All posts by kbulusu

Framework For Creating An Hardware Startup For EE Students

If you are reading this post , it means you want to start a hardware company or  interested in HW startups in general.  This is especially written for college or grad student who have novel ideas and feel they dont have the necessary engineering skills and above all no capital. Sp big question for them is where do I start?
You should develop the creative thinking process, analyzing and breaking complex problem into small pieces and then solving them by learning what it takes. This is what engineering in nutshell is irrespective of the domain. 
 
I will try to present a framework for you to get started and you should refine slightly as you go depending on your project/idea.  I assume your parents or  you have access to couple of hundred of dollars capital and be able to spend atleast 20-25hrs of time every week for next 1yr  (besides your regular school work etc…)
 
Prereq: Find 1-2 mentors who are hands on . If I were you I would pick one person with Embedded HW/SW and Hardware/System level design engineer. If you dont know anyone, start attending local meetups (www.meetup.com) , TIE sessions etc  to meet and form some relationships. Many univ EE profs or depts would also be happy to mentor you . Forming relationships with profs will also help you later .
 
1. Buy an Arduino shield and Raspberry-pi . Enroll at local techshop.ws class for the following. These are very cheap.
a. Arduino/Raspberry pi related workshops
b. Autocad for inventor 2013 workshops
  c. Fabrication and Rapid Prototyping class
Also, learn some breadboard basic/basic electronics …there are tons of youtube/online courses on these…
 
If you have access to someone who knows above and can teach you or if you know of any other institution which offers the above, that would also do the trick. 
 
2. Once you learned above, make a prototype of what you are envisioning. You can first start with paper/board prototypes, refine it and then a cardboard prototype to show it around. IF any feedback, re-iterate and then using skills from 1, make a real non-function prototype which should be good enough for end users to visualize .
 
3. Next you know the physical limitations . So all your electronics/PCB/hardware board should fit in it.  Remember this
 
4. With help from mentors, start with simple circuit or core functionality and the Input and output of the product. Then expand on it. When you build the circuit you can use Arduino & Raspberry-pi  . 
 
5. Put this whole barebone circuit into the prototype case you designed. Initially it might be bit larger , but since its a concept, its understood and acceptable. Later you can work with real manf to shrink it. But for now , fit it in. Borrow drill m/c, soldering iron etc either from your friends or pick it up from local stores either for rent or buy it.
 
6. Show this to end users. Ask them various questions like physical appearance (look and feel, touch, weight) and the output of it. Observe if the prototype is getting hot.
If its getting hot, you have to get back to your 3D printer and Autocad workstation and revise again.
 
7. Based on feedback from 6, re-iterate
 
8. Once you think you are there, open an account on upverter.com or use http://schemes.io/ etc, and learn how to draw schematics using various vendors/manf components. Based on the knowledge you picked from 1,& 4 and with your mentors help, you can be confident that you will be able to do this.
 
9.Most of them will let you order a sample (Complete board with all components ) which you can fit in your case and repeat 6.
 
10. By now, you have something that you can show to potential angel investors or apply to some incubators  for seed money. Dont attempt to go beyond unless you have access to capital and a talented technical team to manage the whole thing. Even though you have walked through the whole process, there is lot experienced engrs can do and manage crisis to crisis . 
 
Dont let these overwhelm you. Do it one step a time. The whole thing should not cost you more than 1K-1.5K USD at the max. 
 
Good luck and All the best. Have confidence and thats the first step to start something.

How do you launch a hardware startup?

This is a repost of my  answer on Quora .

Whether its hardware or software or any product, spend lot of time and energy in customer development . Finding out what users want and think they will pay for is more critical than what we think will be cool for them.

Since HW involves lot of capital, you need to get the above part right.Once you have it, you would need to figure out the device/product environment conditions aka environment limitations, regulatory restrictions/guidelines/requirement whatever you call and very likely you will be changing the product spec or operating conditions to match the new reality.

Then come up with product design (look and feel), in layman terms, the product casing or how users should feel like when they see the product. Very likely because of the product casing/packaging, you will very likely revise your spec again..

Next, from the spec you came up with talking to users etc, figure out what it translated to technical components. Like how many HDMI ports , VGA, optical . USB ports etc, what network interfaces you support, what will be the capacity of hard drive and whether it should be SSD etc..

In case of Apple-TV for example, you might need to video encoding/decoding etc, you need good video decoder…check who sells video decoder chips (probably ARM or imagination tech) , also depending what addln functionality you need, you will also need main CPU processor, so figure out if its going to be ARM or MIPS or Intel Atom ..While you are figuring this, also check the embedded OS you want the device to be running and then check if the compatibility of OS with HW at device driver level…

Check all potential vendors for each component and many times they give you sample pricing (typically in volume of 10K pricing …some times they might give you pricing for 1K pieces as well )

Once you have selected vendors, figure out the power consumption and see if the power budget makes sense.Figure out if you want to your device to be running both in Africa and Siberia ..Accordingly revise your power budget and therefore you will change product spec and/or product casing etc..

Next implement the design spec using platforms from upverter etc and simulate the design.  Next select the PCB vendor who can do the design and manufacturing for you…Board design/packaging might impact lot of factors starting from Design spec all the way to casing etc..So this is important..

Add all the pricing and get the BOM (bills of materials) ..Check if the BOM makes sense for the price range you are planning to sell..If your initial BOM at this stage is for example 25$ , triple that number because you are still missing  pcb design and manf, board packaging , yield, lab bring up , compliance testing , QA and other NRE costs…Now check if you are still making money for the price that your customer is willing to pay …If you initially planned to sell for 50$, but your BOM is around 75$, you are loosing money and unless you have lot of money where you can afford losses initially to gain traction, you might have to change your spec again..Most likely you will remove some components and/or reduce some components..for example you might say I will only add 2 HDMI instead of 4, you might reduce processor speed from 1GhZ to 750MHz etc…

Now go back to your customer and convince him that what you are still delivering is lot of value to him and you are still solving their pain points and only removing the nice to have features…If they agree, proceed further..

While you are doing all this, start your embedded and SW development process in parallel using developer or emulator prototyping boards…Have this ready first so that you can do the demo to potential customers/investors on how the product will perform once HW is done …Show them once manufactured, its plug and play ..get their reactions/feedback..very likely you might change your spec totally or part of it…Once you do this 2-3 times and feeling confident, accelerate your PCB board design and manufacturing and get the prototype out…As a start up ,never go for manf without getting SW/Embedded part ready ..Its more like a lean start up development model for hardware..

If you are building a ASIC like Apple does for their Apple-TV , its different on lot of other aspects and I wont recommend it unless you can raise 10-20M$ easily and can hire 10-20 HW engg team …Of course not every product needs an ASIC or even an FPGA and don’t have to rely on leading manf technologies….

As as others have commented , you need to worry if you are infringing IP or if you are creating IP, make IP protection as part of your design thinking and strategy process..You can start with a provisional patent to buy you time and give you a opp to figure if you still want to go ahead after the feedback from SW demo/product demo..

BTW, try to use opensource technologies and customize it where you can…especially the design tools..Some tools are very expensive…Some vendors give their tools free for folks using their IC platform…Another good advice is try to limit vendors as much as you can, it will save you lot of headaches on lot of areas…

I might have left lot of other pieces, but this should give you a good idea of the process involved..If you need details or clarifications, feel free to ping me..

Framework to create a business plan

 I have been lately seeing lot of folks asking how do I create business plan. Since each business is different  because of product, revenue model, distribution, target segment etc , its not possible to suggest something specific unless I know all the facts of that business.
But below is the framework which should be good enough for anyone to learn and comeup with their business plan. This framework also helps founders to really understand all the different pieces of the business and how each of them can affect their business .
1. Download template of lean canvas and fill in all the details, validate with all stake holder and iterate it till it makes sense

2. Next download Business model canvas and the value proposition companion/template/plugin along with it. Again do the due diligence,
validate and iterate it. Lean model canvas and Business model canvas overlap to certain degree, but give very different perspective.
Lean model gives you or helps you identify what is the problem, what is your unique value proposition and have you validated it or verified all the riskiest hypothesis. Typically you do this even before you have your MVP or when you are idea stage.
Once you are clear, fill the business model canvas and then start attaching dollars to it. Those guys have a website called strategyzer.com which lets you do cost estimations and generate P&L statements. Start playing with it by changing one variable at a time. For example, change the size of customer segment or change the distribution channel etc and see how your bottom line is getting effected. Add all the costs to account for every dollar . Dont forget to include customer acq costs etc in the eqn . Include costs for book keeping, legal , office expenses as well. Check the P&L statement see if it makes sense
Once you have it, just translate that canvas into words for business plan word doc, into ppt for your pitch deck and you can use the P&L statement as is or translate into EBITDA structure if you love using that word…
One thing which will be missing from the above and which is required are the following :
( This you should already have it from your customer development phase )
1. Depending on your company whether its B2B or B2C or B2B2C and product, show some metrics how much traction you got already and/or planning to get and what will it cost
2. Tell me whats the avg life time value or length of relationship
3. Tell me how much does it cost to retain them once they become your customer. If you dont have one, what are your anticipated costs
4. What does your sales funnel looks like and how long does it take to make one successful sale
5. Any other metric which shows investors or to your audience that you have what the market wants and is ready to pay
6. If you are web based or app etc, also tell me what your growth hacks are
7. Depending on whether you are 1st time entrepreneur or serial entrepreneur , introduce yourself and your team at the appropriate time. Most 1st time folks do it in beginning .
If something is not clear or if you have followed a different approach/framework, would love to hear more about  it. 

Designing Hospital IT Infrastructure For Promoting Patient Centered Care

patient-centered-careThis is a re-post of discussion I had on Quora.com .  You can read it here by clicking this link

When designing an IT system for Hospitals, you would have to consider many factors like
1. Who are main users of the systems
2. What are the legal requirements
3. What are regulatory requirements

(img courtesy : blog.slkylight.com )

4. What are security considerations you have to follow
5. Would the users need access to the systems outside hospitals organizational or IT boundaries
6. How will you protect the privacy of the data you would be storing
7. What kind of redundancy do you need and how are you going to replicate the data
8. Will you be needing to integrate with other 3rd party vendors for example EHR providers and if it is then how do you plan to integrate them. Think in terms of integration issues, data migration/replication/access etc.This should also cover the different types of software/databases you or your organization would be using.

9. How many different systems does your hospital have and what kind of data they are creating/accessing/retrieving and in what format.
10.Also think about the regular IT maintenance tasks you have to follow.
11. Think in terms of the HW reliability and backup plans.
12. What kind of latency is tolerated while doing stuff real time for your users. This will help you plan your network issues.
13. Understanding the load/performance issues of your IT depending on the expected usage will help plan on selecting right infrastructure.

Here is how I would approach : I would build a patient journey template . The moment patient wants to visit your hospital to the moment they walk out . Along the process list all the interactions they will have with your staff and what kind of IT infrastructure you need to support them. 

This should also include what your physicians will need to support the patient like clinical decision support systems.

Next, build the template from the physicians  and/or hospital administration point of view.

Also think about how to monitor the patient remotely and how to process real time alerts and what kind of infrastructure you need for that. For example those alerts or data might be passed to hospital nursing station who would then filter and send it to order .

Do this from the point of view of all users of the system (or stakeholders of the system like patients/nurse/physicians/administration) etc and by the time you are done with this exercise you will have around 6-8 templates.

Now keeping all the templates in front of you, comeup with a top-down template that comprises whole system. If there are multiple systems (in the context of IT) doing the same thing, eliminate/simply them keeping price/features/support/security/privacy/compliance in mind.

You might have to iterate multiple times to build something you can go forward.

Next introduce the hardware required to support the IT systems you selected keeping reliability/costs/power in mind. This will give you a decent understanding of what your datacenter will look like . See if the HW system costs and electricity/cooling costs still makes sense. If not revise and make tradeoffs

Next introduce the connectivity part. What components needs to be on what kind of networks. Wireless/Wired etc. Think of network security here. Figure out a strategy on how you will protect against intruders/hackers/breaches etc…

Since you are hospital, you must be using some latest and greatest surgical equipment and many of them are wired and some are wireless or require different protocols. Plan ahead for these and include this as a part of IT development plan.

Use of ipads or tablets is increasing in hospitals. There might be additional devices your staff will be using . Sort of BYOD (bring your own devices) . So think what kind of mobile device management technology you want to use and how it fits in this picture.

There might be many more, but this is pretty broad picture and this is how I would approach if I were to design/develop patient centered hospital.

Few suggestions:
1. Stick few systems and vendors if possible. This will solve interoperability issues
2. Storage plays a key role. So select right database technology and database vendor. I prefer documented oriented databases.
3. I’m really not sure if you can have open access meeting all stringent legal/compliance/privacy/regulatory req. There will be tradeoffs. Ask your startup what you will be loosing or your patients/staff will be loosing and what you will be gaining.
4. How do you plan to have CMS (content management system ) serving both patients and medical staff. You need 2 CMS systems one where patients can access and other only hospital staff/physicians can access.Its very important from legal/security point of view to separate or have them in network boundaries.
5.Since you want state of art, what kind of login access are you planning to have ? Biometric? They come with their own sets of requirements
6. Same with clinical decision support systems. Collect all the requirements each of dept needs.

Would love to know from readers on how they would approach or design an advanced hospital IT infra with patient centered care in mind…

What are signs that it is time to let go of a customer

(A repost of my answer on Quora )
Which segment is it? B2B or B2C .  Which industry and how far are they in the evaluation process or decision making process. How long they have been   evaluating. Does that customer already use another competitors product? If so what made them consider you in the first place ? Are they currently unhappy with the support, product features or core functionality of the product or did the existing vendor raise prices or is not giving them the expected discount?   …I assume you had done your due diligence in customer discovery process to ensure the customer you approached is really having the pain point and has committed to move into purchasing phase after evaluation…Did the customers requirement change after the evaluation process began? .I have been in account management roles for many yrs in B2B and lot of times what they say when they start evaluating a product  and their actual pain point are completely different. If I know the answers I could give you better answer.. 
But in general, the following are signs I would observe and will rethink before I decide to move on.
 
1. Are they demanding more features before they pay when you feel features vs price you already offer is already very good…
2. What kind of buyer are they..transactional or strategic/relationship ? 
3. Are they demands good enough but you dont have R&D resources to develop them?
4. Are they requesting multiple extensions of license of the product?
5. If they are existing customers, are they really support burden than what they paid for and there is no more room to negotiate either supporting model etc..
6. Customer is creating bad publicity in forums , word of mouth etc?
7. Customer is not commited either in terms of aligning their resources (persons, time,priority) etc..
8. Comparing apples-oranges
9. Is helping your competition by understanding your strengths better
 
The list can go on…I have encountered each of these and many other situations where I had to take a step back, take a hard look , see if this can be resolved by talking to them before moving on. Its very hard and sad that we had to let go a customer whether pre or post sales…So much energy goes into it, I would really urge to talk to them first before letting them go…B2C shares some similarities with each of the above…

Startups :Creating barrier of entries

next-great-idea

Very first qn that crosses the mind of first time startup entrepreneurs. How do I protect my idea ?

Foremost important thing : Ideas are worthless unless executed properly with viable business plan.

Here are some ways:
1. File for provisional patent if you plan to sell in US..its not very expensive, but creates some barrier of entry..If you are not in US, follow same in your country if it has IP laws
2. Register your company and file for trademarks ..again not very expensive, but its not very cheap…
3. Partner with a very reputable law firm.For example my lawfirm is WSGR (www.wsgr.com) and they are very good and rank among top 10 in US. Many lawfirms are startup friendly or find one who is. Many defer fees or don’t charge anything for 1st yr. Negotiate with them. Partnering with good law firm has its benefits and it also signal investors that you are advised by some good firms.
4. Build MVP faster . Ideas don’t matter much. Execution and viable business models matter. So work on that.
5. Once you register your company legally and have finalized idea/business model , start branding campaigns to generate some traction..these are not so easy and takes time.
6. Start thinking of EU/FDA compliance process…They require tons of documentation and are very process oriented..get familiar with it…Familiarity and knowledge is important and can keep your copy cats away for some time…
7. As I mentioned earlier, Start selling …Many think they should sell only when they have beta or final product…Selling should begin very early to really understand what works and what doesn’t with minimum resources…fail fast and fail often should be the key to accelerate your success 🙂

Would love to hear more ideas and thoughts from readers.

Startup Advice and Strategy: What’s important when considering your startup pricing model?

Screen-Shot-2013-03-08-at-6.48.21-PM-580x326

An interesting and relevant question was asked by a user aq Quora forums . I think this is something every entrepreneur constantly thinks about  ..Have something to contribute, join the discussion here or at Quora at this link :

Startup Advice and Strategy: What’s important when considering your startup pricing model?

I would really look at the following at the minimum assuming you have found your target mkt likes your product based on your MVP.

1. User acq costs
2. Engg costs to develop
3. Life time value (how long you expect to retain them)
4. Anticipated Support costs to retain them
5. Current pricing of existing alternatives

Based on above, If you can come with a price tag where consumer perceives the value of your offering higher than the price tag you set, they will likely to buy. If the value they perceive is more or less same as your price tag , they might still buy depending on the pain level and how good existing alternatives are. If its less than perceived value, it will most likely will not result in any sale.
Also it really depends on who uses your product vs who buys your product. In some cases, if you are selling which is in high or premium range, people might want to check with their spouses or some level of social validation that its on to buy. The same might not apply if you sell to youngsters/teens/singles who earn decent salary or something which can be classified as lifestyle…

Pricing is really a psychological based decision and you have to do multiple experiments to figure what’s the better price tag. One last thing is dont go for short term pricing tricks as consumers will eventually realize the value and your brand recognition will  fall….

 

image courtesy: machiine.com