Michael Tseng is the Founder and lead Product Developer of Prestagon Product Studio here in San Francisco. He’s an incredibly bright and ambitious entrepreneur who has succeeded in getting his products into major retailers, has appeared on Shark Tank, and is also a Doctor of Medicine!
Michael has been working with SDS for almost 5 years and we were honored to have the chance to interview him and share his insights on the consumer product development, sales, and marketing process with our audience.
What is your mission at Prestagon?
At Prestagon Product Studio, our mission is to drive incremental innovations that spark the most joy for our customers. We listen closely to customer needs, conceptualizing solutions — products, apps, and services — across a range of consumer categories. We bring those concepts to life and deliver through our established supply chain.
How did Prestagon get started?
Prestagon came about while I was in college as an engineering major and created a prototype for PlateTopper. Initially, I applied for a patent and tried to license it and was unable to generate interest in licensing deals, so I then developed it into a production quality prototype. From there, I attended my first trade show in 2009, was awarded ‘Best New Innovation’, inked a deal with QVC, and eventually got the product into Walmart.
We started with PlateTopper, a product that allows customers to easily save leftovers directly on the plate quickly and easily. After successfully tapping into that user need, we turned our sights to ice cube trays and some of the problems associated with conventional trays. IceTopper is the result of that exploration.
- The failure to license actually led to developing the product in-house.
- I found trade shows to be incredibly valuable and think all entrepreneurs should attend them.
- After going through the process of filing for a patent, I did not feel that it was worth it. There are certainly many products that benefit from patent protection, but my specific product was more about branding and getting deals closed with large distribution companies. Execution and time to market seemed to be bigger factors in my case.
What is the company’s ultimate goal?
The company’s ultimate goal is to become the ‘everyday innovation’ store of Amazon. In the instance where there are negative customer reviews, I’ve found it’s important to not only solve those problems but to solve problems people don’t know they have yet. Often, it’s a perceived problem: “I wish it had this”, “it would be better with this”, which then enables you to continue to innovate and further improve the products.
What led you to choose to work with SDS?
I was originally referred to SDS by a few different people. After meeting with Brett and the team at their office, the in-house prototyping really drew me in. It improves both the quality and turnaround times. I’ve also found value in SDS’s ability to get second opinions and provide connections when needed.
What was the process like for you from concept to production (pick one of the many Prestagon products)?
With Walmart, the time crunch was a pretty big difficulty to overcome. They’re not accustomed to working with startups and brand new products, so the faster turnaround times with prototyping were imperative. First, I pitched a concept to Walmart and from there, I’ve found a hybrid approach to the prototype really helps. i.e. use silicone parts from a current manufacturer and then utilize 3D printing.
In the early days, working with large retailers such as Walmart, things happened in-person and I tried to show manufactured samples for the first meeting in the Summer. After that first meeting, I realized it was a bit more informal and would use prototypes, which is way faster and less expensive than manufactured samples. Even prior to COVID, the presentation process moved online. Meetings became virtual and prototypes turned into concept renderings, so I’ve managed to reduce the effort and cost required to get a product concept in front of the teams responsible for making decisions on whether to carry a product.
After presenting the concept renderings comes the prototype pitch, which usually involves manufactured samples with retail packaging so they can envision what it will look like on their shelves and how to place it in stores. They don’t expect that to be fully developed at this stage, but, at a minimum, you need to have a looks-like prototype and retail packaging. If it comes in a display box, they call that PDQ (Pretty Darn Quick) because you just pull it out, place it there, and it stands on it’s own at the end of an aisle and can attract attention from customers.
Even though the initial meetings only require renderings, if there was some level of interest at that initial meeting, I would immediately hedge my bets with the product and get together the engineering CAD. I would then have product concepts queued up with our manufacturing partners so that if Walmart said yes, there’s already a manufacturing partner lined up. This allows us to hit the challenging timelines that retailers require. Specifically, with Walmart’s kitchen/organization/food storage department (they have a number of large, specialty departments). Walmart would then evaluate that and we’d go from there. Ultimately, there were three main phases: (1) Concept presentations (2) Manufacturing samples (or prototypes) and (3) after final approval from Walmart, mass production for delivery.
How has getting into retail stores been for you? Which stores carry Ice Topper?
The early days were really challenging, the strategy didn’t seem to be obvious and the strategy used for one product is not repeatable for another. I found that having an agent was really helpful. You can meet agents at tradeshows or through other entrepreneurs, and I really feel it’s important to have one, especially if you’re just starting out. The competition is really fierce and you need someone with specific expertise. It’s also helpful to have an agent in the particular markets you have an interest in as they all usually have different specialties and territories they cover.
- QVC was fairly straightforward. I went to the tradeshow and they were interested, but I needed an agent to make that deal happen.
- Walmart required multiple touchpoints and opportunities to get it to stick. It definitely took a multi-prong approach and leveraging other momentum (QVC, any press, etc.).
- With Target I was never able to achieve traction, even with an agent.
- Bed Bath & Beyond, everything was lined up with a deal in place and then they backed out… It was so hard to put all the work in and then have the deal fall through at the last minute, but that can happen so it is important to always have multiple backup plans.
- Flash sales: We’ve also sold online with Fab.com, Zulily, Groupon, Living Social, etc. but my takeaway was that it’s likely not possible to have a business with just flash sales, it’s more of an add-on or maybe it could be justified as a marketing expense just to get more exposure.
What are your thoughts on Amazon as a sales channel?
I really struggled initially. It’s an incredibly competitive marketplace. You need a leg up outside of the product itself. About 9 months ago, I was introduced to a small agency that had a lot of experience selling on the platform. After that, we went from ~$0–200k in annualized revenue in 6 months.
In terms of what the customer is spending, the seller’s profit on Amazon is really poor and they force Walmart price matching. There are ways to differentiate from the Walmart product and optimize it to be successful: product, marketing, SKUs, distribution, etc. I remain optimistic about Amazon and am starting to offer multi-tiered product listings: i.e. a low price point product, then your sweet spot, and then an upsell. Also, combining multiple products in one product listing can be useful. That way any revenue you generate increases the single product listing. The hypothesis being that it’s better for ranking and getting exponential type growth in product search results to have one strong product listing than two mediocre ones.
Takeaway: Long titles and, occasionally, hokey images can actually be helpful and are things you wouldn’t necessarily think to do on your own or be resistant to.
See IceTopper on Amazon.
What’s coming down the pike for Prestagon?
We have some exciting products coming up! We are working on some new products in the health, fitness, and wellness category. It’s a refreshing break from the kitchen and food storage products we’ve focused on the past few years. We’re also growing the team and looking for brand managers who want to launch new products!
Current Team Left to Right: Lola W. — Product Development | Soft Goods, Jane R. — Design Lead | Product Manager, Shane R. — Product Development | Fitness