Three key questions to ask at the onset of new product development
New product development is a lot of hard work, not only in the ideation phase, but throughout the product lifecycle. Once you’ve established what your product’s value proposition is, the effort establishing product/market fit can feel all-consuming. In the midst of polishing your pitch, it’s easy to forget that you may have missed some important questions. Some of these are marketing-related, and others are related to your legal rights. Among other things, investors or acquirers will definitely want to know whether you actually own your underlying IP. So here are three key questions to ask at the onset of new product development. You might be surprised how asking these questions now can save you significant time and money later in the lifecycle.
Does your brand resonate with your product offering?
We know a strong brand that resonates with target customers is crucial for product success, but did you know that lack of product/pitch can kill all of your branding efforts? Great products create value and a strong brand tells a great story that communicates that value. The two go hand-in-hand.
While developing your product, be clear about your brand promise and work hard to ensure the marketed outcomes are reflected in the product’s use. The important thing is to start off with the proper sequence: products should reinforce the brand and its promise, not the other way around. For example, Airbnb went through a rebranding effort to create a better story of belonging and connection, for everyone, anywhere and at anytime. While Airbnb was engaged in rebranding, they redesigned their product in parallel. Not only did the messaging and company expression have an overhaul, the features and functions available for both hosts and travelers were made to align with the rebranding for consistency and alignment.
Do you understand what aspects of your product you need to protect?
There’s nothing like launching a new product and being sent an attorney-signed cease-and-desist letter just as you’re getting market traction! Unfortunately, we’ve seen this all too often in our work with clients to re-design their products.
Our co-collaborator on a new educational series, Diana Palchik, a legal consultant and trademark lawyer, shares that if there are outside developers, inventors, artists or designers involved, there need to be legally correct agreements in place before they start work, so you can document that your company owns the work product. Independent contractors otherwise typically own their work product by default, even if you pay them.
Diana explains that the best practice for new product development projects is to employ a teamwork approach that involves both legal professionals who can identify hidden threats to ownership, and product experts who can surface the right questions to ask on the product development side. All of this work, while still involving expense, can be done most efficiently and affordably at the early stage to avoid potential loss of value, difficulty selling the business, funding hurdles, and legal disputes with outside contributors.
Did you conduct a proper due diligence?
The fresh eyes of an objective party or legal professional can’t be recommended enough during the product discovery phase. Doing the upfront due diligence — a trademark search, for one — reduces the likelihood of future legal issues. The trademark space is very crowded, and even unintentionally adopting a trademark that someone else is using constitutes trademark infringement. Having to change your company’s name or logo once your product launches is both an expense and a logistical headache.
Conducting a due diligence is more than checking off a series of boxes, however. What you are looking for is a process for doing the work in the proper sequence, to achieve the desired results.
If reading this got you asking, “Have I done a proper due diligence for my product?” “What steps do I take to reduce known legal risks in a new product development process?”, we’d love to share more on this topic.
Join startup attorney Diana Palchik and myself for a recorded talk we’ll be sharing next month: “How To Have A Smoother Product Launch: Product Development + Trademark Tips.” You’ll learn how to perform due diligence, when to do it in the product lifecycle, as well as what activities or milestones might trigger another evaluation for your product. We can’t wait to share some best practices with you!