The world is divided into two kinds of hardware startups…

Dividing The World of Hardware Startups

I was in Paris today for the Hardware Workshop, a creation of hardware wise man Marc Barros (@marcbarros).

My talk (here on slideshare) focused on customer discovery and only a bit on prototyping (Ben Carlu @ Usine.io had already covered a fair share of that).

But before customer development and prototyping, there is the important consideration of whether what you do is a startup or a project.

For those with movie references: “the world is divided in into two kinds of hardware startups.”

1. Those who have a PROBLEM, and those who have a SOLUTION

In other words, are you starting from needs (anywhere there is a complain) or technology? Fresh grads often start from tech, while industry vets start from needs.

Finding a problem for the solution or tech is a creativity exercise, and sometimes you just have a great tech few people need. I love the concept of field photography, but I still don’t see a big need for it.

2. Those who like ART, and those who like BUSINESS

If I was telling you (and proving) “Your team is great; you could build the perfect solution for cow manure treatment. It’s a multi-trillion market!” would you take the advice?

We hear often “find your passion”. Then we hear “pivot”. Should you “pivot your passion”? Every creator has some flexibility but business-minded people definitely have more than artists. Even Lady Gaga and I think Avril Lavigne went through that.

Sometimes the passion comes not from a God-sent mission but from the satisfaction of finding something that works, and finding out how far you can take it.

So at HAX we try to maximize the intersection of “skills + interests + market”. It might mean postponing the grand vision a few years to start with a more pragmatic product, or adjusting the strategy to a different type of market, or first customers. What matters is for founders to identify their “True North”, the thing they really care about and will guide and motivate them on the way.

3. Those who do something BETTER, and those who do something DIFFERENT

Building a new segment in a (big) existing market is much easier than building an entirely new market. In the first case it’s all about switching costs and having a competitive advantage. In the second it’s about user education.

Different is Dangerous, Better is Hard

Different is dangerous because educating a market is a tremendous effort. Often you’re better off starting with a very defined niche who will “get it” right away. Then others will learn from this first segment, ideally an aspirational / influential segment.

Better is hard because you can’t just be a bit better. I won’t buy your thing if it’s 10% faster or 20% cheaper. It has to be multiple times faster, or cheaper, or higher quality, or a better user experience. Think 10x better.

With this in mind, how about the following famous products — were they “better” (new segment in an existing market) or “different” (new market)? Try to figure out as well (1) What market? (2) What was better?

Case #1: The iPod!

Case #2: The iPhone

Case #3: The iPad

Case #4: the GoPro camera

Let me know what you think!

From Paris,

The world is divided into two kinds of people…
…Those who have a rope around their neck and those who have the job of doing the cutting.
…Those who have friends and those who are lonely like poor Tuco.
…Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.

Partner @ SOSV — $700m VC fund for Deep Tech (biology, robotics, etc.) | Digital Naturalist | Keynote Speaker | Angel Investor

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