Lessons From The DEMO Tour: Hardware Is The New Software

DEMO Tour deviceJust before the holidays, we wrapped up the first leg of our DEMO Tour. In partnership with some amazing VC firms—Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins in Silicon Valley and First Round Capital in New York City—the DEMO team met with about 30 mobile startups and developers vetted from more than 100 applicants for the Tour alone.

These were private sessions, and were every effective in surfacing early, high-quality candidates for DEMO Mobile in April. (The deadline for scholarships is January 15, so applynow). Partners at each VC firm, including Frank Chen and Ronny Conway at a16z, Chi-Hua Chien and EIR Stephanie Tilenius at Kleiner, and Chris Fralic and Howard Morgan at First Round (pictured below), sat in with us to provide feedback to the presenting companies.

We saw some terrific products targeting areas you would expect to be hotbeds of activity such as mobile media, commerce, communications, enterprise, and health. What surprised me the most, however, was the variety of hardware products. Now, I can’t go into too much details just yet on exactly what these products were (you will have to wait for them to launch or come to DEMO Mobile in April to find out). But they weren’t phones. They were creative applications wrapped in hardware.

Some of these were the types of products you might see on an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign. A few were really out there—in a good way. (Try to guess what the product being demoed in the photo above is supposed to do). The engineers and entrepreneurs with hardware products were the kind of people who don’t have the patience to wait for a bigger company to build the hardware they need. So they just did it themselves, and with not much more money than a typical software project would require.

Hardware is the new software. In an era when anyone can be a maker, manufacturing is like server capacity—it is available to every entrepreneur on the planet. If you can imagine it, you can build it. The new devices we saw took advantage of cheap sensors and standard computing parts to collect data from the real world in new ways or to create immersive experiences that blend the physical world with the digital. It was eye-opening, and I can’t wait to see more hardware products that solve real-world problems in astonishing ways.

If you are working on a new mobile device, or custom-built hardware that solves thorny problems, please apply to launch at DEMO Mobile. I am especially excited to find new consumer health devices and mobile enterprise hardware built for specific industries. Of course, software and mobile apps are always welcome as well.
DEMO Tour Fralic Morgan

12 thoughts on “Lessons From The DEMO Tour: Hardware Is The New Software

  1. Awesome to see more Hardware-based startups! We funded out original hardware platform for arqspin.com on Kickstarter, which got a huge boost when we released at DEMO2012. It’s a tough road though, manufacturing a prototype is becoming easier and easier, but mass-producing a product is still a huge logistics challenge — we learned that one the hard way.

    • Going from proof-of-concept hardware to mass production seems to be the difficult transition, as you point out. What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to navigate that same route?

      • Finding a good partner with experience in sourcing parts and manufacturing is key. Making a couple thousand of something cheaply is difficult (too few for injection molding, too many to do yourself), but seems to be where new startups typically fall. It took us a long time to iterate on the final design and organize the many steps from raw materials to an assembled product we could ship.

        We were fortunate that we could keep close to our original schedule, but you see a lot of hardware Kickstarter projects that are falling months and months behind schedule. It will be interesting to see if Kickstarter gets a bad name when backers realize the number of projects that are failing to complete on-time (or at all)!

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