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Session Name: From Design to Doorstep: Bridging the World of Ideas and the World of Products
Ideas and the World of Products. Please welcome Brady to the stage.
Hey, I’m Brady Forrest and a lot of you know me from my software and days at O’Reilly. You’re probably surprised that I’m now running a hardware incubator – Highway1 is its name. But actually, I’ve been doing hardware for a long time. I built a car back in 2004. It’s kind of a round car with three wheels, it would spin in place, and it didn’t run for very long and it was mostly aimed at the desert, but we had a great lighting system. Unfortunately, it took us a lot of work to make that car for Burning Man and the $15,000 that we spent on it that it ran for three hours, didn’t really pay off. It would’ve been a lot easier if we’d have had a lot of the tools that we have today. Software like GitHub and Upverter to collaborate Arduino, and we wouldn’t have had to make our own microcontroller, MicroBot for prototyping, and we wouldn’t have had to build out of our own shop. We could have just gone to TechShop, what I consider the hardware aficionado’s local IDE. I’m not going to say that prototyping is solved, but prototyping is certainly attainable by anybody who would like to kind of delve into hardware.
The other thing we were missing was money. There are a lot of avenues for folks to get money these days, and I think you’ve seen these crowd funding sites where folks can put up their prototypes that they’ve done with Arduino and made on MakerBot, and then raise money to build thousands of them. However, that ends up with another problem for them. They now have to ship 10,000 of those things. I’m glad that I didn’t have to do that for my car.
That brings us to the second trend that’s happening right now around hardware. This crowd funding brings dollars, but it also brings a lot of pain. At Highway1 we’re trying to help companies deal with this pain. People who have ideas, who have prototypes but don’t know how to actually scale, come to us and we teach them how to do that. We’re backed by PCH, which is a large supply chain manufacturing company in Shenzhen that handles tens of millions of skews a day, $10 billion worth of products a year. And so we take their expertise and share it with the companies, and we bring them to our space in the mission.
Right now I’m running my first class. I’m on week five and I’ve got 11 teams, approximately about 32 people from all over the world, all different types of backgrounds, and with a variety of different types of products, but all with one thing, which is they need to make a lot of them. Our medical device company will want to ship 10,000 next year and 30,000 the following year. But starting out as just prototypes, they don’t know how to do that, it’s kind of a dark art. And so what I’m going to share with you now is what I’ve learned from watching these startups just in the past five weeks.
One is that prototyping is just the beginning, and I think the hardest lesson for these startups to take on is that the prototype that they walked in the door with is not good enough for them to actually take to a plant and have made. There are many steps along the way to actually turn your prototype into a product. We take companies at the very beginning of this step that have built their first one or two products, know how to make their more complicated subassemblies, but haven’t fully integrated them together yet. But they don’t understand how they’re going to move their prototype into production by starting to replicate the manufacturing techniques that they’ll use by switching from using a 3D printer to actually using a CNC. So they see how the factories might mold the parts with injection molding.
And then finally, they haven’t even begun to think about how they’ll actually distribute these products, because that type of scale requires rigor, and that’s something that prototyping doesn’t teach you. It’s easy to make one of something, and it’s possible to make 10, and with enough friends, pizza and beer you might even be able to make 200. But to make 10,000 and have them not ship back to you takes a lot of skill and rigor and thought.
When we first started out, I thought that our teams would be simple. You’d need a hacker who knew how to develop for IOS and Android and build your web stack. You’d have a hustler who is out there making business deals, and you’d have a designer who figured out the user experience. And I’d gotten these ideas from Dave McClure except I added one more – the maker, the person who’s adding hardware. I think that team works – those four sets of skills work for prototyping. But when you come and you want to do your next 10,000, suddenly that maker blows out and you actually need a mechanical engineer, you need a Double E and you’d need firmware. These are skills that the typical prototyper doesn’t have until suddenly they realize they need broader teams to come together, more diverse.
Software is very different from hardware. Hardware just takes a lot longer. With a piece of software, especially on the web, I can update my website in less than a day. With hardware, I have to get something fabbed. I have to send it out. It takes two weeks to get it back. It takes another two weeks to build, another two weeks to test. So it’s a seven-week turnaround time and that’s something that hardware will never escape.
We’re taking these companies to China, to Shenzhen specifically, so they can tour things like the electronics markets at Wai-jan Bay, where they can see how these folks have iterated quickly on different devices. When you get things like an Angry Birds phone or a $12 phone that’s glued together with simple buttons but actually does work and has an MP3 player. Where you can get circuits embossed on flexible material that’s tiny and small, and you can picture this on a jacket. And yes, where you can buy your android and iPhone at the same store [chuckles] and still get a latte because manufacturing informs design. As I mentioned before, if you’re relying all the time for prototyping on your 3D printer, you’re not really realizing how the product is going to be made in the factory. You need access to real tools that take skill to drive, so we take them to China to teach them that.
And then finally, it’s important to realize that software still does really matter. Software often defines the user interface that these products will have. The main way that I interact with my Sonos is not with the box that sits on my stereo system, but instead through my iPhone. It needs the hardware to drive the music and power my stereo, but the way I find my favorite Lady Gaga tune is through my iPhone.
So these are the kind of tenents that we’ve been drilling into them, and I’ve been learning along the way as I began this journey. Today I’m pleased to announce that we’re actually opening up our Spring Applications and we’ll be offering up a China-ready curriculum where we teach them how to go from just being prototypers to actually being hardware companies. It’s a four-month program. We take them Shenzhen for two weeks. In fact, I leave on Friday for this class. We have dedicated experienced engineers who are there helping them. So if you want to build hardware or if you know someone who does, please send them to AngelList later today and ask them to apply. The applications will be open till mid-January.
If you don’t want to go into our program, this is a book that I highly recommend you check out – From Concept to Consumer by Phil Baker. It came out back in 2004 and talks about his work in Kodak and Palm and Apple. And for what could be potentially really dry material, it’s a great book, so I recommend it if the hardware bug is itching you.
I’m Brady Forrest, thank you very much.
Hi. I felt like I was on a game show there for a second, that music was kind of fun. All right, we are at our afternoon break. Thank you so much. We have a sponsor workshop from EffectiveUI happening in the screening room in the main room on level 2. Stop by the GigaOM research table, find out what they’re doing there. Break refreshments and snacks are located over in the forum, and General Session will resume at 3:55. Thanks, everybody.