5 Questions to Ask Before Launching a Prototype for Your Hardware Startup

Launching a prototype for a hardware startup is akin to spreading a beta version of the software for prospective clients. It’s an essential step between the idea and product, and this step will primarily affect the chances of your success in the hardware business. The prototype does not only allow you to identify potential problems with mass production. It gives you an opportunity to improve the product’s design further.

However, the successful development of a prototype requires making some important decisions. The most important of them are determining the type of the prototype, the differences it will have from the final product, the costs involved, and the goals you can achieve with it.

1. What are you trying to achieve with the prototype?

Usually, the answer to this question is to impress your clients by showing them exactly what they’re paying for. However, you might also develop prototypes to test equipment performance or try to find ways to improve it.

Investors would require an entirely functional pre-launch copy of the product. It must be perfect and match the future mass production design completely. If you need a “working prototype,” you can skimp off a bit. Only focus on ensuring the best performance so you can find ways to improve it.

In case you use a prototype as a part of your pitch, you’ll be promoting your business model as well as the product itself. You can study some business model samples to get inspiration for your own.

2. Where will you build the prototype?

Launching a prototype for a hardware startup can be expensive, so choose the manufacturing location with the cheapest rates. Outsourcing to China is one of the most popular options nowadays. Global outsourcing is a $565 billion industry these days with $412 billion of contract electronics manufacturing.

On the average, manufacturing in China is the most cost-efficient option for hardware companies. However, the cost of creating only a handful of prototypes might be higher as compared to mass production. Therefore, be sure to compare the rates in your own country and ones you get through outsourcing with regards to the number of copies. Consider production and delivery times and costs.

3. How much money can you spend on the prototype?

The size of your budget will affect the answer to the previous question as well. 3D printing is often used for developing prototypes today as it’s highly cost-effective. Although, it might not be possible for large-scale hardware production, consider this technology for creating a prototype.

4. How will you learn from this prototype?

When launching a prototype for a hardware startup, you must be prepared to collect and process the data from its use. Depending on what you use the prototype for, consider doing online surveys to get customer opinions or developing a system of functionality and performance tests.

5. Will you be able to afford more prototypes?

Many hardware startups fail at the prototyping stage because when their first attempt fails, their budget doesn’t allow making more. You must plan your finances and deadlines in a way that will leave room for 2-3 prototypes or delays caused by various issues.

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IT manager and independent journalist, designer, entrepreneur and blogger living in Jersey with his dog Soul
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