Bootstrapping your way to a successful hardware startup
“What you want to do will define how you get off the ground. When you make and sell physical goods, you begin to trade flexibility once you start making material purchases. It is critical to have tools that offer control and provide structure so you can avoid mistakes and conserve cash.”
- Ian McCullough, startup expert
A product development and operations consultant, Ian McCullough has given business advice to companies large and small, and regularly offers his suggestions for hardware startups on the SAP on the Cloud blog.
But Ian isn’t just an expert on starting up—he is an expert on starting up with minimal costs. Just a few years ago, Ian and his longtime friend Jason Lentz launched their own scalable business selling Giant Cardboard Robots. Their tiny company has earned international recognition and a healthy online presence, yet it has almost zero fixed costs and runs almost exclusively on lightweight cloud-based services, online communities and social media publicity.
Ian knows the importance of using right priced, right sized tools to get a business idea off the ground—which is why he recommends cloud solutions as a great way for manufacturers to get maximum functionality at minimal cost. Below are five of his favorite cloud tools for bootstrapping a startup that makes and sells goods.
Ian loves Box for its collaborative file sharing and storage. Box stores all of your online content like documents and spreadsheets, and lets you access, manage and share your documents from any device with an Internet connection.
Ian recommends ProofHQ for design management. With this service, you can get a collaborative, real time review on any piece of content with relatively little hassle. You can comment on posts and ask questions without calling a single in-person meeting, which means you won’t ever have to run around the office asking “did you sign off on this?”
Ian recommends MyERP for managing inventory and accounting. It’s affordable, lightweight and can grow right along with you. MyERP also hosts an online community where users can start discussions and crowdsource solutions to common problems.
Ian recommends LegalZoom for small companies needing to create simple legal documents for items like contracts and trademarks. LegalZoom is an online legal document preparation service that also provides a legal education center and interesting articles on the legal aspects of current events.
Ian considers PartsList to be an essential tool for any materials-based startup looking to scale without losing control of product data and BOMs. PartsList lets you create clean, fully documented BOMs and turn that list into a purchasable BOM to share with document control, purchasing or potential vendors.
For cost-effective marketing, think socially
Social media can be one of the best tools around for reaching large audiences on a budget. Ian’s startup created a profile on Etsy, a social community where makers, curators and shoppers can buy and sell handmade and vintage goods and supplies.
It goes without saying that popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are also great tools. Through consistent engagement, Ian has built his startup a healthy social following of over 2,500 Facebook fans and maintains active Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest profiles.
“It’s all about leveraging cost-effective resources to scale marketing efforts and get the word out about a product,” explains Ian. “Social media is great for telling people what we’re doing and finding people who like what we like.”
By using simple strategies, Ian has been able to breathe life into his own ideas and those of his clients. And there’s no reason you can’t do the same. The cloud provides all sorts of tools—from manufacturing to marketing—to support anyone’s business dream.