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Hardware startups have many moving parts and are exponentially harder to launch than a typical software startup. Between product prototyping, testing, material selection, manufacturing and quality control (just to name a few), many days it seems like there just isn’t enough time to get it all figured out. There is a lot of time and energy that goes into launching a product before it hits store shelves.
Below are three things all successful hardware startup founders learned:
Hardware startups are built on a product vision. Create a product that not only meets customer expectations, but instead exceeds all expectations.
Far too often, we see companies that over promise and under deliver—leaving a wake of frustrated customers behind them. This is a sure-fire way to fail. If you are promising your customers a certain type of product, that should be what you deliver to them.
You cannot overemphasize that customers are key.
…Then focus on the needs of your target market. Take care of your customers.
In today’s social media focused world, a hardware startup can find themselves at the center of a major customer backlash with one misstep. People like to share their experiences with companies (both the good and bad)—bad policies, practices and products can be broadcast around the world in seconds. Avoid this headache by listening to your customers, understanding their needs and acknowledging their product improvement suggestions.
Entrepreneurs must wear many hats in the early days for budgeting purposes—bootstrapping is often seen as a rite of passage for hardware startup founders. The problem occurs when founders try to take on too many tasks they are unqualified for. If you have excellent sales skills, then focus your energy on that area and leave the product design aspect to your engineer. Building a skilled team around your strengths and weaknesses is the essence of true leadership.
“Great leadership entrusts and believes in a collective, skilled team to produce a better product. Poor leaders succumb to ego and attempt to run all facets of the development and release of a product. The results are typically lackluster and not optimal.” (Startup Nation)
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Intellectual property (IP) protection is an important consideration for any startup, and possibly even more so for hardware startups. Technology and globalization have made it even easier for companies to copy a product or steal an idea altogether.
Patents are a way to not only protect an idea, but to also minimize competition and act as a defense mechanism against infringement claims from others. Having a strong intellectual property strategy or having the patent process started, is a great way to attract or solidify partnerships and funding.
Below are four considerations for your startup’s intellectual property strategy.
Patent rules are strict and adhere to a tight timeline, so it is best to file for patent protection early-on in the development cycle. A provisional patent application is a good “first step” for hardware startups. A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application. It also allows the term “Patent Pending” to be applied in connection with the description of the invention.
It is important to note that a “provisional application for patent has a pendency lasting 12 months from the date the provisional application is filed. The 12-month pendency period cannot be extended. Therefore, an applicant who files a provisional application must file a corresponding nonprovisional application for patent (nonprovisional application) during the 12-month pendency period of the provisional application in order to benefit from the earlier filing of the provisional application (United States Patent and Trademark Office -USPTO).” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12-month period.
In this early period, it is also best to keep quiet about your invention. You want to avoid publicizing your invention. This does not mean that you cannot meet with potential partners or product development firms, but instead that you don’t want to share your idea online or start a crowdfunding campaign just yet.
Many times the invention that you first envisioned, completely transforms during the product development process. This means that your initial patent or patent application may not cover new features that have been added on. This will leave your final product under-protected or not protected at all.
If the product is evolving quickly, consider filing a provisional patent application or a series of provisional patent applications within a year before filing a utility patent application.
While utility patents make up 90% of patents issued, design patents have been steadily on the rise because inventors are realizing that the exterior design and overall aesthetics of the invention can easily be replicated as well. Protecting both the design and functionality of an invention is necessary for long-term success.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”. In short, this means that design patents cover exactly what is shown in the drawings, nothing more.
Like a utility patent, a design patent also lets you use the phrases patent pending and patent issued on all business-related material. Once you have been granted a design patent, you are then able to secure rights for the next fourteen years. Another important thing to keep in mind is that design patents are relatively cheap to file and maintain, as compared to a utility patent.
A design patent, coupled with a utility patent, offers a range of IP protection on both the inner workings and exterior design of your product.
Patent protection is only one part of your IP strategy. A registered trademark will help protect your brand as well. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from another—think along the lines of logo and tagline. A recognizable trademark can be extremely valuable for distinguishing your business from the competition.
Depending on the exact nature of your startup, a licensing agreement, copyright and/or trade secret protection could also be considered during your intellectual property planning and overall strategy. Speaking to a Patent Attorney early-on will let you discuss your options, weigh the benefits and build a custom strategy for your startup.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Failure is hard and certainly no one goes into building a startup thinking that they are going to fail—however, it happens. While failing is in no way enjoyable, that doesn’t mean that it does not have its benefits—in terms of learning what not to do. We can all learn from failure, we can even learn from other startup’s failures. Below are four areas where hardware startups have faltered. Making yourself aware of the challenges associated with each of these areas, you are more likely to make educated decisions that (hopefully) allow you to avoid failure altogether.
Entrepreneurs are designers at heart—they want to design a product, methodology or experience for their target market. They have a brilliant idea and want to introduce it into the marketplace. Design failure can arise rather quickly if the startup founder is not willing to modify their original design idea to meet the needs of customers or manufacturing.
If your customers are asking for your product to function a certain way, feel a particular way or look a specific way, you are going to want to modify your design. At the end of the day, you want people to both purchase and enjoy your product.
When you are working towards commercialization of a product, the goal is to be efficient, minimize costs and get your product onto store shelves quickly—DFM (Design for Manufacturability) works to do just this. With DFM you work out any potential issues before manufacturing planning which saves both time and resources. If you fail to design your product with manufacturing in mind, you are making your startup extremely vulnerable to hefty manufacturing costs and even the potential that it is not able to be manufactured at all.
Plenty of hardware startup founders refuse to let anyone see their product until it’s time to launch. Many are afraid that someone will steal their idea, that potential customers won’t like it until it’s perfect, or they want to get a big head start against the competition. Whatever the reason, failure to get feedback is often fatal for a startup.
Feedback is critical during product development. You aren’t going to know if you are on the right track without feedback from your target market. You are going to want people in your target market to test your product (not just family and friends). It is helpful to get feedback that is both honest and actionable. By creating an inexpensive prototype, and gathering feedback from it, you will be in a much better position as you build your product. This feedback loop is important until the final design is ready.
It doesn’t help your startup if you have a beautiful product that works flawlessly if the market for it just isn’t there. For example, if you are positioning an electronic gadget for the 65+ year old crowd you are going to have a hard sell if they are not well versed in the latest technology trends, or if you are targeting the 18-25 year old crowd with a gadget that is overly cumbersome you are going to face an uphill battle. The solution to this is to find out what appeals to the target market you are aiming to capture and design/modify your product to grab and hold their attention.
This list would not be complete without the mention of funding. Funding is the primary stumbling block for a majority of startups. Developing, manufacturing and launching a product takes time and money. Whether you are turning to crowdfunding or looking for investors, you are bound to face a hurdle or two.
If your goal is to raise capital from investors, be prepared for rejection (a number of times) before you succeed. The process almost always takes longer than you think it will, so start early in your quest to find an investor.
If crowdfunding is your plan, be sure that you show up with a nearly flawless campaign. Your video, content and prototype need to be ready to go. Your goal is to show potential investors that you have a plan laid out, it is well researched and that you are ready.
Starting a hardware company comes with a unique set of challenges. If you can navigate these four common roadblocks, you will be in a much better position for a successful product launch.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Less than ten years ago, the hype surround 3D printing technology was at an all-time high. The idea of each household having one led the news cycle. In hindsight, it is clear that this level of hype and the fever-pitch level of excitement was not sustainable or even realistic. There were far too many barriers for the technology to overcome, both technological and usability, before it could be in “everyone’s house”.
Over time the hype slowly diminished, and the technology began to steadily mature. Firms focused on 3D printing began to collaborate, merge and narrow their focus. Today, the future of the technology looks considerably different than it once did. Below are three areas of growth for 3D printing technology and a sign of where the technology is heading.
3D printing is making its way onto the manufacturing floor. A recent survey from Jabil, found that “81% of manufacturers are using 3D printing technology today”. It seems that additive manufacturing has found its niche in mainstream manufacturing.
The fact that 3D printing has become so prominent with manufacturers, shows that companies are looking for ways to incorporate this technology into their product designs. Companies are no longer standing on the sidelines waiting to see how the technology matures, but are instead harnessing its design benefits and finding ways to use it themselves.
Where once the only material available was plastic, today there is an ever-increasing range of materials to choose from. The most prominent is still plastic (PLA, ABS, PET, PVA, Nylon) however, metals (steel, gold, silver, titanium), ceramic, and wood options are also quickly coming to market.
New and improved metal 3D printing will make a splash this year. “Metal 3D printing will become more and more of a necessity when solving specific manufacturing challenges and creating customized, complex end-use products.” (Engineering.com) We expect to see the range of materials available to continue to grow as the technology continues to advance.
Companies, such as GE, are making great strides in advancing 3D printing and its ability to produce end-use products. However, before 3D printing can really take off in terms of end-use production, there are some major barriers that need to be addressed. “Material properties, high costs, complexity, time to a usable part and location of a production-capable machine relegated to an additive manufacturing lab are significant barriers to the use of additive manufacturing in production.” (3D Printing Industry)
Products produced for consumers with 3D printing will be required to meet the same material properties (strength, surface finish, color) that traditional manufacturing has mastered. While it is most likely that end-use production won’t come to fruition in 2018, we can expect to see more companies finding ways of making this happen with one-off parts.
It is clear that additive manufacturing is here to stay. As it is now, this technology continues to excel with its prototyping capabilities and is a great compliment to traditional manufacturing.
Below we discuss four common design challenges facing hardware startups today. It doesn’t matter what industry you are going into or if you are a first-time entrepreneur or serial entrepreneur, you are bound to encounter one or more of these challenges along the way. By understanding what lays ahead as you start your product development journey, you will be better equipped to successfully navigate it.
The marketplace today is vastly different than it was ten years ago. Consumers today not only want originality and authenticity in the products they purchase, they demand it. However, the thing about originality is that it’s hard. The rise of counterfeit goods, shows just how hard it can be to not only come up with an original business idea, but execute it correctly.
Hardware startups today are relying more and more on the experience and knowledge of their product designers to develop a product that is both externally and internally unique, completely original and visually appealing—so that it outshines the competition and stands out in the marketplace.
It is no secret that the one-size-fits-all approach to product design is losing its luster. Take the Futurecraft 4D shoe from Adidas for example. Adidas is known for its top-of-the-line athletic gear, and have shown that they understand that innovation is necessary with their recently unveiled 3D printed shoe. “3D printing allows the shoe company to unlock performance-enhancing design modifications that would have been impossible with other materials like foam.” (TechCrunch) By incorporating this cutting-edge technology into their design and manufacturing process, Adidas is introducing a truly unique and customizable running shoe into the marketplace.
Consumers care about design—hardware startups need to focus in on their product’s physical form, properties and materials. As technology advances, products are becoming slimmer, more light weight and exceptionally durable—in turn, consumers are expecting these characteristics from the products they purchase, not just electronics anymore.
Along with advancing technology, material selection is also advancing. The material expansion with 3D printing alone is ever increasing, today you can expect to see a variety of plastics available for your design (PLA, ABS, PET, PVA, Nylon) however, metals (steel, gold, silver, titanium), ceramic, and wood options are also quickly coming to market.
As a startup your main goal is to design, manufacture and launch a product as quickly as possible to turn a profit. However, the vast technological advancements that help throughout the development process, can also be a double-edged sword. You must also design your product with future technologies in mind.
For example, the recent introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT), has created a vast network of interconnected consumer products that work and communicate with one another. Entrepreneurs that incorporate this type of technological foresight into their product design will no doubt have a clear advantage over those who disregard it and look at it as if it’s a passing fad.
It can be a challenging enough for well-known companies to create buzz over a new product. For a hardware startup navigating a new industry, these challenges increase exponentially. Not only are you creating awareness around your product, but your company and brand as well.
The internet is a great place to start working on this buzz. Between your website design, social media, partnerships, and customer engagement, it is possible to grab the attention of your target market. More and more entrepreneurs are turning to creative mediums, such as podcasts, videos and interactive websites, to build their brand and launch their startup.
While launching a hardware startup can be intimidating, it is not impossible. Knowing and understanding the challenges facing startups, allows you to have a better idea of what to expect and plan accordingly.
Our 3D Innovations team would like to wish you and yours a joyous holiday season.
May you have a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year full of new adventures!
First-time entrepreneurs, and even seasoned entrepreneurs, have questions when it comes to protecting their intellectual property (IP) and moving forward with manufacturing. No two products are alike; therefore, a custom-tailored strategy is necessary when it comes to navigating these two areas of product development.
On the IP side, a decision must be made about what type of patent (design patent or utility patent) makes sense for the invention and budget. On the manufacturing side, everything about the design, even the smallest details, must be accounted for when selecting materials and where to manufacture the product. Having insight and answers early-on in the startup journey helps entrepreneurs understand the full spectrum of what it takes to bring a product to market.
Below we delve into the top three questions we frequently receive related to IP and manufacturing.
You don’t necessarily need a patent to start the design phase of product development. Often, the design phase is done in parallel with the patent creation process and filing.
Drawings from the design are included as part of the patent application and can be used as attachments to your application. It is recommended to at least file for a Provisional Patent prior to disclosing any information about the product such as designs, prototypes, and specifications to outside parties. You will also want to have your patent in the Patent Pending stage before moving forward with any manufacturing or marketing initiatives.
Ideas are a “dime a dozen”, but the real intellectual property (IP) is what gets developed, not the idea itself. Developing the functional aspect of the idea is the difficult part. All information is kept confidential and disclosed strictly on a need-to-know basis with the client’s approval.
Before entering the production manufacturing phase, several things will be conducted to determine the most cost effective and price friendly option. Material, surface finish, quantity, and post processing are factors in deciding the appropriate process for production manufacturing.
*This is the second piece in a two-part series, view part one here, FAQ: The Basics of Product Development.
We are happy to answer any additional product development questions you have, please email us at email@example.com
As a product development firm, we often work with first-time entrepreneurs—people who have a fantastic idea for a product, but need guidance on developing their idea and beginning their startup journey. We help entrepreneurs navigate the wild world of hardware startups.
Our team shares their in-depth knowledge on what it takes to get a project going, what a development plan looks like and what the path of product development entails. By assisting entrepreneurs through their product development journey, we aim to set them up for a successful product launch.
One thing we have learned over the years is that, no matter the industry, first-time entrepreneurs have some of the same questions and concerns when they first get started. Below we discuss three frequently asked questions.
It only takes a few things to get started. You may think that the littlest details may not make a difference as you start developing an idea, however, every detail matters. Provide as much detail about your product requirements as possible. A good development company will be able to ask you the right questions throughout the development process, to help you narrow down the requirements and focus on the functionality. You don’t need to know all of the technical details about the product, just how it needs to function.
As the adage goes, hardware is hard. However, it is not impossible. It can sometimes be a long and difficult process to develop your hardware project, but aligning yourself with a great development partner will help to make things easier.
Short answer: It depends. In most cases the answer is yes—you own all of the rights to the design and intellectual property (IP).
In other cases, clients have elected to share equity in their company with product development companies in lieu of paying for development costs, in which case the design and other IP becomes shared property.
Depending on the type of product, the initial prototype may be a proof-of-concept prototype. This is created to prove out your concept or idea. Some view the proof-of-concept prototype as a feasibility study versus the traditional functional prototype. The prototypes created will serve as a one-off design of your product for you to review, test, and make adjustments before the final production design is created. Be prepared that it may take several iterations to get to the final production ready design, but is an essential part of the development process and should not be skipped.
With a multitude of technologies available to build prototypes, 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing will be the front runner in prototyping your design. It is cost effective and provides a quick turnaround, which is why it is also commonly referred to as ‘rapid prototyping’. The design will be prototyped in order to test the form, fit, and function and to make sure that the manufacturing process is attainable.
In a subsequent blog post, we will dive into intellectual property and manufacturing, discussing the top questions entrepreneurs have about these subject areas as well. Starting your product development journey with the right information at hand can make all the difference.
We are happy to help answer any additional product development questions you have, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you ready to launch a startup in 2018? As the year begins to wind down, many people use this time to assess current goals and make new goals for the year ahead. A new year is often looked at as a fresh start or a new beginning—a time to make a change and forge a new path.
If you are considering developing a product or launching a hardware startup in the new year, we have a few pieces of advice to help you gear up for this adventure and to get you started in the right direction.
Grab a computer and start typing. Write everything down that has to do with your product idea. What it looks like, how it will function, its size, who will use it—all of this needs to be down on paper so that you can review every detail about the innovative idea swirling around in your head.
We suggest that you draft a business plan, however don’t get bogged down by it. Business plans can be high level, and just a couple of pages at this point. A business plan is a great way to take all of the details you have written down, and organize them. A simple internet search for a business plan template can help get you started. With your ideas organized and in one place, you can then begin the process of listing “action items” and getting to work on them.
In the very early stages, a homemade prototype may suffice. Depending on your product idea, you might be able to find the items you need to build a rough version at your local home improvement store. As you build upon your idea and start to assess your target market, you will need to work on a functional prototype.
A functional prototype will allow you to refine your design, gather market feedback, rally financial support (if you are looking for VC or crowdfunding investments) and file a patent.
Many people envision entrepreneurs as “lone wolves”, however this could not be further from the truth. No one person has the skill sets necessary to build a startup completely alone from start to finish—the key is to find quality partners. You might decide to bring partners on full-time or to consult with outside agencies (product development, intellectual property, legal matters, to name a few).
Often, entrepreneurs think that they need to have a firm idea in place before setting up a time to meet with a product development firm, this is not the case. Many times, a product development firm will be able to help you refine your idea and provide suggestions on maximizing the design. A product development firm has extensive experience in both design and manufacturing, so meeting them early-on is advantageous.
The new year is a time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you still find yourself on the fence about developing that product idea, ask yourself this one simple question, Why not?
Have additional product development questions? Please e-mail them to us at email@example.com
Product design is about building a product that is simultaneously functional, intuitive and appealing to a range of consumers. No matter the industry, product development is exhilarating—building upon an idea and seeing it come to life is the essence of entrepreneurship.
Before you dive into product development, we have compiled five of our top product design articles for you. These articles touch on everything from preparing for your first product development meeting to building a product that consumers will love for years to come.
Once you have developed your product idea as far as you can on your own, it’s time to meet with a product development firm—but how do you prepare for such a meeting? Here are a few suggestions on how you can prepare for your first meeting with a product development firm and/or product designer.
Often times startups believe that designing their innovative product is the hardest part when launching the business, but the task of gaining a loyal customer base can often times be just as challenging. If you have found yourself in the predicament of having a great product design, but your customer base is lagging, here are four items to reflect on.
In this post we sit down with Rob Saito, Founder of Herbavore, and discuss the product development process and what it takes to successfully design, protect and commercialize a product.
Product development is a fluid process that is not truly complete until there is a manufactured product in your hands. However, the process of taking a great idea and translating that idea into a physical product is not as predictable as you might think. Here we discuss three common product development myths.
When it comes to the development of a product, there is a great deal of time, energy and effort that goes into both the specialty design and product launch. Just like the fact that each product is unique, product development needs to be unique and customized in order to be successful.
Have additional questions about product design? Send them our way, firstname.lastname@example.org