Posts Tagged "hardware startup"

Hardware: Building a Startup around a New Concept or Technology

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.

hardware productDefine Your Goals and Game Plan

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.

Focus on Educating—Not Selling

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.

Slow and Steady Growth

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

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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3D CAD: Exploration & Iteration

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.

Design Iterations

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.

Explore the Design Possibilities

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 info@3d-innovations.com or give us a call at 808.722.8667. We look forward to talking with you!

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What a Startup Accelerator Can Mean for Your Business

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.

What is a startup accelerator?

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 accelerator attributes from Harvard Business Review


Startup Accelerator Expectations

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:

  1. Rapid rate of development. Since accelerators are for a fixed period of time, business plan development and product development happen at a faster pace than they normally would. The goal is to get your startup off the ground, and to do that you speed through the very early-stage business related activities. With all startups, “time is of the essence”, however in an accelerator this could not be more true.
  2. Intense learning curve. Expect to be challenged. First-time startup founders can expect to learn a great deal from experts and others in their cohort. Frequent seminars will expand your knowledge base and motivate you to develop and grown your startup idea.
  3. Mentorship. Many accelerators have mentors available in all areas of business—legal advice, product development advice, and general business advice are just a few examples. Some of the larger accelerators have CEOs and Founders available for their cohorts. With an accelerator you can expect to have the guidance and mentorship needed to get your questions answered.
  4. Funding. It is important to note that while some accelerators provide funding, not all do. If funding is a motivating factor for you to join an accelerator, seek one out that provides seed funding or early-stage financing. Most accelerators do either give you access to venture capitalists to pitch your startup and/or help you refine your “ask” and develop your pitch deck.

“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, info@3d-innovations.com

*Cited: What Startup Accelerators Really Do (Harvard Business Review)

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Setting Realistic Expectations for Your Hardware Startup

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.

Customer Base

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.

Hardware Startup

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 info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Preparing for Your First Product Development Meeting

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.

Sketch It Out.

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).

List The Functional Aspects.

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.

Understand The Patent Filing Process.

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.

Bring All Decision Makers To The Meeting.

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.

Write Questions Down.

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 info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Hardware is a Perfectly Complex Mess

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?

Product-Market Fit

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.

Prototyping: Fast Over Fancy

industrial_design-handleNew 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.

Industry Interviews

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 info@3d-innovations.com or give us a call at 808.722.8667. We look forward to talking with you!

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Hardware Startups: Crowdfunding — The Power of ‘The Crowd’

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:

student_trainingA Working Prototype

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.

An Exciting Video

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.

Early Customer Connections

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.

Content Creation

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.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Product Design: Think Simple, Start Small

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.

image_design_1Small 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.

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Hardware Startups: Increase Chance for Success by Reducing Risk

November 29, 2016

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.

3D CAD drawingBuild Prototypes

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.

Gather Design Feedback

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.

Connect with the Audience

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.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Hardware Startups: Overcoming Failure to Find Success

November 17, 2016

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

hardware startupsBuilding a hardware startup is hard work, and the road to success is often dotted with moments of failure, however these moments of adversity make you stronger as an entrepreneur. We tend to perceive failure as more public than success, and try our best to avoid it so as not to be embarrassed. The simple truth is—no great success was ever achieved without failure. So in order to succeed in the world of hardware startups, you must first understand that failure is just a stepping stone to greatness. Below are three common failures experienced by hardware startups, and ideas on how to overcome these obstacles.

Unachieved Funding Goal

The fact is that hardware startups are costly. Between product development and manufacturing, costs can add up quickly. While some entrepreneurs are able to bootstrap and fund the business themselves, more often than not, hardware entrepreneurs need to seek outside funding to help launch their product. If you are having trouble with funding, here are a few points to consider:

  • Setup a crowdfunding campaign. Not all crowdfunding sites are equal. There are lots of crowdfunding websites out there, and you need to do your research to find which one aligns best with your product and brand. (Here is a Forbes article that outlines the top 10 business crowdfunding websites.) When it comes time to setup your campaign, take the time to plan it out, build your “story” and develop a quality video to help market yourself to potential backers. The more creative and organized your crowdfunding campaign is, the more likely you are to raise funds.
  • Connect with Venture Capitalists. VCs can be intimidating. Many entrepreneurs are less willing to approach VCs because of certain preconceived notions—such as, they are too busy, will ask for too much business equity, or hard to do business with. While these might ring true for some VCs, it most certainly is not true for all Reach out to your business network and try connecting with VCs that have experience in your industry.
  • Talk with industry experts. Meet with and interview experts in the industry your hardware startup is trying to break-in to. These experts have vast experience and might be able to point you towards funding opportunities.
  • Reach out to family, friends and business associates. These people have a vested interest in you and want to see you succeed; therefore, they can make excellent investors. Be sure to approach family, friends and associates in a professional business manner and treat meetings with them like you would any other investor. You want them to know that you are serious about your startup and are ready to put in the time and effort to find success.
Target Market Lacks Interest

The main reason your target market will lack interest is because the product is not meeting their needs. You need to first define what the target market wants out of your product and then structure the foundation of your product around these desires. If you begin to build your audience while your product is still being developed, you will have people ready and eager to buy your product when it is available for sale.

  • Market Research. Early in the product design process, reach out to your target market to solicit feedback. These are the people that you want to buy your product, so you need to be sure that you are meeting their needs. Use surveys, questionnaires and focus groups throughout the product development process to gauge customer interest.
  • Build a Functional Prototype. Take your market research one step further and create a functional prototype, or multiple if it can easily be done, to let potential customers test out your product. Allowing them to test your product for a period of time will let them really get a feel for your invention and the feedback you receive will be more specific and in-depth.
High Manufacturing Costs

As a hardware startup, manufacturing is going to be your single biggest expense. Keeping costs low while your product is new to the market will help you reduce your risks and stay out of the red.

  • Ramp up manufacturing volume slowly. Start off manufacturing your product locally and in small batches. Generally, working with a local manufacturer will result in a higher quality product because you are able to closely monitor the manufacturing process. While sending your product overseas to be manufactured from the offset can be tempting, there are inherent risks and the worst case scenario is that you rush into manufacturing a large order and are then stuck with inventory that you simply can’t sell.
  • Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. When you are researching manufacturing partners keep in mind that many things are negotiable. Yes, there will be unavoidable fixed costs, however there are also negotiable items and many manufacturers are willing to match or beat quotes from a competitor.
  • Have the Deposit Available. Money talks. At the end of the day, the manufacturer wants to get paid. If you have the deposit readily available, you find yourself in a strong negotiating position.

Failure is not permanent and it does not have to be the end. While no one enjoys failing, it is a chance to learn, grow and refocus your energy.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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