Building a hardtech business is difficult, especially without the right guidance. Here is a list of helpful tips & tricks that any hardtech startup can benefit from, regardless of what stage the business may be in.
Talk to your customers as if you were in their shoes! Don’t
be the saleswoman nor the engineer when talking to your customer. Perfect your
art of open questioning and listen – the less you talk the better. The more
insights you gather, the better.
Don’t rely on friends or family to tell you if your product
idea or concept is good. They will tell you it’s great! You need a deep
interaction with customers to understand their pain points, problems and deep
needs and to validate your product or service concept.
Focus on solving real problems, real pain points. Don’t
assume you know what the problem is or what your so-called customers want. Go
out of the building and find, talk and observe those whom you think have that
Focus on one thing. Customer interviews and observations
will likely uncover multiple problems and pain points. Early success is based
on focus. Focus on that one pain point, deep need. Don’t tackle too many needs
at once – keep them for later.
Be frugal on your validation journey towards a solution. Go
step by step, checking your hypothesis and your assumptions, starting with the
most critical one. Then validate the next assumption, and so on.
Experiment, test and learn from it. You want to limit the
number of variables when you are testing. Don’t go full-in on a prototype
immediately: it will cost you lots of money, time and reputation if you don’t
get it right.
Don’t underestimate building hardtech products: it is
capital-intensive. Find a space where you can use prototyping facilities, where
you get hardware manufacturing advice from seasoned experts. Save your money
for other expenses. You’ll need every penny.
Hardware product development takes time – just accept it.
Don’t assume you can copy-paste the fast development rhythm of software
innovations. So it’s even more important to carefully time the validation
path of your solution.
Don’t try to build everything yourself, don’t think what you
do yourself is better. Being part of a hardtech community will open a network
of entrepreneurs, manufacturers, contractors and alike – accept help from your
Find a place where you are amongst fellow hardtech startups,
where you are part of a community. A community from which you can learn, that
will pull you through difficult moments, that provides a moral compass, that
helps to find a balance between work and life. Don’t be on your own.
Don’t recruit too fast. Contract some of the work initially rather
than recruiting specific skills onto your team – especially if you don’t know
you will need the skill in the long-term. Growing your team too fast is never a
Don’t staff your team with single-minded and same-opinion
folks. It might be easier to agree but you will likely have missed some views.
Ensure you have different disciplines and experiences on your team (or extended
team) – this provides diversity in perspectives.
Find mentors that bring unique expertise and experience that
complements your team’s skill base and build a long-term relationship. Make
clear agreements that you are both in it for the long-term, and that this is
not a one-time thing.
Be creative and explore different business models for your
business – don’t stop and pick what you know. Imagine your business being
acquired by a well-known company and apply their business model to yours. What
would that look like?
Find your first pilot customer. Look into your customer
desirability database. Check partners in your ecosystem
where there is shared pain. Find a pilot customer that gives you honest
feedback. And by the way, founders search themselves, they don’t hire sales
Ask your first pilot customer(s) to have some skin in the
game. Ask them a small fee or ask them some return based on the value you are
creating. Don’t assume a pilot customer is fully engaged or committed because
you have them on board.
Try different go-to-market strategies before going all-in on
one. Assess the customer acquisition cost versus the customer’s lifetime value
– you want to get CAC smaller than LTV in order to scale profitably.
Use the unfair advantage that corporate partners can offer
you, such as access to their suppliers, partners, customer channels, etc. It
will help you to kickstart and even more so help you when scaling. But don’t
tailor your product or service uniquely to them – you want to serve multiple
Don’t over-promise or over-sell your solution. Rather,
under-promise and over-deliver. It makes a world of difference for
your customer - and your team!
Be mindful of yourself, not just of your team. Building and
scaling a business is tough and stressful on all fronts: professional, personal
and emotional. You will be there for your team and help them. But don’t forget
yourself: try to carve out personal time – use relaxation, mediation or
Build a pitch that tells your startup’s story. What is the
problem you are solving, what is that unique solution and approach you are
taking, how you will make money, and what is the ask to investors. Don’t just
When pitching take that additional step: show your audience
a demo of your prototype or product. Let the product sell itself.
Network yourself into the investor community. Use peers to
introduce you, join organizations where investors show up, join an incubator or
accelerator that opens their network. Don’t do it on your own. Don’t cold call
or email, it is a long process.
Does this sound like a lot of advice? Consider joining an incubator, accelerator program, company builder or startup studio that can guide you in starting up and scaling
up your business from zero to success. These groups open their ecosystem of coaches, mentors,
corporate partners and investors to you that you can't access on your own. Final point: just don’t try and do it on your own.
Thierry Van Landegem is the Executive Director of mHUB’s hardtech accelerator. He has a broad experience in setting up news businesses within corporations and launching startups. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.