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Crowdfunding hardware is harder than you think

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Don't just Google it

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Every day we get bombarded with pitches for clever little gadgets trying to get launched with funds from Indiegogo or Kickstarter. And many (or most!) of those pitches come from tiny teams making hardware for the first time. It's amazing, really, that such small teams are able to source manufacturing and create gadgets without the need for a giant corporation. Even so, it's always hard to know how much credence to give to these companies, because we know from long experience that even popular Kickstarters can turn into debacles.

But sometimes tiny companies have big, successful ideas. Like Flic, a little Bluetooth button you can program to do, well, nearly anything you can think of. It's smart, cheap, and takes advantage of automated internet plumbing like IFTTT to make it really easy for normal people to do neat things. Flic got funded with nearly a million dollars, actually shipped devices, released updates, and overall seems like a nice success story.

But, as the company detailed in a blog post, getting a factory in China to build something for you is easy — but getting it right the first time is very hard. As Joacim Westlund explains in the post, the first generation of Flic buttons aren't software upgradeable. The reason? His (now ironically named) company, Shortcut Labs, made some assumptions about component costs when they were first sourcing the parts they needed for the button. The company googled the cost of memory, saw that doubling it would add too much cost to the price of Flic, and opted against it.

The false assumption that double memory equals double price caused a lot of trouble, not only for us but for our most important customers. It was also, in retrospect, stupid of us to not believe that full software updates would be necessary when dealing with a brand new technology.

But then the company actually talked to the people who actually sell memory to companies like Shortcut Labs at volume. Double the memory was not double the price, and so future Flic buttons can be software updated. The first batch, though, can't be.

Flic isn't replacing buttons for those early adopters — they still work as advertised — but it is trying to spread the word that getting real hardware made at appreciable scale is harder than it looks. Even if that hardware is a simple little Bluetooth button.