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We are delving into the archive and sharing our top four blog posts pertaining to developing, launching, and scaling a hardware startup. These articles touch on everything from the complexities of launching a hardware product to the scaling of your startup. Enjoy!
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, here we discuss 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.
Building 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.
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?
A patent for your invention is useful, in that it gives you exclusive rights to the idea/product (for twenty years), allows you to license the invention and provides a strong market position. However, to obtain a patent your invention must meet certain criteria. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself in determining whether your invention is patentable.
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.
Do you have questions pertaining to your hardware product idea? We would love to help, send them our way at email@example.com
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Over the last five years hardware startups have found it easier to find their footing, reach customers and develop a product without “breaking the bank”. The transforming business landscape for hardware startups can be attributed to advances in technology. Where it once took thousands of dollars for a digital design and prototyping alone, today it can be completed at a fraction of the cost. Below are three technologies that have increased in usability and popularity, and in doing so, transformed the way startups are built.
3D digital designs are allowing startups the freedom of testing and design validation before building a prototype. While designing a product is a trial-and-error process, digital designs allow you to quickly navigate this stage and settle on a final design that meets both your customers’ needs and manufacturing requirements.
Digital designs speed up the product design process, and ensure a smooth transition into the manufacturing phase. With DFM (design for manufacturability) in mind you can design a product that will increase your manufacturing efficiency while saving you both time and money.
No list related to technology would be complete without the mention of 3D printing. This technology is the “golden boy” of engineering and product design at the moment—and rightfully so. This single technology has shifted supply chains, disrupted the traditional manufacturing process and has allowed startups the freedom of iteration at a reasonable cost.
What exactly is 3D printing? It is defined as, “the action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.” As the material selection continues to expand, so does the application use for additive manufacturing. 3D printing at one time was used specifically for prototyping, and while this is still where it is the most popular, it is moving into the manufacturing domain with short-run production.
Starting a business once required bootstrapping or venture capital investment; however, crowdfunding has changed all of this. A well designed product, coupled with a carefully curated crowdfunding campaign, can garnish unprecedented funding to launch your business. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped launch some of the most innovative startups.
Crowdfunding might not be the right fit for every startup or every product, but if your idea is a nice fit for this type of funding support, you could be looking at significant help in manufacturing and commercializing your product idea.
The cost prohibitive nature of starting a business has been on the decline and now more than ever, people with an innovative idea can make their product dream a reality.
“When you find an idea that you just can’t stop thinking about, that’s probably a good one to pursue.” — Josh James, Omniture CEO and co-founder
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Innovation and commercialization are similar yet vastly different. You can have an abundance of ideas, but having the structured process in place to bring them to fruition is key. The path to commercialization is littered with potholes and roadblocks, but you don’t have to navigate them alone.
Often the process of moving a product idea out of the “idea” stage is challenging, so many inventors tend to discard the idea and move on. However, with the right resources and structure in place, you can get your idea off the ground and headed towards commercialization.
“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” – Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance.
Often times inventors and entrepreneurs are viewed as people who lock themselves away to develop an idea, but the truth of the matter is, it takes help from a wide range of people to get an idea on the road to commercialization. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. If you need a certain skill set that you don’t possess, find someone who does—asking for help might just be the thing that sets your idea on the path to success.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
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!
We recently had the chance to talk with Rob Saito, Founder of Herbavore, along with Collin Kobayashi, 3D Innovations President and Chief 3D Officer, about the product development process and what it takes to design, protect and commercialize a product.
Herbavore is a recent graduate of the XLR8UH startup accelerator. XLR8UH is one of the first university investment programs in the nation, and is a nationally recognized program that educates, mentors, and invests in Hawaii’s top talent. Herbavore’s team was able to leverage the mentorship and industry expertise provided at the accelerator to design and refine their innovative horticultural hand tools.
Like most great startups, Herbavore grew out of a need—in this case, the need for better and less cumbersome gardening tools. Specifically, tools that would be comfortable for different hand sizes and that could accommodate both left and right-handed individuals. Herbavore’s patent pending tools aim to reshape the garden tool industry.
(RS): Herbavore’s first prototype (homemade) was a great starting point in the design process. It was used as a baseline. This rough prototype was used as a building block for further iterations.
Prior to working with 3D Innovations we didn’t know about the manufacturing aspect of designing. We thought our designs were “ready to go”, but after consulting with Collin, we realized the designs needed to be modified further to meet manufacturing requirements, especially related to injection molding. While working with 3D Innovations we learned more in-depth about the manufacturing process such as over-molding, which types of molds to use for cost effectiveness, and material capabilities.
(CK): Using Design for Manufacturing (DFM) early in the process creates a much more streamlined design and eliminates the need to rework or change the design to conform to the manufacturing method being planned. It also allows the client to understand the limits of what can be designed versus what features are critical to the function of the parts. Discussing these options and designing for DFM early in the process allows all team members to be aware of what is necessary to accomplish a functional and manufacturable design.
(RS): The initial drawings for our first two provisional patents were made using AutoCAD software. Our team’s strengths are not in mechanical engineering, so we did the best we could. However, we felt these initial drawings did not do our invention justice. We are currently in the process of filing a non-provisional patent, and the line drawings that 3D Innovations has made are top notch. They not only accurately depict our invention in a professional manner, but also will make obtaining a patent easier as these professionally made drawings are sure to impress the patent examiner.
(CK): Most patent applications contain “line drawings” that depict the claims of the patent. Using professional drawings as opposed to ones that are hand drawn or created using other methods may cause issues when the application is reviewed by the patent office because particular features may not be present or not depicted correctly. Using drawings from the actual designs provide many benefits which include creating section views to show internal features, having all views created to the same scale, and having drawing views automatically update when changes to the design are made. Great control of the output of drawings can be managed when the patent drawings are created professionally.
(RS): I learned a lot of things about the patent process consulting with IP attorneys, reading, and conducting a patent search of over 300 patents.
(CK): The patent application is very involved and requires a tremendous amount of research of prior art and adjusting the claims of the invention so that the design is unique.
(RS): Input was received from team members throughout the design process. Based on our team members’ experiences and feedback coupled with customer discovery, decisions were then made. Collaboration between team members greatly aided this process.
(CK): It is critical to have all team members be active in the design process. Having everyone on board and in agreement with the design direction will make for a more efficient design process and reduces the amount of rework and wait time, getting to the prototype and manufacturing stages faster. Collaboration among all team members is paramount to ensure the product gets to market in the shortest amount of time possible.
(RS): One piece of advice I would give to entrepreneurs just starting the product development process would be, “to enjoy it with others.” From the beginning to the end. The importance of achieving an end goal or final product is very important, but more importantly is all the knowledge and networks that were created along the way. Product development, especially hardware, can have a long pipeline, so if you aren’t passionate about what you are doing it will take a toll. Yes, it is a lot of work and at times can be a headache, but so personally fulfilling at the same time. You are creating something never seen before or a better mousetrap that will improve people’s lives. Enjoy the product development process with your team, customers, and investors.
(CK): Start by making sure team members have capabilities required for the company to succeed. Fill in gaps by seeking external expertise when needed. Develop partnerships with companies that can add value to your company and/or internal skill sets.
We have gathered the top four, most shared, product development and 3D printing articles from our blog and put them here, in one place, for easy access and reference. These articles touch on everything from finding the right product development partner to a glimpse into the future of additive manufacturing. Enjoy!
Additive Manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is ripe for innovation in 2017. 3D printing technology has been evolving at a rapid rate since it caught the attention of makers and the public alike in 2009. Though the technology dates back to 1986, it wasn’t readily accessible to the public until 2009, when the first commercial 3D printer kit was offered for sale. Since 2009, additive manufacturing technology has transformed in itself, while simultaneously transforming the business and manufacturing landscapes as well. Below are three ways that additive manufacturing will continue to alter the manufacturing industry in the coming year.
The rapid growth in 3D printing technology and its popularity has manufacturers worried that at-home 3D printers may one day soon replace traditional manufacturing. From our experience though, a maker or entrepreneur is going to benefit the most from a convergence of these two manufacturing methods.
Both technologies have their place in the manufacturing landscape. Where one technology falters, the other excels. When designing your product, keep in mind that using both technologies during product development might be just what you need.
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 highlight three common product development myths…
Product development is a collaborative endeavor, and you want to have a team that is able to clearly communicate, develop and deliver your product on time and on budget.
Here we discuss five key questions that you need to ask while searching for the right product development company.
Do you have product development questions? We would love to help, send them our way at email@example.com
Startup accelerators have gained immense popularity and have a proven track record of helping startups launch their business—however, you might be asking yourself, “Does an accelerator make sense for my business?” Below we aim to bring clarity to what an accelerator is and highlight what you can expect from an accelerator program.
Definition from Harvard Business Review: Startup accelerators support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing. Startups enter accelerators for a fixed-period of time, and as part of a cohort of companies. The startup accelerator experience is a process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aimed at accelerating the life cycle of young innovative companies, compressing years’ worth of learning-by-doing into just a few months.
There are four distinct factors that make a startup accelerator unique: they are fixed-term, cohort-based, and mentorship-driven, and they culminate in a graduation or “demo day.”
Startup accelerators are not all created equal. TechStars and Y Combinator were the first two startup accelerators to emerge, and in essence, have set the bar for all other accelerators. In an accelerator program you can expect, at minimum, these four things:
“Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States and beyond. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community.” (Harvard Business Review)
Have additional questions about startup accelerators or product development? Send them our way, firstname.lastname@example.org
*Cited: What Startup Accelerators Really Do (Harvard Business Review)
There is a lot of pressure and hype put on hardware startups to be “first-to-market”, however being first isn’t going to be worth it if you have to rush product development. Being first to market does indeed garner attention and initial praise, which can boost your company early on. The problems arise when you are first-to-market but your product design is flawed.
Case in point, Blackberry dominated the smartphone market until Apple released the first iPhone in 2007. Before the release of the iPhone, Blackberry held the market share because it was the first company to create a smartphone that was, relatively, user-friendly. For Blackberry, being first-to-market gave the company a boost for eight years and they set the standard for smartphones, however, their lack of innovation and market complacency left the company vulnerable.
While Apple wasn’t the first-to-market, their innovative product design and focus on the customer allowed them to quickly take over a majority of the smartphone market. They took their time to develop and test their phone design before releasing it to the public—and the rest is history.
The road from initial concept idea to commercialization is not something that startups can afford to rush through. By rushing through this critical development period, you risk manufacturing and releasing a product that is flawed, and manufacturing a flawed product is an expensive error.
A quick overview of the product development process: After you work on your product idea, you want to then get a 3D digital design of your idea. With a digital design you can simulate certain factors and see how a final product would look. Once you have a 3D design ready to go, you then move on to prototyping. The prototyping stage can take a few iterations to get everything working to your specifications—this is where 3D printing really shines. Once you have a functional prototype and a design ready for manufacturing, you can then start down the road to manufacturing and commercialization.
Whether you are a startup getting ready to launch your first product or a company working on a new product line, the advice is the same: don’t rush product development. Use the product development stage to create a flawless design, even if that means you are not first-to-market. Being the best-to-market drives staying power, while being first-to-market with a flawed product can provide initial success, it often drives being first-to-exit.
Have additional questions about product development? Contact us at email@example.com
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
A startup mindset focuses on innovation, creativity and curiosity—incorporate this mindset into your product design to push boundaries as well as the status quo.
A Startup Mindset is a different way of thinking—looking at a problem and finding a solution. The key to this mindset is creativity. Entrepreneurs know how to get creative, their startups depend on breaking the mold, so creativity is a way of life. Below are a few of the top characteristics of a Startup Mindset.
Curiosity. Startups thrive on being curious and looking for unique solutions to problems. Challenging conventional wisdom is what they do best.
Disregard for the State Quo. This is what pushes the boundaries of innovation. Entrepreneurs have no time to conform to the “status quo” and instead focus their energy on displacing those that are too complacent in their industry.
Overcome Fear. We all experience fear; it’s how we channel this emotion that sets us apart. Successful entrepreneurs understand that they need to forge ahead in the face of fear. As the common startup mantra goes, “Fear is temporary. Regret is forever.”
Speed. In today’s competitive business landscape it pays to be fast. The faster you develop your product and get it into the hands of consumers, the greater your chance of success. Startups are nimble and this gives them a distinct advantage over their competitors.
Dream. Entrepreneurs spend their time imagining what could be. They dream about the future and explore possibilities.
Anyone can apply the Startup Mindset to their business—whether you are an entrepreneur just starting out or work at a large corporation—this mindset is for everyone. The ultra-competitive product landscape of today demands that you encompass a startup mentality. Some of the most innovative breakthroughs in recent years have come from startups with little funding, experience or resources. Seize this startup mindset and apply it to the design of your next cutting edge product idea.
Do you have additional questions about product design? We are happy to help! Send your questions our way, email@example.com