We’ve all been there. You see a product or idea that isn’t quite perfect. It may be great, but it isn’t exactly what you want. And you find yourself thinking “Hey, that looks easy, even I could do that. Except I’d do it better!”
Unfortunately, it usually ends there. You quickly get back to the daily grind. The to-do list piles up, work gets in the way and the last thing you want to do after a long day in the office is spend the time and money creating something from scratch.
Or, if you are anything like me, you immediately come up with 10 (or 100) reasons why it won’t work. I call it “The Debbie Downer List”. It quickly rains on your creative parade and pushes you back to reality – including things like:
- I don’t have CAD software
- I don’t know the first thing about manufacturing
- I’ve got a full-time job
- I can’t risk the investment – what if it doesn’t pan out
And that is usually the end of the story…
The beginning of Premier Pen
The idea for Premier Pen started in the summer of 2011 with one of the typical “I could do that” moments. While reading the daily helping of tech blogs – I came across the ‘Pen Type A’ on TechCruch (link). I quickly jumped to their Kickstarter page and ordered two. It has a stunning design paired with an awesome ink cartridge (Pilot Hi-Tec C / G-Tec C4). I can’t wait to get my hands on them.
I loved the idea. Seemed perfect for my desk. But not for my pocket. And I travel for work. A lot.
I always carry a pen with me (along with a moleskine journal) – for jotting down bursts of creative inspiration, thoughts about life and photography, as well as anything else that comes to mind (don’t forget to buy milk). However, the Pen Type A wasn’t going to fit the bill. So, I figured I’d build one myself.
Let’s make some pens!
I’ll spare you the full details, but the short story is:
The easiest part: Idea to initial 3D design
- A week to find someone to turn my sketches into 3D renderings (Elance)
- A week to get to a set of design files for different prototypes
Much harder: Finding a supplier
- Initial discussions with 20+ suppliers from around the globe
- A few weeks getting quotes and learning about how they handle small clients
- Finally selected One (Hi Candice!) – now let’s make some prototypes, right?
and that was just the start…
The devil is in the details
At this point I was excited. I’ve got a few designs ready to go (or so I think) and I’ve found a potential supplier. Super easy. I can’t believe I thought this would be difficult. Everyone should do this! That feeling lasted about 24 hours. I then ended up spending much of the next month going back and forth with the supplier to fine-tune the design and figure out the specifics, including:
- The pros and cons of different manufacturing processes
- Different types of metal and their properties
- Different finishing options
- Updates to the design to ensure a good fit
- How expensive single-run prototypes really are!
After a few dozen exchanges, I placed my first order.
The first batch!
It was an exciting day – finally getting my hands on the real product. The design I initially sketched out on a piece of paper was now a real pen that I could hold in my hand. A pretty exciting moment – one that I won’t forget. Time to go live on Kickstarter and start raising money for a much larger (and hopefully affordable) run?
I’d intentionally had a number of different designs built – if I was going to proceed with this, I was going to do it right. Different shapes, sizes and finishes. The final product had to be something I could be proud of. Time to test them out! I then spend the next month using my pens and testing them out with others. I loved most of them, but a few didn’t work for me (the square may come back to life some day – but will need to be a bit smaller).
My favourite was the simple, sleek cylinder. Unfortunately, there was a problem. Turns out that the color had trouble sticking to the external 90 degree edges. (You can see the color coming off of the sharp edges below)
Back to the drawing board…
In order to offer the pen in more than just the basic metal color (something key to success in my mind) the design needed to change. Thankfully, with a few simple tweaks to the design, we were able to create a pen that would hold color (I’ve been testing them since October) while fulfilling the initial aspirations – something sleek, simple and solid that would fit in your pocket and be a joy to use.
At this point we were also able to get some insight into the willingness of the supplier to address problems. The first shipment of the rounded prototypes had a few quality issues. As soon as I let the supplier know – they immediately got a new set in the mail, addressing all of my concerns at no additional cost. While it was a frustrating delay – it gives me confidence that I’ve selected a great partner.
Unveiling the Premier Pen P1
The result is the Premier Pen P1 (shown in black below). Hopefully the first in a series of high quality, aluminum pens that are a joy to use.
Unfortunately – unless I can place a massive order (think thousands of dollars) – the pen is completely unaffordable to manufacture. Hence, the initial launch with Kickstarter. If I can raise enough funds for the first big run – everyone can enjoy the P1 at a reasonable price (and if the demand greatly surpasses my expectations, look for some sweet bonus prizes to show up in your shipments!).
Place a pre-order on Kickstarter today!