Marketing Strategy · Product Marketing

How to navigate marketing efforts for a hardware start-up?

Keith Delk Vice President of Membership Development for Delta Sigma Phi Eta Eta chapter

April 3rd, 2016

Currently I am the only person on our hardware start-up team fully focused on marketing efforts. 

My skills are pretty well-rounded. I'm skilled in most of the adobe creative suite applications, am a video production editor and self-taught in marketing.

Where I seem to hit walls are on how to start generating leads and acquiring customers. I constantly find myself changing directions from blogging to website design/dev to managing social media to outreaching. 

I am aware of the sales funnel concept. Start with lead generation (collect email sign ups through landing pages) and empower them with choices and information. After these, the funnel begins to narrow and we can capture interest. 

The problem is, I don't have any idea which is the best use of my time with such limited resources on hand. 

For those with experience marketing a hardware start-up, where do you start on allocating resources with limited manpower? Do you have certain stages where you focus one thing at a time before moving on to the next? 

Shahbaz Ali President and CEO @Tarmin, Inc.

April 4th, 2016

Agree with David. Create a very focused reference program with product management and GTM objectives for first few select customers and make a list of targets you want to talk to. Then find someone in your network who has relations with these OEMS or companies and who can assist you in setting up these meetings 

You can't rely on inbound marketing or social media at this stage - it can distract you in irrelevant dimensions. You need a focused approach in early days of startup. Finding key people in your network who can assist in customer introductions will be easiest and quickest route for you

To create more comfort, you should position this program as Discovery Meeting. your reference program should take a customer-partnership approach so you understand thier pain-points which can be incorporated in your product management. This has worked for me few times in the past 

John Currie ITERATE Ventures - Accelerating Science & Technology Ventures

April 7th, 2016

Keith, 1st - which segment are you targeting?  You really have to think through the different problems you solve for which segments.  Pick one, ideally the biggest or the best or the easiest based on your knowledge.  Find 10 prospects - LinkedIn, Google, etc. - and go after them.  "Warm" is better than cold - but you need to test your message, your value proposition, and if anybody cares.  The response rate - 1st conversion - will tell you a lot.  Steve Blank says 100 interviews are needed.  Decide if you stay with this segment or move on to a different segment/pain point/message/value proposition to test with another 10 prospects.

Would be glad to share more. Hope this helps.


April 4th, 2016

I dont have any hardware experience. But, the problem you experience is pretty much common. Lack of focus or too many ideas. We shift from one idea implementation to other and end up doing nothing to the completion. 
To overcome this what we do at SayOne technologies is, we declare one month as the month of something - for example, April is the month of SEO, or the month of blogs. Then we focus completely on that one thing. We will get other ideas in between, we will park those ideas for future use. No changes will be made to the process until it is a habit in us. It really worked for us. 

Suggested reading : Power of less by Leo babauta. 

Tom Jay

April 3rd, 2016

I've been in the Hardware market for 30 years, lots of products and services.

I'm now focused on IoT device training, development boards and open source software.

To market hardware, I'd recommend the following:

1 - Get your site up and running with basic features, lots of SEO but most important a way to collect lookers information (email list signup, newsletter, etc). It will NEVER be perfect but is a work in progress.

2 - Find your customers, contact them directly, Social Media is nice but its hard to connect with a large number of hardware purchaser.

3 - One you have your customers contacted, close the deal.

So if you have say a home alarm system, you would have your basic web site where people can come and look at your products, maybe signup to get a news letter. They probably would not buy from the web site since installation is involved.

You would need to then contact your customers, this is the hard part. You can put Ads in news papers, radio (I have used this many times) and even TV, this is your big money spend.

Once you feel you have contacted your customers then you need to follow up.

So to continue with the Home Alarm system, lets say you need to contact 100 home owners a day, then have people visit those home owners and give an estimate and then install and get paid.

There are lots of ways to do this.

One way I like is very simple and cheap.

Put an Ad on Craigslists, find sales people in an area, offer them a commission (I don't like paying sales people salary if I do not have to).

Maybe a percentage of every sale.

So now you have people working for you, they are making the face to face contact with your customers. They are preparing an Ad in their local area (Maybe you put together the Ad for them). You also want them to use a tracking system so you can see who they talk with (Sales force, etc) So if they talk to a customer you need to be able to follow up, if the sales person leaves you don't want to loose the lead.

If your hardware device is self contained and can be sold in a retail store in retail packaging then that's a different story. I would partner with a distributor that your product would match with their product line. You have large companies like Hamlton Avnet that sells TI parts, Intel Chips and National Semiconductor, so if I were selling IC's then I would want to get my product on their line card, they have in-house sales reps that will then provide this line card, samples, information, etc. to all customers.

Hope this helps.

David Telleen-Lawton Using Customer Discovery to mold innovative Master of Technology Management degree

April 4th, 2016

Do you know what problem you solve?  For whom?

Meet with the product team and head of sales (might be you), discuss who most likely customers are.  Make a list of 5 that are within an hour.  Get commitment from team for a day.  Get on phone and contact who you think is prospective customer (user/decision/maker) in organization.  Intro yourself (one sentence), tell them you are a startup solving <specific problem>, explain you have your product team together on particular day and ask for meeting to understand their problem and get their feedback on you approach.

Repeat in waves of 2-4 mtgs until you stop learning about messaging, channels, features, pricing, etc.   fastest way to sustainable revenue...guaranteed!  Or, clear msg to pull the plug!!

Been doing this for 25 years

Henry Valk Technology | Innovator | IoT

April 5th, 2016

outsourcing lead generation allows you to get great results while maintaining focus on your core business, provided you fully understand who your target market is. 

Bill Lennan Red Rope Social - everyone is an influencer.

April 4th, 2016

A little synthesis from the above.
Sounds like you have great technical chops - don't worry about that part.
Do you have a hypothesis on the perfect customer? If not, that's step 1. 
Do you have customers? If yes, do they fit the above hypothesis? 
 - yes - awesome, how can you expand?
 - no - awesome, what have you learned?

I like to get out and talk with real people, ask about their needs, find out if our pitch matches their desire. This isn't about scale, it's about learning people :-)

Can you tell us the hardware product? 
You'd likely get better answers if we knew you had hubcaps or fitness trackers or throw pillows :-)

Philip Miller Founder at Hempies™ Paper Inc.

April 4th, 2016

You need to make the customer work for your sales department, (Word of Mouth/Referrals) until you can afford to pay others. I want my MTV...

Keith Delk Vice President of Membership Development for Delta Sigma Phi Eta Eta chapter

April 8th, 2016

Rather than responding individually I'll include all in this post  for less notifications.


Power of Less is added to my list of books to read! Thank you for the powerful advice. I will definitely be instilling that philosophy from this point forth. Ex: Month of June is the month of revamping our website and creating stronger CTAs. Thanks again!


Yes, we solve sound unawareness for people with degrading hearing or no hearing at all. I will be contacting potential new consumers directly within the next few months. The repeating until you stop learning is valid, and in that process we will be acquiring customers so its a win win! I've completed the whole udacity course as part of an accelerator program we were involved with last summer. Good content! Thank you.


I've found out the hard way that content/inbound marketing would not be effective at this stage of our startup. Instead, I'll create a basic editorial calendar to keep our social media active and focus on customer acquisition. Thanks for your insight.


We do have a hypothetical of a perfect customer. The problem is the customer base. We have a few so I've decided that customer acquisition via introductions, cold calling, and discovery will be the primary focus. As you said, its all about learning people. 

Apologies for not pitching the product in my original post. Our hardware/software team has developed a sound recognition hardware that can alert users on sounds occurring around the home. We're focused on people who are later-deafened, have a hard time hearing or never had hearing to begin with.


How can we make customers work for us without awareness of us in the first place? ;]


I've thought of outsourcing lead generation but our target market is pretty unique as a huge portion of is largely cultural. In addition to that, we don't have a budget for outsourcing a big project. 


As I replied to Bill, I should have mentioned this in my original post, but our segment is the hearing loss community. I will be taking a more aggressive approach in discovering those prospects. I like your input on the 1st conversion speaking a lot. Thanks for your post!

Keith Delk Vice President of Membership Development for Delta Sigma Phi Eta Eta chapter

April 8th, 2016


Regarding Ads, that is not in our budget as of yet. You're right about it being our big money spend. We'd need to do more demographics research of where our target market of hearing loss mostly reside. 

For sales people, that wouldn't be feasible within the year or two as we are just starting. You're right on the commission. Will be keeping that in mind.

We actually have a list of distributors and plan on reaching out to them soon. We'll be comparing their quotes and the target consumers they serve. 

Thank you for your input!