FAILURE RESUME OF FREEBOWLER: A CASE-STUDY ON CRICKET-BASED HARDWARE STARTUP FOR FUTURE INNOVATORS
After being in the hardware startup space for a while now, it just feels like this “experience” has just got everything to shape a personality in being a true-bred entrepreneur or in just making the mindset entrepreneurial. As time passes in the hardware universe, failing becomes a way of life, we often celebrate failures and losses are comfortable to deal with and something that we can talk about with pride. The buffer, the tolerance, and the cushion for taking hits, it just keeps getting better. We’re sure most startup stories around the world are very similar to this, but the ‘hardware startup space” has got that little extra.
By representing the hardware community, we believe it’s our responsibility to show the world the real side of the hardware startup, and it’s failures. The up and coming, aspiring entrepreneurs see not only the fame, notoriety, fun, exciting, happy, and the right part of hardware entrepreneurship but also the not — so — okay, ugly, challenging, and the ‘hard’ part of it. The sooner we can get comfortable talking about failures, the faster is the path to success. We believe it’s equally important to show the world what happens ‘behind the scenes’ and create more contextual clarity by eliminating delusion to make it easy for everybody involved in the process to deal with the ramifications of starting up. We also want to show the process which has more than one shades of success, which is darker.
Setting The Expectations, Right!
The name ‘Failure Resume’ actually comes from an educational background, a master’s program coursework to be more precise. During the master’s degree in entrepreneurship, we had ‘entrepreneurial startup process’ as one of the subjects with an assignment called ‘Failure Resume.’ The completion of the task revolved around making students more self-aware through identifying the biggest failures of their lives to date. Furthermore, substantiate the consideration of those actions as failures and ways to turn them positive with the present-day experience, worldly knowledge, and maturity. So we want to recreate the scenario and redo the assignment once again more from a startup’s background versus personal or individual. We want to list down the things that we collectively at freebowler failed and now firmly believe we could have handled the situations better. Although considered failures in the micro, taken as more significant successes in the macro as we’ve just barely begun and there’s still a long way to go.
We at freebowler hope this brings value with insights into the hardware startup process for ‘makers’ of the present and future. We’d love to shed light on some generic things that could change the course of the business in the long run. Of course, you can find a lot of this information all over the internet, and even better, clearer and deeper insights. But with a context and relevance to the ‘cricket hardware startup in India,’ this could be useful for future “cricketpreneurs.”
1. Delay In Product Launch Timelines
It took us exactly 28 months(around two full years) from the conceptualization to commercialization of the freebowler superthrower non-electric, affordable, and portable cricket ball thrower idea. It’s quite a commonly accepted fact that it takes 12–18 months for any product development even for more significant product-based companies with the best of all the resources from money to expertise to experience. Most new product based projects launch within 18 months from the time of initiation, covering branding, marketing, sales, and customer support and services. We could have crunched that timeline and made so much more progress and be further along in terms of growth, if not for the extended six months of product development. We mainly failed in this step or delayed our progression because of indecision created by the visa situation since it was initially started-up in the US and not quickly acting to resolve it. Our indecision to shift the freebowler base to India over from the US cost us time and money in terms of a missed opportunity to take up funding of $50,000 at one of the world’s best top hardware accelerators — Alpha Lab Gear.
Rule -1: Be it hardware or software, getting into the market within 12–18 months from the project initiation with a minium variable product(MVP) product is critical. Additionally, if your hardware product innovation is so cool that you want to file a patent to protect the technology, then guess what you only have 12 months from the time of filing the provisional patent application to the non-provisional. So either way, you only have 12 months to get your product innovation figured out.
2. Not Exploring Manufacturing Options Outside India
We could have done a better job of doing our homework of finding various manufacturing options not just in India but outside India. We catch ourselves in a tricky situation where we have a flexible working relationship with our manufacturing partners with payments. However, the cost of manufacturing is high, quality, and reliability are still not up the mark; promptness of material vendors is questionable with slower manufacturing cycles. We created too much of a co-dependency because of the comfortable environment that was created by both parties. It’s like as if ‘We are nothing without them, they are nothing without us.’ We never gave ourselves a chance to come out of our comfort zone and learn the making outside of it. All this leads to bad business behaviors, which could prove to be detrimental.
Rule-2: Watch who is advising you and where you are taking the information. If people have never started a business, have no clue what it takes to build and run hardware business, then stay away from such people. Their advice has no context in the manufacturing of products, so be wise in choosing your advisors. Our recommendation would be to explore manufacturing options both in India and outside depending upon your product. Give yourselves enough chances to prove one is better over the other in the best interest of your company and not to get stuck up with one vendor and have your company’s life dependent on them. Be prepared to walk away, if things are not up to the mark. Never compromise on the customer experience of your product.
3. Not Exploring The Traditional Distribution Methods For Scalability
We could have, No wait! We should have done a better job and more research to understand the cricket business. Just talking to more people, learning the margin structure in the industry both in India and globally, would have to lead us to have a better pricing structure and strategy. We understood the sweet spot of a buyer, a consumer, but not that of the dealers and other businesses. B2C is excellent, but B2B and B2B2C are also crucial to factor in, especially when one is just starting up. That’s where we feel we went wrong in not clearly understanding the manufacturer — dealer — an end-user relationship from an economic standpoint. That’s one thing we would go back and correct if we had an opportunity to change. So we at freebowler should have been early into this process of figuring out the distribution methods and not eight months into the product launch, which is a big missed step.
Rule-3: Your product will be successful with a well-defined distribution structure. And it is directly proportional to how quickly you can scale the activity of getting your product onto the shelves of the top retail outlet locations and create accessibility for people to buy your product. Social media marketing is great for creating awareness. Still, for creating accessibility, it has to be done through well-defined distribution channels through dealer network where your product becomes available in major cricket shops for people to walk into a store and buy it right away.
Just begin by talking to 20 of the top brands in your space irrespective of the category (service or product) and build relationships and find out how the industry works. Because each of the product offerings of the top 20 brands is all interconnected and correlated in one or more ways, the buying decision is a chain reaction with all these other brands. Moreover, these conversations with the top 20–30 brands in your space also open up future business development opportunities for potential strategic sales and marketing partnerships to help get your pricing right!
4. Not Starting Social Media Marketing Activities Soon In The Process
As much as exploring the distribution network, the exploration of social media marketing also remains equally high up there in that failure column. When we talk about social media marketing, we’re not only talking about posting on social media platforms regularly, which by the way, is the gateway, and the unlock to brand building. But we’re also talking about running ads against potential target audiences and building a community of passionate cricketers who want to be a part of the process and the journey. Also, more importantly, from a technical standpoint, Facebook algorithms take time to study the target audience, and it optimizes itself once we find the sweet spot of our target group on social. So all this takes time and effort, more importantly, practice in developing and generating the creatives and placing them in the right spot. Positioning the ads is crucial because ads are useful in helping convert potential leads into sales. So we wish we understood the importance and power of social media marketing back in 2016 versus 2018 and creating content in all forms of communication — picture, video, audio, and text. We at freebowler are still falling behind on starting our cricket innovation podcast show in the audio format, which could prove to be costly. But we have begun in all other formats- pictures, videos, and written words and have seen immediate results. Things would have been a lot different if we had started practicing social media marketing right from day one just like we religiously did with product development. So please do not make this mistake and fail like us.
Rule-4: Begin documenting the entire process of your everyday business and build a following and database of early adopters before the sales campaign begins. So create as much content as possible in all formats(video, pictures, audio and text) and post it on social every day till the launch so that it shows the world the journey right from day one to the current day. It is a great branding strategy because people like to see you’re genuine and love to see/hear/read your background/origin story. So capturing the narrative through process documentation and running facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn ads against target audience is the key to success.
5. Constantly Changing The Design
Design experimentation is excellent, but not sticking to the core design is not. Moving too fast and making one too many changes in the design dint help us. Of course, we were listening to our users to incorporate the feedback, but that did not help our manufacturing process. All hardware startup founders need to strike that balance between customer experience and the present-day manufacturing capabilities. Experimenting with the proven design dented our manufacturing capabilities, which lead to inferior quality products in terms of utility and functionality. Chopping and changing don’t help the cause of any process.
Rule-5: Product development is always work in progress; nobody is ever going to get any product right. That’s the nature of it; there’ll always be scope for improvement. Getting the product perfect does not exist and is delusional. So we went down that path of ‘getting the product perfect,’ which lead to compromising and losing focus on a lot of other essential things around production and manufacturability of the design in volumes. We could have done a better job with testing and validation to get the design right to define the manufacturing process through thorough quality checkpoints. In the race to get the ‘product right,’ we compromised on the existing methods, which ended as a disaster because we neither got the product right nor the process. So it’s advisable not to lose sight of the process in the hunt to get the perfect product which by the way, doesn’t exist and could cause much damage to the brand if we don’t live up to the expectations we’ve set.
6. Poorly Managing The Cash Flow
Cash is oxygen for any business. If we are losing more money than we are making by selling our products and services, then we have got it all wrong. We need to supply and feed more oxygen to our business to stay alive and keep it running. It’s imperative to understand the financials of the company and work very closely with the accounting team to keep track of the expenses. Our inability to foresee the costs, improper planning ahead of time, not anticipating seasonal changes, poor budget allocation, and unwise spending on unimportant things have all lead us to cash trapped situations.
Also, there’s a specific reason as to why ‘Hardware is Hard’ and ‘Hardware is called a cash flow business’ because the dynamics of the industry are such that most early-stage product business runs on faster ‘cash circulation’ and not on profits or losses.
Profit or loss has a different meaning in this context because “cash flow positive” is defined as success in hardware space. It’s so hard to achieve that because cash is always just stuck up in the payment channels, and it so happens, we never get to realize any money in hand in hardware business because everything is put back into the company to keep the activities running. Right from material sourcing, vendors to manufacturing suppliers to logistics service providers, much cash is just in the form of accounts payable and net payment terms(days) for accounts receivable are high.
Rule-6: Understand the dynamics of the cash flow situation and the terminologies associated with the same to plan it well ahead of time. We can have the most exceptional product in the world and the best business model to succeed, but if the cash flow situation is not supporting them, it’s as good as being dead or non-existing. So it’s crucial to work out the expenses and make sure that the company’s financials are not stuck.
Ending Thoughts For Future ‘Cricketpreneurs’
Once you are out there in the market, then the market itself begins dictating the changes, the modifications, and all the pivots you ever need to change the course of the business. Let merit speak and let the market decide the future of our company instead of your assumptions. What it does in the long run by putting yourselves out there in the market is it pushes you to figure out a lot of other things needed to run a business and sustain success. You can have the most fabulous idea in the world, but execution matters. So being out there teaches execution while you can still keep working on your product. It opens you up into a whole new world of everything from product development, marketing, sales, distribution to customer service. Including everyday administrative and operational activities with branding, accounting, banking, legal, human resource, business development, fundraising, pitching, manufacturing, dealing with vendors, man-management, customer experience, and everything you need outside of the product itself to run a meaningful business. You’ll get a chance to meet all kinds of human beings on earth you ever could have managed from highest to the lowest, to the best to the worst, which then lets you find your balance. So be out there in the dirt as soon as you can with your startup. We have made plenty of these mistakes and failed miserably as first-time entrepreneurs, hope this gives you guys a head start to your hardware startup journey.
We look forward to more futuristic and unique failure resumes.