After 30 Years in Product Design, This is My Advice

April 13, 2017

An interview with Pivot International’s President & CEO Mark Dohnalek

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We had the amazing opportunity to interview Mark Dohnalek, President and CEO of Pivot International, a single-source global company that takes products from design to manufacturer, to market, and who has more than 30 years of experience in the product design industry.

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What does single-source look like? A view at some of Pivot International’s services

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Pivot International is one of Make48’s platinum sponsors for the September 28-30 event, and is currently re-designing the winning product from the October 2016 competition! Mark has also been involved in coaching and judging at Make48.

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We hope Mark’s advice is as impactful as it should be! Mark gives us some great insight into the invention process, shares his experience about the common challenges that many inventors face throughout (particularly first-time inventors), shares his experience as a mentor on the Make48 competition, and his best advice for those trying to get their product out there!

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Common Challenges Faced by Inventors

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As Pivot International is a global company that supports product designers with everything from product ideation to taking the product to market, Mark is the perfect person to ask about the common challenges that inventors face at every stage of production:

“I really enjoy the entire product design process:  the ideation, the problem solving of design and engineering, consumer research, manufacturing and market introduction.  With our clients, we are typically involved in all phases from start to finish.  Although each product is unique, there are common challenges that face most inventors, especially new ones.

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Product design: 

Taking an idea and making it a 3-D product that is fit for manufacturing and marketing requires expertise that inventors don’t typically have.

Sourcing/manufacturing:  

Finding a manufacturer that can make your product at the price and quality that you want in timeframe you need is challenging.  You truly need to know how to find best manufacturers all over the world and with that comes language and culture barriers, rules and regulation navigation.  Without relationships and “boots on the ground” in global manufacturing, it is very risky for US inventors to try to establish supply chains in other countries.

Marketing: 

Your product success is dependent on reaching your targeted consumer.  Being deliberate and savvy about how to reach your consumer is critical – using digital and traditional marketing.

Funding: 

The inventor must invest (or find investors) to fund the development of product, marketing, inventory and more.  It is very important to work with the right partners to optimize the investments you make up-front.  Also critically important is speed to market because time is money.  Most inventors tend to underestimate funds needed for start-up and overestimate when they will become profitable”.

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Often, having a single-source company assist designers throughout the entire process of production is extremely valuable! The in-house team of experts can provide inventors with expertise in everything related to the product development of several different product industries.

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Pivot International’s portfolio extends across these industries 

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“Working with a one-source company like Pivot helps the inventor from start to finish to make sure that the product is designed and engineered in a manner that can be manufactured efficiently and effectively.  It also ensures that the inventor doesn’t have to hire middle-people to find global manufacturers.  US inventors work with Pivot staff in US and then Pivot designs, manufactures and delivers products while managing the entire process for the inventor.  Since most of the revenue is generated from manufacturing, the one-source firm is invested in ensuring the product’s success.”

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Pivot International + Make48

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Mark believes that the Make48 model can also help inventors overcome the initial barriers to production- as experts can help teams along the way!

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Make48 contestant getting expert 3D printing support during an event 

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“The Make48 competition gives inventors the opportunity to build their ideas and concepts surrounded by industry experts that can help guide them through the process.  Specifically, from Pivot, we provide engineering and design services for the winner of their competition to help them bring their product to life.  So basically, the winner gets the expertise and resources of a global company that works with them in the US to design and engineer their invention and then we can engage our factories in the US or Asia to produce the products, depending on where in the world it can be made most effectively and efficiently.”

Mark has personally been involved in Make48 as a mentor and a judge.

“Being a Make48 judge has been a great experience.  I meet aspiring inventors, can help guide them through the development process with my professional experience, I roll up my sleeves and help them bring their idea to reality with Pivot’s services. I also really enjoy working with the group of judges, who all come from different industries.  I learn a lot from the inventors and my peer judges; I find that energizing.”

Mark is excited about Make48 TV teaching viewers the process of invention, and particularly, how to actualize their product ideas.

 

“Make48 inspires the inventor in everyone of all ages.  We all have great ideas but very few ideas become successful businesses.  The program will educate viewers on how to actualize their idea… Viewers will see the ideation process and the messy design process, before the conception of product solutions.  That part is very new to TV.  Along with that, the viewers will see the concept validation process and marketing strategy.  The current programming, Shark Tank, has done a great job exposing viewers to the new products, valuation and investment planning and operation challenges of new product companies.  Make48 is different in that it starts at the concept and helps inventors bring their product to life.  The Make48 TV will help viewers understand how to go from “I have a great idea” to bringing it to life.”

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Mark’s Advice for Aspiring + Current Inventors

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A question often asked by first-time inventors is whether or not they should go through with prototyping their design. Mark believes that if one is ready to take this step, it can be extremely beneficial in the long run.

“Prototyping is an important step in the product development process.  Being able to see, feel, use and show a prototype can test your design execution and conduct research with consumer, customers and manufacturing plants so that you can identify and address issues before investing money in full production.  Although prototyping takes time and money, it typically saves in the long run.   With the advance of prototyping technology such as 3-D printing, it has become more affordable and time-efficient.”

We asked Mark to share some of his favorite experiences within the design industry, and, as you can imagine, it was hard to choose!

I’ve been in the product development industry for many years.  Asking for my favorite is like asking me to choose my favorite child.  Each is special. Some are special because they’ve launched new industries such as an Iris Detection Device, some are special because they are so unique such as the BonzaSport, combination backpack and seat, and the Skinzit, the electric fish skinner  As a business owner, I’ve had the opportunity to grow Pivot from a US firm to a global company with manufacturing in the US and Asia.  We’ve opened offices in the UK and Hong Kong and we continue to grow and add capabilities.  To do that, we’ve had to launch many successful products and I am grateful for each of them.”

Lastly, we asked Mark to share his best advice, as well as the best advice he ever received in his years in this industry. His answer?

“I would tell every inventor to make sure that your idea/concept solves a problem, whether that “problem” is articulated or not.  The solution is what drives the need and value of a product.  Developing a cool invention is not enough to build a business…Do your research!  Know your competitors; ask for feedback from consumers and retailers that may carry your product.  Listen to the feedback.  Be ready to work hard and be uncomfortable.  Take smart, calculated risks.”

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To learn more about the incredible services Pivot International provides, make sure you check out their website! If you feel inspired by Mark’s advice, dare to muster that passion and apply to the open Make48 Casting Call for season 2 of Make48! Happy Inventing!

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