Hardware Startups and the Importance of “Going Local”

“Build for people, not for makers only — even if it’s tempting” is a quote from Sifteo’s David Merrill. For hardware startups, that mantra should ring loud and clear and the key to building for people is in makers’ ability to be nimble, test, iterate, and listen. All fine and great in theory but when you introduce a physical product prototyped and manufactured overseas into the mix, execution is a nearly insurmountable hurdle for timely launch. So how can you strike the balance when you know that getting a beta product out there as soon as possible and keeping it out there as long as possible is paramount to success? At Notion, as all decisions are made purposefully in an effort to produce a truly GREAT experience from from out-of-box all the way to end-of-life, we recognized early on that our ability to build for people meant that prototyping and manufacturing locally, to start, was critical.

Overseas manufacturing is tempting on many levels but the reward, especially for a startup running an initial production launch is miniscule. One of the best decisions we’ve made at Notion is to build our hardware locally off-the-bat. It’s allowed us to stay on the ball for all aspects of development from board design, coexistence of radios, supply chain, assembly processes, compliance, testing/firmware flashing, packaging, lead times, and more. In the midst of all the challenges in bringing a product to life, we’ve been no more than an hour away from our contract manufacturers meaning we can learn quickly and effectively.

The opportunity costs of overseas manufacturing before the product is completely understood in all aspects of development can be heavy. The entire cost savings on a production run from producing overseas can be mitigated by shipping costs alone if the product has to to go air instead of ocean. Not to mention there will be mass time spent traveling and helping with ramp-up.

Most importantly though, the loss of flexibility. Need a different UV-cured epoxy instead of the single-part plan you had before? Need an adjustment on your test fixture to ensure a radio is functioning as intended? What about cosmetic specs? RoHS declaration? Safety? Compliance? First article runs? The list goes on.

A unicorn of a company won’t be doing just one production run. Why try to save on the initial launch at the expense of the product’s experience? Learn what you need to from a local run and let that be the catalyst for a smooth transition overseas. Spend every moment possible testing, iterating, asking questions, and listening. Flexibility is the key to initial success.

By Ryan Margoles

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Originally published at Notion Blog.