You can be sure that someone who has been in the hardware ‘story’ for several years has had the opportunity to go through many beautiful, difficult, and challenging moments. What is needed is that the core team consists of several people with rich engineering and technical knowledge, but also previous entrepreneurial experience, which, it must be admitted, initially gives a fine background. Especially if that team has never before had the opportunity to make a hardware product and business from scratch.
This means that the team had to constantly learn to the final goal, analyze their mistakes and prevent them by analyzing the mistakes of others, and improve not only the product but also shape themselves, their approach, and business thinking. If they had not done all that, we are almost certain that they would never have created the product that people want and order, received investment and media attention, and already worked hard on launching a new series of products on the market. Even then, such companies are far from the multimillionaire companies that globally dominate the market in the industry in which they built the hardware startup, and they still have a lot of new challenges and problems that they have yet to overcome.
Through this text, we want to share with you the most important things and lessons that we have learned and researched, and which will save you time, money, and nerves if you also want to sail into the ‘complex’ and exciting waters of hardware. And more importantly – if you are doing it for the first time.
1. Don’t Fall in Love With Your Product
Of course, every startup story starts with the sentence: “I have a great idea to do this and that…” which is fueled by your passion, great enthusiasm, and motivation to create something new, in your opinion revolutionary and cool, something that will change the world or help people. However, this seemingly simple sentence, and especially the way of thinking, can put you in the trap of focusing all your thoughts and resources on thinking only about the product at a stage when you still do not have any real customers.
You may be wondering why thinking about a product would be a problem? Isn’t it logical to do a great thing and only then start selling? The reason is simple – because it is still just your hypothesis. You are the one who thinks that what you are doing is the right thing to do. You think people will buy it. However, your business cannot live off of you or your assumptions. You need to create a solution that you dream about for the end-user who will then open his wallet and pay for what you make. It means that instead of brainstorming a solution and worrying about how your product will work or look, first define your target audience. Try to understand what problem they have and what your solution really should look like. It may not be as you imagined.
Don’t fall in love with the initial idea and solution. Give that idea a chance to change, evolve, as you learn more and more about the real needs of your customers. Make it an ideal product for them, not for you. Otherwise, you will make the product ‘in the dark’, not knowing 100 % whether that super-cool feature really needs your customers, and you will burn out quickly.
2. Think About DFM at the Earliest Stage
DFM stands for something we call “design for manufacturing” and it is very important that from the early stages of your hardware startup you really think about whether the product (prototype) you are currently making, and hopefully selling, is designed to be easily manufactured in one larger series or not.
It is completely fine if, at the very beginning, you make and sell a prototype that is not optimized for serial production. This is even commendable because you will get one very valuable thing – feedback from the first consumers. There is nothing more valuable than that and they are your guiding star when it comes to further product development. But always keep in mind that, at some point, when you notice that demand is growing and you need too much time or money to produce one product, you hire an industrial designer to redesign your product for series production. This will not only save you time building one unit but also reduce production costs and create a healthy margin that will allow your business to grow further.
3. Choose Tough ‘Comrades’
It is not an easy job to build a startup company, whether it is hardware or software. What makes the hardware even more complicated is that when a problem occurs, you cannot just modify a few lines of code (like on a website built for business, whose purpose can be enhanced by platforms such as Benchmark, which can enlarge your user base by employing several of its functions for collecting and shaping e-mails) and solve it, but you have to invest a lot more time and money to fix the product bug with your own hands.
As you build your company and product, you will go through many (really many) challenges and problems, mostly of a technical and financial nature. Sometimes you will be delivered the wrong components by mistake, sometimes you will wait for customs clearance for weeks. Sometimes you will assemble parts of the product incorrectly, sometimes you will spoil exactly what you should not have spoiled, sometimes you will have to manage people with whom you have a very hard time getting along and who do not care about the deadline.
The pressure will be great and the fight will not be easy. Therefore, choose wisely with whom you will fight this battle. Your team and you are entering a struggle that will mark your lives, which aims to create something valuable and tangible for consumers, and really make this society and maybe the world a better place. You need to function as one organism. To successfully get through all these situations, it is extremely important that you openly communicate not only nice things but also problems, clearly share responsibilities, and trust each other about these responsibilities you have.
4. What You Don’t Expect Will (Surely) Happen
There will be times when everyone on the team will work synchronized and optimized like one real machine. The idea of a problem seems like millions of miles away. Everything is perfectly planned and you cannot hide your enthusiasm that you will finally meet all the deadlines. Subcontractors tell you not to worry about anything and that “all will be done” in a day or two. Everything seems to be going well. This until a co-worker tells you that he suddenly became ill and is unable to work today. Or a nozzle on your 3D printer gets terribly clogged, the drill bursts, subcontractors report that they forgot to fix that small detail on the tools and that production has to be postponed “for who knows until when – call in a few days and we’ll see”.
We will not lie to you, this can be very difficult, even at times demotivating, both for you and the team members, more or less – depending on the strength of anticipation that each of you previously had. The key here is to beat your expectations. Be prepared that everything will definitely not turn out as you imagined. It happens, but you learn from it and make a plan for the future. If it turns out at least close to what you planned – perfect!
5. Avoid Crowdfunding at the Very Beginning
You will really get a ton of crowdfunding-related questions from many potential partners, mentors, and investors. And that is understandable because many young companies decide to launch their product (better to say a concept, even better a prototype that works) on crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, at the very beginning – more precisely, when there is only that initial cool idea, a couple of product renders, and an MVP.
That is why about 90 % of companies that launch their product at such an early stage end up in a ‘graveyard’ of seemingly promising ideas – even if they exceed their crowdfunding goal many times over and get huge community support, money, and potential consumer interest. The reason is that at such an early stage, you really still do not know what exactly you are doing. Your product idea is just at the beginning of the development process and it is very likely that it will change many more times. Certificates for export to foreign markets do not exist (and you are not even 100 % sure which ones you need). You have no idea where exactly you will produce it, how long it will take you, let alone how you will solve the logistics.
Additionally, count on that a successful crowdfunding campaign has to be prepared about 6 months ahead. This means that someone from your team has to devote all their time and company money, which does not exist at the beginning, to collecting leads, creating campaigns, a website, marketing material, etc. Or hire a marketing agency that will cover everything and whose prices are tens of thousands of dollars. Because of all this, many companies with a promising idea, in the end, fail to deliver what they initially promised – and the money from consumers is taken in advance.
This does not automatically mean that crowdfunding platforms are a bad thing per se. On the contrary. If you are already deeply involved in product development, selling the first ‘newborns’ of your product, testing distribution channels, and having an elaborate plan on how to solve logistical challenges, then it is the right time to think in this direction.
Whatever you decide, our advice to you is to initially focus on making the product that people need, start selling, and generate profit. The more knowledge you gather there, the less will be unknown things when one day you promise customers from all over the world that you will deliver your super-cool product to them.