In the lead-up to Batch #5 of Hardware.co (startups apply here by January 4!) we’ll be interviewing the makers, movers and shakers among our alumni and community. This time, we’re talking to Senic, a Hardware.co alumnus making waves in the world of IoT.
With a legion of diehard backers earned through two stellar crowdfunding campaigns, international design awards, and their smart home controller Nuimo now available to purchase on Amazon, we figured Senic would have a life lesson or two for other hardware startups out there! We sat down with Teshia from the team to pick her brain – here’s what we found out!
Swiss army or bread knife? On designing for usability vs. flexibility in IoT.
You’re the creators of Nuimo, a smart home controller that’s not only a clever piece of hardware, but an award-winning design object with a form that’s as elegant as the hand motions users perform to use the object. What do you see as the most important principles in of interaction design for IoT devices?
When we design new products, we turn to a lot of universal design principals to guide development. A concept that’s particularly important in the current IoT market is the usability/flexibility tradeoff. Basically, when you’re designing a tool and there’s a high level of uncertainty about what situation it’ll be used in, you optimize your design for flexibility. Think of this as the swiss army knife option – put everything into your tool so that it works well for the greatest number of situations.
On the other hand, if you’re designing for a specific situation, you design a more usable tool that is less flexible. Think about this as the bread knife scenario. This trade-off of usability vs. flexibility is always present, and it definitely reflects how many companies are responding to IoT at the moment – they’re designing for flexibility. When it comes to IoT, this usually means the ultimate swiss army knife tool: The smartphone.
As we learn more about how people adopt smart solutions for their homes and what their needs are we can begin to build less flexible and more usable interfaces – like Nuimo. These interfaces won’t do everything in the world – but they will do a highly selected set of tasks really, really well. In the end, you can use either the butter knife or swiss army knife for the same task, but one works a lot better. We designed Nuimo to be the fastest, simplest way to access your smart speakers or lights – in short, it’s highly usable for specific tasks, making it exactly what you need in that moment.
Outsourced or home-grown? On making manufacturing work for you.
All of our founders have experience manufacturing in Asia and we openly say that it really depends on your product whether you should keep production in Europe, Asia or anywhere else. For us, since we are making a product at a fairly high price point and in small batches, we found that there wasn’t a massive cost difference for us to go to China.
However, this could be a different story if we were producing millions of devices instead of thousands. The other main benefit is that we can oversee each individual part of the process – learning and optimizing along the way. Because we’re talking directly to the guy in Munich producing the acrylic top surface or the people on the electronics assembly line we can ensure a level of quality in our first product.
First users, community and customer insights: Doing crowdfunding right.
Crowdfunding has been central to building our company. I think many people mistake crowdfunding for just a way to get money – but in reality it’s so much more. First, crowdfunding isn’t just free money. Once you finish the campaign, you owe your community your product. It’s basically debt that you need to pay back. Beyond that, it creates this amazing community of people who can help propel you forward not only financially, but also as your first users who are highly interested in your team and product.
For us, we take our relationship with our backers (and now our regular customers) really, really seriously. We send out surveys to them sometimes and can easily get a few hundred responses in an hour – this kind of feedback is a goldmine for early-stage hardware startups. Without our backers, we wouldn’t have the quality of product that we do. Many parts of the product they have helped design along with us telling us their biggest needs, frustrations and wishes for their smart home.
We recommend crowdfunding for all hardware startups, but only if they have the right type of product, they are prepared to interact with their backers regularly and they can deliver on their promises. If you’re not in that position – backers can quickly go from your biggest supporters to your worst enemies – especially if you can’t deliver and you aren’t honest with them.
Making your team worth the risk: On getting accepted to top accelerators.
While the product itself is of course important, it’s also vital that you’ve gathered a great founding team and first employees that can make what you’re pitching a reality. Accelerators, particularly those that are prestigious or invest into their startups, know very well that they’re taking a risk on you. It’s much easier for them to take that risk if you first, have a good product that will (probably) work. Second, have a killer team that will make something else work. Pivots happen a lot, but great teams will land on an idea if given enough time and space. I think thats where most accelerators want to place their bets.