Welcome back to Hardware Hour!
In the past year, our hardware hour series became a space where entrepreneurs can dispel some of the myths shrouding the hard road of hardware product building. We hosted sessions with inspiring entrepreneurs like Emily Brooke (Beryl), Soumyadip Rakshit (Mystery Vibe), Tim Antos (Kokoon) or Tom Putnam (Beeline).
Our vision was and still is to facilitate conversations that transform the next wave of startups, enabling them to get to market quicker; we delivered on our mission providing insights on the dos & don’ts of a hardware early stage startup.
With Hardware Hour VIII we continued on that same mission but took a slightly different approach. Instead of a Q&A session with a single company, we brought together three of our program alumni to form a panel. This marked the return on the Hardware Hour series and the beginning of our Startupbootcamp IoT programme for its 3rd year. Exciting times!
1- As you’re starting out focus on a single product and market
You can’t add all the features you think your customers need – at some point you have to draw a line and freeze the design. This allows you to stay relevant by not fragmenting your company into the wasteland of frivolous products. What this “design freeze” means for your company is creating the discipline to not blur the lines between development and refinement. This stems from the well-known idea that if everyone is your customer you don’t actually have a customer.
Creating twelve slightly different product lines to appeal to those different market segments might work for an established company, however, you can’t afford to stretch yourself that thin when you are just starting out.
2- Don’t seek funding too early
This is a commonly made mistake of many early-stage startups. People or companies that invest in you are likely to only listen to you once. After they hear your idea, they will make an assessment of you and your company that can be extremely hard to shift. First impressions really do matter, especially so when it comes to seeking investments. It’s much easier and more productive to find a new investor and convince them that your product is the next big thing than it is to change someone’s mind who has already listened to you.
Also, don’t seek funding before you have a working proof of concept/functional prototype. Talk is cheap and unless you have something to back up what you have to say, you’re better off saving your breath and reputation, keep working on your product, refine your proposition/positioning & come back stronger/better prepared.
3- It’s not the product they care about, it’s their problems
A sure way to get your audience to tune out in a hurry is to start with how your product works. Most of the time, they don’t care. They do care about the value that your product creates for them. But you can’t make them care, and you can’t force value down their throat. When selling your product or idea you need to give your audience space to discover how that value translates to their situation. No matter how well you think you know your customer there’s always something that you don’t know. And even if they do show interest about how the product works, spend only 5% of that time speaking with them on that.
At its core, business isn’t about the science behind the value you’re adding, the focus of a business is that value itself. If you lose sight of that, you’ll lose sight of your customer, and if you lose sight of your customer they’ll lose sight of you.
4- When solving one problem don’t introduce another
Simplicity is key to lasting solutions. When addressing a customer’s problem don’t overcomplicate things; less is usually more. If you don’t follow this route, you might fall into the pitfall that Doordeck did of introducing a new problem with their solution. Only after trying to sell the first iteration of their product, that they had already manufactured, did they realize that customers didn’t want to retrofit their intricate network of sensors feeding into a control panel to their existing structures. This didn’t mean that they weren’t solving a problem, it just told them that their solution wasn’t elegant enough. It turned out that by replacing the central control panel and the network of sensors with a phone app and relays, the customers were thrilled. Innovation requires that you can create a solution that doesn’t take substantial effort to assimilate.
5- Identifying which markets have traction
It is often said that unless you have a product that people are throwing money at you for, you haven’t found your product market fit. While there is undoubtedly truth to this, not all of your customer segments will be that vocal about their needs. Regardless of whether or not your customers are explicitly voicing their needs, you have to understand and empathize with them as people so that you can see the solution in the clearest possible light. A good entrepreneur knows how to listen to what their customers say and also what they do not say. But listening isn’t limited to words, observations can also lead to valuable insights. Despite all that work in the field, you will never know if you have traction without data.
Whatever you’re doing to determine your market, continually collect data so that you can have something more than your gut instinct or industry experience to point to when verifying the need. Don’t think that you know which market you should enter and don’t just collect data to support that hypothesis if you limit yourself you could end up blinding yourself to potentially even more fruitful markets. Sometimes in spite of what you want and what you think will work, the answers could be something entirely different. It takes a certain level of humility to recognize this, but until you do you won’t have your eyes open to see your real market(s).
6- Form a team early and around your values
It is essential to forming a lasting team that you have a common thread that holds the fabric of who you are as a company together. This is usually a common set of beliefs – backing a cause, or shared values. Some call it culture, others simply a common vision.
If you don’t have this strand holding things together when things get tough (and trust us: those times will come, we’ve seen it time and time again) they will fall apart. It takes some introspection to determine why you believe in your company and what you’re trying to accomplish. This is a foundational element of forming a company. If you skip this step, you most likely lose sight of what you stand for. And if you don’t know what you stand for, you likely don’t stand for anything at all!
Your core values aren’t just words on a page, but rather something you live and breathe, an extension of who you are. They can’t be faked! Thus, it is crucial for your future employees to embrace company values and culture. If not, even a single person can destroy it. Of course, finding the right hire at an early stage – meaning onboarding them under an equity compensation scheme only – often proves challenging, but its definitely worth the wait!
If you are considering contracting one of your key activities for your company development of product or business, a helpful advise would be hiring a dedicated individual instead. This will result in people who work together having a deep level of commitment to your company which is exactly what you need to succeed at early stage.
In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
These were just some of the insights at this month’s hardware hour. We look forward to seeing you next month for our next Hardware Hour Session and learn new valuable lessons from entrepreneurs that have been on the front line … learning the hard way too!