How to create a prototype for your product (or service) for testing & production [Episode 16 transcription]

Darren Moffatt (00:01):

Hi there and welcome to the Nerds of Business Podcast. My name is Darren Moffatt. I’m a director at WebBuzz, the Growth Marketing Agency. And I’m your host. We’re back after a short break over the holiday season. And it’s great to have you with us for Episode 4 of the Product Development Series. If you’re new to this podcast, our vision is to make entrepreneurs happier and more successful, and we do it by solving the key challenges that all businesses must overcome. One problem at a time. Each episode I and the entrepreneurs and experts who make up our rotating cast of nerds, focus on one key topic within the series theme for deep dive into how to solve that particular problem. This week, we’re looking at prototyping. Now, when you think of a prototype, what’s the first image that comes into your mind,? Perhaps you’re visualizing a rough kind of robot contraption, or maybe some mad scientist laboring over a machine in the lab.

Darren Moffatt (01:06):

Well, that’s the stereotype. But prototyping is way more common than you might think people can and do prototype pretty much everything. In the service industries, chefs are a great example. They’ll test new recipes by serving a prototype of the dish to the restaurant waiters before listing it on the menu for general consumption. In the arts, for instance, musicians prototype new original songs with demos before they commit to the final recording sessions. And it’s much the same with physical products. Of course. Now I want to play you a few famous quotes on prototyping that I’d like you to keep in mind as the episode unfolds, they highlight some of the key themes you’ll be hearing our guests discuss.

Speaker 2 (01:52):

“The design process is about designing and prototyping and making. When you separate those, think the final result suffers.”

Darren Moffatt (02:01):

That quote is by Jony Ive, the famous designer of the Apple iPhone. Now he obviously knows a thing or two about product development and check this next quote out. It’s probably my favourite.

Speaker 2 (02:13):

“Prototyping is the conversation you have with your ideas.”

Darren Moffatt (02:16):

That’s Tom Wujec, who’s a famous TEDx speaker and inventor. I think the concept of a conversation with your ideas perfectly sums up what prototyping is. And for today’s opening story, we reveal perhaps the longest, most arduous example of that type of conversation in the history of modern business.

Darren Moffatt (02:51):

It’s the mid 1970s and a young British engineer called James Dyson is beginning to make a name for himself as a designer and inventor. At just 22 years of age, he invented a sea truck that can carry three tons at 50 miles per hour across the water. A few years later, he invent a wheelbarrow with an innovative ball wheel, that won’t sink the mud. It quickly snares 50% market share in 1978. Dyson is mulling his next move when one day he walks past a local saw mill and sees a machine in use called a cyclonic separator,

Darren Moffatt (03:36):

By this stage he is frustrated with the poor performance of his Hoover vacuum cleaner. The dust bag paws keep getting clogged with dust, reducing its suction. The process of cyclonic separation might just be the innovation he needs to design a better type of vacuum cleaner. He rushes home and build a rough prototype that day. It’s the first in a very, very long cycle of product development. Over the next 15 years, partly supported by his wife’s salary as an art teacher, he built an astonishing 5,127 prototypes. It’s an industrial strength show of perseverance, although he releases his first product, the G-Force cleaner in 1983, it’s not until almost a decade later that Dyson’s innovation finally breaks through in the UK market. He ran the TV advertising campaign, which emphasizes that unlike most of its rivals, the Dyson vacuum does not require the continuing purchase of replacement bags. At that time, the UK market for disposable cleaner bags is 100 million pounds.

Darren Moffatt (04:46):

The slogan “Say Goodbye to the Bag” proves more attractive to the buying public than a previous emphasis on the suction efficiency that his technology delivers. The Dyson Dual Cyclone soon becomes the fastest selling vacuum cleaner ever made in the UK and outsells those from the companies that have rejected his idea. Following his success, other major manufacturers begin to market their own cyclonic vacuum cleaners. In 1999, Dyson sues Hoover for patent infringement. The High Court rules that Hoover has deliberately copied a fundamental part of his patented design. Hoover agrees to pay damages of £ 4 million. Fast forward 20 years and Dyson Vacuum Cleaners is a global household brand with annual revenue of $7.3 billion. And James Dyson himself? He’s now the 60th wealthiest person on the planet, with a net worth of $25 billion. And it all started with a fanatical dedication to prototyping.

Darren Moffatt (06:03):

No doubt that the Dyson story is a pretty extreme example of prototyping. Most products and services will usually only require a handful of prototypes before they’re ready for market release. So the real mystery is why did he go to such lengths? Was it really necessary or a case of obsessive compulsion, or maybe there’s just a bit of PR spin in there to get some media coverage. The ante lies in an interview, James Dyson did with fast company in 2007. Listen to this quote…

Speaker 2 (06:35):

“I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures, but I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”

Darren Moffatt (06:53):

According to Dyson it’s all about the learnings that come from the failures that make prototyping such an important part of the product development process. If you’re developing a new product or service or gearing up for the launch of a startup, for instance, how can you use prototyping to make your offerings so good that it becomes a hit with your customers and changes your life forever?

Darren Moffatt (07:45):

This is Nerds of Business. We’ll start the show in a minute, but first a word from our sponsor.

Ben Carew (07:56):

Hi everyone. It’s Ben crew here. I’m a director at WebBuzz, the Growth Marketing Agency. I work alongside the host of this podcast. Darren Moffatt. If you’re a business owner who wants to grow, but you don’t have the spare funds to invest in marketing right now, you’re not alone. Since COVID hit, we’ve noticed more clients suspending campaigns or delaying their marketing altogether due to cashflow issues. In response to this, we developed a solution called “Buy Now, Pay Later” Digital Marketing. It provides eligible small businesses with nothing to pay on SEO, digital marketing, and website development for up to three months. We think it’s perfect for entrepreneurs who need a helping hand getting sales flowing again. I’ll be back later in the show to explain how it works. But if you can’t wait, you can download a free info pack. now at that stands for Buy. Now Pay Later . That’s

Darren Moffatt (08:58):

So the title of today’s episode and the problem we’re trying to solve is “Prototyping: How to Bring Your Product or Service to Life for Testing and Production.” It’s a really interesting topic today, and we’ve got some truly inspiring guests on the show. You’ll hear from an international electronic hardware manufacturer who has sold 1 million units globally of their product. You’ll also hear from the founder of one of the fastest growing healthcare companies in Australia. They’ve got an online community of almost 500,000 fans, and we’ll completely nerd out with our two product design expert. But first here’s just a quick request. If you’re enjoying Nerds of Business, we’d love to get your feedback. Please take a second now to open up your podcast player and leave a review. It helps us climb up the ranks and become more visible to other people, just like you. We want to help as many entrepreneurs and businesses as we can. Thanks in advance for your support.

Darren Moffatt (09:58):

When it comes to product development, the notion of a prototype is probably the most tangible or concrete aspect of the whole process. If you ask the average person on the street, they’d have a fair idea of what a prototype is, but where do you start and how do you go about it? Ross Gales is Director of Design and Strategy at Sydney agency Pollen. Ross is one of our two product design experts for this series. And he’s designed product solutions for some of the biggest brands in Australia, including Gumtree, which is owned by global giant eBay. I asked him to describe the process he uses for prototyping digital products, but also have a listen to what he says about the power of 3D printing for prototyping physical products as well.


Ross Gales (10:44):

Absolutely. So, our product prototypes vary in fidelity. So from very, very early on in the process, we might even take, some sketches and we might put them together in a sketch prototype, which can be nothing more than just some clickable screens of some photos that we’ve taken of some sketches. And if that’s coming back to the lean methodology, if that’s the quickest way to get insights from our customers, then let’s do that. it’s quick and easy. We sketch it up. There’s no harm. If it doesn’t work, we can scrunch them up and throw them away. Yep. Okay. Now moving through the different layers as we get further into the product development, the prototype start to get a little bit more fidelity. So we start to do things like moving into clickable prototypes, where we use tools like Figma and sketch and InVision, where we start to design the screens, even just at a wire frame level and start to make them a bit more interactive and starting to see how the experience might flow between the different elements of the product for the users. They’re great because you can put them into user testing. There’s some great online user testing tools where you can recruit users from different segments that are in your target audience and get them to trial the product. And by watching people using a product, you learn so much about how users will engage with your product or service. So I can’t recommend it enough doing, doing lots of user testing and,

Darren Moffatt (12:09):

Uh, Mechanical Turk. Would that be one of the, um, the sources of user testing you guys use, or do you have others that you’d recommend?

Ross Gales (12:16):

Yeah, we try and do a lot of qualitative face-to-face wherever possible. So we try and it’s always by watching somebody doing it, that’s when you really get the great insights. So there’s a great service in Australia called Askable a Brisbane based company. And by putting in a recruitment brief you get, they recruit users within your target audience and it’s online user testing. So you can upload a small prototype, and have a one-on-one conversation with users while they’re actually using your product. This is by video, isn’t it? It’s a vid you can just use zoom or you can use other online services. There’s plenty of other tools out there for facilitating it’s called moderated user testing. Okay. So you’ve got a moderator on one end, a prototype that you’re discussing, and you’re having a one-on-one conversation. Not trying to lead them into particular things, just to watch the music, just to gain some key insights in terms of where there’s potential usability issues, where there’s a lack of understanding how the product might function. Where there’s a prior conception about how a piece of software like that should work. That’s an interesting one. We call them mental models.

Darren Moffatt (13:18):

Oh, that’s a good one. That’s nerdy. You’ve, you’ve awakened the Nerd Bot. She’s a bit sleepy then. Uh, but she’s come back to life. Uh, well, so, you know, at that time, I guess at its core Ross, this stuff you’re talking about now with user testing, which is so interesting, um, is really about testing assumptions. Yeah. Yeah. So, because any, any product design, whether it’s a digital product or a physical product, or even as service, um, essentially it’s a bunch of assumptions, right? So you’re really testing that. Have I got that right? No, it’s wrong. If it’s wrong, why it’s wrong, but am I right just to touch on what you said before, it seems to me that this user testing might also sometimes open a door into a whole new opportunity that you haven’t considered before. How often does that happen?


Ross Gales (14:09):

Quite often, it’s, it’s really, there’s two sides to it. One, there’s looking for new, fresh insights where people might, they might have a different opinion of how something should work to what you’ve designed and that’s okay. If enough people are starting to see patterns in behavior, then you can adjust your design or solution to align with the expectations of the customers. And that’s really one of the great insights about product validation – is learning what people expect to happen next. So I’ll always ask in a user testing session when they say, Oh, what would you like me to do next? I’m like, well, what would you expect to happen next? And throw back to them and just listen to what they think should happen. Even if there’s, even if there’s no functionality on the screen for that, it’s always good to get their understanding or perceptions about what might, what might occur if they would click a certain button or do a certain action.

Ross Gales (15:05):

The other key thing is, is sometimes it’s nice to have these conversations early on in the process because that’s when you get the greatest insights into how you might start to solve some of these solutions. And that’s where things deviate really quickly. I’ve seen clients come in with a particular idea in mind and through sitting down with some customers and talking to them completely pivoted their idea and found out that that’s not actually a problem that needed solving, but there’s another problem that needs solving. So that’s where the that’s where getting in front of your users and having those conversations early and often helps to keep you on track and steer the direction of your product design.

Darren Moffatt (15:41):

We touched a little bit on, obviously the prototyping. I know you guys are focused on the digital stuff, but what about 3D Printing? How good is that, for prototyping physical products these days?

Ross Gales (15:53):

Yeah. That starts coming ahead and leaps and bounds. And it’s not an area that we specialize in or do a lot of. But it’s certainly something that we see, is it just the rapid prototyping capabilities of companies these days to get objects in people’s hands, particularly when you’re talking about physical, electronic devices, those sorts of things. to be able to see how it might, feel and hold and just shape, shape up the components of these objects and rapidly and same as digital to be able to scrunch it up and throw it away. If it doesn’t work without having over-invested, it just comes back to that lean and rapid prototyping and validation. It’s the same ideas, just in a different, different media, different medium.That’s right.

Darren Moffatt (16:36):

Okay. So that’s the how, but why is prototyping such an important part of the product development cycle?

Carrie Peters (16:44):

I would say there’s two primary reasons that I can think of. One is that prototypes are visual. And when you are talking to someone about something, especially if that’s something is quite abstract and not quite tangible yet, it’s really easy to miss what people are trying to communicate. You know, I’ll be talking about the color yellow, and you’re talking about green just because we can’t actually look at the thing on the table. And so it’s about having a visual thing to point at and make sure that you’re talking about the same thing and that you’re gathering as accurate of feedback as you possibly can. So it’s really just about visual sort of, and aligning on language of what you’re speaking to. The second one is once you get a little bit further down more refined designs the reason to prototype there is really that as soon as you start to like push, push all as soon as you start to map out all of the different interactions, you suddenly realize that there’s all these edge cases or unknown scenarios that are going to come up, that you need to account for.

Carrie Peters (17:52):

And you need to think about before you actually start building it. And in some cases you actually end up reworking things. So that’s another reason that it’s really important to prototype. It’s a really good thinking tool for designers.

Darren Moffatt (18:04):

How long does that stage of the process last? I mean, I know that’s a very difficult question to answer because inevitably the answer would be different for different products and projects, but typically, you know, if we broke the life cycle of the product design from ideation, you know, through to sort of go to market at like how much of that time is spent on prototyping? As let’s say a percentage?

Carrie Peters (18:31):

Well maybe I’ll just ground it in what we often do at ustwo. As an agency, we sell in a piece of work that we call discovery, which is usually anywhere between six to 12 weeks of work, where we do a lot of that initial research and validation that we’ve already covered a lot. And as part of that, we would probably do three, at least three rounds of prototyping and different fidelity. So going from sketching up to like a really high fidelity, in about, you know, like within eight to 10 weeks, you can do three rounds of prototyping. Again, that’s not the entire product, that’s prototyping the most important things to validate what the product needs to do. And then you continue that. So the reason I think I can’t give you a percentage is that then once you move into what we call a build stage, at ustwo the build could last anywhere from, you know, 12 months to 20 years. And you’ll need to continue to do that. There’s a sort of a cyclical thing that you go back to the drawing board as it were, and you, and you re ideate, you come up with new features, you think about how something’s going to shift and change, and you’ll often prototype those things so frequently, but yeah, you could, you could probably do a few versions of it and, you know, a couple, three months.

Darren Moffatt (19:51):

And this has a bit of a side question, what is your favorite stage of the, you know, product design cycle? You know, like, I mean, you’re obviously touching all the key stages and then you’re interfacing with, uh, engineers and clients and builders and all the rest of it. So what part do you enjoy the most?

Carrie Peters (20:13):

So that’s a good question. I think I’ve have followed a very common path for designers. I started my career as a visual designer. I studied visual designing in university, and then I ended up doing, uh, they called me a UX/UI designer. So it was very much at the forefront making the, what you would see as the app designing that to look what the front, the front part. Yeah,, the face of it, making it look pretty and interactive and fresh. And then I found my way more into research and, to be honest, I never really looked back, I think, um, I mean, actually, that’s not quite sure I ended up then going a little bit down into the, more of like the design and code side. So I learned to code a little bit, and I really tried to wrap my brain around, like, how does design then get interpreted into code and kind of what’s that, um, moment in between.

Carrie Peters (21:07):

And I think that was really valuable for me, but ultimately what I found myself in more was just the research side, just talking to people and trying to figure out how we could come in and make something, an experience for them better. And I, it’s just an endless there are endless problems to solve and it’s like quite frankly, a little bit addictive to just talk to people about what they want and what they need. I feel like I’m a therapist, but like I can offer up like little, tiny digital medicines to make their life better as opposed to actually helping them process. I don’t know.

Darren Moffatt (21:41):

I love that analogy. The digital therapist. That’s Carrie Peters. Carrie is the second of our two product design nerds for this series. She’s Product Design Principal at Sydney agency, ustwo, originally from Oregon Vine, New York, where she’s designed for the likes of Nike and class pass. She’s now a leading exponent of human centered design. I also asked her to share what she thinks is the biggest prototyping mistake that she sees people making. I was surprised by her answer, but it’s a super valuable insight.

Carrie Peters (22:17):

I mean, the number one mistake that people do is something I spoke to earlier, which is they try to prototype the entire thing at its most complex version. And it’s really just not necessary. I think prototyping really is just, it’s about adjust enough model. So you’re doing just enough to do those little experiments to validate those little things that you aren’t quite sure about. You’re not designing the entire thing. You’re designing some core pieces. a designer can literally sit down and design that in like a couple days, even in a couple of hours, but it’s not really so much about the designing part. It’s about designing the thing. So then go out and get some feedback and come back and iterate on it. That’s I think the most important, important bit. So like in like, um, for instance, one of the clients that I’m working with right now, we’re doing these, um, probably every two weeks cycles where, we’ll take a feature, we ideate on it, we sketch it up, we get it into digital format.

Carrie Peters (23:17):

We get a thumbs up from the client. We take it to users, test it, come back until the client, what we heard from users. We do another round of iteration, test it one more time, make sure that we got those changes, right? And then we prep it for the backlog, for the developers to make. So that’s about a two week where we’ve got a single prototype that we’re iterating on. It’s not the whole thing. It’s just a very, very specific portion of the product to make sure that we’re doing just enough.

Darren Moffatt (23:46):

You think the biggest mistake that people make is that they either miss out or they, they don’t do enough of that part where they’re sort of, they they’re getting the user feedback into and they’re, and they’re talking with without getting inputs from, from others who have the problem, or maybe they are using the prototype yet.


Carrie Peters (24:02):

The reason I think that people sort of get caught up on prototyping and they feel like it’s such a big deal is that they’re trying to design the whole product because they think the whole product and that context is important. But what you find is then when you go and take that prototype of the entire thing to a potential user without fail, they’ll go off into left field and start looking at some other little thing that you really don’t need feedback on right now. And then you come back and you’ve got all this feedback on something that the client or you yourself don’t have any intention of changing you. You know, you’re not going to change that thing right now, or maybe it wasn’t even something that you necessarily were going to prioritize in the next foreseeable future. And you don’t have feedback on the one thing you actually needed. So just it’s a, you know, put a, put a blinder has helped help the user, know what you want feedback. Help them focus.

Darren Moffatt (24:55):

And now for the entrepreneur perspective, regular listeners might recall my interview in episode 14, with Dr. Wei Shin Lai, the founder of AcousticSheep. AcousticSheep is an electronics company based in Pennsylvania, in the US that produces the brilliant sleep phones product. Before she was an entrepreneur, Dr. Lai was a GP and she struggled with getting back to sleep after patient phone calls in the middle of the night. She needed to listen to some meditative music to help her relax, but headphones were bulky and earpods were uncomfortable. Since there were no headphones specifically designed for sleeping on the market, she and her husband, Jason Wolf invented their own. And they’ve since sold over 1 million units globally. Listen to the fascinating story she shares about their prototyping process.

Dr. Wei Shin Lai (25:47):

Even now we’re always tossing something out there and trying it right. It’s just a continual thing. Like in the beginning, well, you bought me my first sewing machine for my birthday, and I bought him a really fancy soldering iron for his birthday. So that was the first year. Yeah, we went through about, three or four like different prototypes. And we also had like, so first some of the prototypes are more like traditional headphones, as we mentioned in the beginning, flatter, but flatter and made out of fabric. And that just didn’t really hold together very well. And then we tried, um, you know, a sleeping cap kind of an idea. Um, so putting it into more of a beanie kind of a shape, um, and that worked, but it was hot. And then, and so, because it was uncomfortable and, you know, and then, you know, mess with the hair. So then I would take it off in the middle of the night and it just wasn’t as, as nice. And then we came up with the headband idea after that. And I think I, you know, over Christmas holidays, we, I sewed it together and then we tried it and it just worked. And then it was like, Oh, okay, well, let’s go to the fabric store, buy some more fabric and, you know, you can order some more speakers and wires, and then we started making them.

Darren Moffatt (27:13):

So it sounds like you went through at least three or four different kinds of iterations before you kind of got to the, the real solid prototype. Yeah. That you knew you had the right product. Yeah,

Dr. Wei Shin Lai (27:25):

Yeah. Well, so we came up with the headband concept and then we refined it further. Cause we, at the time we were doing them ourselves. Right. And so then we had to source like little beats so that the speakers could be adjusted. And then we had a source eyelets for where the wire came out. And so then we first had just plain old, circular eyelets, and then we found an eyelet that had a sheep on it. And so then we bought the sheep eyelet. We bought it all out at like five hundred eyelets. Um, and you know, that’s that sort of thing. Um, and then, uh, ith different sizes, cause at the time we were buying just off the shelf fabric, um, which weren’t very stretchy and not as nice as our current fabric, uh, we had to have five different sizes, which was kind of a headache.

Dr. Wei Shin Lai (28:18):

And so I had to map out a using cardboard, like what size to cut for each size. And so we had that and then basically had to just lay out the fabric on our carpet, and then mark it out with the cardboard and then use like one of those fabric cutting tools and cut it all out. And then it, you know, so it was a whole, regimented process and we codified it wrote it all up. It was like 20 something steps. And then, we, you know, initially did all of that, those steps ourselves. And because we did it ourselves, we knew where the problems were, potential issues where you’d have to be more careful and all of that may the first 500 pieces. And then we outsourced to some, you know, people around the community that we were able to hire off of Craigslist.

Darren Moffatt (29:17):

Venture capitalists and sharp investors know that online healthcare is a very hot market right now with the potential for vast, vast growth. One entrepreneur who’s built a really exciting business in this space very quickly is health and wellness expert, Jess Sepel of JS Health. Now, Jess is a qualified nutritionist who’s started blogging while she was studying way back in 2010. The blog quickly grew into an online community, which now encompasses more than 400,000 people across Instagram, Facebook and Email. In 2016, she launched her signature 8 Week Program followed by a very successful app. And in 2018, she launched JS Health Vitamins, which has absolutely exploded. In 2020, JS Health Vitamins received the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Rising Star Award for achieving a growth rate of wait for it… 21,540%. That is truly amazing. And Jess has a remarkable story through hard work she’s achieved, what all entrepreneurs should be striving for a truly scalable business. I started by asking her, how did she prototype the vitamin range that’s taken her company to the next level.

Jess Sepel (30:38):

Yeah. So I guess as a nutritionist, it can be hard to understand, but when you know, I trained in health and nutrition for five years, and then I did spend at least two years practicing in private practice as a nutritionist. I got this very, very deep sense of what woman was struggling with. And through online blog and community. You know, that’s what JS Health was. It was just a forum where women come together or whatever it might be. So I got a real big sense of what we’re going to start getting stressed, hair, growth, hair, thinning, energy, skin, skin, breakout, sleep. Did I say sleep? Sleep is such a big thing. So I got a real sense of what women were struggling with. And that’s when I got this like box in my belly because I have add, you know, use nutrients and minerals and adaptogenic herbs, or just herbs through my training of being of becoming a nutritionist.

Jess Sepel (31:43):

And I saw the power that they had. So when I, the first thing, when I thought I would love to create a product line, the first thing was I have to, I love vitamins. You know, I’m so passionate about vitamins. And that was the thing that got me excited, and I know that they can help so many people. So the first formula I wanted to create was a stress formula because I was seeing stress. Stress was like the number one issue I was seeing in my practice as a nutritionist and for the online community. And then that, that was a very, very challenging part. It took me about two to three years to find someone who could produce and manufacture vitamins, which is ridiculous, but it is, it was so difficult and I was in the industry, but I still could not put my hand, get my hands on a good vitamin, producer or manufacturer.

Jess Sepel (32:29):

And, actually we’ve got how I’m, how do I describe this nicely? We, we basically threw away 10 to $20,000 on someone who we thought could create vitamins. He had said he had had experience in the industry, but if I look back on it now having been, you know, having been, having run a vitamin company for three years now, there’s no way he would have had the expertise to manufacture vitamins. So we, you know, threw away 10 to $20,000 on this guy who kind of pretended to be a vitamin manufacturer because he had worked for a big corporate company in the past and had kind of helped them on some of their vitamin lines, but it just wasn’t going to ever get us where we needed to get. So my husband at that point said to me, Jess, this is not going to happen.

Jess Sepel (33:17):

There’s no way you’ll be able to, you know, just come up with your own vitamin range. Like, it’s ridiculous. Just because you also have an online community doesn’t mean you’re going to sell vitamins, you know, that’s the thing aboutsocial media, you don’t know how engaged your community is. You don’t know, just because you have a following. Following does not mean we’ll convert into sales, but there was this passion in my belly, there was this excitement. I can’t describe it. Other entrepreneurs would be able to maybe describe it better than I can, but it’s just this feeling of like, right. You just get desperate to create this. And my husband had been at this point said to me, at least five times, it’s not going to happen. It’s too expensive. And then I also was mentored by a very well-known doctor here in Sydney.

Jess Sepel (33:58):

He’s been my mentor for ages. And he even called me one day and said, Jess, I think this is going to be a really expensive exercise. I just wouldn’t go down this road. It’s, you know, the vitamin industry is so crowded and why, and who was I to think that I was going to have a successful vitamin company? Just because I was a nutritionist with a social media following. And then a week later out of nowhere, my manager at the time said, I’ve got this friend who knows someone. Who’s one of the first people in Australia to, um, be in the vitamin manufacturing industry. And his father was like, they called him the vitamin man, because he was the first person to produce and manufacture vitamins in Sydney. And I’d met his son, Craig, and we had a meeting and that was it.

Jess Sepel (34:44):

And I still, at that point, we only ordered like 2000 bottles of our first product, which ended up being a hair growth, formula, hair, and energy. We call it. And I still said to Dean my husband, there’s no way we’re gonna be able to sell these 2000 bottles. And we did, and now we’re 14 or 15 products deep. And you know, JS Health Vitamins are definitely trending in the vitamin space here in Australia. And I think it’s because they are different, you know, they all backed by nutritional science. There is a nutritionist behind them. Every single formula is created because my community has voiced to me that they struggling with a particular something. And then I sit and put together a formula that I think will help them. And every single formula, it takes me at least a year to create and develop. And I’m not interested in trying to save money or costs.

Jess Sepel (35:34):

I’m interested in creating a good product that is by, you know, based upon traditional research. Yeah. It’s different. You know, everyone says to me how come JS Vitamins is doing so well. They’re such huge big vitamin companies here in Australia, especially. And I think it’s because there’s just a tremendous amount of care and effort and detail put into our formulations. I won’t put an ingredient into formulation unless it has a traditional research claim to show that it’s helping [inaudible] I’m stating I care about every ingredient where it comes from the purity. And, um, yeah, that’s, it’s hard to describe, but it’s, it’s changing the game.

Darren Moffatt (36:13):

Well, I mean, yeah, that’s so interesting. I mean, just maybe a little bit more detail. I think our listeners would be really keen to understand, you know that prototyping process where you’re making the recipes yourself. Right. And you’re trying different things. You’re, essentially, coming up with a recipe that will solve a problem, you know? So I think there’s one thing that I’ve talked with you guys just a bit different is that your products are much more problem centric, you know, whether it be the sleep. So whether it’s the sleep or the hair loss or the skin, whatever it is, your stuff is very problem centric. Right. So you obviously you’re in, you’re in labs, I would imagine. So you’re in some, some kind of labs putting some stuff together and seeing how it works.

Jess Sepel (37:02):

Yeah. So I have a team of, I myself, I’m not in the lab, but I have a huge team now of health experts who are in the lab helping me develop these products – biochemists, nutritionists, you know, a huge amount, a huge team helping us put together these vitamins. So the first step is to formulate. So I get sent traditional research with different ingredients. So first is the problem. What is the problem, as you’ve just pointed out, very, very clever to have picked up that’s where our vitamins are very unique is that they point out the problem and the issue you may be struggling with. So for them going into the pharmacy and seeing a million different vitamins that are probably just going to overwhelm you. Vitamin C. Vitamin D. Vitamin [inaudible]. We all just going to go straight to, Oh, wow.

Jess Sepel (37:48):

They have a detox and vitamin perfect for liver detoxification and bloating, or you might go straight to the, the skin vitamins, skin and digestion, and you’re probably struggling with indigestion. Cause that’s normally the reason why people are breaking out. So your brain will just go straight to the skin and digestion formula. So it’s just trying to make it much easier for the community and for our customers. So the way it goes is that I want to put together a skin formula and I get sent the traditional research of ingredients that do and have been shown to support skin health. So normally it’s a nice combination of nutrients, minerals and herbs, nutrients, and minerals as a nutritionist. So my favorite more than herbs, I’m not a natural. And I, obviously, from my training, I have a, quite a good understanding of what nutrients and minerals would probably help this game, like vitamin C vitamin E zinc bursting back into my mind, and then probably some nice Herb’s antioxidants.

Jess Sepel (38:49):

And I will then contact my vitamin manufacturer. They have a team of health experts and researchers that send me the research and show me which ingredients have been shown to help with skin health. And then I take the ingredients that have the traditional research to back them up. And then I start formulating, and as I said, each formulation takes me at least 12 months. So we go back and forth, back and forth. And the other big difference with JS Health is that I only put ingredients that are at a therapeutic dose. I don’t like just putting a speck of legions and middles to save cost, which a lot of big companies do. I want it to be at the therapeutic amount, because I know that will have a transformational effect. And we go back and forth adding nutrients, putting more of this nutrient, putting less of that minerals.

Jess Sepel (39:38):

So trying to balance out the formula and making sure that the tablet size is not too big. Because the more minerals you add, the more magnesium, you add, the bigger the tablet gets. The more vitamin C you add, the bigger the tablet gets. I’ll have to go back and forth to make sure the tablet size is correct and make sure the coating doesn’t contain, you know, crazy amounts of excipients or preservatives. And after 12 months we might have a formulation. And then that goes through the TGA, which is probably the strictest vitamin government body in the entire world. And they have to approve your formula because it then becomes a listed medicine here in Australia. And Australia probably has the strictest manufacturing rules. And if the GMP it’s good, it’s good manufacturing process. Take that out. Good manufacturing GMPs. Oh, I can’t get the P, but anyway, leave that out. Um, just in case I get that wrong GMP manufacturer. So it can mean that they under incredibly strict processes to make sure that each ingredient is tested multiple times and then TGA will accept your formulation. And then it becomes a listed medicine. And still after that process, it has to get manufactured and produced in a lab. And then, um, our distributors get ahold of the vitamin and then it’s ready to sell.

Ben Carew (41:07):

And now another word from our sponsor. Hi, it’s Ben again from WebBuzz, the Growth Marketing Agency. I mentioned earlier in the show, how we’ve developed a Buy Now, Pay Later Digital Marketing solution for small businesses. If you want to grow but cashflow is holding you back. WebBuzz offers you a way to invest in marketing with no interest and nothing to pay for up to three months. It’s a simple five-step process and here’s how it works. Number one, book a video meeting with our team. Two, choose a digital marketing package. Three apply online for funding. Four, get approved. Five, start your campaign with $0 to pay up front. You can use it for lead generation, content, branding, SEO or social media campaigns. Our Buy Now Pay Later Digital Marketing is just the thing you need to get sales flowing again. So get that “life is good” feeling back in your business. Go to that’s and download a free info pack to learn more.

Darren Moffatt (42:19):

So the problem we set out to solve in this episode was prototyping how to bring your product or service to life for testing and production. Our product design experts, Carrie Peters from ustwo. And Ross Gales from Pollen revealed the theory behind effective prototyping and why it’s such an important step for all businesses to take. And we’ve also heard some fascinating, real life stories from our entrepreneur, guests, Wei Shin at SleepPhones and Jess Sepel of JS Health. I hope their wisdom and insights have given you ideas to crack the code to growth in your own venture. For me, there are three really important conclusions we can all take from this episode. Number one, watch your customers using your prototype as Ross and Carrie both said, the learnings you will take from observing customers is priceless. It may take your product development into a completely different direction, or even spawn a different product entirely.

Darren Moffatt (43:21):

And that’s okay. Number two, don’t prototype the whole product. This is the single biggest mistake that new entrepreneurs and DIY product designers make. Take Carrie’s advice and only prototype the key components of your product that you absolutely need to test. Number three, keep record of your prototyping process. As we heard from Wei Shin, her efforts to codify and document all of their prototyping pay dividends later when they build out a supply chain and outsourced the manufacturing. As we heard at the top of the episode in the Dyson vacuum cleaner story, each round of prototyping is an invaluable learning experience for the company or entrepreneur developing the product. Every so-called failure actually gets you closer to the end destination, but don’t be in a rush. I thought it was really telling when Jess from JS health revealed that it takes her at least a year to get a product from ideation through to prototyping and out to market. She obviously takes great pains to get the design, right. And you should too. As you can tell from our guests, prototyping is fun, but you should never lose sight of the ultimate goal – to create a winning product that connects in a meaningful way with your target customers.

Darren Moffatt (44:45):

We’re coming to the end. But before we go, it’s time for our regular segment Nerd Under Pressure where a guest has to share one killer hack or tip they recommend for you. Our listeners let’s find out who our Nerd Under pressure is today. Wei Shin and Jason, we now come to a famous recurring segment of ours here called Nerd Under Pressure.

Darren Moffatt (45:12):

So it’s Nerd Under Pressure. You guys are the product nerds today, the sleep phone nerds, and we’re after one killer hack that you can share with our listeners, on prototyping. So, one great tip for prototyping. I’m going to give you a five second thinking time. Your time starts now. Okay. Over to you.

Dr. Wei Shin Lai (45:39):

So we keep the basic materials and tools to work in a lot of different, disciplines around the house. And when inspiration comes to us, you know, we make something at least there’s some clutter, but it serves us very well and it’s fun.

Darren Moffatt (45:57):

Oh, great. Okay. So, your killer hack is to, to keep the things that you need as a, as an innovator, as an inventor, as a designer, to keep those tools, ready at hand, in, even in the house so that you can just hit the ground running really quickly when inspiration strikes.

Dr. Wei Shin Lai (46:14):

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Fantastic.

Darren Moffatt (46:17):

That’s a great hack. Thanks for sharing that one.

Darren Moffatt (46:22):

Thanks for listening to Episode 16 of the Nerds of Business podcast. If you haven’t left a review already, please write a review or rate us on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. It helps us climb up the ranks and become more visible to other people just like you. If you’ve got a question or some feedback we love to hear from you, of course, you can engage with at That’s So feel free to reach out and say hello. I want to thank all of our guests and the team at WebBuzz for helping me put this show together. We’ll be back in two weeks with our next episode, which is the IP Conundrum. When, or even if, should you protect your idea with patents and trademarks. Until then I’m your host, Darren Moffatt. And I look forward to nerding out with you next time. Bye for now.


Ben Carew

Ben Carew

Ben is the Director of SEO Services & Analytics at Webbuzz. He started in graphic design and web development in 1999 and has ridden many of technology's waves since then. He co-founded social media site Housenet in 2013 and began moving into digital marketing & SEO from his experiences growing this tech start up. Ben co-founded agency Webbuzz with former band mate Darren in 2014.

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