America still lags behind the rest of the world at soccer, and Aziz Makhani offers a solution. Here’s how he developed his idea into a product ready for sale.
American kids aren’t great at soccer, but It’s not for lack of trying, says Aziz Makhani, a native of Burma and volunteer soccer referee. They work hard and are physically adept, he says, but “they’re being held back by not truly understanding the game.” The solution, according to Makhani, is KickShot, a new board game which teaches kids the classic techniques and strategies of soccer, and in the process, improves their on-field performance.
But bringing KickShot to market hasn”t been exactly child’s play. Makhani success with the game has depended on his mastering a wide range of skills, such as product development, raising capital, manufacturing and shipping, sales and marketing, and most of all, he has had to learn to make a profit. In short, over the last two years, Makhani has had to become a full-fledged entrepreneur.
Here’s how he did it.
Before you commit to anything, you need to answer some tough questions: What’s the competition like? What will it cost to produce your product, and how long will it take?
Part 1: The Development Journey
According to Makhani, an electrical engineer by training, the first step in product development is nailing down the idea, but the process is more involved than than just writing a product description.
- Preliminary Assessment. Before you commit to anything, he says, you need to answer some tough questions: Is there competion for your product in the marketplace? Is your product a significant improvement or even “disruptive”? How would you market it? What kind of resources will you need to produce it, and how long will it take? Makhani’s answers gave him the confidence to begin the development process in earnest.
- Concept Generation. Makhani’s first idea was a children’s card game that taught the basics of soccer. The cards would be illustrated with cartoon animals in soccer gear on the front, and the descriptions of actions such as kick, pass, block on the back side of the cards. He wanted something simple that could be played in groups, particularly in a family setting, so he stuck with playing cards instead of an electronic medium.
- Benchmarking: Doing Your Homework. Makhani visited specialty retailers and large department stores to look at the top games in his category. He wanted to learn how they were marketed, displayed, and what features made them popular. Makhani devoted six weeks to concept development and benchmarking.
- Proof of Concept: Prototyping. The first protoype was made from 3×5″ index cards, cut in half. Since they were for demonstration purposes, they didn’t need to be very elaborate. In fact, Makhani wrote out the playing instruction on the back of the cards by hand.
- Concept Testing. Then he tested the concept with a of game aficionados and received a rude awakening. The gamers liked the idea, but insisted it had to be a board game. This was a significant complication for Makhani. “Now, I had to figure out how to divide the board. Also, I had to figure out how the ball progressed down the field to the goal.” Adding dice to the game solved this problem; the higher the number rolled, the further the ball would travel.
- Revising the Prototype. Makhani pivoted and went back to work, refining his concept.He hired an illustrator to create the player cards and design the first game board. It was far too large to be commercially practicable, but it was critical to further testing efforts. The illustrator also worked on logo design and packaging. Time required: eight weeks.
- Consumer Testing. The first testers were the young children of friends. They taught him he needed a simple version of the game, a Level One, for young or challenged players. Then he invited a group of teenaged soccer players from Idaho to test it. From them he learned that that what was missing from Kickshot was risk v. reward – the special sauce that makes any game, from high-stakes poker to Monopoly, exciting for its player. Teaching the nuances of the game was important, but to be hit with kids, KickShot had to be fun too.
- 2nd Revision of Prototype. So the cards were redesigned again. “Some cards are inherently riskier than others,” says Makhani. “For example, a bicycle kick (when a player kicks the ball back over his head ) is riskier than a simple pass. I tried to put as much realism as possible into the game.” He added a second die to determine if the player’s pass or bicycle kick was successful or not. Time required: eight weeks.
Summary. Working with his brother who is also a soccer referee, and an artist from the University of Idaho to handle illustrations and graphic design, Makhani spent a year of intense work bringing KickShot into focus. Altogether, four prototypes were created, and there was a great deal of consumer testing of all age groups which contributed significantly to the final design, preparing Makhani to embark on the next stage of his journey, Manufacturing and Realization, which will be part 2 or our 3 part series.
Advice From Aziz
- Start building your network of advisors immediately — family, friends, colleagues, retailers, marketers, manufacturers and potential investors. Since you won’t have big company behind you, your advisors will provide needed feedback, and support.
- Copyright and trademark your work as soon as possible. Document everything you do on the project including dates and time spent.
- Don’t launch until your product is absolutely ready. There are no second chances for new products.
- Listen to your advisors and potential customers. Your best ideas will often come from them.