XOXO: Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt - Studio Neat

Studio Neat's first product was the Glif, an iPhone kickstand. And their second success was the Cosmonaut, a stylus for iPhone. These were followed by Frameographer (iPhone app) and a book called “I Will Be Exhilarating”.

The Details

Dan Provost

Tom Gerhardt

Company: Studio Neat

Projects: Glif and Cosmonaut

XOXOing: Hardware and Product Design


Four products on the market, and a sustainable business. Fifteen things they learned:

  1. Scratch your own itch. Glif helped them overcome the frustration of blurry photos that result from not having a tripod. “If you have a problem, someone else probably has the same one.” They also use their own products & eat their own dogfood.’
  2. Keep it simple. An essential part of their design process is simplicity, and their business operations are built around defending that simplicity. This is how they can operate as a two-man company, by design. “We have to say ‘no’ a lot.” and that’s how they defend focus.
  3. Sell your stuff (For money) Louis C.K.’s success narrative was “actually quite refreshing” - but what about the rest of us? What if we’re not known and established? Kevin Kelly’s long argued that you should have 1,000 true fans in order to sustain your work. There’s a sweet spot between blockbuster and obscurity, and it lets you have a much smaller audience than you might imagine.studio-neat-slide-2.png
  4. You can’t please everyone. The Glif was only designed for the iPhone 4, the latest and greatest. It brought clarity to design, but greatly limited the market. Studio Neat Point #5
  5. Learn by doing. Kubrick encouraged young filmmakers to just get started and make a film. Prior to their first product, they had no industrial design or manufacturing experience. Their second product was significantly more complex, and consequently was delayed several times, to the dismay of 6,000 customers. But those folks also kept the motivation going. “Jump off the cliff and build the plane on the way down.”
  6. Atoms are the new bits. (Suspect this might become a refrain this weekend.) Made a lot of use of 3D printing. From moleskin sketches to real plastic only took a few weeks. Incredibly empowering to round-trip products so quickly.
  7. Keep the core in-house and outsource the rest. Your inclination may be to do everything yourself, but you don’t always need to DIY. Things like bookkeeping, accounting and order fulfillment can be handed off to let you focus on design and what you do best.
  8. Make it in America. Most manufacturing and assembly happens in SD, but everything is made in various U.S. states. Started with the China assumption, but going domestic actually saves money while having advantages like the people. People whose cell phone number you can have while you need guidance.
  9. Patents are overrated. (First round of applause of the event!) Preface: We are not lawyers. And this is just for us, a small company with limited resources. Patents are a bet that large companies can afford, but small companies can’t. They’re not magical force-fields - they’re just costly insurance that lets you sue. Painful image of the “Sidekic”, a Taiwanese ripoff of their design.
  10. Retail is not necessary. They can do e-commerce directly on their site and fulfill directly or through Amazon.com (in the U.S.). This makes their reach global - they’ve sold to 129 countries through their website. Retailers take at least 50% off the top, distributors need to be paid - you end up having to make it up in volume. “It’s a really exciting time to be a small, independent producer.”
  11. Tell a story. “Show how the sausage gets made.” A Kickstarter update showing a time-lapse of building their first product, or trips to factories, really connected with customers. Instapaper as an example of a product people are passionate about because Marco Arment is a likeable guy. It’s personifying the product.
  12. Don’t be annoying. “Behave like the company you want to exist in the world.” This applies to everything from big features to little details like not defaulting to opt-in on email newsletters.
  13. Under-promise and over deliver. Applies to many things, but in particular to Kickstarter projects, which can often miss ship dates. Avoid deadlines if you can, or if you can set one, make it very generous.
  14. The Gruber effect. There have always been people with great influence. Oprah. And John Gruber. Like a lot of people with lots of influence within a niche market, a single recommendation can make an enormous difference in your success. Find the one person who can make all the difference in your area.
  15. Passion. “Passion should be the main motivator.” Examples of folks like SwissMiss show off how creative people often build on side projects and one-off hacks that help take advantage of your passion and also build your audience. “Work on something you are passionate about, because if it becomes successful you’ll have to do it all the time.”

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