Hardware · Lean startup

Does lean startup apply to hardware?

Lydia Eager Founder of Corbin

March 10th, 2015

There has been a lot of discussion about Lean Startup principles and whether they apply to new product development and R&D in manufacturing companies. What are some tips to doing a lean startup with a hardware product? Such ashow do you do lean startup without creating a product that's somewhat well designed? And how do you do that without spending tons of money?

Aleksandra Czajka Freelance Senior Software Engineer, Developer, Web Developer, Programmer - Full Stack

March 10th, 2015

Most of the Lean Startup principles come from Toyota car manufacturer that derived the Lean Manufacturing model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing

Aren Kaser Founder and CEO at Igor Institute

March 12th, 2015

Hardware has always in some ways been lean. Proof of concept development, alpha and beta prototypes, low volume iterations to validate the engineering, design, and production, etc. are all micro-steps in the entire hardware development process that by the very nature of intrinsic hardware risk are lean. Many of those early stages can be done on development kits, assembled by hand, and locally fabricated to reduce cost and time to next phase. With a startup, as many mentioned, you’ll want to stick to developing a the minimum hardware experience (MHE) required to bring financing or other milestone goals into play before embarking on a more traditional hardware development path. 


March 10th, 2015

Lynda - 

The Lean Startup book by Eric Ries (http://amzn.to/1eY2uVF) focuses on software or app development.  But the principles espoused by Eric Ries and Steven Blank in his Four Steps to the Epiphany (http://amzn.to/1C3xP7C) focus on a set a principles that span all companies - software & hardware alike.  These principles can be loosely called 'customer development' which is a systematic approach to engaging with customers to identify their problems, key motivators and interests.  Eric Reis goes on to propose a rapid, continuous development process focused on releasing an MVP (minimum viable product) and quickly iterating on improvement based on customer feedback.

The problem of course with hardware is that MVPs typically have a higher bar than their software equivalents and iterating is not certainly as fast.  But, that does not mean customer development or MVPs are not applicable in a hardware context.  I would argue that proof-of-concept prototyping is a form of MVP to prove out your product and is invaluable in the customer development process.

How do you get to a hardware MVP with limited resources?  That is of course a challenge.  I would recommend finding targeted incubators (Y Combinator) or government funding sources (SBIR / STTR grants) to fund your MVP.

Good luck. 

Vincenzo Pallotta Professor of Innovation Management and Product Development at HEIG-VD

March 11th, 2015

Hi Lydia,

Yes, Lean Startup principles can be applied to any type or product/service provided that there is a considerable amount of Customer (Market) risk. Let me give a very illustrative and successful example. Many promoters sell their houses on blueprints, without building them. And it works!

Hope that my contribution helped.



Jerry Kelih Interactive web developer

March 11th, 2015

there is tons of examples - Tesla cars would be one example in car industry, food trucks to test food for restaurants ...

You don't need great design, but functional MVP that you can validate idea with. You could also simply make a product video and run pre-sales campaign on Kickstarter.

To be more specific, you would need to explain more about your product. Hope that helps.

Sam McAfee Building better technology leaders and teams

March 11th, 2015

We are working on projects at Neo right now that involve hardware. There are plenty of hardware teams in our network of friends that are doing it as well. The key, as others have said, is making sure you are solving a painful problem for a really existing customer segment in a sizable, reachable market. It's actually not that hard in most cases to produce a reasonably designed, scaled back prototype, maybe with commodity components at first (I am not a hardware guy, but I have heard this from them). I have seen some incredible first run MVPs in hardware that only took a few months to produce. It's totally doable.

Gabriel Goldstein 16+ Yrs Entrepreneur, Engineer, Product Development, PCB Design, Electronics, Manufacturing, Founder

March 11th, 2015

Yes, the principals do apply.  Yes, it is harder.  Validate, validate, validate.  Start with a looks-like with models and drawings and functions-like with off the shelf hardware.  Then raise money based on that.  Kick starter is also a great validation platform.

Edward Robertshaw Started TinyCall

March 11th, 2015

If your process to getting an MVP is expensive (obviously thats relative to how much money you want to spend), then Lean startup is even more important.

The question is, how can you validate your idea with the least amount of spending? Clearly you can build a landing page and test the idea. You can ask people what they think about such a product. You can set up a kickstarter. There is a lot you can test.

Then prior to large scale building, you can make a small batch manually. You can then make refinements and iterate. You could also attempt to use software thats updatable, where possible. Perhaps even FPGA's. 

So yes, lean start up is a good concept but it needs to be molded to fit your situation. Don't just try and build a company based on what a book says to do: lead the way.

Vincenzo Pallotta Professor of Innovation Management and Product Development at HEIG-VD

March 12th, 2015

Iterating through prototypes and versions does not mean been lean. Lean is about 2 essential things:

1. Avoiding waste of resources 
2. Minimizing risk

In the specific case of Lean Startup it means validating assumptions before committing resources. MVP is s tool to validate a very simple assumption: my product will sell at a given price to a given segment. If you can validate this assumption with the minimum effort, then you are lean. Sometimes you need to actually physibuild (some version of) the product. Sometimes you didn't. I wouldn't say that for hardware products you necessarily need to do it. 

Max Lamb Operations - BD at Qualia Labs, Inc.

March 16th, 2015

As someone who is building a lean hardware startup right now, one of the biggest lessons we've learned is what Gabriel mentioned; you need a looks-like AND a functions-like model as your MVP. We're developing a new type of sensor for our device, so we thought that if we could just show how well the sensor was working we'd have no trouble raising money. People even said this to us explicitly - "Show us good data and then we'd invest." But we saw attitudes change dramatically when we brought along a looks-like model as well. The looks-like model shows people that you have vision and you know what the end goal looks like. You're just asking for money to get there.