We’re in the midst of an independent hardware revolution. Here at Kickstarter, we routinely see designers, engineers, and startups bring creative new ideas to life, fueled by forward-thinking backers who are eager to experience new tech and get a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s made. With a greater appetite for experimentation and more nimble teams, Kickstarter creators have launched products that never would have gotten the green light from larger companies. It’s changing what gets made and who has the opportunity to make it.
But these new opportunities come with new challenges. Independent creators may have more freedom, but they often lack the resources, knowledge, and experience they need to master manufacturing. We want to change that. So we’ve teamed up with the experts at Avnet and Dragon Innovation to launch Hardware Studio, a new initiative to help creators prepare for manufacturing before they launch on Kickstarter.
More than ten thousand hardware campaigns have been funded on Kickstarter. Of course, a successful Kickstarter campaign is really just the mid-point in the journey of bringing a project to life. For most creators, the transition from gaining support for an idea with a handful of prototypes to producing a product at scale is challenging. While it’s impossible to anticipate everything that might slow things down, creators who have a manufacturing plan in place before their campaigns are better equipped to address issues that might arise. Having seen so many creators go through this, we’ve identified some common challenges. Here’s how Hardware Studio will help make manufacturing less daunting and mysterious for first-time hardware creators.
Seeing the big picture
Developing hardware requires sweating the details. You worry about fractions-of-a-millimeter tolerances. You test the feel of every button you can find. You code, and code, and code. It’s all in the service of creating something that feels seamless and intuitive for users. But we’ve seen that this heads-down approach sometimes means that creators don’t take a step back to understand the full process or think strategically about where they are on the road to shipping a product.
Hardware Studio Toolkit will feature articles and live streams from industry experts and seasoned creators that explain what you can expect at every stage of the process. In his introductory article, The Hardware Journey: An Overview, Dragon Innovation co-founder Scott Miller stresses, “It’s important to have a good understanding of how the process works ahead of time to help you handle any bumps you encounter along the way.” He talks about cost, quality, and schedule as interrelated “points of the manufacturing triangle,” explaining “if you increase the cost of a product, you can improve the quality and accelerate the schedule,” but emphasizes that “the art comes in finding the right balance between all three points.” Taking a step back and having a holistic understanding of the process can help you think more strategically about your manufacturing priorities.
And if diving into all this new information has you feeling lost in a sea of jargon, you can check out our ever-growing glossary of hardware manufacturing terms.
Hardware creators come to Kickstarter to build an audience and raise money to go into production. But you need to understand all the costs that go into making a product before you can set your funding goal, price rewards, and ensure that you have enough funds to hit “go” on manufacturing after a successful campaign.
Our collaborators at Dragon Innovation designed their Product Planner software to help you figure out how much money you need to manufacture your product, including the “hidden” costs that first-time creators often miss. It provides reports to help you understand cash flow and see how making the right choices about parts, quantities, and manufacturing techniques can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
All the little things that are actually a big deal
Beyond designing and manufacturing the hardware itself, there all kinds of details that you’ll need to consider when developing a new product. Something as simple as picking a component that’s hard to source in large quantities can have have a ripple effect that delays your entire production. Avnet’s sourcing and supply chain experts will help you learn to approach this in a smart way.
Hardware Studio Toolkit will also feature contributions from experts on packaging design, inventory management, shipping, and all the other seemingly ancillary things that are actually central to a successful product launch.
Picking the right factory
If the only time you’ve spent in a factory was that field trip back in fifth grade, you’re going to need some help. Finding the right manufacturing partner is crucial for ensuring that the product you’ve meticulously designed and prototyped looks just as awesome when it rolls off the assembly line. Beyond build quality and attention to detail, the way a factory works can have a significant impact on your ability to scale, fill orders, and run your business. The right factory will become a trusted collaborator for many years to come — an extension of your team. The wrong one can make launching your product harder than it needs to be.
For Tom Putnam, co-creator of the navigational device Beeline, seeing the manufacturing process in action offered a totally new perspective on his own project. He explains, “It's easy to sit in our office in London thinking that's where it all happens, and the factory in China is just a supplier. When you're there though, you really feel that's where it all happens and your HQ is just a little outpost. It's very humbling.“
Whether you’re looking to work with a small local factory or huge contract manufacturers in Shenzhen, Dragon Innovation’s experts will explain what goes into picking a manufacturing partner and negotiating terms. We’ll also source wisdom from past Kickstarter creators and hear about their first manufacturing experiences.
From complying with the strict guidelines of popular platforms (we’re looking at you, Apple) to passing basic safety and regulatory reviews, most products must undergo several different types of certification. Navigating this process can be confusing and add unnecessary delays if you aren’t prepared.
"We have a shocking number of opaque regulations to negotiate and comply with,” says Emily Brooke, CEO and founder of Blaze, whose line of bike safety products use laser projections to alert drivers to cyclists’ presence. “Having launched on Kickstarter, we were global overnight, shipping to nearly sixty countries,” she explains. “This was fantastic, but required us to comply with all those different countries’ legislation."
We’ll hear from experts and experienced creators like Emily about how you can anticipate these requirements from the start, expedite the process, and make sure you’re not caught off guard just as you’re ready to start manufacturing.
If you’re a small startup team, you probably don’t have in-house expertise in every technical area required for manufacturing. That’s where Avnet’s large staff of talented engineers can help. Hardware Studio Toolkit will feature video presentations and tutorials allowing hardware creators to learn about component selection, circuit design, and much more from seasoned field engineers. Creators working on more complex projects can also apply for the Hardware Studio Connection program to benefit from tailored resources and personalized support in finalizing designs and developing manufacturing plans.
Finding success on Kickstarter
Finally, we’ll be sharing tips on how to build an audience and bring your project to life by crafting a great Kickstarter campaign. Members of our Design and Tech team will share their perspectives and lay out best practices through videos and articles to help you get the most out of launching a campaign. We’ll also draw upon the deep wisdom of our community, asking experienced Kickstarter creators to share their stories and advice.
We’re fortunate to be launching Hardware Studio with an article by Eric Migicovsky, founder of Pebble and visiting partner at Y Combinator. He touts the importance of testing a minimum viable product, maintaining close contact with your users, and visiting factories in person to see how things are made. He writes, “The most rewarding feeling in the world is seeing someone out in public using a product that you helped make. If you’re working on hardware, I hope you’ll get a chance to feel it. It makes it all worth it.”
We share this hope, and want to see you bring your most ambitious ideas to life. It’s why we’ve teamed up with Avnet and Dragon Innovation to create Hardware Studio and make the process of developing a product easier. So get ready to dive in. Browse Toolkit. Sign up to receive updates. And when you’re ready to take the next step and get some expert help with manufacturing, apply to Connection.
Illustration by Martina Paukova.