The only guide you need to launch a hardware startup



A hardware startup is a big puzzle in the beginning. You may be asking yourself whether or not you will be able to handle all the involvements of such adventure. In reality, it requires multiple fields of knowledge to make your project evolve in the right direction. The good part is, most knowledges are around you: friends, friends of friends and the Internet!

Have you found an issue you are so passionate to solve, one that would have a great impact on others all around you? Yes? Good. This blog post’s goal is to show you the main fields which play a key role to make your idea evolve and to get the ball rolling. According to my experience starting Nepsu, one thing you must keep in mind is, you may not have all the knowledges required to create a startup yet, and that’s okay.

First things first, just start. You might have to wear multiple hats at the beginning and it is normal. Here are some I had to wear:

  • Coding - Web developer - App developer
  • Management
  • Seller

The more your idea matures, the more people will rally to your cause. It simply makes more sense over time.

To find the answers to your questions, you must have the willpower to strive continuously in order to meet new people with complementary skills to yours which share the same vision as you and are willing to make it happen. Maybe you already know these people. In my case, my partners are all friends I have met before Nepsu. I saw the entrepreneurship flame in their eyes the first time we met. As a new startup, it would be great to have skillful people collaborate with you for free.

Each one of them has an important role in the team and within this post, they will share their personal tips and problems faced to guide you through your own adventure. Our objective is to give you a better idea of what the real challenges are.

The importance of design in a hardware startup


Jonathan Villeneuve

First start with design. Good design means good intent, all the rest is execution. If you can find a passionate, hungry industrial designer to join your team, go for it. Repetition is well-known as the mother of all skills, as passion may be the father. To identify a passionate designer, focus on what one does when oneself does not have the obligation to do so. Does this individual draws for the simple fun of it? If you cannot find one for your team, which I highly doubt, I strongly suggest to read The ten faces of innovation and Business model generation for a better idea of the design’s role in a start-up. The Popular belief is to think that design is something you focus on last, similar to the cherry on a sundae or a car’s color for a fancier look. I tend to think that design is the personality of a product instead. You will never feel totally satisfied of a product with a bad design, no matter how awesome the technology is. The same way you can never get along with someone who does not fit with your personality. Just think about all the competent people you don’t like hangout with.

For example, if we would apply design thinking to the complete conception of the perfect ice cream sundae, we would have to perform different analysis on the users, the environment, and the product itself.

Why do the users eat a sundae? When do they eat it? What are their favorite flavors? Are they aware of their love for sundaes? Do they have any emotional connection with it? Those are all cognitive analysis, but there is also what affects the five senses; what are the different possible interactions with each senses? The taste, obviously, the colors, the smell, the texture, etc. The analysis needs to be so deep that you’ll try to grasp the users’ fears at night and their glorious daydreams. But we all know that's way easier to say than to do otherwise every product on the market would be perfect.


In which context, time and environment will the sundae be consumed? Is it a sundae destined to be consumed at home or the kind you bring for lunch? Does it have to be preserved? Is it made for alone or shared consumption? Is it destined to celebrate great accomplishment or just to fulfill an afternoon craving?

What is the history of this product? Where was the first sundae ever made? What are the bests sundaes on the market? What are they made of? What are their ingredients? What is the best process to make this product?

Once you think you have done the best analysis at the top of your abilities, it is time to connect the dots. Those three aspects are like clusters of dots where the perfect solution may be summed up within several connections between. The Nepsu Triangle’s shape came directly from the analysis of the interactions between those three axis. I will elaborate more on this subject in my upcoming design blog post.

Once the dots are connected, the fun begins. Because the previous analysis results are only assumptions, only infield testing will lead to tangible results. That is why you will have to sketch, sketch, sketch and then prototype and iterate by the analysis of different prototypes’ different feedback loops. Truth be told, you will probably feel like iterations and improvements can be done forever and at some extent, your ‘’passion for design’’ may run against you and your team. For me, it does all the time. Time will always run against you but if you don’t see it passing by, it is still one of the best indication that you are on the right path.

Playing with electricity


Hugo Lauzon

As Jonathan stated earlier, once the whole product design’s intent is well done from the start, the rest is execution. Designing an electrical circuit may look like an impossible task for someone who doesn’t have any prior pertinent experience or formation. I won’t lie, it is not easy. But that is also the main reason why few entrepreneurs dare to start a hardware startup compared to purely software ones.

I am no expert in electrical design yet, but during the past year, I have learned plenty on this topic. Here are a some key points to focus your time on if you’re trying to make a circuit and do not know where to start:

  1. Unless you are crazy rich, do it yourself. I think it is safe to say that over 90% of consumer electronic products’ circuit can be designed by anybody. Depending on your background, you will need a certain number of readings and instructive videos (Dave Jones from EEVBLOG will become your best friend). The key, as a startup, is to understand that you have more time than money to spend, so do not be scared to do things by yourself. It is your hardware startup after all!
  2. Seek for help. Doing hardware design by yourself does not mean you should never ask for help. If you are passionate about your project and are willing to learn how to build your device, find people willing to help you. In fact, the whole circuit conception will be a lot easier than you thought. When in doubt, make sure to ask questions on forums (Hint : every large manufacturer has a Community section on their website). Thank you Fred for all your help.
  3. There is more than just one good design, so don’t be scared to try things and to adjust later. At first, your goal is not to make the best damn piece of hardware ever created. Your goal is to build a working prototype. Many startups like to start with the development boards like Arduino or Rasberry Pi (I didn’t, but maybe I should’ve). Once your prototype can be used to demonstrate your product’s functional features, only then you can start improving your design by getting users’ feedback.


  4. Communicate with your teammates, unless you are a one man startup, then find at least one person to share your risks and benefits with. Otherwise you will most likely fail (specially in such kind of startup). Your team knows things you don’t and vice versa, because you do not work on the same tasks, all together, all the time. For example, if no updates were given to your partners regarding the circuit’s total cost or no explanation were clearly explained about the technologies used, the marketing team won’t have all the informations required to price the product correctly.

I am currently writing a full blog post on this topic to share my learnings, useful tools and other things related with the hardware startup community. Stay tuned!

Learning 1 & 0s in hardware


Julien Tupula

Software development is all over the place in a hardware startup. You soon will realize your hardware startup is also a software startup. Nowadays, all hardware objects in our daily life, such as televisions and Triangle speakers, all work with iOS or Android Apps. In addition to knowing how to develop a printed circuit board, you need to be able to design and to develop the app that makes it controllable. You will have to code what I call “the Brain” of the printed circuit board.

Do not worry. Again, just do it. You will soon understand that everything connects with each other, just like buildings blocks. Each part has a role to play in order to accomplish the final function.

Coding is now more accessible than ever. When it comes to coding, Google is your best friend. There are tons of open source codes online, and you just have to search, copy and paste with no remorse. Why reinvent the wheel? Your goal is to move to the next task over and over again. One thing I have learned as a startup, the first goal is to make your prototype work in order to show it to the public for public feedbacks. Move on to the next task and test nonstop. Period. - Will Smith. That’s the technique I have used to be able to code our printed circuit board microcontroller and our website.

Stack Overflow saved my life multiple times

Understand the market and target of your startup


Trung Hoa Huynh

In your quest to finding an unexploited niche, a product advantage or a revolutionary feature, you must know everything about your competitors’ products. Product benchmarking will be the key to your success. Data mining through all your opponents’ social medias for flaws, lackness and unsatisfied customer reviews may be very useful. Once you’ve found an opportunity, you must learn more about your industry before stepping in. It would also be wise to dig deep inside multiple databases, such as Euromonitor and eMarketer, to find the uprising trends and consumer behaviors for your industry. Theses are the keys to valuable insights and are crucial informations to gain possible advantages against other players in the industry.

Once your idea has been chosen, you must proceed to analyze your market. At this point, each data is crucial for the upcoming steps of your product creation. The more you find about your market’s industry, the better it will guide you through your strategies and decisions.

Make sure to include theses informations below in your business plan. You may use Evernote to create checklists to not miss anything

  • What type of industry are you in?
  • What is the market’s size?
  • How many units have been sold last year and this year?
  • How many are estimated for the upcoming years?
  • What is the market’s value for last year, this year and upcoming years?

Take notice, you will often be questioned about theses datas, again and again, by investors, contest juries, and of course, banks. Evaluate whether this market is worthwhile. Is it profitable? Any chance of grabbing market shares quickly? Believe it or not, you may have to step back, and find another project.

Once you have chosen to move forward, a PESTLE and SWOT analysis will be required. You must understand how each elements within the environment and each external forces affect your market, and how does your population behaves and evolves. Then, you will see if it is the right moment to launch a new product.


Source: Change Factory / Reference for Business

Understanding the consumers’ problems, behavior, habits and needs will help you determine the right target. Do not aim abroad : you must focus on a smaller target, as the homogeneity of such group will simplify and reduce your mix-marketing.

At this point, it is your main duty to constantly test your target. Create surveys, get feedbacks, validate assumptions and most importantly, get in contact with your potential customers! This is your chance to test your sale pitch. Don’t be shy, the more people you meet and talk about your project, the more convincing your sale pitch will be. Trust me, talk to everybody!

P.S. : Unless everything is coherent and well detailed, do not spend money on promotions or ads, especially on PR agency at such early stage.

Without a brand strategy, your startup won’t go anywhere.


Cassandra Beaulieu

Without a brand strategy, you won’t go anywhere.

The biggest mistake we made is to think we knew what we were doing, to believe everything would be okay if we had a simple basic plan and we would discuss about it once in awhile. The truth is, you need a strategy and what is in it must be applied. Your strategic plan might change in the future and that’s okay, but you will still need one.

Source: JP Enterprises

To be able to follow guidelines that will lead you to success, having a super detailed strategy is a must. Not only you need to be coherent regarding your whole marketing, but mostly to know how you can reach whatever you’re trying to reach.

You need to know what you want, what you do, why you do it, who your market is, what you want from them, how to communicate with them and what exactly you can offer. If you do not have the answers to theses questions yet, plan a brainstorm with your team as soon as possible and do not even think about doing this later. If you want to market your business, this is your first step.

Knowing that our strategy was not clear enough, I told everyone that we needed a meeting; a deep, serious, long and meaningful meeting. Together, we realized that we did not know exactly what our goal was. Of course, we wanted to make sales and to be successful, but the problem is, we did not know “exactly” how to get there. I knew I would have to deal with public relations and create content for social medias, but without a clear strategy, our content wouldn’t have been very powerful. You can’t simply create a product and hope for the best. Execute!

Think about a strategy, brainstorm with your partners, write down the good ideas, improve all of them, be creative, and do everything you can to make it work. Oh and don’t hire a PR agency. Seriously, you can do it better. Not because they are not good, but simply because you know your company better than anyone else.

For several weeks, we spent hours debating and discussing why exactly we were doing this business, why we were motivated to wake up every morning to work on our product and why exactly we wanted to succeed. That is finally how we found our “Why”, our mission. On that day, everything changed. We found out that our actual branding wasn’t coherent with our new mission and took the time to design a new brand identity. Many brainstorms later, everything finally made sense. Not only we became more professional, but it also helped us feel more confident about the brand and its feels like we could really have an impact on the world

If you want to understand how your company’s “Why” is so important, watch Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk Start With Why, it might help you too.

Once you have your why, it is time to hustle! Here are some blogs that may help you execute your marketing strategy: QUICKSPROUT, NEILPATEL, BACKLINKO & MOZ.

Reddit can also come in handy, check out these subreddits:

Interface is not everything


Nathalie Nguyen

In fact, user experience is also an important aspect.

As a graphic designer, we are often driven by looking at the beauty more than the user experience. I realized there is a lot to understand when it comes to the user experience, especially while creating the mobile app and the website of a hardware product. It is indeed its own problem, and is often neglected. Creating the content is one problem, but resolving the user’s interaction is another. To help myself, I had tools to understand and readings about UX too: Behance, Dribble, Web Designer News and Graphic Design Stack Exchange.

Of course, sketching different possibilities, mobile layouts for example, is something I find essential. The ideas that are drawn or written can be really helpful to clarify them. Even a little brainstorm written on paper can help.

We also have to take in consideration, as a company, you cannot take any pictures on the internet because of copyrights. The good news is, there are many websites with free commercial use license can be found, and surprisingly, not ugly at all. Here is a big list of free commercial use photos. We do not necessarily have the time nor the budget to take professional pictures, and as a matter of fact, those websites really help and give good result too. Unfortunately, free often means used elsewhere, so I strongly suggest not to use only such pictures.

When I first started at Nepsu, the team already had a typographic logo and a color palette. For a startup, it was hard to define our ‘Why?’ Which also mean it was hard for me to understand the branding itself. So, I decided to make moodboards, words clouds, etc. Showing them to the team, talking and making discussion around theses really helped us go through our brand identity crisis. Time was an important factor. In fact, quite last minute, we decided to change back to the initial colors for numerous reasons. In short, one thing everyone should know is that branding is not necessarily about creating a logo only, but to also understand the essence of the company.

As for the website, it was harder than expected. At first, we thought we would outsource the coding and I would be designing it. I had this ‘extravagant’ concept idea, but in the end, we decided to let Julien code it from scratch. Of course, it is easier said than done. But as a startup, not everyone can afford a front-end coder, so some templates such as HTML5up, Codepen, and Bootstrap may be quite of a help. Friends and acquaintances with graphic design knowledges also gave me guidance during the process.

Managing your hardware startup is crucial


Julien Tupula

Team communication is at the center of the creation process. In order to develop an idea that makes sense from the inside out of a startup, you need to rally everyone together and make sure everyone works in the same direction and shares their point of view according to their package. I see management as two responsibilities and it is the team leader’s duty to keep them in mind to achieve the goals as a team. During critical moments, I always watch this video to remind myself how important these are.

First, team management. The key in order to keep track of everything is to put in place simple processes which you are comfortable to use. There are no perfect tools in order to manage a planning or to follow a to-do list. Ask yourself, what is the point to pay for the most popular tool out there, if you don’t do the basics to move forward, i.e. burning tasks. To me, the best process is a morning touch-point to make sure everyone knows what today’s goal is and to see if anyone needs help with their package.

Second, planning management. When it comes to planning, it is important to have a clear vision of the short term, the micro, and of the long term, the macro.

For the macro, you need to set up an overall schedule with general milestones to understand the project’s timeframe and what is required, in general, to make it happen. You must make your best assessment of the time required for each task, using your experience or other’s experience as a reference. It is normal if you don’t make perfect guesses. The goal here is to have deadlines to drive you. As Ray Bradbury would say, “Jump off the cliff and build your own wings on the way down. “

For the micro, you need to put in place to-do lists to accomplish the next critical tasks in order to reach the next maturity level, within the short term. Every day, ask yourself, what needs to be done today in order to accomplish what is needed for tomorrow, for my weekly goal and for my monthly to ultimately complete this project. A reference that helped me get started is MindTools.

Source: MindTools

Don’t you worry, it is normal to make mistakes at first, but if you follow a strong methodology, you will become a skillful team manager. I have made multiple mistakes and will possibly make some more. One thing is for sure, my interpersonal skills have completely changed for the best since I started! Just try and learn.


Conclusion

Remember, starting a hardware startup is not child’s play, keep in mind that entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster lifestyle. You must make sure to have everything planned out and all the useful resources and informations at your disposal in order to achieve your goals. And then, execute! All projects are unsure to succeed, but one thing is : you will learn so much throughout your adventure and will develop many additional useful skills. One of the best feeling is to see your hardware project come to life and I wish you this. But first, just start!






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