Hardware / deeptech startups are complicated - but they are not impossible. Plenty of digital experts out there, but what if you have a product? Or, even more complicated, an early stage (university/research instituteion) technology that you are looking to validate. I'm happy to share my experiences for your benefit. Apart from the hardware /deeptech, feel free to approach me if: 1. Are a budding entrepreneur and need advice on how to commercialize your technology/startup 2. A student wondering if entrepreneurship is for you 3. A corporate looking for advice on how to set up an innovation lab or work within countries on innovation projects 4. Are looking for a facilitator for innovation programs (workshops/bootcamps) 5. Are looking for a neutral party to help craft your value proposition and future business (from a technology) 6. Any organization looking to raise grants for their endeavour. Im a Certified Management Consultant and knowledgeable of grants (identify, write,submit), especially Enterprise Singapore grants. I'm a Dutch national based in Singapore. I'm a co-founder and mentor and employee to various startups (hardware and digital startups). I also sit on grant panels and thus can share my experiences.
What worries me is that you are spending money already on aspects which really should be done without spending a dollar - validation with customers on their needs. You're setting yourself up for a scenarion where you continue spending money on development and expensive "testing of the market". My suggestion for you would be to list out all the assumptions that you have: i.e. when,where, how they use it, and then go into the specifics of product features. Based on each of these designs - apply a tool called an Assumption Mapper to identify the most uncertain and high impact assumptions for you to test. For these you build small inexpensive tests. For example, if it's an app - there's no need to build an actualy app. You can also handdraw the different screens and show people the possible features/looks/use and ask feedback. Similarly for products - no need to actually build it. Inexpensive ways are to get cardboard and all and make a mockup. Or if you have a bit more budget then use 3D printing. I would caution with your quote "The product is validated, and profit has been made, but the must-have experience is absent". How can you state that it is validated if there is no product-market fit? I would hold off on recruiting a UX designer until you have the most important assumptions validated. If you then need to, then you can always use inexpensive freelancers from Fiverr or Upwork to help you. But I really think you should first look over your assumptions, design your own quick experiments and solidify the P-M fit before spending unnecessary capital. Good luck!
I agree with many that it's very important to have done your customer validation thoroughly to understand the desirability - do this before you even speak to a developer.
Even before you develop the prototype and spend money, there are many small, inexpensive experiments that you can run to identify the must-have features and experience that your app will require (the painted doors, A/B testing etc). You can even build a paper-based app that walks through the customer journey.
See it as extra validation that will help you build your value proposition and better solidify the "build". This way you'll also maximise the dollar spend on the eventual prototype as you will know what customer really NEED and want.
Softskills are developed in natural environments and activities. You don't necessarily need to enroll for a class to develop it. The best way is to just start talking to the people you meet outside - so yes, that requires you to go outside :). Join an interest group. In any group you will always need to introduce yourself (pitching, presenting) and talk (communication). Under COVID19 restrictions it may be a bit more difficult but definitely not impossible. These days there are many different online platforms that randomly connect people for a chat (Check Lunchclub for example). You'll meet people from different backgrounds and personalities. Learn from them, try new things with them. Soft skills are developed by doing.
I think the issue is not so much about your customers yet. If law firms are declining your engagement then it's because not enough value is identified or communicated to them. I would make sure that you understand the Law Firm "jobs to be done" first and then move on to the next tier of customers. I applaud your tenacity and out of the box thinking but it all starts with having a very clear message and being able to communicate it. Once you have that, then you can also do wide "marketing" to see who else has an interest in your value proposition. The fact that you already have law firms talking to you (albeit rejecting) is actually a good thing, as you can now improve on your value proposition and then try again with them - continuously test and learn!