12 Requirements to Succeed with a Hardware Startup

Published on by John Teel

You need a wide variety of skills in order to build a successful hardware startup.

Engineering, manufacturing, marketing, sales – they are all required skills. But they can also be outsourced (although marketing is usually best done by the founders).

There are other more important skills, traits, and characteristics that can’t however be outsourced.

Before you dive in and start spending lots of money, you should honestly evaluate if you and any co-founders (if you have them) have what it takes to ultimately make your hardware startup a success.

NOTE: This is a long, very detailed article so here's a free PDF version of it for easy reading and future reference.

 

#1 – Long-term Vision and Goals

The single most important thing to have is a vision for what you want. You have to know exactly what you want in order to make it come true.

The vision I’m talking about is larger than just a product idea. Your ultimate goal should be building a company, not just a product. Typically, a company can’t be built around just one product.

There are many reasons why you should start by developing only one product. But you need a more long-term vision as well. This goal may be an entire product line or a way to shape up an industry.

Ask yourself, what do I want for my company? Do I want to sell my company in 5 to 10 years for millions of dollars? Or do I want a family run company to pass down to my children?

You also need to have a vision beyond your company? What are you going to do after you sell it, hopefully for millions of dollars? What do you want to do with your life then? Include your ultimate end goal as part of your vision.

#2 – Ability to Constantly Adapt

Hardware development demands that you be adaptable. You will be dealing with an array of tasks – product development, marketing and sales, operations, manufacturing, juggling legal documents, certifications and more.

In the early stages of running your hardware startup, it will be up to you to do most of this work. At the bare minimum, you will need to know how to oversee and manage every aspect of your company, including any work that you choose to outsource.

You don’t have to know how to do every single aspect of a startup. But you absolutely must have a working understanding of all the tasks required.

Most importantly, you need to constantly adapt to what your business really needs. Many of the assumptions you have made about what people want from your product will end up being incorrect.

You will constantly be forced to adapt as new data becomes available.

When I started my own hardware startup, my background was in electrical engineering. I’ve always been an introverted person, so things like marketing, sales and displaying at trade shows did not come naturally to me.

In fact, at times I was terrified!

But because of the passion I had for my vision, I knew I had to be adaptable. I had to learn knew skills and force myself to do the things that made me uncomfortable.

Most entrepreneurs want to focus all their effort on the parts of the business that they enjoy.

Instead, I suggest you focus on the aspects of building your business that you don’t like, since those areas are more likely to be neglected.

#3 – Real Passion for Your Idea

There is so much work involved in bringing a product to market that you absolutely must be passionate about it. You need unparalleled passion for your idea and your vision.

If you’re not passionate about your product, there’s no way you’re going to have the stamina to push through all the obstacles you will run into.

Without passion you’ll definitely burn out way before you achieve your vision. Which in the end will only cost you money, not make you money.

Obviously, you have to think about other aspects of your life, but you really do need to be almost obsessed with your vision.

#4 – Ability to Understand Technical Information

Although you don’t need to be an engineer to bring an electronic hardware product to market, you do need to have an ability to understand technical details.

For example, you don’t need to know how to design a printed circuit board yourself, but you do need to know what a printed circuit board is and what high-level impacts it has on your product.

You need to understand at a high level all the steps involved in developing an electronic product. There’s no way you can properly manage other people doing tasks that you have absolutely no understanding of.

If you don’t have a basic understanding of all the required tasks, you can’t effectively plan for or manage the work that is outsourced.

If you have any gaps in your technical skills, and you’re lacking the money to outsource those functions to other people, then another option is to bring on a technical co-founder.

If you run a startup that develops technical products, it’s ideal to have someone on your team that is technical.

For example, if you’re a software engineer, you may not know how to design electronics, but you’re still in a technical field, which will help you manage everyone involved in your product.

#5 – Comfortable Building Relationships

Another vital skill is the ability to build relationships. You cannot bring a product to market entirely on your own. You absolutely must have relationships with others.

You can outsource many tasks but ultimately, you’re going to need to build relationships beyond just the people that you hire.

You are going to need to build relationships with other entrepreneurs, investors, potential business partners, and potential customers.

You have to build relationships to succeed, something that wasn’t my strength, personally. I’m very much the type of person who naturally wants to tackle something on my own with no help from others.

But I quickly learned that I couldn’t just push this through on my own without having relationships with others.

It’s vital that you start building those relationships as soon as possible. There are some cases where it’s absolutely necessary to have an existing relationship, like finding an investor.

It’s nearly impossible to get professional investors in your company if you don’t have a relationship with them or with someone that they know. Getting the attention of investors is all about relationships and being properly introduced to them by a mutual acquaintance.

Never cold call/email a potential investor asking for money. That’s like asking a stranger to marry you before you’ve even had a date.

So start building your network now. Work on establishing the important business relationships that are critical to the success of your company.

#6 – Emotional Fortitude

There are so many ups and downs when running any type of a new business. With a hardware startup, these highs and lows can be rather extreme.

Nothing compares to the giddy excitement of getting your first order, having a successful trade show, or getting your product into a large retailer.

But you are guaranteed to also face low points that are so bad you just want to cry. That’s because there will be so many obstacles in your way. No matter what, you have to keep pushing and pushing.

As an example, I sent an early prototype of my own hardware product to a big retailer (Blockbuster Video back when they ruled the video market) that had expressed interest. But I was absolutely devastated when he told me he found the product “awkward” to use.

Awkward? Are you serious? How dare you insult my “baby”!

I remember being depressed for a few days and I likely shed a few tears. If you are really passionate about your vision then you are likely to get upset at any bad news. You pour so much of yourself into your business it can be hard to emotionally separate the two at times.

In my case, I refused to give up. I became determined to figure out why this buyer thought my product was awkward to use. At the time, I was very confident that it wasn’t awkward to operate at all. So what went wrong?

I determined that the 3D printed prototype I sent was made with a plastic that wasn’t very resistant to heat. I made the mistake of mailing the buyer the prototype during an especially hot part of the summer.

The prototype had partially melted during shipping. However, it didn’t melt enough to be immediately obvious to someone who hadn’t used it before.

Once I figured out the reason for the “awkwardness”, I was able to move past this low moment. The buyer ended up being very understanding about what had happened during shipping, and that this was just a prototype.

You have to be resilient, because I can guarantee that things will not go your way. You will also be told no over and over again. You have to get comfortable with rejection.

If you are someone that gives up easily, bringing a new product to market is not for you. It requires absolute resilience and stamina to push through all of the emotional highs and lows.

#7 – Capital

You don’t necessarily need large amounts of money to get your startup off the ground, but you do need to have a source of income.

In the beginning, the more you do yourself the less money you need. If you can design parts of the product yourself, you will save on engineering costs.

At the very least, you have to support yourself and potentially your family during the early stages of your startup when you aren’t generating any income.

It typically takes a few years before you get to the point of producing a significant income from your hardware startup. Usually, this income comes from raising significant outside funding.

If you plan to bootstrap your startup, then you may have to wait even longer for a steady income.

This means that you will need some type of outside income. This may be a day job, doing freelance work on the side, or you may be lucky enough to have a spouse that can support you during the startup phase.

#8 – Time Available

There is always a relationship between how long something will take, and how much it will cost you.

The more time you take, the less money you will need. The more money you spend, the faster you can progress.

For instance, if you have engineering skills and can design your own product, you will save money. But this process will take up more of your time.

You also need to consider that if you do the engineering, you may not have any time left for marketing activities. It is critical that you work on marketing in parallel with your development.

Another option is to outsource the engineering. This saves you time, but will obviously cost more money.

Closely guard both your time and your money when developing a new product. These are your most precious commodities as an early startup.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. If you happen to have a lot of time available and you have the skills, then you can save money by doing things yourself.

If you have less time or you lack certain skills, then expect to have to spend more money to outsource those tasks.

#9 – Focus on One Product At a Time

There will be all sorts of things vying for your attention.

You must have a laser-like focus on one product to start with. Some people I know have lots of different product ideas, but you absolutely must focus on a single product to begin with.

You may start with several product ideas, but as you do more and more research you should narrow it down to a single product before you begin full development.

Brining a single product to market is challenging enough, but working on multiple products at the same time is a recipe for failure.

#10 – Patience to Wait for Long-Term Success

Are you a patient or impatient person? Remember that running a startup is a marathon not a sprint. I guarantee it will take you many times longer than you think it will.

Bringing a product to market is a very long term goal. Building a company around your product will take even longer.

In fact, I would say it’s an ultra-marathon combined with sailing around the world a couple times.

So you definitely need to cultivate patience. This is hard when you expect things to happen more quickly than it is realistically possible.

Without patience you’re going to get frustrated which can eventually lead to burnout. Keep reminding yourself that every stage of your startup will take a long time to happen. It will take years to reach fruition.

At the same time, you have to balance patience with maintaining passion for your project. You don’t want to be so patient that you don’t care when anything happens.

Strive for a balance between having realistic time frames, and maintaining a passion for your project’s forward momentum.

#11- Confidence in Your Ideas (But Not Too Much)

You need the right balance between having confidence, and remaining realistically humble.

You can’t be meek and get a product to market. You must have confidence in your idea. People follow others who are confident in what they’re doing. If you’re not confident about your product and your vision, then no one else will be either.

However, don’t become over confident. You should always welcome outside opinions. You should always be learning and refining your startup skills.

You always inevitably have to adapt your plan as you learn from the process itself.

This may mean being willing to change your end goal. Typically, the final product that makes it to market will be different than your initial vision. Your end product will be more successful if you are humble enough to accept new input.

That input may point you in a totally new direction. Remember to be confident in your idea, but humble enough to modify your vision as necessary.

#12 – Willingness to Make Sacrifices

What type of sacrifices are you willing to make to bring your product to market? Starting any business requires sacrifices, so ask yourself how willing are you to sacrifice time with your family and friends?

Are you willing to sacrifice your health or your hobbies? Do you may want to spend your day off binge watching something on Netflix, or working non stop on your product?

It can be hard to give up all your free time for your business. This is why a lot of startups are founded by younger people without a spouse or kids.

I would never recommend you sacrifice your family or your health for your business, but you have to be realistic about the time it takes to run a hardware startup.

Fortunately, I believe it is possible to manage your time and make reasonable sacrifices without making your family or your health pay the price. But don’t kid yourself. Expect to spend nearly every free moment working towards your vision.

Want help with your product from a team of experts including myself? If so, join the Hardware Academy starting at only $49 per month.

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Dmitry Snegiryov
Dmitry Snegiryov

Very intelligible and useful article, as always, thank you, John!

 

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