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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
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Crowdfunding can help hardware startups launch not only a product, but an entire company. The power of “the crowd” is strong and can be a great asset for entrepreneurs. However, by now we have all heard of those crowdfunding campaigns that make headlines, for all the wrong reasons—Coolest Cooler and Pebble stand out, both raised a considerable of money, but stumbled when it came to production manufacturing and order shipment. In order to avoid issues early-on, there are a few considerations to take into account before you launch that crowdfunding campaign.
Is there a business out there with a similar product? If so, how is yours different? “Start by reviewing any patents marked on similar competitive products, product packaging or your competitors’ web sites. If your product is similar to a specific competitor’s, you can search patents by owner of record. You can also search on Google for any patent-infringement lawsuits related to the same or similar products/services. (Entrepreneur)”
Do your due diligence and research patents that are similar to your product. You can be liable for patent infringement whether you knew about the patent or not.
Consider trademark and copyright protection for your product and startup as well. It is better to have your logo, tag line, text and photographs protected, than to risk someone else using them without your permission.
Securing and protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights to your invention is key to successful commercialization. As soon as you make your crowdfunding campaign public, you forfeit your right to obtain a utility patent on that product unless you have previously filed a patent application. Costs can be an issue when it comes to filing a utility patent, however a provisional patent application is cheaper and still protects your invention. A provisional patent application will allow you to keep your rights to a utility patent for 12 months while you decide the next move for your startup. You will also be able to use the coveted, “patent pending” term as you market your product.
A design patent is another option if the value of your product lays largely in its unique design. This design patent can block competitors from making an exact copy of your product, but it doesn’t block them from making a functionally equivalent product with a different appearance.
A functional prototype is necessary when you are trying to get people excited about a new product. While people can indeed envision a product from a great description, there is no substitute for the actual thing. This prototype not only shows potential investors what your product can do, it is also necessary for the marketing material on your crowdfunding page.
Let’s face it, you can’t have an exciting video unless you have a functional prototype. The video portion of your page is where you let your product shine. You want to demonstrate your product to potential customers and let them get a feel for what it has to offer. The more descriptive and creative your video is, the more people are going to get truly excited to contribute to your campaign and share your campaign with friends.
While there are many moving parts to a crowdfunding campaign, these four considerations should be thoroughly reviewed by your team to set yourself up for success right from the start.
Have questions related to product development? We are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at email@example.com
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
We have all heard the term, “ignorance is bliss”, and when it comes to launching a hardware startup this might just be right. Newcomers to an industry have fresh ideas, new perspectives and innovative ideas. These newcomers are not weighed down by industry norms and the mentality of “it’s always been done this way”. These fresh faces often see opportunities that industry veterans miss.
While newcomers lack preconceived notions, that doesn’t mean they are ill-equipped. Below are three ways to harness those “rookie smarts” and build a successful product.
It’s no secret that many big industries need help—for example, healthcare, banking and transportation are all stuck in a rut and are in desperate need of fresh ideas and newcomers with bold visions. You don’t need experience in an industry to start a revolution. Elon Musk is a great example of someone who entered industries where he had little or no experience, yet had a vision of what they could look like and while pursuing his vision, spearheaded major transformation. Step out of your comfort zone and your areas of expertise to bring about radical change.
As startups grow into major corporations, they often take on the mindset of “I know what’s best” and stop listening to their customers. This is a surefire way to alienate customers and push them towards competitors. Many of the young entrepreneurs today understand the importance of truly listening to would-be customers. These types of entrepreneurs are not stuck in their ways and are in fact willing to learn.
Consumers today are radically different than they were 10, 15 and 20 years ago. The culture of how we buy goods, how we procure services and what we expect from businesses has shifted. A hardware startup today needs to be in tune with their customers and willing to modify their vision to meet the needs of these consumers.
Have an idea? Get prototyping! Lead the way by taking your idea and bringing it to life. Does your prototype need to be fancy, no, does it need to be perfect, no, does it need to convey your idea, yes. We see homemade prototypes built out of traditional household items all the time, and you know what, that works! As long as your homemade prototype can get your message across you are on the right track.
Being an industry newcomer certainly has its benefits. If you are ready to learn, listen and build quickly, your hardware startup can be the change a stagnate industry is in need of.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Yes, hardware startups fail and no, that doesn’t mean that yours will. By making yourself aware of the common reasons hardware startups fail, you are preparing yourself, your team and your startup to avoid these roadblocks. The adage may say that “hardware is hard”, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—we would even dare say that launching a hardware product has never been easier than it is today.
If you are in the preliminary stages of product development or still considering whether to pursue the innovative product idea you have, the list below will give you an idea on what challenges will arise and how to navigate the hardware landscape.
Design for Manufacturability not only matters, it can truly make or break your startup. DFM is the process of being proactive during the product design phase by considering the manufacturing stage of product development at the start of the design cycle. Early consideration of the manufacturing phase shortens product development time, minimizes development costs and ensures a smooth transition into production for quick time-to-market.
Overall development costs are minimized when DFM is utilized because the product design, from the onset, aims to reduce the number of parts that need to be manufactured which speeds up assembly. The entire goal of DFM is to produce a product that is easily and economically manufactured.
If you start down the road to product development without DFM in mind, you are embarking on a much more expensive journey that is full of delays and unnecessary frustrations.
Developing a product from scratch comes with costs. There are ways of minimizing costs, but you will still face expenses on the path to commercialization.
The cautionary tale of the Coolest Cooler shows what can happen when you don’t accurately estimate your costs—the company raised nearly $13 million dollars on Kickstarter, yet the Coolest Cooler almost shut down. The startup miscalculated not only costs, but their development timeline as well and ended up having a lot of angry customers and major delays.
Research is vital—you should be constantly researching your target market and the industry you are venturing in to. Too many startups build their products in a vacuum, only to realize later that they are not meeting the needs of their targeted consumers.
Understand your customer base and obtain their feedback throughout the development process. This validation will not only allow you to modify your product to meet their needs, but to also validate each product iteration. At the end of the day, you want to be sure that you have customers that are as excited about your product as you are.
The product that you dream of developing might be drastically different than the product you end up developing. Your design might change because of customer preferences, manufacturing constraints or simply because there is a better and more streamlined design option. No matter what the reason, be open to change. It is great to love an idea, that is why you are embarking on this journey in the first place, but be prepared to modify that idea.
When the time comes to manufacture your hardware product, having the right manufacturing partner on your team makes all the difference. Speed, accuracy, reliability and open communication are all characteristics to look for when picking a contract manufacturer. Building a supply chain from scratch is challenging and the pressure is high to find the right match.
Make sure that you are evaluating factories that have proper documentation, strong referrals and the ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner with you. Many startups realize that it is advantageous to work with smaller factories at the beginning so that their product gets the attention it deserves. A large factory that produces millions of parts a month might not be willing to take on smaller batches or give you product adequate attention.
Now that you are aware of these common pitfalls, navigating the hardware landscape just became a bit easier. If you still find yourself with product development questions, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, we are happy to help!
The very heart of the Lean Startup approach focuses on the overarching goal of producing a top-quality product (or service) and delivering it at a minimal cost while providing a great customer experience. In the business world, and particularly with hardware startups, the Lean Startup approach is synonymous with creativity, risk taking and quick acceleration.
Here we discuss three reasons why your business, at any stage, should embrace the Lean Startup method for product development.
Create order. Organization and order are fundamental pieces of the Lean Startup approach. A detailed, organized and methodical approach to product development creates order and ultimately saves hardware startups time and resources—thus adhering to the Lean Startup principals. “Using the Lean Startup approach, companies can create order not chaos by providing tools to test a vision continuously. Lean isn’t simply about spending less money. Lean isn’t just about failing fast, failing cheap. It is about putting a process, a methodology around the development of a product. (The Lean Startup Methodology)”
Learn when to pivot. Entrepreneurs understand that there is no shame in missing the mark with an initial idea, as long as you learn enough to pivot to something that works. “Successful entrepreneurs have found that the extreme uncertainty of a new product or service usually requires many course corrections, or ‘pivots’ to find a successful formula. (Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup)”
Not all ideas are going to be great right off the bat, but with customer research, market feedback and adequate product testing you can build upon your initial idea and create a product that is true to the needs of your audience.
Continuous innovation. Startups embracing this lean approach understand the importance of failing fast and learning from past missteps. Quick adaptation based on customer feedback is something that lean startups thrive on. By continuous product testing and communication with the target market, lean startups can innovate at a rapid pace to meet customer needs.
With the help of the build-measure-feedback loop, startups are constantly gleaning new information about their product market fit and learning ways to augment the design so that the optimal, and most innovative, product is achieved.
Building a product is hard work—however, with the right tools in hand, strong partnerships and a “work smarter, not harder” business approach, you can successfully bring your product to market.
A provisional patent application early-on can be very beneficial for a hardware startup if your business goal is to either license your invention or proceed with a patent filing. Before we delve into the benefits of filing a provisional application let’s first define what a “Provisional Patent Application” is—According to the USPTO it is, “A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application filed under 35 U.S.C. §111(a). 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.” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12 month period.
As with any patent application, your application needs to be as complete as possible to be truly beneficial—this means that you must describe and document all variations, alternatives and permutations to your invention in detail. The best way of obtaining this critical information is by turning your idea into a functional prototype. A prototype will allow you to hold the invention in your hands, and make any necessary modifications to your final design. 3D CAD renderings and simulations will also help define the limits of your invention.
Below we discuss the two main benefits of a provisional patent application for your hardware startup:
In the early-stage of product development inventors understand the importance of confidentiality and protecting their idea. While a confidentiality agreement will suffice when talking about your idea with engineering firms and licensing firms, investors can be slightly weary of signing one—and this can make things very difficult if you are seeking outside funding.
“Investors get proposals from many people and if they sign a confidentiality agreement with you, and another who has a similar idea, that could lead to liability on their part where there was no liability present absent them signing an agreement. (IP Watchdog)” Thus, if you want to show someone your invention without any legal protection, the pros and cons must be heavily weighed. If you have a provisional patent application pending though, you have defined your invention and it has a legal filing date, which makes discussing the invention with outside parties much less risky.
“Patent Pending” is a term that is not only legally beneficial, but it gives your invention and your startup credibility. You are creating “perceived ownership” while defining the details of your idea. An idea that has been turned into a tangible invention (i.e. with a functional prototype) is more valuable when discussing potential licensing agreements and funding with outside investors.
The earlier you file a provisional patent application, the quicker you limit your exposure and prevent others from cutting off your rights (i.e. by filing for a similar invention before you do). The “Patent Pending” term shows that you have established priority for the idea/invention.
Developing a product should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint. Taking your time early in the product development process to protect your invention will be immensely beneficial for your hardware startup later on.
The manufacturing phase of product development is one of the stages that causes hardware startups the most stress. By the time you reach the manufacturing phase, you have a solid design in place, funding efforts are either underway or nearing completion and you now find yourself with the (daunting) task of securing a manufacturing partner. Keep in mind that manufacturing, either locally or abroad, comes with obstacles—however, these obstacles don’t have to be a crushing deal breaker for your startup.
If you have decided to manufacture your product abroad, there are a few additional obstacles that need be accounted for. Below we discuss five challenges your hardware startup will face while manufacturing your product abroad.
It’s no secret that business is done differently all over the world. In one country a handshake can seal the deal, while in another a deal may quickly vanish if you find yourself late to a meeting. Before you start connecting with manufacturers, learn the culture. Research cultural etiquette and, if possible, talk to others that have done business in the country before. A little research ahead of time, can save you major heartache later on.
When you are not in the same country as your manufacturer it is very easy to lose product quality. Things usually start off well, yet as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years, quality can fade without your awareness. To protect yourself and the integrity of your product, be sure to include quality clauses in your contract and continuously examine and test your product.
Most of the time you will need to order large quantities to receive a price break and make it worth while for your business. Quantities of this size can cause a bit of a cash crunch for a hardware startup just gaining its footing. With larger quantities also comes longer wait times. You may find yourself waiting months for your product to make it to the United States.
Whether you are manufacturing abroad or at home, this is always a challenge. Ideally you want a manufacturing partner that has experience manufacturing similar products to yours who is easy to communicate with. Vet prospective manufactures and select a factory that has the best reputation. If you are not able to inspect the manufacturer and factory on your own, consider outsourcing an audit. Before the contract is signed, do your due diligence so you can be confident that your product is in the right hands.
If you are manufacturing your product in another country there will be the additional costs associated with logistics. These fees can vary widely and become shockingly high if not researched properly. Before finalizing your decision of manufacturing abroad, take this cost into consideration to be sure that it isn’t a deal breaker for you.
Manufacturing abroad comes with certain trade-offs. Do your research and reach out for experienced expert advice before you delve into this phase of product development.
As news of the latest advancement in experimental 3D printing of tissue and organ regeneration gains attention, it would be easy to believe that 3D printing in the medical field only happens in the lab. However, new equipment and devices are being 3D printed now and in real world settings.
After years of feasibility studies, 3D printing for medical equipment and prostheses is becoming reality.
Reports have continually shown that 3D printed devices are both practical and less expensive than traditional options. For example, a University of South Florida study[i] related to prosthesis molds found that “Owing to the similarity of the 3D printed materials and the traditional materials, the 3D printed molds are easily integrated into current processing procedures.” And a UK study[ii] observed that 3D printed sensors added onto a prosthesis could help medical professionals increase comfort levels for the prosthesis wearer. In addition to better comfort, these sensors improved overall patient care.
Alan Louie, research director for IDC’s Health Insights Life Sciences Practice, which helps investors with business decisions, has this to say about 3D printing technology: “There is a lot of investment in 3D printing at the moment because there are some very clear ways that the technology can be used to improve existing processes.”[iii]
Louie sees 3D printers as a way to revolutionize medicine. “There are areas where you can determine that using a 3D-printed replacement for the current methodology can actually save money, improve healing, reduce pain, and improve overall patient care—all positive driving factors that are helping the industry move forward.”
An example of how 3D printing medical tools reduces costs is with this bone drill that required an update to better suit the needs of both the patient and surgeon. The existing drill needed a redesign that would consistently keep its temperature low in order to avoid having to pause the procedure to let the tool cool down. The only solution available prior to the 3D printed upgrade was to pause drilling. However, with the assistance of 3D printing technology, a new drill was made using a biocompatible material “designed with their own integrated cooling ducts”. This new drill could be used for longer periods of time during a surgery. “The tests of the 3D printed bone drill determined that its use had reduced the temperature produced by drilling up to 70%”. This upgraded device has shortened the time required for surgery, saving both time and money.
The design process for medical devices and tools begins with patients, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They are at the forefront of the industry and keenly aware of the challenges, limitations and frustrations with existing devices. From their daily observations, efficient product re-designs and new medical device designs can, and will, transform the entire medical support field. These innovative ideas create an opportunity to improve care and support, while reducing costs.
3D printing is quickly reshaping the medical device landscape and creating more efficient tools for the medical community. Rapid prototyping brings to life product ideas that support patient care while keeping innovation at the forefront of design.
[i] Jairo Chimento, M. Jason Highsmith, Nathan Crane, (2011) “3D printed tooling for thermoforming of medical devices”, Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 17 Issue: 5, pp.387-392
[ii] Development and validation of a 3D-printed interfacial stress sensor for prosthetic applications. Laszczak, P. et al. Medical Engineering and Physics, Volume 37, Issue 1, 132 – 137.
About the Guest Author:
Becky Wilson writes about the applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, highlighting the heart in the tech. Known as Writing by Becky, she lives in Nova Scotia with her family, including two cat overlords, along with various tech gadgets – maybe adding a 3D food printer someday. You can connect with Becky on Twitter (@WritingByBecky).
A one-size-fits-all approach can be utilized for a lot of things however, product development is not one of them. Throughout development, the stages of the “Product Development Cycle” will remain relatively unchanged (Concept, Design, Prototype, Test/Validate, Manufacture and Commercialize), but the approach and time spent in each stage will fluctuate based on the individual needs of your product.
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.
Below we discuss three examples of why the “one-size-fits-all approach” just doesn’t work.
Chances are that if you are working on a highly specialized product, a one-size-fits-all approach would be detrimental to its outcome. Medical equipment, custom manufacturing tools and prosthetics are examples of products that need specialized attention and where precision and accuracy are of the upmost importance. When it comes to the development of these products, your product design will need to be extremely detail oriented and there is no room for error.
With the help of 3D printing technology, one-of-a-kind products are now feasible and quickly gaining in popularity. In a world full of customers, individuals want to stand out and have their unique style recognized. Customers are shying away from the “big box retailer” approach to purchasing products and instead opting for products that suit their specific needs. Hardware products that are highly customized range from in-ear headphones, replacement car parts to orthopedics. With the onset of mass customization, the phrase “one size fits none” is becoming more of a reality for hardware startups and manufacturers alike.
When it comes to licensing and intellectual property, a highly customized product development plan needs to be in place. Often times the product development cycle will also be slightly altered if you are aiming for a licensing agreement or focused on obtaining a patent.
With a license agreement, you will not focus as much on the commercialization stage of product development, since this will be taken care of by the licensee. Instead, your energy will be on developing a product that meets the needs of customers while simultaneously appealing to potential licensees.
If obtaining a patent is your goal, you are going to need to focus more energy early in the development cycle on items such as: patent research and line drawings. Depending on the type of patent you are trying to get, the process can take months or even years, so from the start you will need to communicate to your team what your goals are after obtaining your patent.
Developing a product is a very personal journey for many entrepreneurs—nurturing an idea and seeing that idea take form and eventually a place on store shelves is no easy undertaking. With the right product development approach and team by your side, reaching your end goal can be both feasible and enjoyable.
Your hardware product doesn’t have to be the first of its kind to the market to be successful, but it must have a unique selling point (USP). A crowded market doesn’t mean that you can’t find success, it just means that you have to really hone in on what makes your product and startup truly unique.
Before the internet grew and globalization exploded, being first-to-market was a lot less challenging. To some extent the global economy has created a situation in which product duplication happens at record speed. Focusing on your hardware product’s USP will allow your startup to differentiate itself and standout in a crowded field as well as in the minds of consumers.
Many people have the idea that a USP must be tangible and visible to consumers—this is not always the case. For example, unparalleled customer service is a USP that cannot be seen, yet it’s an excellent way to drive customers to your business.
Patagonia is a company that has carved out its niche in a crowded industry thanks to its USP of being a sustainable and environmentally responsible company. Customers do not mind paying a premium for their products because the company shares values that closely align with their own. Building a loyal customer base starts with communicating your USP well from the beginning.
Know your audience—this is a crucial aspect of a USP. Who are you marketing your hardware product to…Women, men, students, techies, parents, people in their 30s? With a clear understand of your target market, you will be better able to define a USP that matters to them.
It is important to note that while your target market will be narrow, this doesn’t necessarily limit who will buy your product. A product aimed at techies might also be well suited for students. A product aimed at a younger age demographic might also work for older individuals who want to feel young. The important thing is that your USP is clear and consistent.
Your USP should be a consistent voice in all of your marketing and communications. It is fundamental to your startup’s identity. It doesn’t stop there though, your product should also reflect this message. For example, if your company is big on sustainability, your product should be manufactured with materials and in a manner that is closely aligned with this USP. The USP should be engrained into every fiber of your startup. Developing a consistent message, distinctive voice and brand personality is all part of becoming recognizable and unique.
A clear USP will help you differentiate your hardware product and startup, regardless of the industry you are breaking into.