If you're reading this then there's a possibility that you’re thinking about embarking on the journey of funding your hardware startup. If that is the case then you need to prepare yourself for a long rough road ahead. From beginning to end dealing with investors, term sheets, and cap tables can be an extreme headache. But, in the case that you hit it right, the end result can be life changing.
This post is by no means meant to be the holy grail of how to get funded in hardware. The intention behind these words is meant to be a reflective guideline compacted from 18 years of hard earned experience as a founder, with half of that being in hardware.
So as an introductory word of advice make sure that you’re not going to give this process a go all on your own.
Give your family a thorough heads up on the time, effort, and energy that this process requires. Ask friends for their valuable feedback or for a helping hand. Or if you are already past that point, make sure to build a good team. The people that you surround yourself with during this process could greatly benefit or hinder the success of your business.
Getting a hardware company funded is probably just as hard, if not harder, than getting the product right. A piece of advice is: DO NOT underestimate the commitment and research this process requires!
I know this because I have personally built four companies on my own (sold one, shut down one, failed one, currently involved with #4). Two of them being hardware companies. So I am speaking from real life experience that I have gained over the past 18 years. Trust me when I say that this is going to be difficult. But if you love real challenges, then you will love the path.
There are many things to be aware of when building a successful company, regardless of what space you are in, hardware, software or even “regular” not hyper growth based businesses such as retail or real estate. But one common lesson stands out for all of them:
There is a reason why the term “time is money” is universally known in many languages. Because, it’s absolutely true. In terms of owning and running a successful business, funding will allow you to grow your team faster, thus buying their time and adding it to your companies total time allotment every day.
As a startup founder good timing is important. ButSPEED is everything. It’s ok to break things along the way and make mistakes. Matter of fact it’s good! Simply learn from it, fix it and move forwards. You can iterate faster with more “time” on hand, and by time I mean money. Hence funding is crucial to most startups, but especially for hardware startups.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”
Well, changing a few lines of code by replacing some digital content on a site or an APP can happen fast, real fast. But changing already hardened molds for mass production or adding a new solution supplier to your existing supply chain will take days, if not weeks sometimes even months!)
So, if I can bestow any seasoned advice it would be to do yourself a favor and go collect some “time” before embarking on your next hardware or consumer electronics related journey. You will thank yourself later that you did it in the very beginning.
Now for the meat and potatoes. How does one go about raising funds in this industry? Well that’s the main question here isn’t it?
The answer is subjective. However, my experience has lead me to believe in the power of due diligence, patience, and above all perseverance. Remember you are building in atoms, not electrons. It’s ok if this takes a little bit longer than you expected
Do your research first.
Then work hard on your idea day and night.
Get it right.
Break it once more.
Fix it. Rebuild. Test some more.
Now show it to others and ask for feedback.
If the feedback is mostly good, you are ready for the next phase...
You will be surprised how much it means to some people if you have put in the hard work before reaching out for help. The goal here is to be so freaking good that they simply can’t ignore you!
Once your product or prototype is somewhat presentable, work on your pitch deck. And your business plan. And your financial projections. Oh and don’t forget to make an executive summary on one page (1 not 2!!). It will help condense the content to what is really important. It will also help others to open doors for you and make intro’s easier.
You will need these 4 documents ready to roll before any investor will take you seriously. Creating them will also help you to get clarity about your business model, set realistic milestones, and map out what your companies future might look like. Yes I used the term “company” on purpose here, always refer to “it” as your company. Not your “project” or “startup” or “idea”. Most importantly it will ensure that everyone else refers to you and your team as a company. A company is something that’s here to stay. Call your business an “idea” or “project” and not even your parents will want to invest.
I want to stress the importance of taking your time with these four essential documents. Do it right, to the point of perfection. There are thousands (dare I say millions?!) of founders who went through a similar process or are currently going through it. You are not alone. That also means that there is a lot of competition out there. No matter how unique or cool you or your idea is. Chances are high that somewhere in the world others are working on something similar. So don’t be lazy. However don’t take too much time with it all, the competition isn’t sleeping either! ;-)
Become the master of your fundraising documents.
Don’t leave any room for questions to go unanswered. You HAVE to be the expert on the topic of your own business. Once you have solid documents and presentable material, it’s time to pitch to Angels and maybe even VC Investors. If you don’t know what the difference between a Angel and a VC is, go ahead and read David Cohen’s “Do More Faster” and Brad Feld’s “Venture Deals” books. They have all the basic info you will need to know to get you on the right track to pitch successfully.
But before you get ahead of yourself and jump into lining up meetings with potential piggy banks, the next step is to review and vet ALL of your options. Perhaps crowdfunding is the right option for you at this time? For hardware companies just starting out, it usually is a great opportunity to test product market fit and raise money to fund the manufacturing of your first batch of product. If you are considering it, we will write another post specifically on that topic in the coming weeks. Back in November 2017 we made the right choice by choosing Indiegogo for Stark Mobility’s first crowdfunding campaign. The reason being because of Indiegogo’s present support team and progressive communication efforts. Below is a roundup of the three most popular websites for running a crowdfunding campaign.
Top 3 Crowdfunding Sites
If you have consumer facing hardware or software, but aren’t manufacturing consumer electronics that could be used as rewards or perks for your campaign, then it might be more beneficial to consider equity crowdfunding. In this case, equity crowdfunding is rather helpful because you will still want to have a large pool of early supporters that can give feedback and help you as you enter the market.
What is Equity Crowdfunding? It’s a rather new option that you can even combine it with your regular fundraising or do it after a crowdfunding campaign. When done in a meaningful way it can even replace an entire SEED round! We are currently comparing the various sites and service providers that offer this. Here is the list that we came up with during our research. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop and to find out if we decide to move forward with equity crowdfunding. In fact, you could even become part of Team Stark!
Top 10 Equity Crowdfunding Sites
Given that this list is much longer than the non equity based crowdfunding websites, one thing is for sure equity crowdfunding is here to stay! In fact equity crowdfunding investments are roughly doubling each year! We at Stark Mobility have a pretty cool consumer facing product, thus we are considering giving it a go.
It can be said though that all this crowdfunding stuff is not for everyone. It requires a certain desire for exposure and PR as potentially lucrative traction channel, which is another beast to tackle all together.
For some businesses, especially those in hardware, these two crowdfunding paths can be essential before toying with the more traditional forms of fundraising. It is much harder to secure a $1 Million investment with just the sketch of a product than it is by showing an actual product, have proven product market fit and are on your way to establish market demand.
It's a easy proposition to ask for money to fuel your rocket. It's much harder to ask for money to build the rocket itself.
Once your four main documents are ready to go and you have had them reviewed by several peers or preferably an investor friend or two, you need to start building your “hit” list. This will be your main investor list to work from as you embark on the process of pitching like a madman (or woman!). To build this list you need time AND the proper tools. I have compiled a list of tools below that can be extremely beneficial during this process. Take a look:
Top Tools to help Raise Funds
Stripe Atlas - Incorporate in the US from anywhere
Angel List - Raise funds from Angels and Syndicates online
Gust - Kind of like Stripe and Angel.co combined
CooleyGo - Lots of free legal docs in one place
DataStarta - List of 3000+ Angel Investors
GlassDollar - Find Investors the easy way
Streak - Gmail on steroids with CRM functionality
FounderSuite - All in one tool to help reach out and track progress
DeckRooster - Amazing pitch decks and a ton of info fundraising
===> Let us know what tools you are using, we might add them here!
If I can bestow only one piece of advice for you to take away from this, it is that it’s always best NOT to cold call or cold email an investor unless you have no other way of getting in touch. Always look for a common denominator between you and the investor, and then ask that person for an introduction. Hence building your own valuable network will often be crucial to the long term success and continuous growth. This is where Startup Accelerator programs come in handy.
I have taken part in three programs over the past five years and they have all had their different benefits. Stark Mobility was just recently accepted into Techstars, which is considered one of the best accelerator programs in the world. Thus far, being apart of Techstars Berlin has created so much value for our team, the StarkBoard, and the growth of our company.
One of the most valuable lessons we have taken away so far is to remind ourselves to continuously view our business from the customer’s perspective. But I feel that the most important part of these accelerator programs is the network of contacts that come with them. Their vetted digital rolodex can be worth billions of dollars. Here are the top accelerators in the world when it comes to hardware:
Top 10 Hardware Accelerators (and Investors!)
Whatever you end up choosing for your venture, there is NO silver bullet. But what does apply across the board is that the more TRACTION you have, the easier it will become. Everyone wants to be part of something cool that has momentum. You have to be the initial spark, the fuel and the fire pit all at once.
Once your fire is burning they will come. It’s human nature.
All the best from our young company to yours. Feel free to reach out.
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As for us we have reached the point that most startups dream of at their inception. At this moment we are relieved that we were able to ship out hundreds of StarkBoards already. As a young startup trying to deliver the most technologically advanced board...