Are you more creative under pressure?
NICLAS FRITZ You can’t develop any product at all under time pressure.
OH: How so?
NF : Because we are dealing with certain limitations from the first prototype to series production. It takes months to manufacture tools alone. We can’t do magic, but we’re still very fast.
OH: So, creativity means ...
NF : ... to develop a product that can be used intuitively.
OH: How does BatchOne do that exactly?
NF : We support startups and other companies all the way from the initial idea or first prototypes to product design and production. Unlike our competitors, we have all the core competencies inhouse. We don’t just focus on design and engineering, we also take on all business issues, which includes addressing the issue of the supply chain. We want to help startups develop the first batch in the factory. Hence our name. We are now being approached by more and more midsized companies, such as Lamy or Playmobil.
OH: That’s quite an extensive service spectrum ...
NF: .... and already in the prototyping process, we make sure the manufacturing costs of the product are as low as possible. Because later on, startups and other businesses have to recoup the development costs. That can quickly add up to 500,000 euros.
OH: Why not just develop your own products?
NF: Because we are being swamped with requests. We’ve been building our company over a period of seven years, without investors. And I hope that one day we can invest in startups ourselves or manufacture our own products. Our current focus is to keep building on our business and further optimize the processes.
OH: A typical request involves ...
NF : ... an idea or a prototype, which oftentimes has been patched together. I don’t mean it in a negative way at all, but it takes quite a number of features to come up with an all-in-one solution.
OH: And then the stripping-down process begins?
NF: Our goal is to turn it into a product. That’s why we put our heads together. In the exploration phase, we scrutinize every single feature: We don’t just go for usability, we also consider the right chipset and the suitable software architecture.
OH: What do startups and other companies underestimate?
NF : The biggest mistake is to neglect product design and usability. For most businesses, design still ranks at the end of the development process.
OH: How does it show?
NF : It starts with mundane things and simple questions: Do I operate the product via the app? Does it have LEDs or buttons? And what about the charging? If you are smart about it, you can avoid unnecessary costs because the product has fewer components or combines specific modules.
So, clever design saves money?
NF: Without doubt. Design is holistic. We ensure a time-efficient manufacturing and also consider the service concept, because every product breaks down eventuall. So how can it be fixed? And do customers need a service structure? If you put some thought into this, it will save you money.
OH: You manufacture ...
NF : ... mostly in Europe. We always have, and we’ve been ridiculed for it. But if a startup produces 5,000 or 10,000 units in Asia, they have to fly there. This entails high costs and communication issues, so that ultimately it often is cheaper to manufacture the product just around the corner.
OH: We initially talked about time pressure. How long does a development process take from the first spark to the finished product?
NF : About 12 to 18 months. Sometimes we are given eight prototypes and are told that they are 90 percent finished. But it’s actually only 10 or 20 percent. So in many cases, we have to start all over again. To do so, we have a team of 40 people with expertise in industrial design, mechanics, engineering, electronics development and software. Five of them alone are in charge of finding production partners, deal with certification and set up entire logistics chains.
OH : What should we prepare for in the future? What’s the next big disruption?
NF: Hard to say. All areas of life become smarter, with more electronics, more sensors. It seems inevitable. Trend reports always claim, “Tomorrow, the novelty will be everywhere,” but then it takes longer before it does appear out of the blue and you wonder how that happened. Our job is to develop useful products. Yet at trade shows I often see the very opposite, and I always provide honest feedback. I mean, these are founders and family-owned businesses. They don’t just pull out. They will most certainly be back in six month’s time with a better idea.
The Interview with Niclas Fritz first appeared in mcbw mag 2023.