The importance of Product Testing for Start-Ups

Ravi Pagar, Regional Director - South Asia and Asean at element14

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The entrepreneurial study, “Entrepreneurial India”, conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) in collaboration with Oxford Economics, revealed how more proactive engagement between start-ups and established organizations can help start-ups harden their business models, accelerate growth and leapfrog into the big leagues.

Many start-ups fail as they overlook fundamental business issues and try to grow the business or launch their product too quickly. Investors, stakeholders and design engineers all want to see rapid growth as proof that they have found a great idea, but there is a vital balance to be struck.

Launching an unreliable product because corners are cut to allow an earlier launch can be financially disastrous for large companies, who may have to invest huge sums of money as they try to repair their reputation. Start-ups, however, will rarely survive such events.

Product designers in start-up companies therefore need access to support to help navigate the exciting yet critical milestones in bringing their ideas to life, particularly to ensure they conduct adequate and thorough testing. Whatever the design process, an iterative approach with regular testing, is the most sensible way to progress a product design.

Understanding the value of test and the implications of not testing

Any designer working on a project wants to be the first to capture the market and stave off the competition, so time to market is critical, but at what cost? Entrepreneurs can often fall into the trap of budgeting to hire a sales team, and forgetting all about testing. Although sales teams are necessary, without enough budget set aside to test new products adequately, the sales team might not have a product to sell.

There is a huge difference between the designs that are successful on paper and how that product behaves when someone can feel it, touch it and put it to the test. All these devices are made from individual components which have their own individual tolerances and parameters and even with careful attention, stack tolerances can quickly cause a design to fail with the right combination of boundary components. Whilst the initial five or ten products off the production line may function as expected, testing helps design engineers to find these and other unanticipated problems when production is scaled, especially if components are operating on the edge of their tolerance.

What does healthy testing look like?

The growth of embedded software-based products means the focus on testing to find and fix problems is even more critical. Even though many of these products use off-the-shelf hardware, the complex nature of the software, especially in IoT, industrial and healthcare industries, requires a well-planned testing regime.

The benefits of a healthy testing strategy include the development of a more robust product that is truly market ready, reduced development costs from finding faults early and a reduced time to market as the design phase is more efficient.

One of the main components to a successful testing strategy is having the right tools to test. Investing in high quality testing and measurement tools will pay dividends, as they can be used across the product lifecycle, from research through to development and beyond.

What are the obstacles to test?

Whilst the case for testing is clear, there are challenges that start-ups often struggle to overcome.

Expertise:

With the rapid expansion of new technologies over recent years, one of the big challenges for designers in early-stage companies is knowing what and how to test for each of the technology demands.

Designers in today’s world are under pressure to be experts in every field, which is impossible. Wireless power, for example, is a technology that many designers may be required to implement in future designs. This means that designers must know how to not only design a wireless power system, but also test for multiple parameters they have never encountered before. Unless they have expertise in this field of design, proper testing of items like foreign object insertion, may cause a product design flaw that might not be discovered until it’s too late. This challenge is particularly evident when designing a product for use in regulated industries such as healthcare, as products are required to be tested to meet strict regulatory requirements and meet strict industry standards. Obtaining the necessary certification is difficult, and especially so for start-ups who may be unfamiliar with the processes.

Cost:

The cost of testing can also be a significant obstacle for start-ups. Tools and the time taken to test both require significant investment, and sometimes account for a large proportion of the initial manufacturing cost, but the investment is worth making.

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