Alan PovallLoving tech, high value sales and passion.

After being involved with over 90 electronic product development projects and managing a portfolio of over 210 high value clients leads (project value up to $450,000 each) later, I'm here to share what I've learnt over the last 8 years.

I help high tech entrepreneurs design electronic products from the ground up. Starting with nothing but an idea, I can guide you though all the stages of a successful development, from defining your market and writing specifications, through to how to select the best developer for your needs and how to avoid the common (and no so common) issues which inexperienced tech entrepreneurs run into.

Whether you need help with the high level technical details of your product idea, someone to help discuss the 'ins-and-outs' of the product development, or to help refine your business model, I'm more than happy to have chat.

I am currently in the process of putting everything I know down on paper, to help entrepreneurs gain access to the information they need, without having to engage with costly consultants to get basic product development know-how.

Recent Answers

I agree with the answers above of making sure that the NDA covers both sides well. Too many times have I had NDAs come across my desk that only cover the IP of one of the parties. It's not a huge thing (although definitely needs to be addressed), but I personally find it leaves a bad taste in my mouth about the company (specifically that they only have their own interests in mind).

Secondly, this goes without saying, but actually read the NDA. Some people / companies try to through some really nasty stuff in there. A few weeks ago I had an NDA poked under my nose which, other than being horribly one sided, had the following clause (paraphrased):
- The Recipient acknowledges that remedies at law may be inadequate to protect [The Company] against any actual or *threatened* breach of this Agreement by the Recipient [...]
- [...] the Recipient agrees that [The Company] may seek injunctive or other equitable relief in [The Company’s] favor, *without proof of actual damages*.

Maybe this is common, but it's the first time I'd seen a clause in an NDA like this.

It also depends on the terms of the NDA, but there is typically a clause stating that any IP developed prior and independently will naturally remain that of the party which developed it. The only caveat being that you need to be able to:
a) Prove that the IP truly was developed independently prior to signing the NDA
b) Be able to support your position (from a financial perspective) in the worst case scenario of you being accused of violating the agreement (which for a start up with limited cash can be pretty catastrophic).

I realise it isn't a 'yes sign the NDA' or 'no don't ever sign an NDA' answer, but I hope that gives a bit of useful information and points to look out for.

Also as a side note, what would be the potential upside of working with another entrepreneur? I'd start with a bit of due diligence on him/her before pursuing the NDA further (might turn out that they are horrible to work with, or not...).

Sure am, but people also move the discussion off to the PM section if they want to get into details. It's a good service, I'd definitely keep it!

There are a number of different questions here, so I'll try to answer what I think you're really asking.

My background is in electronic product development in a corporate B2B environment, so the question of 'Should I go to China' almost invariably comes up in conversation.

My first question would really be: Why China? What appeals to you about developing / manufacturing in China over the country where you live? Is it just cost?

There are a few general things to note:
1) Manufacturing (note: manufacturing) in China CAN be cheaper than first world countries like the USA or UK, but this is not always the case.
For one thing, Chinese manufacturers will produce EXACTLY what you ask them to make. If something is wrong with YOUR design, it'll be included in the final product. Few will make adjustments to correct anything that's wrong (I'm not sure if they just don't care, or it's a general philosophy, but it's what I've seen). Western manufacturers are much more vocal about identifying any issues for rectification before proceeding. Not all, but more than in China. Basically this means that if your design isn't perfect the first time around, you are going to end up with wastage in the manufacturing process. Hardware is something you don't want to be doing through 'trial and error', so make sure your manufacturing processes are spot on before going to China.

From a design perspective, product development is a highly interactive experience, especially if you are engaging with an external team (such as a Chinese one). Therefore whoever you engage with need to have EXCEPTIONAL communication skills, both in language and general ability to communicate with you. If they don't, the process is going to take months, if not years longer than it needs to, and cost a lot more as well (even if labour rates are much lower in China for equivalent talent).

I realise I haven't put a concrete value around how much it will cost, but as anyone in product development will tell you: It depends. Without having an understanding of what exactly your electronic device is, there is no way to put a number to it. I've seen simple developments start at $20k for a prototype, all the way through to $500k for a fully fledged intrinsically safe camera system. That's in US dollars, but China won't necessary be that much cheaper, ESPECIALLY if you have to fly over there for meetings with designers, manufacturers, do multiple re-spins of everything due to communication errors, etc.

2) In terms of IP, China is definitely getting better than what it was, but it's worth noting that you have to be very very clear about IP with manufacturers. You have to explicitly state in contracts that they are not allowed to make copies for their own use or sale. What is being manufactured on their line is yours, and yours alone. As the advice always is when it comes to stuff like this, talk to a lawyer.

It's also worth finding companies who have engaged with Chinese manufacturing before, to see who they've used and how they found the experience. We've been involved with In-Tech Electronics (HQ in Hong Kong, factory in Shenzhen, and speak a lot of English, which helps), and they've been very good. Some of our larger clients have also used them previously.

I'm assuming you're meaning touch heavy B2B sales strategy, as opposed an automated method.

Like people have mentioned above, listening is a good start, but I think you need to dig much, much deeper than that. Good sales comes down to trying to UNDERSTAND the problem which a client is having.

Problems come in different shapes, forms and intensities. At a high level, I would say that you should try to:

1) Identify the problem your client is having

2) Dig into why this is actually a problem. Is it costing them money? Time? Lost revenue? Brand damage? Lost profitability?

3) What is causing this problem?
3.1) Really dig down here. Don't settle for vague answers. You want to know EXACTLY what is causing the problem, because that will allow you to formulate the best way to present solutions.

4) Develop the problem further once you have identified it. Highlight to them what will happen If they DON'T address this issue. What will be the long term cost and implications?
4.1) Quantify problems in concrete terms such as lost revenue/sales, lost leads, wasted product, etc. Don't be vague and amorphous. Make sure you understand their problem to this sort of level.
4.2) It is also important to develop problems which you / your product can solve. Don't focus on ones you can't, that will only cause trouble for you.

5) Highlight to the person how your solution specifically solves the issues they've mentioned (e.g. lost revenue, time, etc), and quantify it.
5.1) Saying something like 'we can save you time' won't get you anywhere. To really help pull a prospect along in the sales process, aim to say something like "Our service/product X can save you Y (dollars/hours/lost leads) per month, which will add Y to your bottom line each and every single month" or similar if you are increasing revenue or profitability, for example.

This is a bit of a simplistic overview, but problem development, especially from the point of view of the customer can yield some quite impressive results. It does take time and effort, so is much better suited to high value B2B sales.

oDesk, Elance & Freelancer are definitely options, and it doesn't cost anything to post on the sites either. However for SteamOS, you may have difficultly finding the right people there (given that SteamOS is quite new compared to Xbox / PS).

Two other options which may seem a bit out there would be:
- Reddit. It may seem like an odd place to ask for help, but if you can find the right place to ask your question, you could very well end up with a solution, or at the very least someone that points you in the right direction. Perhaps try the following subreddits:
- -
- - - SteamOS
- - - Xbox, heavy emphasis on games, but worth a look. Just be sure to read the posting rules on this one.
- -
- -

- Alternatively if you have a rough profile of the type of person that think that might be able to help, you can try to reach out to them on LinkedIn. Join a related group in LinkedIn (search for Xbox or Playstation under 'groups'), join the group, then go to the 'members' section within the group (which will allow you to send them a private message).

- As a bonus I found the Steam Community forums:
- - - perhaps try the 'Hardware & Operating' forum if you haven't already.

All of these sources (minus the freelance options) should be free. Naturally be polite, explain your position and difficulty in finding proper expertise, and you'll eventually come across someone that will be willing to lend a hand. Hope that helps, let us know how you get on.

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