Posts Tagged "hardware startup"

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

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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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The Top 3 Challenges Between Launching & Scaling Your Hardware Startup

October 11, 2016
3D Innovations

Each stage of launching a hardware startup comes with its own set of challenges. While the challenges are unique for each business and each industry, below are the top three universal challenges we have seen arise time and again.

As you read through the two lists, you will notice a theme developing between the stages. During the launch phase, the challenges tend to focus on the startup founder and business acumen. As the hardware startup scales though, the challenges tend to focus more on the manufacturing side of the business. This is why the importance of finding the right manufacturing partner for your startup from the get-go cannot be stressed enough.

Challenges when launching a hardware startup:
  1. Funding. Whether you plan to bootstrap or seek outside assistance, funding is typically the main hurdle. Unlike software development, hardware development requires a large amount of capital for prototyping, testing, packaging, and tooling/mold for production manufacturing. The initial round of funding will usually suffice through the development and prototyping stages, but will likely require additional funding once the product is ready for production and distribution.
  2. Lack of Knowledge. Most startups do not have the internal resources and knowledge to plan and thoroughly develop each product development stage. This lack of resources means that necessary design, prototyping, testing, certification, and manufacturing requirements can get overlooked. Main challenges with the manufacturing process include, vendor management and supply chain resources. Both of which are critical to developing a successful startup. In order to combat these challenges, connecting with outside product development firms/resources and experts will not only help accelerate product development but also ensure that these challenges will be manageable and not the downfall of your startup.
  3. Identifying Opportunities. Identifying market opportunities and developing go-to market strategies is another common pitfall. While hardware startup founders are intensely focused on product development, creating a sound business strategy can fall to the wayside. Connecting with distributors and existing sales channels early in the product development process should be happening while the product is still in development. Building these partnerships takes time and the earlier you start, the better.
Challenges when scaling a hardware startup:
  1. Manufacturing & Inventory Management. Scaling up manufacturing requires a larger influx of capital as compared to the launching stage. However, this is a good problem to have since it means that the market has received your product well and demand is abundant. It will also mean that some level of product inventory is required, so having additional space and location for the product is not only necessary, but a vital part of your logistics plan.
  2. Manufacturers Capabilities. Depending on your manufacturer’s capabilities, this can make or break scaling opportunities. Manufacturers may not have enough resources, machinery, and capabilities to meet your product’s demand.  If a manufacturer is not setup for high volume production, then the output required will not be able to keep up with the required amount needed to fulfill orders.  Several well-known and successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns have run into this problem, causing headaches for the company and frustrated customers waiting for their products to be packaged and shipped.
  3. Meeting Demand. Meeting the demand of the market will be dependent upon the manufacturing capabilities. You need a manufacturing partner that will be able to deliver enough of your product on-time and on-budget. If your manufacturing partner cannot keep up with customer demands, your startup, brand and product will suffer —and this could spell doom for your business.

By now we have all heard the saying, “hardware is hard” — however, with proper planning and experts by your side, launching your hardware startup doesn’t have to be impossible.

Have questions about launching or scaling your startup? Send them our way, info@3d-innovations.

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Hardware Startups: Defining Your Niche Market

August 22, 2016
3D Innovations

Launching hardware startups, or any type of business for that matter, is a gamble—but defining and finding your niche market doesn’t have to be. Knowing your niche market is one way for hardware startups to quickly get their product into the hands of consumers and find success.

What is a niche market?

niche_market“A small but profitable segment of a market suitable for focused attention by a business. Market niches do not exist by themselves, but are created by identifying needs or wants that are not being addressed by competitors, and by offering products that satisfy them.” (Business Dictionary)

Developing a product that specifically targets a segment of the market that is not having their needs met is a great way to scale a business quickly. The competition is low and the barriers to entry are minimal, which is an ideal landscape for launching a hardware startup.

Defining a Niche Market

Defining your niche market means that you need to have a deep understanding of both your product and the consumers you are marketing your product towards. Below are a few ideas on how to define a niche market for your hardware startup.

  • Define The Gap. What is missing and how will your product address it? Identify “the gap”, or problem, in an existing larger market that you aim to solve.
  • Understand Your Ideal Customer. With whom do you want to do business? Be as specific as you can. Create a “wish list” and narrow your ideal customer down as much as possible. For example, a small niche would be: customers located in Northern California, which make $60,000+ a year and are avid outdoor biking enthusiasts. This focus will help you develop your product and find your target market.
  • Focus. Clarify the product that you want to develop and sell. Have a clear understanding of your product and how it meets the needs of your ideal consumer. For example, you don’t want to say that you are going to design a GoPro accessory; instead you can say that you want to sell a GoPro accessory that easily attaches to a baseball hat.
  • Identify Your Strengths. What sets your hardware startup apart? Three factors to consider, what makes your startup unique, identifiable and is it scalable? You should be able to apply these three characteristics to both your startup and your buyer personas. While your business might be starting out in a small niche, having a product that is scalable will translate into long-term growth and success.

Once you have a clear understanding of the niche market you are aiming your product towards, take time to test this market and be ready to re-evaluate if necessary. In the end, having a firm understanding of your niche market will mean that your startup is taking a calculated risk, and not just a gamble.

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

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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