Having been in the hardware world and built devices I would say that hardware has gotten easier in the last decade but we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that it is as easy as software. Here is why:
- You and your co-founder want to build a software company, you have a bit of programming skill, you have an idea that requires learning a new programming language or a new tool, I would say learn it online in two weeks and get started. You should be fine. Now don’t assume the same approach works for hardware. In fact if you or your cofounder has never built a hardware device and dealt with manufacturing I would say find someone who did. Don’t think you can wing it with some course or a tutorial. Mistakes are very expensive in hardware. You can lose six months in time and six figures in money very quickly.
- Before you decide to build hardware be sure that is the right approach. Take a phone, build a proof of concept, test some key features with a small number of users. Be sure that putting it into the form factor of a custom device is worth it. Fitbit is oft quoted in this article but I bet even they are also having to figure out exactly who would put on that extra device versus use a phone on the app and why.
- Iterations matter: To iterate on hardware and to iterate fast is expensive. If you end up competing with an Apple or a Samsung, for example in case of Pebble, you will realize very soon that you may not be able to keep up the pace of iteration. Those big guys can build a 100 prototypes and throw them away but if you are a Pebble you can’t afford to do even a fraction of that. Eventually the big guys can edge out with an improvement in battery life or power consumption or something that has nothing to do with that cool feature you are building. So be sure how you can win against the those who are second or third to market with that idea.
- Finally, go learn about inventory management and working capital, you might not have needed that for your Saas business but with hardware it matters.