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Let’s talk about Product development.  This is such an enigma to the inexperienced, which I am moving away from toward its opposite.  Only through trial and error am I learning to manage this process efficiently.  The large corporations of the world have the luxury of years of experience, endless funds, and highly skilled teams to materialize a thought into a sketch and then into a quality product ready for the store shelves.

I have not had such a luxury.  I just finished up my 3rd trip to China all in less than 12 months.  This latest trip lasted 3 weeks and was the most fruitful yet regarding our product development.  I was able to rigorously test our product, find its weaknesses and then work with the engineers here to perfect our lock.  The Ajustlock now not only is able to adjust to fluctuations which is its key differentiator but it is also now as strong and in some cases stronger than the traditional barrel bolt lock.

Producing a product in China is a huge challenge for a foreigner because of the language/cultural differences, amongst other reasons. Another challenge is getting the attention of the supplier to assist in the development of the product. This is not so easy when you are the new guy with a new product that doesn’t have millions in sales yet.  Why does he want to invest significant time and resources in my new idea when he has multiple clients spending huge dollars on a free flowing supply chain?  My product is just a potential revenue stream to him.  And since I am a foreigner it is even harder to gain his respect.

On this trip I did just this.  Travelling here multiple times is a huge commitment and holds a lot of weight.  I demonstrated to my supplier that I am very serious about our company, our product, and our future sales which is beginning to show fruit that he can see and smell.  I have learned that I need to invest time as a start up to show that I am not just an attempt to manifest a dream.  I have shown my supplier that I have a strong plan, the financial backers, and the right team who is driven to get past all of the barriers that all startups face in their first 3 years in business.

I can now return to New York with confidence that my supplier is on my team and very interested in making sure I have quality products that the major retailers will approve and the consumers will be very satisfied with.  My first supplier was not able to make our product to our specifications and it has taken 3 months for our new supplier to perfect our units.  All in all it took around 1 year to source and secure a successful relationship with a foreign supplier.  Now that I have the relationship established I could develop and roll out a new hardware product in 2-3 months.  Other more complicated products will take much longer of course. 

In the end, I realize that gaining the respect and interest from any partner is worth way more than just a large order.  Money talks in business but money coupled with transparent communication and confidence is a lot louder than money alone.  Investing in relationships is priceless.  Don’t be fooled by thinking you can easily find a factory in China to produce your new product.  Learn from my experience and save yourself time and money.  Do your research first and don’t stop until you get everything to the level you know it needs to be.  So many times on this road I have heard people tell me that we don’t need to add more or improve more. They are asking me to settle for less than what I know is required.  I will not settle, and I will fight laziness wherever I find it to maintain the level of quality I know is necessary for success. 

Jason Stile, co-founder of Ajustco