few. But still I felt very busy and often felt that I had mental debt of aspects of my project that I needed to sit down and think through, but I was having trouble finding the time, energy, or people to bounce ideas off of.

For my next few projects I’ll focus on working with other people so that I can lean on their expertise and have enough extra time and energy to think strategically about the project direction.

Robin helping me take the kits apart so I could donate the electronics to Noisebridge

Iterating

My friends Peter and Jeff have a zero diff product developent philosophy. It’s about prototyping and manufacturing locally and constantly testing your product on your customers, and making many iterative improvements. The result is that the product that you end up mass producing has zero difference with your final prototype.

I’m uncertain if this project would have ever worked out. I think a few people have tried to make a space bucket kit but none of them became sustained businesses. The closest thing is High Tech 3D’s printed parts for bucket kits, and I don’t think there’s a very high sales volume as it takes many hours to print each one.

In any case, if this project were run optimally, I would have been giving many more bucket kits to friends and having them use it, manually building a community of people who use, discuss, and love the product, one user at a time.

Summary

I learned a lot about small scale manufacturing, and gained prototyping skills. This project didn’t work out, but I’ll do my best to synthesize my learnings and apply it to the next thing.

I’m currently in China learning lots about factories and manufacturing. If you have a factory you’d be willing to let me visit or a manufacturing story, let me know! And give me a follow if you’re interested in hearing more about my journey navigating manufacturing and building skills to make a global-scale impact.

UPDATE: After reading this article, my friend Aishi shared with me an amazing step by step rundown of product validation done right. Great read: http://casjam.com/validating-a-saas-product-step-by-step/