How to Develop a Successful Hardware Product With No Engineering Experience

by Jeremy Robinson
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In this podcast episode, I speak to Kevin Mako, a leading expert on hardware startups about the industrial design process.  He is the Founder of MAKO Design + Invent, a firm that provides world-class, end-to-end physical consumer product development tailored to inventors, product startups, and small manufacturers. 

22: How to develop a hardware product – even if you have no engineering experience.

Kevin Mako is a leading expert on hardware startups.  He is the Founder of MAKO Design + Invent, the pioneer firm for providing world-class end-to-end physical consumer product development tailored to inventors, product startups, and small manufacturers.  Est 1999, Mako Design is a 30-person team with offices in Austin, Miami,

Here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation

Every time you have a pain point, your first thought should be: how could that be solved right now. It’s that simple. The more you deal with the pain point, the better educated you are around solving it.  You don’t need to be Einstein, you just need to open your eyes and it will come to you.

Kevin MAko

The hardware product development process

First, just sketch it out. You don’t need to be a professional drawer,  just draw it and imagine what will this thing look like. Write a little bit about it do a little bit of research online and flush out the idea. it’s free it’s easy 

The next step is what we call the industrial design phase. It’s an old industry term but what it means is the visual or cosmetic design paired with the functional logic as to how this thing’s actually going to work. So it’s a little bit of mechanical – but mostly visual to show in 3d this is what my product’s going to look like. 

After that, we get into mechanical engineering. If you’ve got electronics you’re also going to pair electronic engineering. This is where you go you figure out every little bolt every little angle every detail of this product in 3d CAD to mechanically engineer exactly and precisely how this object works. Even something simple like a spatula needs mechanical engineering to figure out stress points, materials thicknesses, et cetera.

Next, you want to build your first rough prototype. This is built off of the visual design and the mechanical engineering (and if there’s electronics the electronic engineering) and you’re packing it all together in your first quasi-functional version.

As this is the first time all of your theory is getting put into the physical world. You want to now learn as much as you can from that physical object: what is working well, what is working poorly, and what opportunities might exist.

From there you go into what we call a full prototype or a fully functional prototype. That should look and feel very close to a manufactured product. Maybe you’ll do a couple of little prototypes in between to test and refine certain features right.

As a hardware startup, you’re going to be far more successful if you keep it very very narrow and keep your features slim but do a great job with it, and then you’ll have lots more money to come back to us for your second product interation.

When you see your best products that you really love, it’s because they’ve been designed, tested, iterated over and over and over again. So this is where you have to get very strategic and careful with balancing your budget with your quality with your features, making sure you’re not going feature crazy

In 2021 almost no hardware startup goes to market in any other way than getting it to production, selling units and having real buyers say “hey I like this” and writing a review online. Then the business scales from there and you can talk about licensing and partnerships and brand opportunities.

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