Recently, Elon Musk revealed his plans to take humans to Mars. The highlight of Musk’s colonization announcement was the gargantuan rocket that SpaceX is building to transport hundreds of pioneers more than 30 million miles to Mars. To call this plan to build what Musk calls the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) ambitious is an understatement.
But let’s take a step back to SpaceX’s origins, back to 2002 when SpaceX was first founded. At first, Elon tried purchasing refurbished rockets in Russia but after getting spat on and offered rocket prices that were too expensive, he decided he was going build his own rockets from scratch. And that was the birth of a hardware startup that now employees 5,000 of the world’s smartest and builds the world’s only reusable rockets.
So what’s stopping you from starting a hardware startup? Capital? The time it takes? Or is it that software is easier? Well you’ll be glad to hear that it has never been cheaper, quicker or easier to get a hardware startup off the ground. 20 years ago, hardware startups were almost non-existent. You couldn’t purchase off-the-shelf modules with pre-built functionalities and you had to invest time in writing low-level code to control silicon. Today, we have access to several forms of rapid prototyping tools and contract manufacturing has become more popular.
Plus, you have access to The Garage and all of its tools. You have the opportunity to contribute to innovation in the autonomous vehicle, space exploration, and manufacturing industries (amongst other hardware industries).
But, avoid the most common mistake hardware startups make: do not build too much, especially very early on. Unless you are SpaceX and every line of code and piece of hardware in your rocket has to work perfectly, you need minimize product features and number of different products you build/sell. Every feature you add to a hardware product creates an exponential amount of work which delays product release and increases the time it takes to put the product in the hands of your customers to collect feedback.
Really understand the pain that your product is meant to relieve and translate that into essential features that facilitate that relief. Building simple products not only quickens product development and design iteration on your end, but also streamlines how users interact with your product.
So for my next blog post, I will put together a highlight reel of hardware startups that have mastered building products with only essential features, and hopefully that inspires you to do the same.