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Yes, hardware startups fail and no, that doesn’t mean that yours will. By making yourself aware of the common reasons hardware startups fail, you are preparing yourself, your team and your startup to avoid these roadblocks. The adage may say that “hardware is hard”, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—we would even dare say that launching a hardware product has never been easier than it is today.
If you are in the preliminary stages of product development or still considering whether to pursue the innovative product idea you have, the list below will give you an idea on what challenges will arise and how to navigate the hardware landscape.
Design for Manufacturability not only matters, it can truly make or break your startup. DFM is the process of being proactive during the product design phase by considering the manufacturing stage of product development at the start of the design cycle. Early consideration of the manufacturing phase shortens product development time, minimizes development costs and ensures a smooth transition into production for quick time-to-market.
Overall development costs are minimized when DFM is utilized because the product design, from the onset, aims to reduce the number of parts that need to be manufactured which speeds up assembly. The entire goal of DFM is to produce a product that is easily and economically manufactured.
If you start down the road to product development without DFM in mind, you are embarking on a much more expensive journey that is full of delays and unnecessary frustrations.
Developing a product from scratch comes with costs. There are ways of minimizing costs, but you will still face expenses on the path to commercialization.
The cautionary tale of the Coolest Cooler shows what can happen when you don’t accurately estimate your costs—the company raised nearly $13 million dollars on Kickstarter, yet the Coolest Cooler almost shut down. The startup miscalculated not only costs, but their development timeline as well and ended up having a lot of angry customers and major delays.
Research is vital—you should be constantly researching your target market and the industry you are venturing in to. Too many startups build their products in a vacuum, only to realize later that they are not meeting the needs of their targeted consumers.
Understand your customer base and obtain their feedback throughout the development process. This validation will not only allow you to modify your product to meet their needs, but to also validate each product iteration. At the end of the day, you want to be sure that you have customers that are as excited about your product as you are.
The product that you dream of developing might be drastically different than the product you end up developing. Your design might change because of customer preferences, manufacturing constraints or simply because there is a better and more streamlined design option. No matter what the reason, be open to change. It is great to love an idea, that is why you are embarking on this journey in the first place, but be prepared to modify that idea.
When the time comes to manufacture your hardware product, having the right manufacturing partner on your team makes all the difference. Speed, accuracy, reliability and open communication are all characteristics to look for when picking a contract manufacturer. Building a supply chain from scratch is challenging and the pressure is high to find the right match.
Make sure that you are evaluating factories that have proper documentation, strong referrals and the ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner with you. Many startups realize that it is advantageous to work with smaller factories at the beginning so that their product gets the attention it deserves. A large factory that produces millions of parts a month might not be willing to take on smaller batches or give you product adequate attention.
Now that you are aware of these common pitfalls, navigating the hardware landscape just became a bit easier. If you still find yourself with product development questions, send us an email at email@example.com, we are happy to help!
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
A provisional patent application early-on can be very beneficial for a hardware startup if your business goal is to either license your invention or proceed with a patent filing. Before we delve into the benefits of filing a provisional application let’s first define what a “Provisional Patent Application” is—According to the USPTO it is, “A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application filed under 35 U.S.C. §111(a). 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.” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12 month period.
As with any patent application, your application needs to be as complete as possible to be truly beneficial—this means that you must describe and document all variations, alternatives and permutations to your invention in detail. The best way of obtaining this critical information is by turning your idea into a functional prototype. A prototype will allow you to hold the invention in your hands, and make any necessary modifications to your final design. 3D CAD renderings and simulations will also help define the limits of your invention.
Below we discuss the two main benefits of a provisional patent application for your hardware startup:
In the early-stage of product development inventors understand the importance of confidentiality and protecting their idea. While a confidentiality agreement will suffice when talking about your idea with engineering firms and licensing firms, investors can be slightly weary of signing one—and this can make things very difficult if you are seeking outside funding.
“Investors get proposals from many people and if they sign a confidentiality agreement with you, and another who has a similar idea, that could lead to liability on their part where there was no liability present absent them signing an agreement. (IP Watchdog)” Thus, if you want to show someone your invention without any legal protection, the pros and cons must be heavily weighed. If you have a provisional patent application pending though, you have defined your invention and it has a legal filing date, which makes discussing the invention with outside parties much less risky.
“Patent Pending” is a term that is not only legally beneficial, but it gives your invention and your startup credibility. You are creating “perceived ownership” while defining the details of your idea. An idea that has been turned into a tangible invention (i.e. with a functional prototype) is more valuable when discussing potential licensing agreements and funding with outside investors.
The earlier you file a provisional patent application, the quicker you limit your exposure and prevent others from cutting off your rights (i.e. by filing for a similar invention before you do). The “Patent Pending” term shows that you have established priority for the idea/invention.
Developing a product should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint. Taking your time early in the product development process to protect your invention will be immensely beneficial for your hardware startup later on.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Building a hardware business from the ground up is challenging, however an experienced product development firm on your side can help you navigate the obstacles that arise along the way. A product development firm should be viewed as a long-term partner for your startup, and work with you to not only get your first product off the ground quickly and within budget, but your subsequent ones as well.
Partnering with a product development firm early in the product development cycle can expedite your time-to-market; however, there are at least three other times in which this partnership is invaluable to your startup.
Often times startups are in need of a technical expert to get their idea off the ground. Whether you are a software or hardware startup, the right expertise is necessary and often the difference between success and failure.
An expert with experience in the industry you are trying to navigate will be able to provide you with instrumental insight and get your startup headed in the right direction from the start. As Steve Jobs once stated, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” While a technical expert won’t tell you what to do, their insight will help you make better informed decisions.
Manufacturing a product is an expensive undertaking, and becomes even more expensive with each misstep. You need to be sure that your design meets manufacturing requirements and is cost efficient from the very beginning. When working with a product development firm, you can prepare early for this step with a product design centered around Design for Manufacturability.
Design for Manufacturability (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.
At the heart of Design for Manufacturability is a group of design guidelines structured to help the designer reduce costs and manufacturing difficulty. The following is a brief list of these guidelines:
The patent process is extremely regimented and your design documentation must adhere to strict guidelines. A product development firm can make certain that you have the necessary line drawings for the patent filing process. Often times product development professionals work directly with patent attorneys to ensure a streamlined and timely filing for your invention.
With the right partnerships in place, your startup can quickly realize its full potential and get your product into the hands of customers.
Have further questions about product development? Send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Product design is about building a great product, but it also about building a product that people will love. 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, below are four items to reflect on.
Is your invention solving a common problem that a segment of the population experiences on a regular basis? People want solutions to everyday annoyances and chances are that if there is a problem you are experiencing frequently, there are others in the same “boat”. If your product is not solving a common problem, you are going to have the added task of explaining to your customers that they are experiencing this “problem” and don’t even realize it.
Finding the perfect price is every startups dilemma. If you price it too low, you eat into your profit margin and customers might get the false idea that it is a “cheap” product. However, if you price it too high you risk alienating the customer base you are targeting. Work with focus groups to help determine the right price.
Is your product easy to use or does a customer need to read instructions beforehand? Customers want products to have a degree of intuition designed into it. If your product is too complicated or made too cumbersome by unnecessary features, you should think about a re-design. “Design works best when it gets out of the user’s way.” –Neil Gajera
Is your target customer base aware that your product even exists? If you have a great product, but no one is aware that it is on the market, you have a problem. Getting ahead of this potential problem early-on is the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen. Test your product out with focus groups, give working prototypes to people who will share their feedback with you and their experience with others and don’t forget to market your product. You don’t have to have a large marketing budget to make your product known, grassroots marketing can be some of the most effective and cost efficient.
Great product design is the balance of simplicity and functionality.
Need assistance designing a product? We can help! Send our team an e-mail at email@example.com so we can get started.
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
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.
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
Additive manufacturing (commonly referred to as 3D printing) technology is altering the business landscape and changing the way products are made. Before additive manufacturing was available to the masses, designing, prototyping and manufacturing a product took time and was considerably expensive—the cost prohibitive nature of the product development process left many startups in the dust. However, this technology has reduced both product development timelines and expenses, which means that kicking a hardware startup into high gear is not as challenging as it once was. Below are three ways 3D printing technology is bending traditional business rules—and helping startups succeed.
Ideas and products that were once seemingly impossible to produce, due to design constraints, are now finding life with 3D printing. New designs are taking on geometric shapes that have never been produced before and the possibilities are endless. Product designers now have the ability to design a product in the most efficient way possible, instead of focusing solely on meeting manufacturing constraints. Limitless design is now at your fingertips.
While additive manufacturing is changing many facets of business, prototyping is still where the technology is used most frequently. Entrepreneurs with a great product idea are now able to prototype their design in mere hours and at a low-cost. With the ability to build and validate an idea within such a short time period, the world of hardware startups is shifting. Hardware startups are gaining momentum and major investors are starting to take notice.
Additive manufacturing is pushing the boundaries of innovative product design, but the technology in itself is undergoing major innovations. Where plastics once dominated the 3D printing scene – ceramics, metals, bio materials and even food are now viable options. New desktop 3D printers with customized capabilities are being designed at a rapid rate, and many can even be found on crowdfunding sites. The at-home consumer 3D printing market has not lived up to the hype that surrounded it a few years back, but industrial scale additive manufacturing technology is taking off.
Entrepreneurs and hardware startups are finding that designing a product has never been as easy as it is today—thanks in part to 3D printing. With 3D printing poised to disrupt manufacturing in a big way, we can only imagine how it will continue to revolutionize the entire business landscape in the coming years.
Ready to prototype your product idea? Contact us at email@example.com to get started.