Five months ago my company was struggling. Our top service, iPhone repairs, had slowly declined for reasons we couldn't control. In February 2013, we had our darkest moment as a company -- we lost a lot of money for the first time ever. It was clear we needed a new source of revenue and needed it fast.
We immediately started researching how to fix the Samsung Galaxy S3 -- Apple's No. 1 competitor. It was a huge opportunity because no one else had developed a reliable and low cost technique to fix these.
Within a week we had developed a rough procedure. It wasn't perfect but it produced good results most of the time. Unfortunately, it took a long time, our standard tools weren't quite right, we occasionally had to purchase extra (and expensive) replacement parts and we did get some negative feedback from a few customers. In short, it was more work for less margin and more customer service issues.
But it was real world experience and no amount of R&D could have substituted for that.
Six weeks after releasing the repair our process looked nothing like it had on day one. A lab quality hot plate had replaced our traditional heat gun, we had new tools, new adhesives, radically different techniques and a much improved testing process. Today this repair is almost as big as our iPhone repair business and the company's sales are up 50 percent since February -- with happy customers and good profits.
There are five lessons to take away from this:
- You need to always be looking for new products to offer. We got in a jam because we forgot this.
- Get everyone in your company involved in the R&D process. Even the receptionist should be paying attention to how customers react and report that information back.
- It's okay to roll out a product that works but isn't perfect. Your customers and employees will let you know what needs work. This is real feedback from the wild (not a controlled laboratory) and it's incredibly valuable.
- Make sure you're listening to your customers and employees.
- Keep tweaking and updating the product until it is perfect.
Following this process will help you build a great product much faster than the traditional big business model of engineers, product managers and small focus groups deciding what the final product should look like.
Matt McCormick is founder and co-owner of JCD Repair -- a smartphone and tablet repair company operating in Chicago as well as three other cities. Prior to starting JCD Repair, he was a freelance web developer, a programmer at Microsoft, lectured on operating systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and spent three years selling robotics equipment. He has a Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering and a Master's in Computer Science.