Lessons Learned From Hardware Missteps
In developing the hardware for Bevi, Sean’s team learned a few important lessons.
First off, they learned that forecasting cost is extremely difficult.
Sean’s advice for others is to plan for the higher estimate, rather than the lower end of the scale so that you’re prepared for any worst-case scenarios.
Invest in Quality from Day One
Secondly, they learned the importance of investing in quality early on.
Sean and his team made the mistake of waiting too long to document failure modes and share the data with their contract manufacturers and suppliers. Consequently, they weren’t as effective in diagnosing issues.
Sean’s recommendation: invest in your feedback loop early on so that you can take full advantage of connecting lessons learned back to the product development life cycle.
2 Tips for Navigating the Contract Manufacturer Relationship
Speaking of contract manufacturers, Sean has two tips for managing that relationship.
- When searching for a contract manufacturer, hire someone to lead the search who has done it before.
- When evaluating potential partners, aim to be a big fish in a small pond.
The size of your company plays an important role in choosing the right partner. If you work in a large company that spends millions of dollars manufacturing products, you’ll have contract manufacturers begging to work with you. If you’re one of those lucky ones, the process of selection is all about reviewing proposals and deciding which partner is the right fit.
But if you’re a startup, you probably have little to no revenue. Keeping that in mind, contract manufacturers would be taking a pretty significant risk to work with you. So, the process involves selling them on why you’d make a valuable investment.
That’s why it’s important for the person heading up the contract manufacturer search to have experience working with startups.
Share of Support
The reason why it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond with regard to contract manufacturers lies in the fact that you’ll get more attention if you take up a larger share of their business.
If you share a contract manufacturer with, say, Apple, guess who’s going to get the lion’s share of support and attention.
Core Competencies vs Outsourcing
At the outset, Sean and his team did nearly everything themselves. But as time went on, it became clear that they would need to start outsourcing certain functions to external partners.
“That’s where we had to get serious about core competencies,” says Sean. “If we’re going to invest like 20-30% of our company budget in one area, that better be our own core competency.”
Besides thinking about core competencies from a budget mindset, Sean also thinks about it from the perspective of iteration frequency.
If it’s something that’s going to be a one-off design that isn’t heavily integrated into the rest of what their team is doing, Sean believes those functions are great candidates for outsourcing.
“If it’s something that requires tons of ongoing iteration,” he says, “it makes sense for us to own it just because of the frequency of iteration and the level of interaction with our other development work.”
Design and Brand
One major area that remains a core competency for Sean and his team is brand — but not in the way that most companies look at it. Bevi doesn’t really invest in advertising. What they do invest in is the quality of the user experience itself and that’s what they are building their brand around.
“Essentially what we’re trying to do,” says Sean, “is really create this product that’s best in class — that just relies on excellent engineering — and build a brand around it because it becomes extremely difficult to imitate unless you can outdo our years of engineering.”
IoT data plays a major role in making that a reality.
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