I just came back from MakerCon 2015, two days of event on the business of making organized by Maker Media. Over the years, event slightly changed tone, coming from an event primarily focused on indie makers pro to a broader definition this year involving cities, medical, VCs and integration with large tech companies.
Some panels tried to be more hands-on, encouraging the audience to share their experience and ask questions to founders and investors. Others were more a general discussion on the many challenges of hardware entrepreneurship.
While other editions were focused on indie makers building small business, this year was more focused on the venture-backed hardware startup side of things. It was all about building successful products for a large consumer base.
Two big ideas kept coming up in the mouth of about 100% of this year’s speakers:
know your customers and be close from your manufacturer
Like in every success, it’s all about the people.
Know your Customers
Before to commit to anything, test your product idea in the real world. According to most speakers, this is the one best advice to follow when starting a hardware company. Never assume that your idea will be a great success without actually testing it on your potential customers.
Recommendation is to build a quick cheap prototype and try it on users. Observe, refine, test again until your product idea make your users super excited.
Serial hardware entrepreneur Yobie Benjamin doesn’t move forward until the product idea is truly “delightful” to the customers. Testing and refining over and over again is the key.
Roominate CEO shared her process: making a quick cardboard prototype and testing it with every kid she could find (mostly from former coworkers families). The team came up with a least 2 completely different versions of their toy before finding out the product idea that was truly lighting up the eyes of their future users.
MakingSociety’s contributor Alan Povall recently shared a few hands-on techniques for user research, check it out.
Be Close from your Manufacturer
All hardware founders agreed on this one. You need to know your contract manufacturers, their process and culture, their mindset, their work practices in order to truly get what you want. Not paying enough attention to building a strong relationship with your CMs will bring delays, fees and overall a complete lack of reliability.
To do so, many hardware founders (such as Raspberry Pi or DodoCase) decided to work with a local manufacturer. In their experience it’s overall well worth it despite the increase of expenses. Same language and culture, ability to quickly drive to the factory and work hand in hand with the ones who actually make your product are some of the many benefits of local manufacturing.
For those who couldn’t find what they need locally, China is still the number one manufacturing hub. But once again, founders mentioned many times that you should definitively do the trip to China, and even have someone there full time able to spend time in the factory.
So, get out there and get personal!
Do you follow these 2 advice? Share your experience in the comments below.