Over the past five years, there has been an explosion in hardware startups thanks to dramatically lower cost components driven by Google/Apple’s innovations in the smartphone space; the maturing of powerful technology such as computer vision, machine learning and 3D printing; and an on-demand supply chain which has significantly reduced the up-front fixed costs expenses required to build a prototype.
When we funded Kiva Systems (goods-to-person ecommerce material handling solution) back in 2004, there were only one or two handfuls of hardware startups a year funded by venture capital. However, in 2018, when we led the A round into Vention, there was an entire ecosystem of hardware startups, incubators, and seed funds.
Despite this renaissance of new hardware startups, the foundational software tooling for designing and building hardware has not kept up. The majority of tools in areas such as CAD, eCAD (or EDA), and PLM were developed in the 1980s and 1990s without the benefit of native cloud support, collaboration, and multi-party workflows.
In contrast, over the course of the last decade, we’ve seen a sea change in how modern software is built and deployed. This revolution has been enabled by a new set of tools that serve as the backbone of modern software development. Centralized software repositories (Gitlab, Github), collaboration tools (Asana, Trello, Wrike), process management (Jira), continuous integration and deployment (CircleCI, Bamboo) are among the many innovations that have transformed software development from a cottage industry to an efficient, highly scalable operation leveraging distributed teams around the world.
But the time is now for this to change in the world of hardware development. We believe this wave of hardware innovation will drive the creation of modern software tooling for hardware which is why we are so excited to be investing in the seed round of Flux.
Flux.ai + BCV
Today we are announcing our seed investment in Flux alongside the Outsiders Fund and our friends Lenny Rachitsky and Anne Raimondi.
Flux is the world’s first browser-based tool for circuit design that provides for native collaboration and direct integration to parts distributors and PCB manufacturers. The solution is distributed through a bottom-up self-serve model and has seen fantastic uptake and usage among small hardware teams across a range of companies, including some of the largest manufacturers in the world.
We are thrilled to be backing Flux founders Matthias Wagner, Lance Cassidy and Chris Blank, who bring deep domain expertise in both hardware and modern software from their experiences at Cruise, Facebook, Siemens, Apple, and NASA. While the founders have seen the problem first-hand working at hardware companies, the inspiration for starting the company came from their frustrations in building hardware for their Burning Man camp!
Over the course of the spring we spent time with Matthias, understanding his team’s vision, why past attempts had failed, and why the timing and approach of Flux made sense. We came away from each of those interactions with even more conviction that Matthias and his team were on the right track.
As we’ve seen in so many categories, modern browser-based solutions designed for collaboration are disrupting massive spaces dominated by legacy solutions. Figma is the classic example in design, but this is a universal phenomenon sweeping across every category such as note taking (Notion, Roam), calendaring (Calendly, Clockwise), data science (Noteable, Prequel), presentations (Beautiful.ai, Pitch) and mapping (Felt).
The world of eCAD is no different with multiple $10B+ market cap companies, and we fundamentally believe that Flux represents the future of how modern teams will design and build hardware.