The Hardware Startup

date Jul 16, 2017
authors DiResta, Renee; Forrest, Brady; Vinyard, Ryan
reading time 3 mins

Building software company is much easier now

Building a software startup has been largely templatized over the last five years. Free tools enable entrepreneurs to rapidly build, collaborate, deploy, and pivot. There is an extensive network of mentors and thought-leader bloggers sharing advice rooted in their own experience.

Changes in hardware field

Significant changes have taken place in the last two years. The decreasing cost of prototyping is lowering the barriers to entry and making it more feasible to develop a physical product within economic constraints.

Maker movement

The maker movement has had a profound influence on the hardware-startup ecosystem. Defined by three characteristics curiosity, creativity, and community it emphasizes project-based learning, learning by doing, and sharing knowledge with others. Experimentation is important. Having fun is a priority.

Hobbyist –> entrepreneurs

Over the past five years, we’ve begun to witness the emergence of maker pros : entrepreneurs who started out as hobbyists and now want to turn their creations into full-fledged companies.

Prototype != Product

The difference between a project and a product is the difference between making one and making many . To turn a project into a company, the product has to be scalable. “Making many” has traditionally been a problem of cost and accessibility; it’s historically been both expensive and difficult to manufacture.

Sharing projects online

Web-based communities such as Instructables and Thingiverse are geography-agnostic; they enable people around the world to share projects online and learn from others. Sometimes

Requirements for a company

To turn a project into a company still requires navigating fundraising, inventory management, distribution, customer service, and more.

Comparison to the web or computer era

Dale Dougherty compares this progression from makers to entrepreneurs to a similar phenomenon that happened in the early days of the Web: Early on, most people were creating websites because they could. At some point, people said, hey, there’s a way to make money from this I’m not building websites; I’m building a way to make money.


Most hardware startups make products that fall into one of four sub connected devices, personal sensor devices, robotics, and designed products.

Connected device

The term connected device broadly refers to a device that has a cellular, WiFi, or other digital connection but is not a cell phone or personal computer.

Capturing data by humans vs machines

Ashton recognized that most of the data on the Internet was gathered or created by humans: Conventional diagrams of the Internet…leave out the most numerous and important routers of all people. The problem is, people have limited time, attention, and accuracy all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. And that’s a big deal.

Internet of Things

The broad vision for the Internet of Things is a world in which objects connect to the Internet and transmit state information without human involvement. It’s quickly becoming a reality.

Control or modify via the Internet

Internet of Things objects use networked sensors to generate data, which is then analyzed by other machines. The objects themselves can in turn be modified or controlled remotely.


The Unimate was a large stationary box with a movable arm, but it did important work that was too dangerous for humans. Since the Unimate, robots have changed industry in three primary ways: Their accuracy, consistency, and precision have improved product quality. Their ability to do work that humans shouldn’t, or can’t, has made manufacturing safer. Their cost relative to value particularly when factoring in increased productivity has fundamentally altered the bottom line of many companies.


Sensor technologies have enabled tactile, auditory, and visual input processing. Interaction experts are working to perfect the user experience of interfacing with robots.

Hardware founders also have to be aware of regulatory issues, be familiar with the intellectual property (IP) and patents landscape, and understand the technological limitations of a potential design before they even approach a factory.