My Journey In Building A Hardware Product (#1, from inception to MVP)
No doubt, Woogie is the biggest adventure in my entire life. In August 2015 I started building a hardware product with global ambitions, a voice/AI enabled educational companion for children.
At that time I didn’t have even a name for it. Firstly it was a code-name, DAK (Digital Assistant for Kids). Then was JaBoo, then Oogie, then Tatum and finaly it became Woogie, the uber-cool name that defines our product and our culture.
Let the name evolve with the product. Don’t stuck on the name in the development phase.
The very first step was to outline what the product is. And what is not.
I just opened this document today, two years after I finished. Honestly, I was surprised to see how close to what I defined in the early days we still are. And not because we didn’t change lot of things during the time, but because I drafted a vision, not the product itself.
- Is NOT a toy
- Is NOT a replacement for real life interactions.
- Is NOT a smartphone or an app.
- IS a communication enabler
- IS a companion, not a substitute for friends or family
- IS a children-friendly device, created and developed for kids
Now, looking back, I know that was our first smart move — to blueprint what the product is and what isn’t, to outline the target market and the competition before write any line of code.
Create an internal product manifesto, draft a vision. Outline the product and key aspects of the business before invest a penny into development.
But, when you define the product, define it from the user point of view. Describe benefits not features. Find reasons why somebody should use it, ask people and discuss with anybody open to have a coffee with you. Go in the field and meet the potential customers.
Focus on benefits, not on features. People buy products, not technlogies.
Any product is emerging from an idea. An idea that comes from one mind only.
You can shape ideas into brainstormings, but always, there will be a main owner, The Man Behind. The Entrepreneur. Consequently there is one single person that has the total initial ownership.
But you can’t build anything alone. So, you need a co-founder.
Oana is the first person I discussed with about the product. She still is my main partner and, proposing her to be part of this journey, was the best decision I ever made. Thank you Oana for being part of this.
Find a partner, somebody to sail the ship with you. Choose carefully.
We built a working prototype very fast. We’d validated the technology and the market demand on the same time. In two months we had the first investment pitch, the first demo and a three people team.
The prototype wasn’t a fancy piece of technology as you maybe expect, we just used on-the-shelf solutions, both hardware and software — a $49 Raspberry Pi and a free connection to api.ai (later aquired by Google), but was enough to demonstrate our use case and show something to people around.
Build a basic prototype with the key features as fast as you can. Get out from the lab, show it to everyone.
Next step, face your users and customers.
Building a product for children is more complicated than everything. Not only that the kids are the most demanding users on the Planet Earth, but also we had to deal with two diffrent stakeholders: kids and parents, users and customers. And we had to make the product relevant for both of them. Two different selling propositions, two different feature sets, two different mindsets.
I’m the proud parent of two: my daughter is now 13 and my son 8. Both of them in the target. Actually, to be totally honest, I started this project thinking to their needs and passions.
Being relevant for your target-market is one of the most important things in building any kind of product. But is not enough to be a parent or to be a potential customer. You don’t solve just your own problem, you have to address a broad problem.
Conduct user-interviews, expose the prototype to users, talk, ask, evaluate. Over and over again.
In May 2016, 9 months after first draft, we were preparing for a small production series. Woogie’s MVP, The Minimum Viable Product.
Working on the same time on server-side software platform, embedded and product/industrial design was not an easy task. You need a rocket-power drive and an organisational culture. Yes, we are a team of aliens building an extraterrestrial product for human children.
Build an organisational culture. Even for small teams, is crucial to have not only a vision and a mission, but be part or something meaningful.
In August 2015 we started to manually build 25 beta-Woogies. It was maybe the most exciting and emotional moment in our journey. To see and hold the product, to literally touch our one year long work was something beyond words. Actually, this is the beauty and the uniqueness of building a hardware product.
We manually injected resin into a cheap and rough silicone tooling. Then we mounted the PCBs, screens, microphones and all the electronics inside and voila, 25 beta-testing units ready to use. Ready to be tested in real conditions by real users.
Beta testing is crucial. You learn not only if the product is relevant and how actually is used, but you can plan a real go-to-market strategy.
About Woogie’s go-to-market and launch soon, in my next post.