Developing new electronics products can be a costly endeavor that takes time and patience to orchestrate, but in the end the rewards can be extremely gratifying. In many cases you’ll not only be creating a revenue stream for your own company, but also producing something that makes life easier for the customers and/or businesses that use your innovation.
“With a rapidly growing global internet population and a dramatic reduction in infrastructure costs (such as through Amazon Web Services),” Jason Rosenthal points out in Wired, “an entrepreneur could rapidly and inexpensively iterate an idea to achieve product/market fit.”
Of course, getting from Point A (invention) to Point B (commercial viability) takes time and commitment. This is particularly true for product-centric companies that are starting from scratch. Here are five things that all startups should know about getting their electronic devices produced and ready for primetime:
- Prove the concept first. Create a proof-of-a-concept prototype with the goal of creating a functional prototype while keeping risk and cost as low as possible. For electronics, this usually means using either a development kit or electronic modules, Entrepreneur points out. A platform for creating an electronic prototype without the need to have custom printed-circuit boards manufactured, a development kit is a microcontroller board that can be programmed to serve as the “brains” for your product. And while you can’t take a development kit-based product to market (the end product will be too expensive and frequently too large to be viable), think of this step as “proving that your product indeed works as planned,” the publication notes.
- Get creative with your funding. Making a new electronic product for the commercial market is an expensive process that encompasses both development and marketing. “Unless you have tens of thousands of dollars that you can throw into it, you’re most likely going to need to get creative when it comes to funding your new startup,” John Teel writes in “How to Fund Your Electronic Hardware Startup.” He suggests crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, manufacturing financing (when a partner helps to fund product development), or a business incubator program as good sources of funding and/or startup guidance.
- Don’t skimp on engineering expertise. Unless you’re an engineer, you’ll need to outsource most of the development to an experienced engineer (or two). “That being said, it’s always best if you can take your product’s development as far as possible on your own,” Teel writes. “If you’re not technical, then you should probably find someone technical to be your co-founder. Assuming your product has electronics, you’ll need an electronics design engineer.” Similarly, if your product has moving parts then you’ll probably need a mechanical engineer. Lastly, he adds, you will need a 3D modeling expert or an industrial designer to develop the custom plastic pieces for your product, such as the case holding everything together.
- Find a manufacturer with relevant experience. According to TechDesign.com, this is one of the most important things to check when evaluating whether an electronics manufacturer is a good fit for your project. Look at what they’ve already produced and who they’ve worked with. Manufacturers that specialize in an area similar to your project may offer turnkey solutions that can save you time and money. “On top of this, there is a good chance that they will have connections with good-quality component manufacturers for your project,” the platform for electronics design and manufacturing points out, “thus minimizing delays and possibly reducing production costs.”
Understand that the path from prototype to product may be harder and longer than you think. “Predicting the amount of time, effort, and capital you’ll need to go from prototype to product in any technology product is tough,” Rosenthal writes. “But in my experience, doing so in a hard tech product cycle is particularly difficult.” A good rule of thumb is to take your most conservative estimate of the required time and cost, then double it. The reason is that you’re typically trying to build something that, at both the hardware and software level, has never been done before and “falls squarely into the category of unknown unknowns,” he adds.