Everything is Hard, Not Just Hardware (via Bilal Zuberi)

Bilal Zuberi, hardware investor at Lux Capital, my friend and occasional sparring partner, just published a post on why Hardware is Hard. While I don’t disagree that building a hardware company is challenging, I think doing ANYTHING interesting is challenging. I strongly believe it’s our job as hardware advocates to motivate entrepreneurs to start hardware companies to affect the kind of change they want to see in the world.

Bilal’s post has some great advice for founders but I don’t think the advice is exclusive to those building hardware. Here’s the meat of Bilal’s post with a few alterations to illustrate that his words of caution apply not just to hardware startups, but to any startup:

SOFTWARE is hard. Know it, accept it. Don’t be afraid, but by excelling at it turn it into a moat for your company.
Don’t promise too many features in your product. Keep it simple (and do-able), wow your core audience before a broad market, and expand in future iterations. Learn to get to market first before dominating. [NO CHANGES, GOOD ADVICE!]
ALL STARTUPS take time and money. Don’t underestimate. Don’t fool yourself, your teams, or your customers. Even Apple, Samsung, Nest realize that.
Hire MARKETING expertise early in your company, not when you start realizing shit is hitting the fan. This is especially true if even early USER GROWTH has to be produced at some scale to have decent gross margins. Scale up and GROWTH talent is harder to come by than you might think.
Don’t promise a PUBLIC LAUNCH date until quite sure of it. Market does not forgive easily, and it is infinitely distracting (and problematic) when negative rumors start circulating in the zeitgeist about your startup.
Build a strong investment syndicate early. Celebrity investors, high net worth individuals etc sound fun, but they often can’t (and won’t) give you another year of runway when you might need it badly. [NO CHANGES, GOOD ADVICE!]
Just like a CEO should ‘always be recruiting’, she should also ‘always be fundraising’. Companies go out of business because they run out of money. Don’t be that person. [NO CHANGES, GOOD ADVICE!]

In Summary

Lots of things are hard, you just pick your type of hard. Making broad generalizations about hardware (or software, or AI, or anything) is pretty tough to do well but I’d venture to say that building any strong company is difficult, regardless of sector. My conviction about hardware companies are built around the specific teams, products and markets they are in, rather than the space itself:

  • Some hardware problems are exceptionally hard. Some aren’t.
  • Some software problems are exceptionally hard. Some aren’t.
  • Some hardware startups do take more money and expertise than software startups. Some don’t.
  • Some hardware startups really are software wrapped in plastic. Some aren’t.

Yes, building a hardware startup is challenging. But if you want to build a physical product, do it! There’s no better feeling than seeing an idea go into the physical hands of users.

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