What is the most important HW startup lesson you'd like to share?

When you reflect on your journey so far, what are 1 or 2 of the most important lessons you’ve learned (or mistakes you’ve made) that you’d like to share with other HW entrepreneurs?
Things you wished you knew from the beginning?

I wish I knew the right people to partner with to make my product. Going with the people who came to me was not the best option. Be very suspicious of people soliciting you to help you manufacture your products, even well trusted names. The manufacturing scene is very closed-source, the only way to get good answers is to talk to a maker directly, off the record.

Founder, CEO, Nomiku


This seems to be a common theme among many first time hardware founders

This isn’t a mistake, but its a common misconception that I see.

Quantities and location for manufacturing. Everyone says 5k unit order sizes for China. Totally disagree. I routinely order 100pcs or less per order, and do all my prototyping there too. There are some caveats, like finding good partners and an overhead cost in terms of managing the partners, but if you’re a startup you usually have more time than money so it’s a good trade. This is for mechanical components. PCB proto stuff it’s breakeven in my experience, with China have a slight edge if you have a good partner as your prototype becomes the pre-manufacturing verification.

  1. When we developed the Transparent Speaker we were taken by major surprise by certifications… Details like a textile power cable or using standard wingnuts proved to be so costly and complex process certificationwise that we after months of banging our heads into the wall had to redesign the product.
  2. Travel more often to your supplier(s) than you think. It makes the process faster, the end product better, the relation stronger… Just double the amount of trips you first think :slight_smile:

Per Brickstad
Co-founder, Industrial Designer, PeoplePeople

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Checks and balances are key. Your team should be a balance between engineers and business people. A culture where members listen to each others expertise, enjoy learning from each other and can resolve conflict effectively is key.

I’m also big proponent of keeping your business in the most urban, connected locale you can. Pay attention to everything going on outside your company; in HW, trends and competition are global.

Nathan Meryash
CTO @ Keen Home

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I think the most important thing to remember is not to over promise. I read an article about Fitbit that said they had a really great reception when they announced in 2008. They got a ton of preorders and made a promise to “launch by Christmas.” They were still new to the game when it came to manufacturing and got delayed, delayed, and delayed again. Fortunately, they were able to keep their promise. They still launched by Christmas - it just happened to be Christmas 2009. Here’s the article if you’d like to read it.

Three main things I’d do differently with my next hw startup:

  1. Build a founding team that can completely deliver the product if
    they had to (engineering + software + biz side).
  2. Tight cost control. If I’m in consumer tech, I’d keep a tight lid on cost.
    Avoid feature creep at all cost. I’d rather build a product that does one thing really well at a reasonable cost that allows for good margins that allow decent marketing and distribution.
  3. Account for delays in your planning (at least 30% more time than you think it will take). Delays will happen, you can minimize them, but there will always be a hiccup given that you have to rely on outside parties for supplies and assembly of your product. For me not accounting for potential delays almost gave my previous startup Phonejoy the deathblow.

There’re a bunch of other lessons, I drew. I have covered them here in a blog post. But in the end these three are the most important ones to me.

Martin Kessler @kesslerhk
CMO @ Ambi Labs

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