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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.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
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.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Innovation and commercialization are similar yet vastly different. You can have an abundance of ideas, but having the structured process in place to bring them to fruition is key. The path to commercialization is littered with potholes and roadblocks, but you don’t have to navigate them alone.
Often the process of moving a product idea out of the “idea” stage is challenging, so many inventors tend to discard the idea and move on. However, with the right resources and structure in place, you can get your idea off the ground and headed towards commercialization.
“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” – Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance.
Often times inventors and entrepreneurs are viewed as people who lock themselves away to develop an idea, but the truth of the matter is, it takes help from a wide range of people to get an idea on the road to commercialization. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. If you need a certain skill set that you don’t possess, find someone who does—asking for help might just be the thing that sets your idea on the path to success.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
We recently had the chance to talk with Rob Saito, Founder of Herbavore, along with Collin Kobayashi, 3D Innovations President and Chief 3D Officer, about the product development process and what it takes to design, protect and commercialize a product.
Herbavore is a recent graduate of the XLR8UH startup accelerator. XLR8UH is one of the first university investment programs in the nation, and is a nationally recognized program that educates, mentors, and invests in Hawaii’s top talent. Herbavore’s team was able to leverage the mentorship and industry expertise provided at the accelerator to design and refine their innovative horticultural hand tools.
Like most great startups, Herbavore grew out of a need—in this case, the need for better and less cumbersome gardening tools. Specifically, tools that would be comfortable for different hand sizes and that could accommodate both left and right-handed individuals. Herbavore’s patent pending tools aim to reshape the garden tool industry.
(RS): Herbavore’s first prototype (homemade) was a great starting point in the design process. It was used as a baseline. This rough prototype was used as a building block for further iterations.
Prior to working with 3D Innovations we didn’t know about the manufacturing aspect of designing. We thought our designs were “ready to go”, but after consulting with Collin, we realized the designs needed to be modified further to meet manufacturing requirements, especially related to injection molding. While working with 3D Innovations we learned more in-depth about the manufacturing process such as over-molding, which types of molds to use for cost effectiveness, and material capabilities.
(CK): Using Design for Manufacturing (DFM) early in the process creates a much more streamlined design and eliminates the need to rework or change the design to conform to the manufacturing method being planned. It also allows the client to understand the limits of what can be designed versus what features are critical to the function of the parts. Discussing these options and designing for DFM early in the process allows all team members to be aware of what is necessary to accomplish a functional and manufacturable design.
(RS): The initial drawings for our first two provisional patents were made using AutoCAD software. Our team’s strengths are not in mechanical engineering, so we did the best we could. However, we felt these initial drawings did not do our invention justice. We are currently in the process of filing a non-provisional patent, and the line drawings that 3D Innovations has made are top notch. They not only accurately depict our invention in a professional manner, but also will make obtaining a patent easier as these professionally made drawings are sure to impress the patent examiner.
(CK): Most patent applications contain “line drawings” that depict the claims of the patent. Using professional drawings as opposed to ones that are hand drawn or created using other methods may cause issues when the application is reviewed by the patent office because particular features may not be present or not depicted correctly. Using drawings from the actual designs provide many benefits which include creating section views to show internal features, having all views created to the same scale, and having drawing views automatically update when changes to the design are made. Great control of the output of drawings can be managed when the patent drawings are created professionally.
(RS): I learned a lot of things about the patent process consulting with IP attorneys, reading, and conducting a patent search of over 300 patents.
(CK): The patent application is very involved and requires a tremendous amount of research of prior art and adjusting the claims of the invention so that the design is unique.
(RS): Input was received from team members throughout the design process. Based on our team members’ experiences and feedback coupled with customer discovery, decisions were then made. Collaboration between team members greatly aided this process.
(CK): It is critical to have all team members be active in the design process. Having everyone on board and in agreement with the design direction will make for a more efficient design process and reduces the amount of rework and wait time, getting to the prototype and manufacturing stages faster. Collaboration among all team members is paramount to ensure the product gets to market in the shortest amount of time possible.
(RS): One piece of advice I would give to entrepreneurs just starting the product development process would be, “to enjoy it with others.” From the beginning to the end. The importance of achieving an end goal or final product is very important, but more importantly is all the knowledge and networks that were created along the way. Product development, especially hardware, can have a long pipeline, so if you aren’t passionate about what you are doing it will take a toll. Yes, it is a lot of work and at times can be a headache, but so personally fulfilling at the same time. You are creating something never seen before or a better mousetrap that will improve people’s lives. Enjoy the product development process with your team, customers, and investors.
(CK): Start by making sure team members have capabilities required for the company to succeed. Fill in gaps by seeking external expertise when needed. Develop partnerships with companies that can add value to your company and/or internal skill sets.
Startup accelerators have gained immense popularity and have a proven track record of helping startups launch their business—however, you might be asking yourself, “Does an accelerator make sense for my business?” Below we aim to bring clarity to what an accelerator is and highlight what you can expect from an accelerator program.
Definition from Harvard Business Review: Startup accelerators support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing. Startups enter accelerators for a fixed-period of time, and as part of a cohort of companies. The startup accelerator experience is a process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aimed at accelerating the life cycle of young innovative companies, compressing years’ worth of learning-by-doing into just a few months.
There are four distinct factors that make a startup accelerator unique: they are fixed-term, cohort-based, and mentorship-driven, and they culminate in a graduation or “demo day.”
Startup accelerators are not all created equal. TechStars and Y Combinator were the first two startup accelerators to emerge, and in essence, have set the bar for all other accelerators. In an accelerator program you can expect, at minimum, these four things:
“Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States and beyond. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community.” (Harvard Business Review)
Have additional questions about startup accelerators or product development? Send them our way, firstname.lastname@example.org
*Cited: What Startup Accelerators Really Do (Harvard Business Review)
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? Below are a few suggestions on how you can prepare for your first meeting with a product development firm and/or product designer.
Whether you are able to draw your idea on paper or make a homemade prototype, bring a visual reference for your product idea. This will ensure that you and the product designer are on the same page from the get-go. (We have seen everything from napkin sketches to homemade prototypes, so don’t feel pressure to make a perfect prototype for the meeting).
What is the product’s functionality? By listing out the functional aspects of your product you are clarifying its goal and also preparing yourself with the information you need for a patent filing.
Become familiar with the patent process and decide whether or not you are interested in filing a patent for your invention—design or utility patent. This step does not have to be complete by the time of your meeting—product development firms can actually help you develop the design documentation.
If you have a co-founder or someone else helping you develop your idea, bring them to the meeting. They will be able to ask their own questions and provide additional answers to the product designer’s questions. Having all decision makers present for the initial meeting, as well as all subsequent meetings, is always a good idea to help speed the product development process along.
This seems simple enough, but in the excitement of the initial meeting you may forget to ask some questions that you need answered—writing them down will ensure that you remind yourself to ask them.
Bringing an idea to life takes both time and tenacity. Get the development of your product off on the right foot by making your first meeting count.
Have additional product development questions? Please e-mail them to us at email@example.com
Early-stage hardware startups are faced with complex challenges, a flurry of information and questions, many questions. To sum it up, hardware is messy. However, with technological advances and a shift in barriers to entry, hardware has never been easier than it is today. Technology is enhancing the ability for fast experimentation, prototype development and manufacturing. Years ago these steps in themselves took months, today 3D printing along with a plethora of other advancements means that you can test designs and prototype in days or weeks. So what exactly makes hardware complex?
While hardware is easier today than any other time in history, finding product-market fit remains as tricky as ever. Whether you have a market in mind and are building a product to solve a problem, or you have a product and are trying to find your customer base—product-market fit is hard. It is one thing to design a beautiful product with flawless functionality, and quite another to rally a strong customer support base around this product.
This is where your support network comes into play. Form a core group of supporters willing to not only share your product, but to actively advocate for it. You want supporters that can provide quality feedback, engage with you on an on-going basis and that are eager to share your product with their own network.
New tools, new filament and updated components are always being released. You could spend months researching all of the ‘latest and greatest’. Instead of spending countless hours in front of the computer researching all of the ways to build a prototype, get your hands dirty. Find the components you need to build a prototype and get to it. Once you have this version in hand, switch gears and focus your attention on a functional prototype. Your first prototype will be able to explain your idea, while your functional prototype will be able to showcase a working model of your product.
Don’t be afraid to get out there are interview the big players in the industry you are trying to break-in to. These businesses have been in the industry much longer than you have and can share customer insights with you—such as, what customers will actually buy and at what quantity.
Build connections with industry contacts, other hardware startups, product development experts and others in the (growing) hardware community. These contacts will be able to help answer questions, act as a sounding board for your ideas and give you the encouragement you need to forge ahead when things get tough. “Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious.” (Rachel Wolchin, Author)
Hardware is complex, messy and perfectly wonderful. Take your idea and pursue it.
Need assistance with your hardware product? Contact us! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 808.722.8667. We look forward to talking with you!
As the popularity of crowdfunding has grown, hardware startup entrepreneurs in particular have found success tapping into ‘the crowd’ and moving their products from concept to shelves. A successful crowdfunding campaign begins with one key component: planning. Start planning and preparing for your campaign months in advance so that when it is time to go live, you have a well-polished campaign that highlights your brilliant product.
If you are ready to tap into the power of ‘the crowd’ below are four essential items that can’t be overlooked:
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.
Our second point correlates directly with the previous one, 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. The more descriptive and creative your video is, the more people are going to get truly excited to contribute to your campaign.
Don’t wait for your crowdfunding page to go live before you start connecting with your customer base—this is too late. Connect early-on with potential customers to help build anticipation for your product and campaign. This is the time where you tap into your connections to form key partnerships. Do you know any industry influencers? If so, connect with them and work on forming a partnership in which they will be willing to help share your campaign with their connections. Remember, crowdfunding is all about tapping into ‘the crowd’, so the more people that see your campaign the better your chances are for success.
Let your creativity run wild! This includes all videos, photos and text; make your content unique and memorable. Also don’t forget to include the “ask” in your pitch. This piece is often overlooked so the message gets lost. A clear and concise “ask”, coupled with a creative campaign means that you are on your way to crowdfunding success.
Setting up your crowdfunding campaign will take planning and hard work, but remember that it is also supposed to be fun. Show potential backers the fun side of your product and your team.
When it comes to product design, the notion that you need to go big from the onset is a fallacy—to build a successful product, start by thinking small and simple. Your product should not only be visually appealing, but it should also have a distinct look and purposeful design. Too much design “clutter” will impede functionality and turn customers away.
Here are a few thoughts on how a small start can ultimately lead to major product innovation.
Small Idea. Each idea starts out small, and from there, slowly begins to morph into something much larger than itself. Maybe your idea is based on making an existing product better or possibly it’s for a customer base that has an unmet need—either way, your idea starts small and gets larger the more you evaluate it to see if it’s truly viable. From this small idea, a startup is born.
Simple Design. Product design doesn’t have to be complicated or cumbersome. The most successful products out there have a distinct purpose and don’t let unnecessary features confuse the design. If there is one company that has built an empire on the notion of simple design it is Apple. Streamlining design and reducing complexity is a trademark of Apple products. Granted a startup won’t have the seemingly endless resources or hundreds of product designers that Apple does, however it can imitate one major aspect of its success, simple design.
Focusing on a simple product design doesn’t mean that your product has to be featureless or boring; instead, it aims to be methodical and purposeful. Ask yourself what features are absolutely necessary for the functionality of your product and start there. Going forward, every iteration of your product should focus on ways to streamline your design while enhancing the overall customer experience. Ask yourself, “What can we take away to build a better product?”
Big Innovation. Innovation is a result of the previous two points blended together—small ideas and a simple design lead to breakthroughs. Innovation is about doing more with less. Instead of focusing on what you can do to design your product to be an instant success (which in itself is extremely rare), ask “What’s the smallest change we could make in our product?” This small change might just lead to the big breakthrough you are longing for.
It is always tempting to try and capture a grand solution in one leap. While that can happen, far more often the most innovative products are constructed from small ideas, simple designs and perseverance.
Building a hardware startup is not for the faint of heart. In an ideal world, we would be able to eliminate all risk and guarantee ourselves success—since that isn’t possible, the next best thing is to find ways to reduce risk as you develop and bring your product to market. By reducing risk in a number of areas you are increasing your chances for success. Below are a few ideas on how to reduce risk for your hardware startup.
Developing and building a prototype proves that you can construct and deliver a finished product with the capabilities you want in your product, while staying on budget. A prototype is a baseline for your team and lets you work out any issues early in the design process. During prototype development you will also be able to assess if there are alternate and more efficient ways of building your product—thus, saving both time and money.
Along with prototype development, you want to start the DFM (design for manufacturability) process immediately. This means that you are developing your product to best fit manufacturers’ capabilities and requirements. It can be a costly mistake to build a product with the mindset that a manufacturer will just be able to deliver what you provide them—this is almost never the case. To avoid the (costly) risk of having to redesign your product, start the DFM process congruently with prototype development.
While you will have an engineering partner working on the development of your hardware product, it is always a good idea to get another set of eyes to review the design. Large corporations have multiple engineers review products to verify the design and provide valuable feedback, before manufacturing begins. A hardware startup doesn’t have the budget of a large corporation, but it can emulate this valuable business practice to reduce risk.
Start building your audience and defining your target market early in the product development cycle. Your target market will be able to provide you with design feedback from a customer point-of-view and also help build interest in your brand. If you wait to connect with your audience until after you launch, you have done your startup a disservice by not building excitement early on and gaining market traction. When you build a rapport with your target market before your product launch, you will have customers ready to buy your product as soon as it’s available.
Building a hardware startup can be challenging; however, with some foresight you can greatly minimize risk while increasing your chance for success.