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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
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.
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
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
Recently our very own Collin Kobayashi, 3D Innovations President and Chief 3D Officer, was interviewed by Pacific Business News regarding the additive manufacturing industry along with the challenges of starting your own business. Below are a couple excerpts from the interview:
Regarding the 3D printing industry growth:
“The market with 3D printing now is so wide and deep. It can be applied to almost any type of industry… People want to be able to build parts on demand and not have to wait on parts from the Mainland or China. We have to ship everything here in Hawaii, so there’s big value in 3D printing.”
Discussing our top service:
The 3D printing is sort of a secondary process. Most times the customer wants to get a new product to market, get it developed. The 3D printing comes after that. Sometimes a customer will have their own 3D file, made on their own or downloaded from the internet. Other times we assist in the design process. The first step is the design and prototype and then you get into the production and manufacturing environment.
Read more of this interview on the Pacific Business News website, “Printing Innovation on Demand”.
3D printing has undoubtedly become a tool-of-choice for makers and educators alike. 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.
Below we will discuss the benefits and pitfalls of both 3D printing and CNC milling.
CNC milling machines “take a block of solid material (e.g. aluminum or wood) and use sharp rotating tools or cutters to remove all parts that are not needed. Milling is a subtractive method. CNC mills are computer-controlled. The computer feeds the machine-specific code that controls the cutting tools (just like the G-code used by 3D printers). The models for CNC mills are created using 3D modeling software, so-called CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software applications.” (All3DP.com)
3D Printing starts from scratch and builds a three-dimensional product layer by layer. This technology is referred to as additive manufacturing. Just like with CNC milling machines, a computer feeds the machine specific code that controls the design process.
CNC mills can work on a “huge variety of materials: metal alloys (e.g. aluminum, steel alloys, brass, copper), softwoods and hardwoods, thermoplastics, acrylic, modeling foams, machining wax (for creating a positive model for casting). You may need different cutting tools for different materials, but the tool-to-machine interfaces are usually standardized—so the tools can easily be exchanged.” (All3DP.com)
At-home desktop 3D printers are usually restricted to a few materials, typically thermoplastics or resins. Thermoplastics can be mixed with other materials such as ceramics, wood, metal, but the workpieces produced on a 3D printer will not be as robust as workpieces cut from a block of metal or wood. Commercial or specialty 3D printers can print with more exotic materials (i.e. bioprinting and food).
With the range of applications for these two technologies, there is a lot of overlap. (Here we will focus on the applications either technology supports, while the other does not.)
CNC milling is the better solution when you need to manufacture extremely robust, precise and/or heat-resistant products. 3D printing is the better solution when you need quick prototypes to test designs, small batch runs or are interested in exotic application fields—bioprinting, architectural purposes and printing food.
By design, there is less waste with 3D printing. The technology only requires the material needed for building the product. With CNC milling, you need a block of material that is the size of the product it will produce—a great deal of material is then removed, and often times the excess material cannot be recycled.
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.
Have questions about the manufacturing process? Send us your questions, firstname.lastname@example.org,we are happy to help.
3D CAD has become a critical early step in the product development process. These digital designs minimize design challenges and manufacturing complications.
Below are three common questions we regularly receive about 3D CAD technology:
Three-dimensional computer aided design, or 3D CAD, is a type of software that helps engineers, product designers, architects and other professionals design schematics for three-dimensional objects.
For most, the first step in the quest to produce the next big innovation is building a digital design of the product idea using 3D CAD.
3D CAD can be used to initially test product design theories and understand all of the design aspects without the need for building physical prototypes. Even though prototyping costs are decreasing, due partly to additive manufacturing (3D printing), it is best to develop a 3D digital design before producing a prototype.
It is not to say that 3D digital design is meant to replace physical prototyping, but it is bringing advantages throughout the design workflow that include computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools for virtual simulation/testing, using the same data as for physical prototyping.
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
Test product ideas. With 3D digital designs you can easily test form, fit, materials and functionality without the need for a physical prototype.
Clarify product functionality. If you plan to seek funding from an outside source, digital designs are a great way to communicate an idea. You can demonstrate the product without having to produce a physical prototype.
Speed up time-to-market. The goal of every hardware startup is to get your product into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible. Your company is not profitable until you begin to sell units, therefore any tool that speeds up time-to-market is valuable. With 3D digital design files you can not only design and communicate a product idea, you can also export the design into various file formats for use with CNC machines and 3D printers for production. Manufacturers around the world have adopted common practices and standards that rely on the use of digital design files for their production processes. This adoption of using digital designs for their downstream applications eliminates operator error, increases productivity, and allows for more competitiveness in the marketplace.
Reduce Costs. From the onset, 3D digital designs reduce costs in the form of prototyping. While later on in the product development cycle, these same designs reduce costly errors during production.
The demand for 3D digital designs is rising and it is easy to see why. For hardware entrepreneurs, 3D digital designs are a great way to explore a product idea, build upon the idea and solicit feedback.
Need assistance creating a 3D Digital Design for your product idea? Contact us! Email us at email@example.com or give us a call at 808.722.8667. We look forward to talking with you!
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?
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.
New 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 808.722.8667. We look forward to talking with you!