How Not To Kill Your Startup: Hard Lessons On Business Survival

Hardware startups are hard, and require a lot of money upfront for design and tooling. There are many moving parts in the teams you have to manage, from sales to tech to marketing, and often those teams are actually just all one person. There is no manual you can read that has a formula for a successful hardware startup, but there’s always something to be learned from the experience of others. Here are some ways I’ve found to run my company that have been true.

Real artists ship. But mistakes can kill a young startups.

Probably the bane of my existence is that Steve Jobs quote “Real Artists Ship.” Jobs got fed up of all the little things engineers wanted for the product and it totally slowed down shipping. However, while moving fast and breaking things can be great for a software startup, hardware definitely requires more finesse in the front end. We made the mistake of pushing our tooling too fast for the first one and had to deal with a steam issue in the Classic Nomiku during DVT (Design Verification Testing) that I thought would kill us – and it almost did, with an unexpected two month delay. Thankfully, we were able to problem solve quickly. In our new iterations for design we’ve incorporated WiFi, so we’re measuring twice and cutting once.

Learn manufacturing from those in the know, then move to do it yourself.

We lived two years next to our factory in China. If you backed the original Nomiku on Kickstarter chances are you have on that was personally built by me, my husband, and Bam, our co-founder. It gave us confidence to move our manufacturing back to the United States because we got into all of the nitty-gritty overseas. Funnily enough, without our China experience, we would be nowhere near ready to reshore.

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Talk to your team every day, and have a legitimate conversation with everyone – even if it’s just for a few minutes.

It’s heads-down time all the time at Nomiku HQ and while work is good, it’s ultimately more efficient with good communication. I sometimes went a day without talking to a person on my team and the more I made that part of my routine, the less in touch I was with the whole picture, and that just wasn’t good. Now I make an active effort to talk to everyone for at least 4 minutes every day, and it doesn’t always have to be about work to open lines of communication.

Lisa Q. Fetterman is the CEO and co-founder of Nomiku, a food and tech startup based in San Francisco.

Feature image photographed by Brian Doben for his “Art Work Project.” 

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