How to go from idea to product

Ever had an idea for a great product but no idea how to get it tested or made? Ask the Expert this week is Drive member John Petre who is an expert in taking ideas and creating products!

Would you like to be “the expert” in our weekly Q&A sessions? Get in touch if you’ve got expertise to share! 

John is a uniquely experienced Innovation Director who’s held senior R&D, Technical and Commercial roles in a variety of sector in the US, the UK and Europe working with many different products including cake, sauces, stock cubes and chocolate. Also things like paint, kitchens and paper towels!

This is a compilation of the live Q&A in the Ask the Expert hour in the Drive Facebook Group.

Where to start?

What’s a typical approach someone might make about an idea they’d like to get into production?

John Petre Assuming it’s a physical product, there are a few things to think about. What’s the route to market? (packaging and handling) What’s needed to make it? (know-how and equipment) Volumes? Selling price and other costs to work out what to pay?

Also, ways to scale up production, can it be made a smaller volumes to start with? A test market can be useful to work out pricing and volumes.

Keith Shering Is there a standard process you take people through when they first come to you?

John Petre Not completely standard. There’s a key point as to whether you want to make it yourself and are setting up to do that or want to outsource the production.

The broader answer to this is; 1) What am I trying to do? 2) What’s the best product solution? 3) How do I make that product in the most cost effective way? There’s normally lots of iteration!


Keith Shering Is it worth pre-qualifying product ideas “on paper”, or are prototypes where it’s at? (I’m thinking of how some people use crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter before they have a prototype, to see what the demand is…)

John Petre Pre-qualifying is helpful. Any kind of research relies on people ‘knowing what they want’. That’s were prototypes can really help. It’s about filtering and improving the ideas. There are several ways to do it. You want to pick the right approach for industry, category etc.

Keith Shering I guess one challenge is where you’re trying to create a new niche – so you almost need the prototype to explain the new concepts?

John Petre New niches are a great example of when prototypes are helpful. Or situations where it’s key to see how the product works. If you want to sell the quickest folding bike in the world, it helps if people (investors and customers) can see it.

Minimum Viable Product

Karl Gjertsen We often talk about Minimum Viable Product, but I see cases where people get confused between Minimum and Viable. Do you have any advice to help make sure we maintain a balance between Minimum and Viable?

John Petre That’s a good question. I think the idea of MVP is to get people focused on delivering something, rather than endless bells and whistles and it’s a good point. To decide if it’s balanced between minimum and viable you need to really understand the consumer for the product; what they want, need and are prepared to pay for.

John Petre You also need to understand the cost of trialling. In ready meals with short shelf life 10 new products and be launched and the 3 best sellers kept. If you need to spend £1m on a new line for the product you want to be more certain you’ve got it right.

Lucy Churchill Can you explain MVP. I’ve never heard the expression before.

John Petre A prototype could be very basic to show how something would work, to prove the concept or for a demo. An MVP would be a finished product that could be sold. Further versions could be improved upon and added to.

Importing and Re-badging

Katie Johnstone My  question is about sourcing good from overseas and re-badging them. I have an idea for a product that I have seen on Alibaba. I was thinking about contacting the supplier but then realised I have no idea on how to get goods into the country, if it’s best to just ship bits and assemble here, legals, etc.? It’s an electrical item, but I think the various bits ie. the pcb, case etc would come from different suppliers.

John Petre Re badging happens with all sorts of thing, cars, dishwashers etc. It can be a good route in.

Katie Johnstone The thing in my mind is that there would need to be a design prepared, BOM list and maybe even a GERBA. So where to start ?

John Petre Most of the legal implications will be on items to be sold rather than importing (unless you’re using weapons grade plutonium!) The cost implication most likely will be assembly cost and where it’s done. Far East is often good for high volume things but often that means 1000’s. Testing the market with a new product sourced and assembled at higher cost, then moving to mass production when it’s proven is what normally happens.

John Petre With new products the challenge is often to avoid trying to solve all the problems at once. Can it be done in steps?

Katie Johnstone I think so. The product will comprise of a case, a pcb and some software. I know how to do the 3rd bit and most of the design of the PCB but I have no experience with design of cases or how to spec things. A prototype would be achievable but it would look pretty bad as I’m terrible with a saw! 🙂

John Petre 3d printing is often helpful for things like case prototypes. The spec will depend on who it’s for. It’s to make sure if you buy something or have it made it’s done to the right standard. Linking to the earlier Minimum Viable Products comments earlier, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Martin Smallridge So… Thinking specifics here…
How do you identify where, who and how to design and prototype an idea that involves say fluid flow/dynamics?
There’s much talk about 3D printing but from what I’ve learned you need to be able to use CAD design software to make that feasible (assuming you don’t have a product to scan/copy). Is this an accurate assessment or are there shortcuts, other options available?
Plastic is a frequently touted material for many products but are there any other material options that are more environmentally friendly, recycled, etc… that could be moulded, coated, etc… instead of just plastic resins?
Who would be able to assist in determining options, cost/benefit, etc… ?
As you can guess I have several potential product ideas that I’d like to pursue so I will doubtless have more questions… Critically for me I’m aware that I’ve some preconceived ideas of how things might proceed so it would be useful to reinforce or start over with a clean slate…

John Petre
1) Depends on how complicated and critical fluid dynamics are – can be solved by trial and error or computer modelling. More specifics on the idea would be needed.
2) I have 3D printer, and you’re right while there are design’s on Thingiverse if you want something new design is required. Sketchup is one of the best, free and relatively straightforward pieces of software.
3) Material selection will be down to the physical requirements of the design (strength durability etc), cost, other values (recyclability, sustainable, fair trade etc)

Happy to talk through ideas and possible approaches if that would help.


Ann Hawkins