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Hardware startups have many moving parts and are exponentially harder to launch than a typical software startup. Between product prototyping, testing, material selection, manufacturing and quality control (just to name a few), many days it seems like there just isn’t enough time to get it all figured out. There is a lot of time and energy that goes into launching a product before it hits store shelves.
Below are three things all successful hardware startup founders learned:
Hardware startups are built on a product vision. Create a product that not only meets customer expectations, but instead exceeds all expectations.
Far too often, we see companies that over promise and under deliver—leaving a wake of frustrated customers behind them. This is a sure-fire way to fail. If you are promising your customers a certain type of product, that should be what you deliver to them.
You cannot overemphasize that customers are key.
…Then focus on the needs of your target market. Take care of your customers.
In today’s social media focused world, a hardware startup can find themselves at the center of a major customer backlash with one misstep. People like to share their experiences with companies (both the good and bad)—bad policies, practices and products can be broadcast around the world in seconds. Avoid this headache by listening to your customers, understanding their needs and acknowledging their product improvement suggestions.
Entrepreneurs must wear many hats in the early days for budgeting purposes—bootstrapping is often seen as a rite of passage for hardware startup founders. The problem occurs when founders try to take on too many tasks they are unqualified for. If you have excellent sales skills, then focus your energy on that area and leave the product design aspect to your engineer. Building a skilled team around your strengths and weaknesses is the essence of true leadership.
“Great leadership entrusts and believes in a collective, skilled team to produce a better product. Poor leaders succumb to ego and attempt to run all facets of the development and release of a product. The results are typically lackluster and not optimal.” (Startup Nation)
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Intellectual property (IP) protection is an important consideration for any startup, and possibly even more so for hardware startups. Technology and globalization have made it even easier for companies to copy a product or steal an idea altogether.
Patents are a way to not only protect an idea, but to also minimize competition and act as a defense mechanism against infringement claims from others. Having a strong intellectual property strategy or having the patent process started, is a great way to attract or solidify partnerships and funding.
Below are four considerations for your startup’s intellectual property strategy.
Patent rules are strict and adhere to a tight timeline, so it is best to file for patent protection early-on in the development cycle. A provisional patent application is a good “first step” for hardware startups. A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application. It also allows the term “Patent Pending” to be applied in connection with the description of the invention.
It is important to note that a “provisional application for patent has a pendency lasting 12 months from the date the provisional application is filed. The 12-month pendency period cannot be extended. Therefore, an applicant who files a provisional application must file a corresponding nonprovisional application for patent (nonprovisional application) during the 12-month pendency period of the provisional application in order to benefit from the earlier filing of the provisional application (United States Patent and Trademark Office -USPTO).” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12-month period.
In this early period, it is also best to keep quiet about your invention. You want to avoid publicizing your invention. This does not mean that you cannot meet with potential partners or product development firms, but instead that you don’t want to share your idea online or start a crowdfunding campaign just yet.
Many times the invention that you first envisioned, completely transforms during the product development process. This means that your initial patent or patent application may not cover new features that have been added on. This will leave your final product under-protected or not protected at all.
If the product is evolving quickly, consider filing a provisional patent application or a series of provisional patent applications within a year before filing a utility patent application.
While utility patents make up 90% of patents issued, design patents have been steadily on the rise because inventors are realizing that the exterior design and overall aesthetics of the invention can easily be replicated as well. Protecting both the design and functionality of an invention is necessary for long-term success.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”. In short, this means that design patents cover exactly what is shown in the drawings, nothing more.
Like a utility patent, a design patent also lets you use the phrases patent pending and patent issued on all business-related material. Once you have been granted a design patent, you are then able to secure rights for the next fourteen years. Another important thing to keep in mind is that design patents are relatively cheap to file and maintain, as compared to a utility patent.
A design patent, coupled with a utility patent, offers a range of IP protection on both the inner workings and exterior design of your product.
Patent protection is only one part of your IP strategy. A registered trademark will help protect your brand as well. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from another—think along the lines of logo and tagline. A recognizable trademark can be extremely valuable for distinguishing your business from the competition.
Depending on the exact nature of your startup, a licensing agreement, copyright and/or trade secret protection could also be considered during your intellectual property planning and overall strategy. Speaking to a Patent Attorney early-on will let you discuss your options, weigh the benefits and build a custom strategy for your startup.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Our 3D Innovations team would like to wish you and yours a joyous holiday season.
May you have a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year full of new adventures!
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
First-time entrepreneurs, and even seasoned entrepreneurs, have questions when it comes to protecting their intellectual property (IP) and moving forward with manufacturing. No two products are alike; therefore, a custom-tailored strategy is necessary when it comes to navigating these two areas of product development.
On the IP side, a decision must be made about what type of patent (design patent or utility patent) makes sense for the invention and budget. On the manufacturing side, everything about the design, even the smallest details, must be accounted for when selecting materials and where to manufacture the product. Having insight and answers early-on in the startup journey helps entrepreneurs understand the full spectrum of what it takes to bring a product to market.
Below we delve into the top three questions we frequently receive related to IP and manufacturing.
You don’t necessarily need a patent to start the design phase of product development. Often, the design phase is done in parallel with the patent creation process and filing.
Drawings from the design are included as part of the patent application and can be used as attachments to your application. It is recommended to at least file for a Provisional Patent prior to disclosing any information about the product such as designs, prototypes, and specifications to outside parties. You will also want to have your patent in the Patent Pending stage before moving forward with any manufacturing or marketing initiatives.
Ideas are a “dime a dozen”, but the real intellectual property (IP) is what gets developed, not the idea itself. Developing the functional aspect of the idea is the difficult part. All information is kept confidential and disclosed strictly on a need-to-know basis with the client’s approval.
Before entering the production manufacturing phase, several things will be conducted to determine the most cost effective and price friendly option. Material, surface finish, quantity, and post processing are factors in deciding the appropriate process for production manufacturing.
*This is the second piece in a two-part series, view part one here, FAQ: The Basics of Product Development.
We are happy to answer any additional product development questions you have, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you ready to launch a startup in 2018? As the year begins to wind down, many people use this time to assess current goals and make new goals for the year ahead. A new year is often looked at as a fresh start or a new beginning—a time to make a change and forge a new path.
If you are considering developing a product or launching a hardware startup in the new year, we have a few pieces of advice to help you gear up for this adventure and to get you started in the right direction.
Grab a computer and start typing. Write everything down that has to do with your product idea. What it looks like, how it will function, its size, who will use it—all of this needs to be down on paper so that you can review every detail about the innovative idea swirling around in your head.
We suggest that you draft a business plan, however don’t get bogged down by it. Business plans can be high level, and just a couple of pages at this point. A business plan is a great way to take all of the details you have written down, and organize them. A simple internet search for a business plan template can help get you started. With your ideas organized and in one place, you can then begin the process of listing “action items” and getting to work on them.
In the very early stages, a homemade prototype may suffice. Depending on your product idea, you might be able to find the items you need to build a rough version at your local home improvement store. As you build upon your idea and start to assess your target market, you will need to work on a functional prototype.
A functional prototype will allow you to refine your design, gather market feedback, rally financial support (if you are looking for VC or crowdfunding investments) and file a patent.
Many people envision entrepreneurs as “lone wolves”, however this could not be further from the truth. No one person has the skill sets necessary to build a startup completely alone from start to finish—the key is to find quality partners. You might decide to bring partners on full-time or to consult with outside agencies (product development, intellectual property, legal matters, to name a few).
Often, entrepreneurs think that they need to have a firm idea in place before setting up a time to meet with a product development firm, this is not the case. Many times, a product development firm will be able to help you refine your idea and provide suggestions on maximizing the design. A product development firm has extensive experience in both design and manufacturing, so meeting them early-on is advantageous.
The new year is a time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you still find yourself on the fence about developing that product idea, ask yourself this one simple question, Why not?
Have additional product development questions? Please e-mail them to us at email@example.com
Product design is about building a product that is simultaneously functional, intuitive and appealing to a range of consumers. No matter the industry, product development is exhilarating—building upon an idea and seeing it come to life is the essence of entrepreneurship.
Before you dive into product development, we have compiled five of our top product design articles for you. These articles touch on everything from preparing for your first product development meeting to building a product that consumers will love for years to come.
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? Here are a few suggestions on how you can prepare for your first meeting with a product development firm and/or product designer.
Often times startups believe that designing their innovative product is the hardest part when launching the business, but the task of gaining a loyal customer base can often times be just as challenging. If you have found yourself in the predicament of having a great product design, but your customer base is lagging, here are four items to reflect on.
In this post we sit down with Rob Saito, Founder of Herbavore, and discuss the product development process and what it takes to successfully design, protect and commercialize a product.
Product development is a fluid process that is not truly complete until there is a manufactured product in your hands. However, the process of taking a great idea and translating that idea into a physical product is not as predictable as you might think. Here we discuss three common product development myths.
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.
Have additional questions about product design? Send them our way, firstname.lastname@example.org
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ― John F. Kennedy
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, our 3D Innovations team would like to send a big ‘thank you’ to our valued clients. Our clients are the driving motivation and the reason we do what we do. Each and every project we work on is unique, just like each client. Seeing the excitement build as we assist in the development of taking an idea and turning it into a real-world product never gets old, and fuels our desire to keep helping entrepreneurs launch their dreams. With that, we would like to say…
Thank you to the clients that have helped us grow.
Thank you to the clients that have provided us with feedback and suggestions.
Thank you to the clients that referred us to friends.
Thank you to the clients that have supported our dream from the beginning.
Thank you for helping make 3D Innovations what it is today.
We also couldn’t miss a chance to shower our family and friends with a warm ‘mahalo’. These are the people that have helped us as we navigated complex business decisions, listened when we asked for advice and stood by as we followed our dream of building this business.
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!
-The 3D Innovations Team
Crowdfunding can help hardware startups launch not only a product, but an entire company. The power of “the crowd” is strong and can be a great asset for entrepreneurs. However, by now we have all heard of those crowdfunding campaigns that make headlines, for all the wrong reasons—Coolest Cooler and Pebble stand out, both raised a considerable of money, but stumbled when it came to production manufacturing and order shipment. In order to avoid issues early-on, there are a few considerations to take into account before you launch that crowdfunding campaign.
Is there a business out there with a similar product? If so, how is yours different? “Start by reviewing any patents marked on similar competitive products, product packaging or your competitors’ web sites. If your product is similar to a specific competitor’s, you can search patents by owner of record. You can also search on Google for any patent-infringement lawsuits related to the same or similar products/services. (Entrepreneur)”
Do your due diligence and research patents that are similar to your product. You can be liable for patent infringement whether you knew about the patent or not.
Consider trademark and copyright protection for your product and startup as well. It is better to have your logo, tag line, text and photographs protected, than to risk someone else using them without your permission.
Securing and protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights to your invention is key to successful commercialization. As soon as you make your crowdfunding campaign public, you forfeit your right to obtain a utility patent on that product unless you have previously filed a patent application. Costs can be an issue when it comes to filing a utility patent, however a provisional patent application is cheaper and still protects your invention. A provisional patent application will allow you to keep your rights to a utility patent for 12 months while you decide the next move for your startup. You will also be able to use the coveted, “patent pending” term as you market your product.
A design patent is another option if the value of your product lays largely in its unique design. This design patent can block competitors from making an exact copy of your product, but it doesn’t block them from making a functionally equivalent product with a different appearance.
A functional prototype is necessary when you are trying to get people excited about a new product. While people can indeed envision a product from a great description, there is no substitute for the actual thing. This prototype not only shows potential investors what your product can do, it is also necessary for the marketing material on your crowdfunding page.
Let’s face it, you can’t have an exciting video unless you have a functional prototype. The video portion of your page is where you let your product shine. You want to demonstrate your product to potential customers and let them get a feel for what it has to offer. The more descriptive and creative your video is, the more people are going to get truly excited to contribute to your campaign and share your campaign with friends.
While there are many moving parts to a crowdfunding campaign, these four considerations should be thoroughly reviewed by your team to set yourself up for success right from the start.
Have questions related to product development? We are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at email@example.com
We have all heard the term, “ignorance is bliss”, and when it comes to launching a hardware startup this might just be right. Newcomers to an industry have fresh ideas, new perspectives and innovative ideas. These newcomers are not weighed down by industry norms and the mentality of “it’s always been done this way”. These fresh faces often see opportunities that industry veterans miss.
While newcomers lack preconceived notions, that doesn’t mean they are ill-equipped. Below are three ways to harness those “rookie smarts” and build a successful product.
It’s no secret that many big industries need help—for example, healthcare, banking and transportation are all stuck in a rut and are in desperate need of fresh ideas and newcomers with bold visions. You don’t need experience in an industry to start a revolution. Elon Musk is a great example of someone who entered industries where he had little or no experience, yet had a vision of what they could look like and while pursuing his vision, spearheaded major transformation. Step out of your comfort zone and your areas of expertise to bring about radical change.
As startups grow into major corporations, they often take on the mindset of “I know what’s best” and stop listening to their customers. This is a surefire way to alienate customers and push them towards competitors. Many of the young entrepreneurs today understand the importance of truly listening to would-be customers. These types of entrepreneurs are not stuck in their ways and are in fact willing to learn.
Consumers today are radically different than they were 10, 15 and 20 years ago. The culture of how we buy goods, how we procure services and what we expect from businesses has shifted. A hardware startup today needs to be in tune with their customers and willing to modify their vision to meet the needs of these consumers.
Have an idea? Get prototyping! Lead the way by taking your idea and bringing it to life. Does your prototype need to be fancy, no, does it need to be perfect, no, does it need to convey your idea, yes. We see homemade prototypes built out of traditional household items all the time, and you know what, that works! As long as your homemade prototype can get your message across you are on the right track.
Being an industry newcomer certainly has its benefits. If you are ready to learn, listen and build quickly, your hardware startup can be the change a stagnate industry is in need of.
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!