How product co-creation studio FirstBuild is changing the way new things are made – TechCrunch

Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and small-batch production for the win

If you are in charge of R&D at a major manufacturer of household appliances, you have a challenge to meet.

You typically produce products in huge quantities with pretty slim margins. In order to recoup your development, tooling, and launch marketing costs, you must create and sell a large number of products. To make sure this is possible, you’ll probably end up doing a bunch of user and market research to make sure you have the best chance of success with your products.

It makes sense, but the business model itself means it’s hard to do anything really risky, which means traditional manufacturers rarely come up with anything truly innovative.

If there was a mushroom fruiting device, would many more people regularly grow mushrooms at home? There was only one way to find out: build one and try to sell it.

This is where FirstBuild comes in. If you’re a small appliance nerd, you might have seen its Opal Nugget ice maker, the studio’s first big breakthrough; the Mella mushroom fruiting chamber; its indoor pizza oven; or the Arden Indoor Smoker. I spoke with André Zdanow, President of FirstBuild, to understand where these ideas came from and how the studio is working to try to replicate these successes.

“The most famous example is probably the Opal Nugget ice maker. At first it wasn’t a product at all – it was a technology that the refrigeration division of GE Appliances was working on,” Zdanow said, explaining that it turned out to be a headache. They wanted to put the “nugget of ice” in a refrigerator, but were unable to determine exactly how big the market would be for such a thing. “It’s actually very complicated to put technology in a fridge. In other words, it really was a great idea that engineers had been toying with for years, but in the context of the direction and economics of a multi-billion dollar company, it wasn’t something they could focus on.

The Opal nugget ice maker was FirstBuild’s first commercial success. Picture credits: First build

In a parallel universe, this technology would never have seen the light of day, but instead the engineers came to FirstBuild and wondered what would happen if they put the technology in a separate device, rather than a refrigerator. full size.

“We see a lot of people going to the store and buying this type of ice cream. They call it sonic ice or hospital ice. We decided to develop a prototype and see if people want it to be just an ice maker,” Zdanow explained. This was the genesis of the success of the FirstBuild laboratory. “It all started with rudimentary concepts that looked like an ice maker, but contained nuggets of ice. From there it progressed through industrial design and eventually to a $2.7 million crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in 2015.”

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