Making things is hard. Trust us, we understand. On top of that, getting your product out into the world can be even harder.
After speaking with hardware makers in the industry, we’ve compiled a short list of the top 6 problems makers face while developing their product.
1. You’ve got the cool idea – now what?
Too many people have great ideas for innovative products but don’t know where to start.
You’ve made the first leap - the idea - now the hard part begins. There is a lot of research that goes into inventing something, especially if you’re new to the game. You’ve got to ask yourself a load of questions before starting from scratch; how much time and effort will this take? How much will it cost? Based on those, is it even possible to make?
Who is the target audience? Does it help environmentalists? Ecologists? Is it for teachers or researchers? Does this product integrate with something else, or stand alone?
Those are some basic questions - now we get into the real nitty gritty. What does my invention do? Ex: it collects data. How? Where does the collected data go - the cloud, a memory drive, an app?
If you can ask yourself these questions - and answer them - before getting too far in the process, you will save yourself loads of time and effort.
2. Time Management
Most makers start in their free time, tinkering as a hobby, after work, or on the weekends. There’s always something that seems to get in the way – life. Work gets busy, a friend needs help moving, your pet ate something they shouldn’t and now you have to take them to the vet to get their stomach pumped, etc. etc. My point is that for most people it's hard to make time for things while juggling the responsibilities of everyday life.
Too often (at least for me) it's easy to start a project, and then get busy and let it sit on the dining room table for weeks on end while I glance at it occasionally. Make sure you are setting aside time to finish your projects. Hardware maker Zack Freedman has a fun video on YouTube titled: How to Finish Your Weekend Projects in One Weekend.
Talking about distributors: you want to make sure you won't have any supply chain issues down the road - the chip shortage, anyone?
Too often hardware makers don’t research into their components – if one option goes out of stock, do you have an alternative?
Griffin Colvert, our own hardware engineering lead, gave me the run-down on what to do. “You’ll want to pick components that have common, or similar, footprints with other components. That allows you to change the part without having to ‘re-spin’ the circuit board, which can be an arduous process.”
There are many component distributors in the world. Personally, we love working with the world’s largest - Digi-Key. Here is their Product Page. I’ve browsed and browsed and browsed - it’s like the Minecraft world - it never ends!
4. Perfecting Your Product
Just like an author can write draft after draft of their novel, makers can go through tens of iterations of their product before it is ever “done.”
Getting feedback from users is one of the most valuable tools you can access. Their critiques and comments will help you tweak your product to fit your audience’s needs. The hardest part of this step is interpreting the critiques and using them to alter your plans. The feedback you receive might make you realize your product is designed for a different audience or function.
Your product might change drastically over time, or just a little. It might end up a completely different thing that serves a completely different purpose. It’s normal. Hell, you’ve changed over time, your product can too.
You’ve made your BOM - your “Bill Of Materials” - and you’ve found an assembly house. Should be smooth sailing from here, right?
Sometimes. Sometimes not. Amateur makers might not know that they need to communicate with their assembly house when designing their boards. They will buy the PCB and assume the assembly house will build it. Problems with the design can arise along the way – components placed too close together, or too close to the edge, etc.
Be communicative, know what step your product is in. Being ahead of the game can save you from possible headaches down the line.
6. Lack of Industry Connections
So you powered through the first part and got your product made – what now? Where are you going to go to manufacture your product? Advertise for it? Process any orders you get?
Like most industries, it helps to know people - or know people that know people. GroupGets can be your people. We make it our business to help creative individuals (or businesses) make their mark on the world. This is why we launched our Get-MADE program, which allows makers to apply to get funding, promotion, and assistance from both GroupGets and Digi-Key, the world’s largest leading component distributor.
Besides that, there are tons of websites for makers that allow them to join a community of their peers to share ideas, current projects, blog articles, and more. You’ll find like-minded people at Digi-Key's Maker Page, Hackaday, Hackster, HackSpace, and Make: to name a few. You’ll even find some tutorials and information on sites like Build Electronic Circuits, and Bald Engineer.
Like I said in the beginning, making things is hard. Luckily, you are not alone in this. There are makers all over the world, and they have struggled with the same things you’re struggling with.
We aren’t trying to use this article for self-promotion, however it comes with the territory. We are here to help makers get past all the problems that can pop up. Our Get-MADE program was created with a vision in mind - help hardware makers bring their products to the market. If you have a product that you’ve made, and that you believe in, stop by the Get-MADE page. Read over the qualifications, and if you think you fit, please apply. We would love to hear from you, and we might be able to help you make your mark on the world.