Maker Mind MelD Summit
John Teel: 15 Steps to Develop Your New Electronic Hardware Product
In this presentation, John reviews the 15 steps necessary to go from an initial product idea to a product ready for mass production. He discusses the initial market research, upfront cost estimations, product design process, and prototyping.
This presentation is aimed at anyone that wishes to bring a new electronic product to the market. It covers both the entrepreneurial and technical aspects of the process. John includes the development of the electronics as well as the development of the product’s enclosure.
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About the speaker
John Teel is an electronics design engineer, serial entrepreneur, blogger, and the founder of Predictable Designs and the Hardware Academy. He is also an ARM Innovator and currently specializes in helping entrepreneurs and startups to develop and launch new electronic hardware products successfully.
As a senior design engineer at Texas Instruments (TI), John designed dozens of highly successful electronic microchips. His chip designs can be found in all kinds of popular electronic devices, including some from Apple and Intel. In fact, you almost certainly own several products with TI microchips inside, and most likely a product or two with one of John’s chip designs.
Before starting Predictable Designs, John founded a hardware startup that developed and manufactured a consumer lighting device. The product was sold in hundreds of retail locations across multiple countries. In addition to developing the product, he also oversaw manufacturing in Asia, marketing, trade shows, logistics, financing, and sales. John had, at one point, a team of over 20 sales representatives across the U.S. selling the product.
Peter Dalmaris: Hi, and welcome to this Special Makeup Masterclass. In this Masterclass, John Teel will review the 15 steps necessary to go from an initial electronic project idea to having a product ready for mass production.
Peter Dalmaris: I'm Peter Dalmaris, an online educator and maker, author of Maker Education Revolution, and founder at Tech Explorations. My mission is to help people learn electronics, programing, printed circuit board design, and lots more. Most importantly, I want to help as many people as possible to enjoy the technology education adventures.
Peter Dalmaris: In this session, I'm excited to welcome John Teel. John is an electronics design engineer, serial entrepreneur, blogger, and the founder of Predictable Designs and The Hardware Academy. As a senior design engineer at Texas Instruments, John designed dozens of highly successful electronic microchips. His chip designs can be found in all kinds of popular electronic devices, including some from Apple and Intel.
Peter Dalmaris: Now, John specializes in helping entrepreneurs and startups successfully develop and launch new electronic hardware products. Before Predictable Designs, John founded a hardware startup that developed and manufactured a consumer lighting device, which was sold across many countries. John not only developed the product, but also oversaw its manufacturing in Asia, as well as the marketing, tradeshow appearances, logistics, financing, and a team of 20 sales representatives across the U.S.
Peter Dalmaris: John has also written for leading publications including Make, All About Circuits, Hackster, Seed, and Entrepreneur.com. And was named as an innovator by ARM.
Peter Dalmaris: So, John, thank you so much for joining me today and for preparing this presentation for us. How are you?
John Teel: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me here, Peter. I'm excited.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah, me too. It's my pleasure. This is, like, a topic that I've always wondered about. As I was saying earlier, I've done software product development in the past. I wonder how different it is to developing hardware and then mass manufacturing and selling it. So, how different is the process between software product and taking it to market, and a hardware product and taking it to market, and in particular an electronic hardware product?
John Teel: Yes. Well, neither are easy. I mean, no type of business is easy, whether that's software or hardware. But there's a reason for the expression. Hardware is hard, because it is. It's got a whole set of different challenges than releasing a software product.
John Teel: So, you have issues with, you know, you have to do prototypes and it requires a lot more engineering. And then, you have to eventually scale it up to manufacturing, and pay for inventory, and deal with logistics and shipping and warehousing. So, there's a whole other set of variables required to bring a hardware product to market, and that's obviously what I'm going to be going through in our talk today.
Peter Dalmaris: It's like, I guess, we are misled a little bit by how easy it is to do prototyping these days with platforms like the Arduinos, and high level languages, and lots of instructions. And we think that it's all the way to the market, if I understand it [inaudible].
John Teel: Yeah. It's easier now than it's ever been to bring a product to market. But it's still far from easy, and it does give people a little bit of false sense of how easy it can be thinking that, "Well, I've got my Arduino prototype working, and now I just need to find a manufacturer and start making these." But it's not that simple. It's rarely feasible to bring Arduino embedded in your product to mass manufacturing, I mean, there are exceptions.
John Teel: But, in general, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, those are great for, like, a proof of concept early prototype to test the market, get feedback. But it's not going to be something you're going to mass produce and bring to market. Primarily, the big reason is cost. Obviously, if you're embedding another product and if it's already gone through an entire distribution chain, then that's going to drive up the price of your product.
John Teel: So, in most cases, it will require a custom design PCB. Everything is fully custom, and I can touch on that. There are some cases where you'll want to use a module, most likely for like a wireless function, so just to simplify the certifications required. So, that's a real common thing that you'll have a full custom design, but then you'll embed modules for some of the more complex functions. Arduino, that's a great place to learn, but it's rarely the solution you'll bring to market.
Peter Dalmaris: Exactly. I think the Raspberry Pi modules have made popular the concept of embedding the whole module, especially the Zero, with not much more to it.
John Teel: The Zero, especially. And I have plenty of people that they'll see the Zero and they're like, "Oh." I don't know the cost now, but they were, like, $10 or something ridiculously cheap. Well, sort of you have to remember, Raspberry Pi is a nonprofit and they're priced that cheap. You can never buy them in volume or even manufacture your own board as cheap as that Zero is. So, that definitely can give you a false sense. You can maybe get a couple of those for $10.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah, you can't source the volume.
John Teel: But the last time I checked, you couldn't source them for any type of significant volume.
Peter Dalmaris: There you go. Good point. Well, I can't wait to hear what you have to say, so the floor is yours.
John Teel: Okay. Let's jump in. You know, there's a lot of material here, it's 15 steps, but each of these steps I can easily talk hours for. But this is intended to be a broad overview, so I don't want to overwhelm by going into each of these steps for hours on end. I don't think I could talk that long anyways.
John Teel: So, this is going to kind of give you an overview, which is something I'm a real big proponent of, is that, you need to have an overview. You need to understand the big picture of everything that you need to have happen to make this a success. It's not really something that you just jump into without having any type of strategy or knowing what the next steps are, and that's one of the steps that I'll show you that you need to know and you need to have a plan on how you're going to go forward.
Peter Dalmaris: John, sorry to interrupt you here, but before you begin, just to give a bit of context. The process that you're about to show us is something that you actually use yourself and with your clients, right? This is something that you've implemented multiple times for your clients.
John Teel: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. I don't do custom design anymore. But this is the process that I've followed in the past. This is the process a lot of my clients or, a membership program I have, a lot of members will follow this. I've got quite a few people that, you know, have even said that they've printed this out and they use this as like their checklist as they're going through the entire process.
Peter Dalmaris: So, it is battle tested and it works.
John Teel: Yeah. Absolutely. And a lot of this is based on my experience bringing my own product to market as well. So, the technical stuff, that's all my engineering background. But a lot of the business entrepreneurial marketing side of things, that's more from my experience bringing my own product to market. Which is, a lot of that you kind of have to learn by doing. It's not something you can learn [inaudible]. So, this is a combination of those two topics that is sort of my area of specialization is trying to blend technical engineering with entrepreneurship.
Peter Dalmaris: So, I find that we are diverting a little bit from the topic, but I think it's important because it's my experience as well, engineers find the technical aspect of something like designing a new product challenging, and fun, and easy. But anything to do with business and management, that's where things start to become a little hard and not fun.
John Teel: And that's one of my biggest areas I preach about, and I will talk about that, because just as with your audience, I suspect most of them enjoy making things and creating things and doing the engineering, and not so much the marketing. But as I'll discuss further - and no one shoot me for saying this as an engineer - the marketing is really the most important piece.
John Teel: It's like you can create things all day long, but unless the world knows that you've got them and that they want to buy them, then you're just a maker and an inventor, which is great, but you're not going to start a million dollar startup with that way of thinking,
Peter Dalmaris: That is so true. And the other thing is that marketing never ends. Although, you can say that, "Yeah. I'm done with the design. The thing is manufactured. It's in boxes in my warehouse or in my garage." So, that bit is done, but the marketing bit never ends. It's ongoing.
John Teel: Absolutely. And that's what I will tell people, that the initial cost and obstacles, the development, that does eventually end. But the marketing and the logistics and operations and warehousing and all of that, that goes on forever. But most people that I deal with, they get fixated purely on the development side. So, I'm always trying to push people away from over focusing on just the development.
John Teel: Obviously, development is really important. If you don't develop something, you don't have anything to sell. But rarely do I ever run into people that I think are over focusing on the marketing and under focusing on the development of the product. It's usually the other way around. People get fixated on the development and not on the marketing.
John Teel: Because, I think, one of the most important things to keep in mind is there is no value in an idea. All the value is in the execution of that idea. So, if you get sort of fixated on the idea and the product and you're not thinking about the customer in the market, then that's usually a recipe for developing something that no one ends up wanting.
Peter Dalmaris: And execution is the 15 steps you're about to show us?
John Teel: Yeah. Exactly. These are the 15 steps. This assumes you've already had the idea. But, you know, part of these steps and part of what I teach is to make you realize that the idea is only the very, very beginning, and it doesn't have a whole lot of value, just an idea by itself. Everyone has ideas. The key is you have to execute on those ideas to prove that they're a good idea. And then, that's when the idea becomes something of value.
Peter Dalmaris: Okay. So, let's see Step 1.
John Teel: Yeah. So, the first step is to define your product based on the market research that you've done. So, the key phrase in this first step is the market research. Just because you think you have this great idea and you like it, it doesn't mean that the market will. You're just one person. You don't really know what an entire market of people want.
John Teel: So, no matter how excited you are by the idea and how great that you think the idea is, don't skip the initial market research stage, because this is really critical. Before you spend thousands of dollars and years of your life, you really want to do this upfront, market research, to make sure there's a market for your product. You can do this through looking at competitors and other products that are on the market. Or if you have an audience and you can seek feedback from your audience on the product and the features, then that's the critical first step.
John Teel: And then, also, in this first step - even though I don't call this out as a separate step - this is where you can do your Arduino proof of concept prototype so that you may use that prototype to gain some of this initial market research.
John Teel: And once you've researched the market, you've gotten feedback, you have a good idea of the product and what the market wants, then that's where you would define your product, what features is it going to have, how much battery life is it going to have, what's the cost, what do you plan on selling it for, what are the physical size limits.
John Teel: Those types of things you need to define, but they need to be defined based on the market research that you've done, and not just on what you think people want. And that's an easy trap to fall into to think that you like it so everyone else does. And that's usually not always the case.
Peter Dalmaris: I always say that my ideas are amazing. They are fantastic. The best ever. But do other people think the same or is it just me? So, that's when you need to go [inaudible].
John Teel: It's an easy trap to fall into, especially if you have a few friends and family that tell you that it's a great idea. But, in general, you just have to ignore their feedback. It doesn't really count. Friends and family are going to tell you good stuff. You need to seek feedback from honest strangers who will really tell you.
John Teel: And, ultimately, the best market feedback is market feedback where they vote for your product with dollars. Someone can tell you they'll buy your product, they love it, but they'll walk by it in the store about a hundred times and never buy it. So, the best way to prove the product is by getting some money for it.
John Teel: But that's one of the complications with hardware, it's not easy to put out a product that you can begin selling. So, that's one of the advantages of software versus hardware, is, you can kind of whip up an early beta version and start selling that. And that's a little more problematic with hardware. But there are ways around that, like crowdfunding, for instance, is a really good way to get people to validate your product with their money before you actually have the product ready to sell.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. I can see what you're saying, this could take you days to go through the list of 15 items because each one has a lot of depth in it. Like, there's so many different ways to do this product validation based on market research. It's impossible to cover it now. But I guess it depends on a lot of aspects of your design, of the market, of your capabilities.
John Teel: Absolutely. Each of these could be their own course, really. I call it like a roadmap course that loosely kind of follows these same 15 steps where I go into really in depth, where it's hours on each of these steps. There's a lot here, but it can be overwhelming if you try to look at it all at once. So, I think it's good to see a quick overview without getting lost in all the details necessarily of each step.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. That's right. Okay. So, we've done the market research, so what happens next?
John Teel: Okay. So, the next step now that you've defined your product and you've validated it and you know there's a market for it, now you have to understand the big picture of what's coming next. You don't want to just jump in and start making your prototype or getting your patent and you don't really have any idea. "Okay. Well, what's after that?" You can't be discovering each step just as you get to it. You need to have the visibility to see the full picture.
John Teel: Once you have that full picture, you need to identify all the key obstacles and come up with a plan on how you're going to surpass those key obstacles. So, some of the biggest obstacle or the biggest obstacle for most entrepreneurs in startups is money, is getting this done. So, you need to know how much it's going to cost. You need to know how much it's going to cost to develop your product.
John Teel: Or to the point of having a prototype, you're going to need to know how much it's going to cost to scale it from a prototype to manufacturing. Because contrary to popular belief, you don't take a prototype and then just say, "Here, go make a million of these." There's a scaling process you have to go through that, typically, takes as long as it does to develop your prototype.
John Teel: So, you need to know these costs because the scaling costs can be a really big obstacle for a lot of people. Especially if you have a custom enclosure, because now you're using injection molding technology to produce that plastic enclosure. And injection molds cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars each. So, there's a lot of cost in that so you need to know that upfront, so you can have a strategy in place how you're going to fund that.
John Teel: And then, you also need to know how much is your product going to cost to actually manufacture per unit. And you need to understand that so you can understand, "Well, am I going to be able to sell this at my target retail price and make sufficient profit?"
John Teel: So, those are a lot of the big obstacles as, obviously, development and then the cost of all of these, whether that be development, scaling, or the manufacturing itself. So, you have to identify all of these cost obstacles, mostly. But other obstacles as well, how are you going to market the product. So, basically, step two is you have to identify those. I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. So, in Step 2, how detailed do you want to go in order to determine those costs? Are we looking at, like, the biggest costs that you should anticipate or down to some details about parts? For example, how much this chip versus that chip or this button versus that button? Do we want to know about those sort of things here?
John Teel: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the exact chips or components, you know, they're probably not going to impact the development or the scaling cost too much, but they will set your manufacturing cost. Most designers, they will start on the schematic diagram and that's where they select all the components, they start placing the components down.
John Teel: But what I've done in my process is I pulled the component selection out of the schematic to a much earlier step. So, you identify all the components upfront that you want to perform that function. And by doing that, you can more accurately estimate the manufacturing cost to manufacture the product.
John Teel: If you determine it's going to cost you $25 to manufacture, but you're planning on selling them for $30, then that's a big red flag that either you need to drop some features and lower the price or increase your retail price or consider a whole new product. So, I think that's really important to do upfront separately from doing the schematic design.
Peter Dalmaris: Apart from costs, though, just to go back almost full circle what we were discussing earlier with the Raspberry Pi Zero, it's also the availability. So, if you build your prototype on something like that, like the Raspberry Pi Zero, and then you do your step number two, for obstacles in particular, you realize you can only get two of those from your retailer or from your supplier.
John Teel: Yeah. That's a big part. The why I think it needs to be pulled out separately because the component selection is such a critical part. If it gets done as part of the schematic, then I find the component selection is done purely based on technical performance.
John Teel: Because if it's an engineer, you know, "I want this part, it performs the best" or "I like this part. I've used it." But not always are they giving consideration to cost or availability. So, those are key things that you need to consider. So, that's why I think it's best to pull those out and do the component selection much earlier in the process.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. It's very early. I think that's where you want to know about these things before you move on.
John Teel: Absolutely, you want to know. And I find that even though you can go to a design shop and they'll give you a quote on what it would cost to develop. Odds are it's going to cost a lot more. They tend to quote low and most projects go over cost.
John Teel: But I find that by selecting all the upfront components - and I call this the preliminary design - basically, I will typically create a block diagram and select all the components as this step separately and not do that as part of the schematic design. So, the process that I like to follow is to pull that out separately just so you can give all the components the attention they deserve and not just do it from a technical standpoint.
John Teel: So, under Step 3, so now that you understand the cost and the obstacles, now you need to have a plan on how to surpass those costs and obstacles. And I'm not saying that you have to have every step from step 1 to 100 to get to market. It's never going to be that linear of a path. It's going to require adaptability and you're going to have to change your plans. But what you can't do is go into it just worrying about each step right when you get to it.
John Teel: And even starting if, let's say, you have $500 and that's all the money you can spend, and you have no money, you have no other way to get any other money, but yet it's going to cost you $5,000 to get to a prototype, well, you need to know that upfront. There's no point throwing the $500 down and just getting, you know, ten percent of your prototype. That's not going to really cut it.
John Teel: So, you need to know these steps upfront and then identify your plan on how you're going to get past those steps. So, what's your fundraising plan? Are you going to just get to a prototype stage and then do crowdfunding? Are you going to seek angel investors or venture capital, or the different ways of funding your startup? So, you just need to identify those. You don't have to have everything figured out, but you just need to know the steps that lie ahead and have some plan in place.
Peter Dalmaris: Let's say just a hypothetical here, which actually could relate to something that you've experienced. You've got a product that your market research shows that it's a good one and you've got to go there. And then, in your second step, you detect a couple of significant obstacles, funding could be one of them, components could be another. Once you get to Step 3, has there been anything that you actually can't deal with, like an obstacle that you can't deal with one way or another? So, [inaudible].
John Teel: Yeah. One case where I see that is a product that's overly complex. Let's say, you want to develop a brand new smartphone. In most cases, you're going to find that the cost and obstacles once you go through that step are going to be more than what you have available to spend. I mean, there are certain products where they're typically best left to the big billion dollar tech companies.
John Teel: I think the original iPhone, I believe Apple said they spent $150 million developing that. I mean, that's an extreme case than most new phones, that was a first. So, it's not that kind of money, but it's still typically millions.
John Teel: So, if you get to that point, then, yeah, you may be able to eventually raise outside funding. But in most cases, you have to get it at least far enough to have a prototype to present to even get outside funding. And even doing that can be problematic if you're doing something that's too complicated.
John Teel: For instance, if your product has an applications processor in it, those can be typically really difficult, if not impossible, for startups and small companies to even source. They tend to mainly sell those to larger billion dollar companies. So, that could be one obstacle that you could run into that like, "Okay. That's not an obstacle I can surpass."
John Teel: And when I see those, I encourage people to reconsider your product because it's hard enough to bring the simplest widget to market, but very well to bring something that's extremely complicated. And to do that, especially if you don't have any technical background and you're just one person, I mean, a smartphone, there's probably a dozen engineers or more that work on designing something like that.
John Teel: So, those are some of the obstacles I see that I'm like, "Okay. You need to take a step back and think about it, is this really the path to go?" In that case, it's probably better to come up with a new idea.
Peter Dalmaris: Great. Yeah. So, there you go. It could be a great idea, as you said, but the complexity means that it's almost impossible to execute unless you have deep pockets.
John Teel: Yeah. Exactly. You know, I have a blog article where I define what's a good idea and it goes beyond will it sell, but is it something that's feasible for you to get manufactured and developed. Just the practical aspects of actually making that good idea into a real product. You may have the greatest idea in the world, but if it's going to cost you $100 million to develop it, it's maybe a good idea for Google, but not for you, probably.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. Great. Okay.
John Teel: Okay. So, Step 4 is really still part of the development or the planning stage, but I pulled it out on its own because it's a critical step, and that's to determine your development strategy. Do you have the skills to design the product yourself? And I don't mean just in Arduino, you know, using a development kit, but to design a full schematic or printed circuit board, the 3D enclosure, the programing. Do you have the skills to do all of that? If you do, then that's great. That's really good. That's going to save you a lot of money that you're not going to have to outsource to bring on other engineers.
John Teel: But the likelihood of one person knowing everything, whether that be electronics, programing, firmware, mobile apps, enclosure design, injection molding, it's unlikely that you'll have every single skill that you need to do all of that. So, if you're highly skilled, you can do most of it. But then, you'll bring in people, maybe just outsource contractors, to fill in some of the gaps and your experience level.
John Teel: But if you're at the other extreme and you don't know a diode from a resistor, or if you're even in the middle, let's just say you've done some Arduino projects but you've never done full electronics design, then I encourage you always, obviously, to learn as much as you can. You don't want to be developing hardware products without having any understanding of hardware.
John Teel: But, in general, there's going to be limitations on what you're going to be able to do. You're not going to be able to teach yourself. There's a reason engineers go to school for years. It takes a long time to learn to do this. It's not generally something you're going to teach yourself really quickly.
Peter Dalmaris: John, just a quick question here in regards to skills. Let's assume that you are competent in electronics designs and you can build your circuits at a decent level. How different is that type of design to just make the circuit work and work well versus designing from manufacturing?
Peter Dalmaris: So, like an engineer who knows what's the best way to design a circuit board, for example, so that it can be made better, is it like a big jump in the skill? Can somebody who already knows how to do electronic design acquire that next additional skill for designing for manufacturing?
John Teel: It really depends on the product complexity. For a really simple product, I would say that's not a huge learning curve.
John Teel: But if it's a really complicated product, let's say, some of the more complicated things to design would be like a wireless radio that doesn't use a module so you have to do an antenna layout, that can be really complicated.
John Teel: Or if you have a really fast microprocessor with external RAM memory, so you've got data and address boxes, that can be really complicated. Or if you have high voltage on the same board as your low voltage circuitry, those can all be areas where you have to be careful.
John Teel: Because you can get by with doing certain things or being sloppy, and you may not see it when you're only making five or ten. So, let's say, only one percent of the boards have this problem. Well, you're not going to probably see that if you only do ten. But as soon as you jump up and you do 100,000 of these, you're going to start seeing this problem showing itself.
John Teel: That's why I actually have a step for it separately. But before you go to the point of getting the prototypes made, I always recommend that you hire an independent design engineer that's done the full cycle, that's brought products to market, and have them do an independent design review. That can be a real life saver as far as prototyping or making something that's going to be useful.
Peter Dalmaris: Because they can peek those areas.
John Teel: I'm sorry. What was that?
Peter Dalmaris: Because such an engineer, like an auditor, will be able to peek those areas where your design is not really up to speed for scale production. And then, can they recommend other engineers that can specialize in, like, power supplies or high voltage plus wireless applications so that they then can tweak your circuitry in your designs?
John Teel: Yeah. I mean, you can go either way. They can give you the input if you want to try to make the changes yourself. Or you could hire them to actually take your design and make the necessary improvements to it.
John Teel: You know, that can be problematic a little bit because there are so many PCB design tools out there and a lot of them are compatible. So, you may be using one package to design your board, but then you want to hire an engineer and pass it on to them to improve. If they're using a different package, they have to kind of redraw everything from scratch. So, that can be problematic as well.
John Teel: But my thought is, generally, most entrepreneurs, the strategy that works best is to get to a prototype that looks and works like the final prototype, but necessarily doesn't have to be ready for mass manufacturing. And then, you can use that to get outside funding that you can then use to hire outside engineers to review or optimize the design that you've done.
Peter Dalmaris: That's an interesting concept. So, what you're saying is the proof of concept does not need to be the actual product. It's just a stepping stone towards, I guess, finding funding or outside help to develop the final product. It's not it yet.
John Teel: Yeah. At this point, I hesitate to call it proof of concept. I mean, it can be proof of concept, but typically I think a proof of concept being something based on an Arduino and not necessarily having a custom board made. If your product is large enough that you can fit in Arduino and a couple of shields in there and hide that all away in a new package and no one knows what's in there, then you go for it. That can be really great for getting that market feedback and getting investors interested as well.
John Teel: But most products, you know, if you're doing a smartwatch, you're not going to stick a Raspberry Pi in there. You may be able to get a prototype that looks like it and then a separate prototype that's ugly that works like it. But you really need to get a prototype that works and looks like it. And then, that's when you can make a lot more progress.
Peter Dalmaris: Right. So, the proof of concept would be at Step 1 still.
John Teel: Yeah. The proof of concept would be Step 1. Unless you're one of the few that's lucky and you can use an Arduino and you can fit that in your enclosure and you can get a more final looking prototype, obviously, there's still a lot of work to get that one ready for manufacturing, but at least you'll have something that you could present to investors that looks much further along than just a breadboard and an Arduino with no enclosure.
John Teel: So, as far as the development strategy, all the strategies kind of depend on your skills, the skills of your team, and then how much money you have. Unfortunately, as most things, a lot of things, it comes down to money. So, it's either you can do the design yourself or another option is you bring on a co-founder. If you're not very technical, then typically I would encourage you to find a technical co-founder to bring on, instead of outsourcing everything without really understanding the development process. So, bringing on a co-founder can be a good way.
John Teel: You could hire a big, large design firm, that's probably the "easiest way," especially if you don't have any engineering background, but it's also going to be the most expensive. But a lot of them, at least in the U.S., minimum is, like, $100,000 to fully develop a product. So, for most people, that's not the way to go.
John Teel: And I don't encourage it because if you're the founder of a hardware startup and you're completely outsourcing everything related to the hardware, then what are you doing? So, I don't encourage, generally, a firm. It's really risky. If you're going to spend $100,000, that's a lot of money to put down on something that potentially might not do as well as you thought. But the way, probably most people, is to bring on freelancers. I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Peter Dalmaris: John, I'm just thinking that the technical co-founder, I provide that missing expertise about the hardware. Of course, it doesn't mean that you don't hire outside design firms, for example, to help you out, but you're now going to have that insider knowledge because your co-founder is a technical person.
John Teel: Absolutely. Yeah. And the technical founder, whoever that is, you don't have to, of course, know how to do everything. You just need to know enough to be able to manage those that do it. If you don't have any idea what someone is doing or how to do something that you're hiring someone to do, then how can you judge the quality of their work? So, that can be problematic.
John Teel: And that's another reason I recommend, if you're hiring a freelancer or a contractor to design your product, then I would definitely bring on an independent design review, someone to review that design just to make sure that you're getting what you're paying for and that the design is of the quality that you're paying for.
Peter Dalmaris: John, quickly on the topic of co-founders. Most of our audience at this point are technical, in that case, would it be better to search for and find a business co-founder, perhaps, to take care of the business aspect of the startup?
John Teel: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, the ideal founder team for hardware is probably three people, one that's for the hardware, one that's for the software, and one that's for the marketing. That tends to be a really good sweet spot having three founders. But it's a little harder, I think, for someone that's non-technical to learn engineering than it is for an engineer to learn marketing. It's just a matter of that desire.
John Teel: I'm an extreme introvert. I'm not a salesy person or marketing type. And it terrified me when I had to do it initially. But, eventually, I learned to really love marketing, and I realized that marketing is really the key ingredient to success no matter what kind of business you have, whether that's software, hardware, or service.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. That's so true. It is my experience as well, John.
John Teel: I'm sorry. What's that?
Peter Dalmaris: That is my experience as well. Like, I'm an extremely introverted person. I'm okay on camera now, but it's not what it used to be. And I didn't like sending any marketing emails or doing any advertising. But I actually quite enjoyed it now. And maybe it's the same thing with you. I really like how systematic and analytical marketing can be with numbers, with shades, with tracking, and experimenting, and testing. So, I like the numbers.
John Teel: Absolutely. Yeah. Exactly. Because the biggest part of marketing is just educating people and sharing what you know. And then, they develop a relationship with you and, eventually, they'll want what you have to offer. So, I like that type of marketing. It doesn't have to be salesy where you're pushing a used car on someone. It can be quite enjoyable.
John Teel: And I've really learned I like the marketing business side as much as I do the engineering. So, equal parts entrepreneur and equal parts engineer, and you just have to have that mindset. I mean, for me, having to go present my product that I brought to market, I presented it to blockbuster video, at their corporate headquarters. I mean, that was absolutely nerve wracking for someone like me, but I was determined to do whatever it took to make it happen. And that's what it takes, you have to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. It's all about communication. So, I think if we just remove the word marketing and look at it for what it really is, it's communications. Just telling people about how what you've built can help them in some way, whether it's a gadget or, in my case, courses, or a software application. They're meant to help somebody do something.
John Teel: Absolutely. It's about communication and just building relationships.
Peter Dalmaris: Yes. Relationships. Absolutely.
John Teel: Business is built on relationships. You just have to be able to scale that up in a big way, and that's sort of what marketing is. So, definitely, you either bring on a co-founder that is good at it and enjoys it, or you have to learn to like it yourself.
John Teel: That's one piece where people contact me, typically engineers, and they want to hire a public relations firm or bring on someone to do all their marketing. And, like, it's just not the way it works. You don't get to just do the fun stuff that you like, and then I'll just have someone else do all the stuff I don't like. You have to be extremely adaptable to make it with the startup. And that's just the way it is. It's not easy.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. That's a great point.
John Teel: Okay. So, the one last development strategy I was going to just touch on is to partner with the manufacturer. So, that can be a good strategy if you have very limited development money. Maybe find a Chinese manufacturer that makes something similar to what you're wanting already and then they can modify it for you. That can be a much cheaper way to get to a prototype.
John Teel: It also tends to give you the least control over the process. You may not own the intellectual property. You may have to have an exclusive manufacturing agreement with them. But that can be one way to have some development help without having to spend thousands of dollars hiring a design firm or freelancers.
Peter Dalmaris: But it is possible, right? You have less control, but it is a way to deal with potential a block to the whole idea.
John Teel: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it can be a really affordable way to get to that prototype stage without requiring so much custom development. But you have to find a manufacturer that already makes something close and it's willing to do a modification on their design.
John Teel: From my experience, most Chinese manufacturers tend to be more than happy, you know, if you want to buy a modified version of what they already sell. They're happy to do that. So, that can be a low cost way to get to a prototype. Okay.
John Teel: So, now, we're kind of past sort of the planning and market research stage, and we're down into the technical aspects. So, this is probably some of the steps that anyone watching this will probably be more familiar with, so I'm not going to go perhaps into as much detail.
John Teel: Obviously, designing a schematic circuit, I mean, that could be years of courses on that alone, very well just hours. So, we'll kind of touch through each of these. Just for anyone that's listening, that's familiar with Arduino and knows how to hook modules together, but maybe doesn't understand the process of designing a custom PCB.
John Teel: So, as I mentioned, the component selection we've already done upfront. I don't specifically list that, but that's part of understanding your cost is the component. So, by the time you get to the schematic, you should already have a block diagram and then have all your components picked out so that you're not doing that now as part of the schematic.
John Teel: So, obviously, a schematic - I'll just bring up a simple one - is just a conceptual drawing, you know, kind of like a blueprint for a house. So, this is fairly simple. This has got a microcontroller. It's an STM32 Cortex, I think that's an M0 microcontroller. This is just an LDO, just a voltage regulator that drops down to 5 volts coming from a USB plug and then knocks it down to 3 volts. And that power is the microcontroller. Then, here's the JTAG connector for programing.
John Teel: So, this is the first step is to place all your components and connect everything together. And then, this is where you have to do all the support components, you know, the capacitors, inductors, and resistors, and calculate their values. So, that's kind of the meat of doing a schematic.
John Teel: Obviously, there's a lot more that we could go here. I don't think we want to get into too much of the technical details of designing circuits, but I just kind of want to give you an overview that this is sort of the first step of the process of designing a custom printed circuit board.
John Teel: So, design the schematic circuit, then next is generate a bill of materials. Which, at least any PCB design software I've used, that's an automatic feature. As long as you defined all the part numbers in the schematic, then it can just auto generate the bill of materials for the electronics.
Peter Dalmaris: Just a quick one here, John. So, the bill of materials is simply a listing of all of the components in the schematic with the model numbers, how many of each will you want, so we can have ten of the same type of resistors, and that's about it, right? It doesn't include how long the wires are or how many ground points you have, just the components that do something.
John Teel: Yeah. Absolutely. You know, it doesn't have to have pricing in it or anything like that. It's basically the sheet or the document that tells you what to order, what needs to be ordered to make your product.
Peter Dalmaris: A shopping list.
John Teel: Yeah. And I'm saying for the electronics, because that's the step we're at. But, eventually, you'll want a bill of materials that includes everything, whether that be your product has a sticker on the outside that needs to be in the bill of materials, the enclosure needs to be in the bill of materials. But at least in the early stages, most of it is going to be for the electronics components. And, you know, this includes everything from all the passives, the resistors, capacitors, inductors.
John Teel: Typically, for Step 2, understanding your cost, I will typically create a sort of preliminary bill of materials where I just list out all the big components, you know, the microcontroller chip. But I don't necessarily list out each resistor that's required or each capacitor because they cost fractions of a penny, so they don't impact the big picture. But when you're obviously designing the full electronics, then you need to identify all the components.
John Teel: Next, you're going to design the printed circuit board. Once again, everyone's going to be familiar with this. This is a really crude simple one, not something ready for mass production, but it is one I created just as part of a tutorial. So, this is just the PCB layout for what we just saw. Here's the microcontroller, micro USB connector, the JTAG programing connector. And then, this is for the low dropout linear regulator that powers everything.
John Teel: And then, once you have the PCB done, then you'll generate what is called Gerber Files. And those are a separate file for each layer of the printed circuit board, and that's what will be sent to either the prototype shop, if you're having prototypes made, or you send the same files to a manufacturer, if you're in manufacturing.
John Teel: One nice thing about the electronics, unless you're hand soldering these, the same process that you use for making a few prototypes is going to be pretty much the same process for mass manufacturing. So, to go from prototype to mass manufacturing isn't quite as technically complex as it is for the enclosure. And I'll touch on that next.
John Teel: But the enclosure, you'll use probably 3D printing or CNC machining for your prototypes. But for production, you'll use a totally different technology injection molding that has a whole different set of requirements than what you use for prototyping. So, there's usually a big step to go from prototype to mass manufacturing for the enclosure, but not necessarily for the electronics.
Peter Dalmaris: Interesting point here, John. So, once you build your prototype PCB, you can order it for, like, a small number of dollars. And then, when you want to order a hundred times that number, the price per unit actually goes down. Where with the case and the enclosure, you can 3D print it for a couple of dollars. But then, if you want to mass manufacture it, you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to get the mold done before it can be used to produce thousands of copies.
John Teel: Yeah. That is a serious obstacle. First of all, a 3D printed prototype may be okay for testing, but it likely won't look good enough to use for a final prototype that you want to share with an investor. They'll realize it's 3D printed, it won't look like production. So, that's something that, typically, you can do the 3D printing for early prototyping, but eventually you need to step up into some low volume molding technology to get the look of the final production product that you need.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. So, that's just for the casing, the cost goes up quite a lot, like into the thousands.
John Teel: Yeah. Typically, about the cheapest injection mold, at least in the U.S., that I've seen is you can get aluminum ones that are a softer metal so they're easier to make. They don't last as long, but they're easier to make so they cost less. And if it's a really simple product, then, maybe, $1,500 to 2,000. But you have to keep in mind that's for each custom piece of plastic.
John Teel: At the very least, most products are going to have two pieces, a top and a bottom side that fit together, so that's two molds, so you just double the cost of that mold. And that's a really simple mold that's called a simple pull mold, which means you can basically just open up the mold and pull the part out.
John Teel: Versus, there are molds that have what are called side actions so they're much more complicated. And they have parts of the mold that come in from the sides, and then you have to pull those out, and then open the mold, and then take the part out. And that tends to add a lot of complexity to the mold designs because you've now adding all these moving parts. So, in general, it's best to try to design your product so as not to need these side actions to lower that cost.
John Teel: But I'm going to get more into the enclosure in a bit.
Peter Dalmaris: Gosh, that's your last step there.
John Teel: Yeah. I don't want to jump too far ahead. So, after the printed circuit board, is, develop the firmware and the software. And I have this listed afterwards, but as most of your listeners are going to know, you can do this simultaneously while you're developing the hardware, you just use a development kit for that microcontroller. Obviously, you'll be limited and it won't be the exact same setup as your custom board, but typically you can get started on the firmware and the software. And work on that, you know, simultaneously as you do the electronics design.
John Teel: So then, the next step is now you have to design the 3D model for your enclosure. And this is where you use 3D modeling software, like SolidWorks. And this was a step that, on my product, I'm an electrical engineer, but I ended up teaching myself 3D modeling to do this. I initially was hiring mechanical engineers.
John Teel: But with designing your enclosure, the appearance of it so important. And appearance is really hard to convey in words or numbers what you want. So, I just found that it was constantly all this back and forth. I would get a new version of the design. I'm like, "Oh, I want these changes," and I'd have to draw the pictures of what I wanted and get those to him. And then, I'd get the changes back, "Oh. Well, that's not exactly what I wanted.
John Teel: So, I ended up taking a couple of months and just taught myself 3D modeling and injection molding so I could just design my own enclosure and that really sped up the development cycle.
John Teel: So, if you're technical, that's an area that can be really beneficial to learn to do on your own. Once again, you can bring in an expert later to clean up your design. But at least if you get started, then that will kind of speed things up, especially if you have your own 3D printer so you can print it out right as you make it, then you get really quick feedback and that can really speed up things.
Peter Dalmaris: You have more control if you understand the process, and at least you can create a simple model of your enclosure. I remember I was working with a mechanical engineer to do something like this, and because the language was a problem - we both spoke English, of course - but describing what kind of features you want and where was problematic.
Peter Dalmaris: So, I made a model using Play-Doh from my kids, and I was, like, shaping it the way that I want it or put the openings with various cables the way that I wanted. So, I just gave him the the Play-Doh model and then he converted it into a mechanical design.
John Teel: Absolutely. That's great. I did the same with my own product. I used clay instead of Play-Doh. I didn't have any kids at that time, but now it would be Play-Doh. But, yeah, start simple, foam or molding clay or Play-Doh, whatever gets the job done as quick as possible. As quick as possible and as cheap as possible is a good strategy.
Peter Dalmaris: Cardboard also works well because it's easy to cut it to pieces.
John Teel: Cardboard is another one, absolutely. Absolutely. The big issue with 3D modeling isn't so much the 3D modeling. That can be a little technically intimidating. It's not that bad. But the big issue is you can 3D print about anything. You cannot injection mold any shape. Injection molding has very strict requirements. You know, you can't have undercuts, then you can't actually get the part out of the mold. You have to have draft angles on your all the walls that are perpendicular to the direction the mold pulls apart so that you can take the part out easily.
John Teel: So, this is where there's a lot of problems. People will even hire someone that knows 3D modeling and they can design the most beautiful product, but they have no understanding of injection molding. And when it comes time to start setting up manufacturing, you realize, "Oh, I have to redesign this [inaudible]." And that happens a lot. So, just be sure that you understand injection molding or the person that you're hiring understands it.
John Teel: The next, as I kind of mentioned, is to get independent design reviews on both the electronics and the enclosure. That's always a good idea. The big tech companies have very formal design review processes, and that's because no engineer is perfect and we all make mistakes. So, the more eyes that look at it, the better.
John Teel: And then, now we're down to the prototyping stage. It's not really a whole lot for this step for you to do. You've done all the work getting to the point of having to design a prototype, unless you're making your own boards. But most time, I recommend that you have a professional board shop make your prototypes for the PCB. The same with the enclosure, unless you have a 3D printer, then you can do that yourself. So, that's going to save you a lot of money and speed up things as well.
John Teel: So, now that you've ordered the printed circuit board and you've ordered your enclosure or 3D printed your enclosure, now you have to evaluate them. And this tends to be an iterative process. You cannot expect anything to be perfect the first time. No matter how simple the design is, you will find issues on your first, probably your second, maybe your third, fourth prototype. It can take a lot of iterations to get it just right.
John Teel: It depends on how complex the product is for the electronics. Or for the enclosure, it depends on the appearance. You may have to do many, many iterations to get the exact look that you want or the exact snap fit. You have two pieces that snap together like a battery cover. Just getting that snap just right can take a couple iterations of the design to get that right.
John Teel: So, there are so many little things like that, that you don't really notice on most products that you use until you go to develop one. It will give you a new appreciation of all the thought that goes into so many tiny little details that the battery cover snaps. Someone, you know, spent some time designing that snap and testing it and making sure that it's going to get the right snap fit.
Peter Dalmaris: Just that locking mechanism with the enclosures, you may give it the tolerance to think it's reasonable in your 3D design software, and then depending on what kind of material is used, when you actually do them all, they may not be enough or it may not snap at all. So, you don't know until it's actually made.
John Teel: Absolutely. And that can be a problem also with 3D printing because it's going to use a different plastic than what you'll use for production. So, you may have to make tweaks on the design, even after you think you've got it just perfect, once you go to injection molding.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. It may be perfecting a 3D printer version. And then, once it's molded, it's not. So, you need to adjust that.
John Teel: Absolutely. So, you just have to expect that. So, every step of this process, there's going to be obstacles that get in your way. There's going to be design issues that come up, and you're going to have to iterate, debug, you're going to have to get the boards and the enclosure you're going to have to evaluate and test it. Any problems that you find, you're going to have to debug those, fix those in the design, and then reiterate.
John Teel: And this step is where I find that it tends to be the hardest to forecast how long this is going to take. And I find this whether it's an entrepreneur or, you know, I'm designing a chip for Texas Instruments, is, the debug is always really challenging to forecast because you don't know what the problems are going to be until you find them. Obviously, if you knew what the problems were going to be, you would just design it so the problems didn't exist.
John Teel: So, you're totally dealing with unknowns. Even the problems are unknown. But once you identify the problems, sometimes it can take quite a bit of effort to figure out what the core of the problem is or the solution to that problem. So, just expect this process to take you longer than you anticipate and to likely take you longer to get it just right than what you anticipate.
John Teel: For my own product, which had snap fits and things that were really critical, it took me about a dozen prototype iterations to get everything to just the final production version. So, just keep that in mind and don't expect more than is realistic. And don't be too hard on yourself if things don't go quite as smoothly as you think.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. So, my takeaway lesson from this is that, give yourself plenty of time for revisions and do not rush the revisions. I guess, looking at your process, what's coming up, that's pretty much the last step before you go big. So, you don't want any problems after that.
John Teel: Yeah. Absolutely. You do not want any problems or you don't want to have to do design changes, obviously, after you've set up manufacturing. But you don't want to have to do them after you do Step 15, which is the certifications, because the certifications are expensive. And if you make any significant changes to the design, then you may be forced to retest for those certifications.
John Teel: So, typically, what you'll want to do is after Step 14 and before Step 15 is, you'll kind of maybe setup your early production, like a pilot run of a couple of hundred units. And then, that way, you can just be really confident that the design is totally finalized before you go off and do the the electrical certifications.
John Teel: So, speaking of that, that's Step 15, is the electrical certifications. Which, it tends to be the two big obstacles to go from a prototype to mass manufacturing are injection molds and certifications. So, I'm mainly familiar with the U.S., Canada, and Europe certifications. I'm not quite as familiar with Australia and some other places. But most countries and regions around the world have very similar electrical certification requirements, have different names, and they group them together different. But, typically, you kind of have some of the same requirements.
John Teel: But at least in the U.S., the big one is FCC Certification. So, just making sure that your product doesn't emit electromagnetic interference, radio waves that are going to disrupt other forms of communication. So, that's a big certification. For the U.S., anything that has an oscillator that oscillates above 9 kilohertz requires FCC certification.
Peter Dalmaris: You said 9 kilohertz, right?
John Teel: Nine kilohertz, yes. So, that's going to include anything with a microcontroller, mostly. There are some microcontrollers where you can clock them at less than 9 kilohertz, I've seen. So, that could be really a simple product one way around it. But 99.9 percent of products require FCC Certification.
John Teel: The key is to know what type. There are two big types. There's Intentional Radiator Certification, so that means your product intentionally radiates radio waves. And then, a Non-Intentional, you know, it's a microcontroller and display, but it doesn't intentionally try to radiate wireless signals. But it still will, you know, but not intentionally.
John Teel: So, an intentional radiator, at least in the U.S. for FCC, you're talking minimum of about $10,000 to get that certification, versus non-intentional is, maybe, about $3,000. So, the big takeaway is try to avoid custom wireless design in your product.
John Teel: So, this is why you want to use, if you have WiFi or Bluetooth or Zigbee, use a pre-certified module that's already been FCC certified. And then, you can mount that module on your custom board. And then, that will allow you to not entirely bypass FCC, because you'll still need it for the other parts of your product, but it allows you to get by with the non-intentional certification so that will save you at least about $7,000.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. Well, that's clever. And if I understand right, the process involves sending a prototype to a testing facility to put it through various tests. And then, they give you a stamp of approval certification that it passed.
John Teel: They have like a special room - I can't remember what it's called - for checking RF emissions and such. You have to send that off, and if you're lucky, it will pass the first time. But a lot of times it doesn't. It requires tweaks. So, that just adds more revisions to your design that you're going to have to make.
Peter Dalmaris: And I guess for the non-intentional transmissions, that would mean changes to the circuit board, unless you have exposed wires there like jumper wires and things like that or chassis.
John Teel: Yeah. Or you may have to add a shield or things like that, but yeah. It's always good to have someone review your design, especially for certifications, because there are things that your prototype may work fine but would not pass certification. So, it's best to get someone that specializes in it.
John Teel: I deal with certifications a lot, but I don't specialize in certifications. And there's a lot of legal requirements. I mean, just look up the FCC regulations, it's hundreds of pages of rules. So, it's definitely complicated. So, you want to get someone involved, really, that is an expert in that area.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. So, each certification run, I guess if you fail the first one, you have to make revisions. Then, you do the revisions, go back for another test, you need to pay the fee again. So, those fees, even if it's just a non-intentional transmission add up $3,000 at a time it sounds like.
John Teel: Yeah. It adds up really quickly. You know, they may not have to retest everything, so you may not pay the full amount each time. But it's definitely going to add a lot of time and a lot of cost if you don't pass it the first time.
Peter Dalmaris: Are there other certifications other than the electrical ones? Like, I see RoHS, et cetera, like other certifications, for example, the kind of plastics that you used for your casing or batteries that explode or things like that, just the indicators?
John Teel: Yeah. There probably are some requirements for plastics, maybe for medical products or toys. I'm not really familiar with any that I can think of related to just the plastic. The RoHS, that's an EU thing and a California thing, the only state in the U.S. that does it. And that's just basically certifying that your product is lead free. That's a fairly easy one to get. That's pretty low cost.
John Teel: UL Certification, that's one in the U.S. It's also good in Canada. The CSA is, I think, Canadian Standards Association. That's kind of equivalent to UL. And they have tons of certifications they do. But the main one is for products that plug into an AC electrical outlet for safety reasons. So, that can be really expensive too.
John Teel: Typically, the best way around that is, don't have your product power directly from electrical AC. Instead purchase an off-the-shelf pre-certified wall adapter, so the external brick that plugs into the wall, that does the conversion and that's already certified. So, your product only see, say, 5 volts DC. So, as far as UL's concerned, your product never touches the AC line, so you don't need that certification, just the power supply that you're using. So, buy one off-the-shelf instead of custom designing your own.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. So, that could be part of your earlier research on the product, like get as many parts as possible that already have those more expensive certifications so they will bring down your costs.
John Teel: Absolutely. Absolutely. And then, the only other one left is CE. That's a that's an EU, European Union, Certification. And it's kind of a combination of FCC and UL, it kind of blends those two together.
Peter Dalmaris: So, after that?
John Teel: So, that's a review of the process. We haven't gotten any of this stuff to get it actually fully manufactured, ordering the molds or getting it to market. This is all kind of focused on just getting it to the point of having it developed far enough that you're ready for those next steps.
Peter Dalmaris: So, Step 16, would it be go to China and find a mass manufacturer?
John Teel: Probably not. Probably, Step 16 is get outside funding or find some way to fund setting up manufacturing. You know, I could talk about that for a long time as well. You know, for my product, I got a manufacturer that invested in my product. They paid for the molds. They actually funded all my inventory. There are ways around it.
Peter Dalmaris: So, it was like a partnership, right?
John Teel: I'm sorry. What was that?
Peter Dalmaris: Did they become a partner in your business or sort of invested in it where you still had the control of your company?
John Teel: Yeah. I had full control. They didn't take any equity, but they had a two year exclusive manufacturing agreement. So, that was sort of what they got out of it.
Peter Dalmaris: So, that's an example of what you can do as well from a business standpoint to get through these expensive parts of going to market, like the molds, for example.
John Teel: Yeah. There are ways. I mean, there's no way to do it cheap or free, but there are definitely ways to get the cost down, partner with the manufacturer or use pre-certified modules so you don't have to get expensive certification.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. That's great. Well, thank you, John. I think what I understand from your presentation, we reached Step 15, there's still plenty to go before your product hits the shops and people can buy it. But even that gives us an indication of how complicated it is to develop and then to bring to market an electronics product.
Peter Dalmaris: So, maybe we can do another one another time to see what happens - I mean, another presentation another time to see what happens after Step 15 to get an idea of the other half, I guess, of what's remaining.
Peter Dalmaris: I've got a few questions just to finish up with your presentation, but is there anything else that you want to say at this point before I move on with my questions?
John Teel: No. I think I covered everything I wanted to cover.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. You said enough already.
John Teel: I'm ready for your questions.
Peter Dalmaris: All right. Now, as I always do, one thing that I like to do after every presentation is to summarize it, and not necessarily repeat things that you've already said. But when we distill your presentation into three or four points that people can remember, you know, we're not going to go away and think about what we've just learned, what would be the most important points here?
John Teel: I would say, probably the most important and the one that I see most people neglecting, and likely your audience, is marketing. There's this misconception you develop the product, you spend a year or two, you get it ready, then you start marketing. And that's the wrong way to do it.
John Teel: You need to start marketing day one. As soon as you become serious about this, then you need to put up a website, put up a blog, start building your audience. Because that audience is going to be the most valuable thing that you can have while developing your product to get feedback, but also to have an audience to sell to once the product is finally ready.
John Teel: And that's really slow. It takes a long time to build up an audience. So, do it in parallel while you develop it. And in that way, when you're done with your prototype and you're done with development, then you've got this audience ready to go. And then, they've also helped you fine tune the product so you develop something that people actually want. My biggest advice is to focus on marketing.
Peter Dalmaris: Thanks, John. What I'm thinking is somebody - I'm not sure who said that. I do remember it - and it's like one of these things keeps coming back to my mind, is, start with the end in mind. So, if you want people to buy your product to help them do something better, start with them.
John Teel: The customer is the most neglected piece of the puzzle. Everyone is focused on the product, and then they eventually think about the customer. But you need to think about the customer, focus on that, and then work backwards toward the product. Exactly what you're saying, start with the end in mind. And the end is the customer, so you need to focus on the customer and developing relationships with them.
Peter Dalmaris: Perfect. Anything else? Like I'm thinking, in several parts of your presentation, you talked about enlisting the help of others. It could be engineers, people that will audit your designs to make sure you haven't stuffed something up. Did you want to say something about that? Would that be something that you recommend for people to remember?
John Teel: As far as getting a review done, you mean?
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. Yeah. Like, one person cannot know everything. You need partners, for example, you need to get the technical partner in your business or a marketing partner. You mentioned three people is the ideal team for a technical startup.
John Teel: Yeah. I mean, you need to get as many people involved as you can and as much feedback. Another big mistake that I see everyone making is they're so focused on they're keeping their ideas secret that, you know, they don't want to share it with anyone, and they just want to hide away for two years while they try to get a patent. And that is just a horrible, horrible, horrible strategy. Don't do that. Do not keep it in your head.
John Teel: Because two years down the road, you're going to realize, "Oh, I've spent all this time, and I kept it a secret, but no one wants what I have to offer." So, don't get fixated on keeping it a secret. And get feedback from as many people as possible, whether that be potential customers, or retailers, or distributors, or engineers on your product design itself. And get as many eyes, as much feedback as you can. If you're worried about secrecy, then just use non-disclosure agreements. That's typically the easiest.
John Teel: But just get feedback at every stage. I feel like when you sort of are just doing all this in your own head, it's really easy to just go down the wrong path and just get completely lost there. So, seek feedback as much as possible and don't be so secret.
Peter Dalmaris: You know, as engineers, this is quite hard to do because, as you said earlier, most of us tend to be introverts, so it's hard to just talk to random people. But it's something that is definitely really serious about.
John Teel: You know, I've heard on a podcast they were recommending, just next time you're in line in a Starbucks, just turn around and start talking about your product to the person behind you and just get their feedback. And they're like, "I know that's terrifying." I mean, that would terrify me, but that's the kind of thing that it's going to take. So, you've got to step out of that comfort zone.
Peter Dalmaris: Great. Okay. Well, thank you for that. Then, let's talk about resources. So, you've got a website, Predictable Designs. It's great. You have a blog, actually you write a lot about these topics. What are couple of places that you can recommend that people should look at if they're interested in bringing their electronics to the market?
John Teel: Yeah. Definitely, my blog, predictabledesigns.com. I've been doing a new blog every week for a couple of years, and it's a mixture of technical stuff and entrepreneurial stuff. So, kind of like this presentation, it's a mix of those two. My specialty is that I've got experience in both of those, so I try to blend those together. So, there'll be maybe a blog on how to design a custom microcontroller board. But then, the next one is how to get funding for your startup. So, it's a wide variety of topics, and I try to share my firsthand experience.
Peter Dalmaris: You cover a wide range.
John Teel: So, that's the focus of the blog. So, that would be the way to start. And there's a lot of information there to keep you busy.
John Teel: Then, I also have another business called the hardwareacademy.com, and this is a membership program that I just launched back in September. So, it's closed right now, you can add your name to the waiting list. It will reopen in January.
John Teel: But I've got hundreds of members in there, where I provide training courses and a community with support. So, it's a very active community where it's nice to always come together with other people trying to do the same thing that you're doing. So, you can communicate with others. But, also, I'm in there every day answering technical support questions. Do you have a problem with your design, whether it's technical or the business side, I can give you the support.
John Teel: So, Predictable Designs and The Hardware Academy are the two ways to find me online.
Peter Dalmaris: Yeah. I find that having somebody to help you out, especially when you're getting started and everything is just complicated and scary. Having someone like you to help them out with those, at least, initial first scary steps is very important. It really saves you money down the track.
John Teel: Oh, it does. Like I said, it's so easy to get lost going down the wrong path. You know, I pride myself, I really like to give entrepreneurs a dose of reality, is sort of what I give them. And I want them to succeed. And if they're doing something that's just not realistic, then I'm going to tell them upfront. You know, I don't want to spend three years and then realize they've done everything wrong.
Peter Dalmaris: John, I think what you said at the very beginning of your presentation, don't believe your family and friends, don't ask for feedback about your new product because they don't want to upset you, right?
John Teel: Yeah. Absolutely. They will tell you what you want to hear.
Peter Dalmaris: It's important to talk to somebody who will tell you the truth and that's what you can do for them. Okay. So, my last question is about contacts. How do people get in touch with you?
John Teel: Well, the easiest way would be through predictabledesigns.com. And you can just go there and there's a contact page. And if you reach out to me through there, you know, I always reply to every email. So, that's probably the best way. I'm also on Twitter, but I'm not really into social media too much. I find it too much of a distraction. So, contacting me through my website is the best way.
Peter Dalmaris: I feel you there. It's a struggle for me to get to Facebook.
John Teel: It's too many distractions. And as you know, having a business, there's a lot to do, so you can't be distracted all the time.
Peter Dalmaris: Great. Well, thank you, John. So, it was amazing. Like, it was so useful for me, personally, to understand the process in the detail that you provided. It was excellent. Thank you for doing this for us, John.
John Teel: Well, thank you. I'm happy to do it.
Peter Dalmaris: So, we still have the other half to do, but maybe we'll do that at another time. For now, I wish you a very good day.
John Teel: Yeah. I wish you a good day as well. It's a pleasure. Thank you.
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