Today the accelerator HAXLR8R held its second-ever demo day in San Francisco. Two things separate it from the usual incubator event. First, it focuses solely on hardware products. Second, HAXLR8R is based in Shenzhen, China, bringing founders and mentors to the city for about three months to learn how to work with factories and manufacturers.
So that means a group of entrepreneurs from places as diverse as the United States to England to Singapore has just returned from what is essentially hardware boot camp from halfway around the world. Many of the founders had never been there before. I caught up with a few to see what advice or rules of thumb they could offer to budding hardware entrepreneurs.
Spark Devices – Makes a circuit board that hobbyists, startups, and big companies can integrate into any product to turn them into connected devices.
“When people hear “China,” they think “cheap.” But “cheap” really means “fast.” We would move really quickly. We would redesign a circuit board, and get it back in less than 24 hours,” says cofounder Zach Supalla.
Focus – a headset that sends a current of electricity to the brain to help improve a gamer’s cognitive ability, like making him more alert.
“Look both ways when you cross the road. Seriously. That’s my advice. There are cars, motorbikes. I’m from London, and Hong Kong is like London. But Shenzhen is like the Wild West,” says cofounder Michael Oxley.
Helios – Makes connected bike handlebars, with a built in headlight and blinker system. The iOS app also adds features like a visual speedometer.
“You’ve got to stay on top of the factories. When communicating with them, be simple and concise, and try not to confuse them. For example, once we sent them an email with 10 specifications, and they only did two or three of them. And it’s not because they don’t want to. Part of it is a language barrier. They might have Google Translate and not get the whole thing,” says cofounder Seema Zandipour
“Convince the companies they can do it. A lot of times, you’ll ask a factory to do something and they’ll say ‘no’ because they think they can’t do it,” adds cofounder Antonio Belmonte.
Vibease – Makes a “smart vibrator” for Android. A user can choose fantasies from an app, and the sex toy reacts accordingly.
“People are usually afraid of people copying their product in China. But most people don’t have to worry. If you’re not famous, people won’t care about you. And if they do copy you, it’s a bad copy. People talk about Apple copies in China. But there aren’t any good ones,” says founder Dema Tio.