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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!
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
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.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Our 3D Innovations team is always on the lookout for individuals with exceptional writing skills and an interest in hardware startups, 3D printing and/or product design. If this sounds like you, we would love to have you as a guest contributor for our blog!
Send us an e-mail, email@example.com, with the following information:
After we receive your e-mail, we will be in touch to narrow down a blog post topic with you, discuss the length of your piece and schedule a posting date. If you have a blog topic idea that does not fit in the hardware startups, 3D printing or product design categories, but in a similar category, we would be open to discussing this with you to get clarification and check that it would be a good fit for our audience.
We are a Product Development company located in Honolulu, Hawaii. 3D Innovations provides Product Development services assisting companies with all stages of development. Our suite of services includes product design/engineering, prototyping, 3D Printing, additive manufacturing, supply chain management, packaging design, and production manufacturing sourcing. Using our experience in Design For Manufacturing processes, we are able to develop custom solutions for clients that accelerate their commercialization activities.
We support various Commercial and Government industries that include Industrial, Military, Construction, Medical, Manufacturing, Automotive, R&D, Inventors, and many more. We provide 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping services to quickly validate designs and make improvements for production manufacturing. Experience the benefits of 3D Design and see how 3D Innovations can develop innovative solutions to engineer, design, and manufacture your product.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Building a hardware product, business and brand around any concept is a challenge—however, when you are building all of this around an unknown concept or new product category, you now face the challenges of a true trailblazer. Two popular recent trailblazers that come to mind are the Amazon Echo and Bitcoin. Both products were able to successfully answer the “why is this necessary?” question, educate consumers and carve out a market niche for themselves.
When you build a product that breaks the mold, or is completely new for an industry, you must successfully balance product development while simultaneously educating consumers. Below are a few ideas on how to develop a hardware product around an unknown concept.
All companies want to sell their product or service and turn a healthy profit. If you are too focused on selling to ABC or XYZ you will be tempted to tailor your product to suit these demographics instead of your vision. Before you even start to map your marketing and sales strategy, make sure that your vision, mission and goals are laid out.
If you are building a completely new hardware product, it will feel easier to try to modify your vision so that your business can be easily categorized by the market. With your vision and business game plan laid out though you will find it much easier to stick to your original goals.
Trailblazing companies must first focus on educating consumers about their product before leads can be converted into sales. Educating consumers can come in many forms: blogging, video content and infographics are just a few ways for businesses to reach out and share their business concept without pushing for sales. An education-centric sales approach will allow customers to truly understand your vision and product.
A sales philosophy centered on educating consumers will continually transform and evolve as your target market comes to understand your product and as you find new approaches to reach other demographics.
Developing true innovation takes time. Speeding through the product development process can end in disaster. Instead of focusing on speed, focus on quality. Your hardware product is navigating unchartered waters, and you want it to make a big splash when it is debuted—the best way to accomplish this is with a flawless design.
While slow is certainly challenging for many startups, it is the wiser approach. You want a product that can fulfill both your vision and the needs of consumers. If the hardware product isn’t understood by consumers and has too many design flaws, you will face frustrated and confused customers.
“True innovation is coming up with a product that the customer didn’t even know they needed.” — J. Paul Getty
At its most simple level, the engineering discipline is about exploration and iteration—which are the two principles computer-aided design (CAD) is built upon. CAD has come a long way from the time when its primary use was to document finalized drawings. Where once CAD was a final step in the design process—today, it is a valuable first step. If you are not using CAD from the initial design stage, you are missing out on some of the most helpful aspects of the program.
When it comes to designing, iterations are both helpful and inevitable. How often does our first design actually become the final design? Many inventors have an idea of what they want their final product to look like, but often times this initial design idea has to be modified to account for usability and manufacturing. With 3D CAD you can explore a seemingly endless array of design options without the need of “starting from scratch” for each iteration.
Coming up with the best possible design of a product is a trial-and-error process. You try one approach, when it fails, you try a different approach, and so forth until you come up with the best possible design. The features many CAD programs have today allow you to quickly navigate this trial and error stage while honing in on a final design that will meet all needed specifications.
By using a 3D digital design process, we are able to create designs and validate them with up to 95% certainty that they will work before even building a prototype. -Collin Kobayashi, President & Chief 3D Officer of 3D Innovations
Two valuable CAD features are parametric design and direct modeling, as detailed below by Autodesk:
“Parametric modeling allows users to build intelligent and reactive sequences of geometries in which engineers gradually capture their design intent. In this case, intelligent and reactive means the capability to create geometric objects that react to each other and behave as they would in the real world, rather than just on a computer. So as you iterate and change your model, the software’s parametric modeling capability maintains consistent relationships between elements.”
“With direct modeling, you manipulate a model’s geometry by pushing, pulling or twisting it. This allows you to focus initially on creating geometry rather than thinking about building features, constraints and design intent into models. You add features and constraints when editing the model, so you don’t have to edit the interim model stages.”
3D CAD lets you get a real sense for the product you are developing. Not only does it speed up product development, but it brings ideas to life at the fraction of the cost of what it takes to prototype. By shifting CAD to the start of the design process, you are opening the door to an array of design possibilities.
Need assistance creating a 3D Digital Design for your product idea? 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!
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, email@example.com
*Cited: What Startup Accelerators Really Do (Harvard Business Review)
Setting realistic expectations for your hardware startup and your customer base is one of the keys to a successful product launch and long-term sustainability. Hardware startups typically falter when they over-promise and under-deliver—this can be on anything from features to shipping dates. Unrealistic expectations leave customers disappointed, and that is not the way build a successful business. By establishing attainable goals and giving consumers realistic expectations about your product, you set the stage for success.
Your customer base and product design are two main components that can make or break your startup. If you have a misstep on either in the early-stages, it is often a death sentence for a hardware startup. This is why honing in on your specific target market is necessary. Once you have a very narrow and specific target market, you can then match your product design to their specific needs and build your marketing message around what they can realistically expect from your product. Below are three ways in which you can communicate expectations for your product.
Narrow product scope. It is tempting to fill your product with a ton of features to make your customer happy. Our advice, don’t. Focus your product on doing one thing well and expand your feature-set on this. Finding this single feature to focus in on takes time, prototyping and testing.
Communicate benefits, not features. More often than not, customers want to know how your product will benefit them and don’t necessarily need to know the intricate details of how it all works. Through your marketing campaign, share with them the wonderful benefits that can be expected.
Iterate often for customer feedback. Small batches of units will let you get your product into the hands of your customers for testing and feedback. As your product changes, because it will during product development, don’t be afraid to share these changes with your test market to gauge their response.
When it comes to your hardware startup, setting realistic expectations internally is also a great idea. This will reduce stress for you and your team, so you can focus on what really matters. Below are two areas in which setting realistic goals and expectations is crucial.
Product development timeline. It’s no secret that product development takes time. Don’t try to force a product through the development cycle, only to find out after manufacturing that it is flawed. Take the time to get customer feedback often to reassure yourself, and others on board, that you are on the right path.
Manufacturing and shipping dates. Once you have a finalized design, you are off to manufacturing. This is a big leap, and is almost certain to be met with its own set of challenges. As we have seen with many Kickstarter campaigns (i.e. The Coolest Cooler), manufacturing delays lead to major headaches and frustrations, which translate into missed shipping dates. From the onset, set reasonable shipping date goals and share this openly with your pre-order customers.
Building a startup requires hard work, tenacity and open communication (internally and externally). The more honest you are with your customers about your product and business goals, the more responsive they will be to your brand.
Have additional hardware startup questions? We are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.