How do I bring a product to market?
December 1, 2013 7:34 PM   Subscribe

I have a device that I have "invented". It's a simple mechanical heating device with a specific application in the beverage industry. I know how to build it, but how do I actually bring it to market?

Any inventors here? I would love some advice.

Every bartender that I've explained my device to (and my expected price point) thinks this thing is brilliant. I'm a bartender myself, and I came up with this to solve a problem in the industry.

For what it's worth, this invention consists of three common and easily source components, and a housing. It's basically a modified electric teakettle. I would imagine it is not patentable.

I plan on sourcing the components on alibaba.

A big difficulty will be designing and building the housing. Molded plastic? Stainless steel? What software are these designed in? (CAD, Sketchup?) How do I work with someone to A) design the housing and B) contract manufacture it?

Assembly, branding, and marketing are all things I understand and could get a team for this. I think. Being a niche product, and being a person who operates (and is somewhat known) in this niche gives me access to industry publications, business owners, etc to build grassroots interest.

I have considered Kickstarter; not because I need the money to launch this product, but because it is a potential way to build interest (and the money would ensure a smooth commercial launch, less grassrootsy). Bartenders love to share good kickstarts.

Thanks in advance for the advice!
posted by special agent conrad uno to Work & Money (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A big difficulty will be designing and building the housing. Molded plastic? Stainless steel? What software are these designed in? (CAD, Sketchup?) How do I work with someone to A) design the housing and B) contract manufacture it?

These quoted questions indicate that you do not, in fact, "know how to build it". The design of the housing and what it is made of are pretty big parts of how to build something. For example, steel is going to conduct heat much more easily than plastic. That's not just an aesthetic choice, and as you note, a "big difficulty". You are essentially talking about having a co-inventor. Is that something you want?

I don't think you have a product right now. While you don't need to have a prototype to have an invention, I think you need to be able to know how it's made so you could contract manufacture, for example. I think you need to work on these issues before you think about bringing a product to market because you don't currently have a product to bring to market. You have an idea of a product.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:11 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you built one for yourself? It seems like the kind of thing you'd make for your own use, then maybe for a couple of friends who work in the same industry. If it gets to the point where you start getting more orders than you can build in your apartment, then it's time to find a manufacturer. But by then you will have the experience of having built some of them yourself.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:45 PM on December 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

As an example of one small aspect of bringing your product to market: your device will need to undergo various product safety tests and get certified, probably at least by UL and NSF, and perhaps others. You will probably need to hire a consultant to guide you through the process.

Also, your product design is probably patentable. Whether the effort is worthwhile or not is a different question.
posted by ryanrs at 9:22 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great points.

The operational temperatures would never exceed 160F (gotta stay below alcohol's boiling point), so insulation is easily handled with rubber. But Tanizaki is right, I have the idea, not the actual device.

I haven't built one yet, I'm currently using an actual electric tea kettle. Alibaba suppliers seem to have large order minimums, and before I drop a grand on parts I want to learn a bit more about the process.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:57 PM on December 1, 2013

If you've been telling random bartenders about the device, you may have already waived some or all of your potential patent rights. If you think patenting might be part of your business plan, then stop talking to us and talk to a patent attorney. TINLA, IANYL etc.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:10 PM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Not to be presumptuous, but I think I can get a sense of what you're thinking of. The intersection of bartending, hot water, and alcohol is somewhat specific.

Are you sure it's not something that an electric samovar or a hot water dispenser such as this will solve? That specific model has a 140F setting. An electric samovar would have a spigot as well, for liquids other than water. Something like this is designed to serve non-water liquids, also..
posted by suedehead at 11:19 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

What you need is a combination of mechanical engineer, fabrication & machine shop, and patent attorney. Some firms in Chicago might be able to supply all three of these, or you might be able to find a mechanical engineer with his own fab shop that can lead you down the patent route.

A mechanical engineer that deals with manufacturing will be able to tell you what materials will meet the physical requirements of the product and be economical, will help you get some prototypes manufactured, and come up with a procedure to mass produce these economically. If you don't know what program to use to model a prototype, chances are a sketch on a napkin will be just as good to them as anything you could put together as they or their drafters will quickly be able to put together the model they need for the fab shop for whatever type of material they end up going with. But for reference, SolidWorks and Rhinoceros are popular programs for this type of thing, but regular CADD programs will often do as different systems may require proprietary formats but can import DWG or DXF formats to get started. For example, I have gotten some parts water jetted where I send the fab shop an AutoCAD DWG file which they import into their software that controls the jet movement. The makers of SolidWorks put out an essentially free CADD program called DraftSight which is very similar to older versions of AutoCAD.

To get started, you could ask around at some fab shops to see if they were to make a teakettle, who would they get to design it. You will pay most of these people you chose to help you get your concept to a finished product a lot more than you might expect, and at the end of the day you might find such a product already exists and is already in every bar in Norway. Keep in mind, your prototype will probably be machined instead of pressed, so will cost a lot. There are also services who can print with 3D printers to make mockups of what your product would look like, but maybe not function.

I would probably think a type of stainless steel would look the best, possibly lined with another material. Keep in mind if it is holding alcohol it may have to be cleaned in a sanitizer over 165 degrees, so keep that temperature factor in mind.
posted by Yorrick at 11:35 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: suedehead, surprisingly, no: a samovar doesn't solve this problem. This invention, which I'll tounge-in-cheek call a Hot Shot, allows for a hot drink program. As in, the menu could entirely be alcohol-forward hot cocktails.

Some bars will have one hot cocktail on the menu, and it will generally be sitting in a samovar ready for decanting. But what if you want to offer multiple hot drinks?

Mixologists (quote unquote) have a trick. Create a hot water jacket by floating the small tin in the (hot water filled) large tin. Between that, and the hot water (20-50% by volume*) added to the spirit, will generally be enough to get the cocktail hot.

But that takes a lot of time and effort, and this is why you still see cold drinks dominate craft cocktail bars even in Chicago in the winter. I'd like to see hot drink programs become more popular.

*You can always add lots of hot water to a toddy, but that's precisely what we're trying to avoid. Desires are for similar dilution rates of any classic drink (30%, some say 25%), hence the water jacket trick.

Yorrick that's some great advice, thanks. My friend's father has a machine shop in town; I'm going to ask him some questions about fabrication.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:21 AM on December 2, 2013

OP, the first rule of Invention Club is that you don't talk about Invention Club.

Stop talking about your idea, either in specifics or generalities, until you secure the help of an IP attorney.

Someone is going to eat your lunch.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:03 AM on December 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

I wouldn't rule out a patent just because it's "easy". Remember Amazon one-click? That's a simple concept, isn't it? Different realm, but at least look into it if you're serious.
posted by amtho at 5:56 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, get a "patents for dummies" type of book, make sure it was published in 2012/2013 and file a provisional patent which should only be $65.
Perhaps you can find a person to partner with. A hackerspace like Pumpingstationone might be a good place to start.
posted by Sophont at 8:58 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

As much as you may believe that your invention is not patentable, it might yet be, and (especially in today's First Inventor to File world) you might end up in trouble if someone ends up patenting it out from under you.

The John Marshall Law School in Chicago has a Patent Clinic, from which you may be able to get free legal advice to help you determine if patenting your idea before you start trying to commercialize it would be wise.

I understand the frustration at having a good idea and just wanting to run with it, but being told that you need to slow down and think about legal things. especially since we are always hearing how execution is more important than ideas. But if this is something really great, I think it's worth the $65 to at least have something on file with the USPTO.

posted by sparklemotion at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome, thank you everyone so much for your advice.

I'm going to look into patenting this immediately.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:54 PM on December 3, 2013

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