Electronics design. A winning technology startup strategy. Part I

    The topic was too wide to fit into one article. I bring to your attention the introductory part. It will deal with actions that it is desirable to take before writing a technical specification for development in order to significantly reduce the risks of failure.

    The world entered the era of “smart things”, which generated interest in technology start-ups, which only grows year by year. At the COP, they beat record-breaking fees, even though not everyone is able to adequately fulfill their obligations. For a dozen years and a half of attempts to work as a magician embodying the ideas of clients and breathing life into themI have accumulated a lot of experience. Ruthless statistics show that 9 out of 10 startups fail, in my practice this ratio is less dramatic, but perhaps because I try not to take part in projects that initially have great chances of failure.

    Based on my own experience, I will try to formulate a development strategy that enhances the chance of success for a technology startup of medium complexity and illustrate it with examples.

    What will be discussed under the cut
    Не стоит отливать ТЗ в граните.

    Сколько денег необходимо для запуска технологического стартапа?
    Начинать проверку вашей идеи стоит ещё до начала разработки.
    Стратегическая канва — отличный инструмент для проверки конкурентоспособности.
    Создание пространства, свободного от конкуренции на реальном примере.
    Изучение ближайших аналогов — хорошая практика.
    Подбор ключевых компонентов и оценка себестоимости.

    First, the main thing - about the money

    I want to disappoint those who hope to see the recommendations in advance, like hiring a freelance student, to assemble a brilliant project based on the Arduino board with several shields, download a dozen sketches from the booklet and add a hundred lines for a couple of thousand rubles. Then, three thousand to invest in porting this masterpiece to a two-layer board, and the remaining five to spend by ordering its manufacture and assembly from the Chinese. Thus, having met the budget of 10 000 rubles and a calendar month, get the hit of the season and a profit of one million dollars. I am not a magician, but I am just learning, so I have no such recipes.

    The development of a product of medium complexity, the active phase of which lasts 3–12 months, requires an investment of 10–50 thousand dollars. You can rely on grants and investment funds, but getting funds through them is a very lengthy and expensive process that will force you to spend a lot of time on reporting and will add a significant amount of restrictions on your actions in the future. In addition, the later your project raises a round of funding from the foundation, the less you will have to donate. Therefore, when starting a project, you should have an understanding that during the first three months, ten thousand will have to be invested, otherwise the process risks stretching out, or even splitting into several separate weakly interconnected temporary sections, which is even worse. If this amount seems outrageous to you,

    I am an ardent supporter of a flexible approach, but making a turnaround in the process of hardware development is more difficult, longer and more expensive than in the case of pure software.

    That is why I dedicated this article to the process that needs to be carried out before the immediate start of development. It is better to spend a thousand dollars to test the viability of your idea, than 50,000 to anyone an unnecessary experimental batch!

    More information about the recruitment process and money, in one of the following articles of the cycle, and now it's time to move on to the main topic.

    Do not cast TK in granite

    Errors in the design process, and even more so, the production of “hardware” products are very expensive both literally and figuratively . It hurts to look when people repeat the same mistakes over and over again. The most common of these is to try to maintain a veil of secrecy until a fully functional final product is obtained. Ideas are in the air today, they cost almost nothing, the ability to bring them to life has real value. Similar projects almost simultaneously start in different parts of the globe. If you run slowly, you stand still. In order to move at the maximum pace and at the same time with minimum costsit is necessary in parallel to engage in marketing, product promotion and its development. To find potential customers and use feedback with them to improve the product during the iterations of its creation.

    Work on an unshakable TK compiled before the start is one of the worst options for a startup. Without using elements of new-fangled strategies such as MVP, Blue and Scarlet Oceans, SCRUM, remote programming, it is difficult today to achieve rapid and effective development, especially within a limited budget, but precisely elements. In its pure form, not too suitable for the design of electronic devices.

    Fire, water and copper pipes

    So, you have an idea and it seems unique to you. But so far these are only your assumptions, and before you proceed to its direct implementation, it’s good to find out how true they are. It may be really wonderful, but by changing a couple of strokes in it, you can make it excellent. And what if she has no prospects, and abandoning her before the implementation stage, you will save yourself a lot of time, money and nerves? The sooner you understand this, the better, because tomorrow you can be born another, really brilliant, but the resources for its implementation in life will not remain.Of course, you have already consulted with family and friends, but in the case of a technology startup, even before getting the physical embodiment of your dream, you should ask the opinion of a professional who ate a dog, taking part in such processes.
    Instead of immediately starting to create the first version of the device in the "hardware", you should first put your virtual model to the test. Drive it through Fire, Water and Copper Pipes. If it burns, rusts or turns to dust, it is better to come up with something new. Having gone through all the harsh ordeals, she will become worthy of the process of incarnation in the flesh.

    From the Fiery Scarlet Ocean to the Blue

    First you need to find out what competitive advantages over the already existing counterparts your future device has and how easy it will be to use them to win back your market share. In the strategy of the blue oceans for this there is a simple and good method, based on the construction of a “strategic canvas” I personally prefer the term “curve of values” . To build it, the main characteristics of the product, influencing the choice of the buyer, are laid on one of the axes. On the other axis are the relative values ​​of the properties.
    In the case when the value curves for similar products from different manufacturers are close to each other, we most likely are in a very competitive market. Over the long years of struggle, the optimum characteristics of both the product and the methods of its promotion have been settled on it. The main competition is conducted by methods of cost reduction and expensive advertising companies. Not the best market for newbies.To enter it as a new player, it is highly desirable to have a serious competitive advantage, but in this case it will be difficult to find him. However, by strengthening some properties by weakening others and creating new consumer properties of existing products, the situation can be radically changed. At the same time, we seem to go beyond the framework of standard methods of struggle and, if the changes in the properties are serious enough, in fact, we are creating a new market segment. For us, this is a blue ocean - large and clean, in which there are practically no competitors. A good example is Apple, which developed the first iPhone, thanks to which it formed a new smartphone market and became a leader on it.

    Analysis of the existing market

    Consider the application of the technique on a specific example. Suppose you decided to create a new tracker five years ago.

    Why not today ? Five years ago we passed this way with one of the firms that was my client. In this article I will give exactly the recommendations that made then. Today it is clearly seen how effective they were. On the other hand, beyond the prescription of years and the loss of their relevance, they may already be a commercial secret.

    The competition in the tracker market is huge. In the lower price segment, the Chinese are firmly entrenched in satisfying the massive demand; at the top are brands that produce reliable devices with rich functionality for individual market niches. To top it off, even inexpensive cell phones and tablets are now equipped with GPS modules. To succeed in the market, we need a serious competitive advantage.

    In the Russian context, it may well become a friendship with one person, thanks to which your trackers will forcibly put on all buses operated in the country. But what to do if you studied not in that school, but instead of judo, you were keen on mountain tourism? We'll have to poraskinat brains.

    Eureka. We make a tracker for small children - pre-school and primary school age. The cell phone is too big for them, they don’t really know how to use it, they can easily lose or break an expensive item. We cut off the most serious competitor, but the Chinese remained with their consumer goods. Obviously, for starters it is worth looking for analogs on aliexpress, where many of these devices are offered.

    After several hours of research, we find out that trackers already exist that can theoretically be used to monitor children, moreover, this is mentioned in their description. A few more hours will go on breaking up their diversity into two main groups:

    The first one uses GSM modems technology to determine the LBS coordinates. Coordinates are determined based on the distance from the modem to the nearest cellular base station. The accuracy of determination in this case lies within the limits of 300-1000 meters, depending on the density of the location of these stations, the possibilities of access to them and other conditions.

    The second category has a real GPS receiver and even a mobile application that can change the working configuration, provide some service functions, display the received coordinates on the map, and sometimes save tracks. Depending on the quality of performance and wealth of functions, their value lies in the range of 30 - 60 USD. This is our direct competitors.

    We build and analyze the strategic outline

    In order to determine how we can compete with Chinese consumer goods, we will build a “strategic canvas” for both types of devices. The LBS trackers curve will be highlighted in blue on it, full purple with a GPS module.

    There is no point in getting into competition with the first group of products, the accuracy of 300 meters in determining the coordinates is not suitable for a children's tracker. Those who buy similar baby-monitoring devices are not our customers. These are people who are guided only by price, let the Chinese masters be cut for their money among themselves.

    It will be extremely difficult to compete with the second group on the parameters displayed on the chart. Changing one for the better, we worsen others. For example, to increase the sensitivity of a GPS receiver, it will be necessary to increase the dimensions of the antenna and board, use an external LNA, as a result, the price and dimensions of the device will increase significantly, which is critical for a children's tracker. An attempt to reduce the size will lead to a decrease in the operating time and the deterioration of the accuracy of determining the coordinates. The parameters of such devices were determined during the years of market development and are in balance with each other, close to the optimum.

    The best way out is to add new features that can give our gadget exclusive and fundamental, for a child tracker, qualities that others lack.

    Creating a competition-free space

    Finding such a solution is much easier with an experienced developer. He knows that the introduction of an inertial sensor chip capable of measuring accelerations and turns around the axis will be a good move. This increases the cost of the device by 2-3 dollars, but it will allow to realize the unique functions that are missing from the above trackers.

    Accelerometer has an extremely low power consumption, 1000 times smaller than a GPS receiver in active mode. With it, you can track the presence of movement - when the object moves is not uniformly occur periodic changes in acceleration. So we can turn off the receiver for periods of time until there is no movement.

    By analyzing the data on the acceleration of the object, it is possible to draw conclusions about the nature of the movement. Distinguish jumping on the spot from walking, climbing stairs or driving in a car.

    The figure above shows accelerometer readings at a sampling rate of 15 times per second. The white, yellow and green curves are the readings along three mutually perpendicular axes, and the red one is the absolute value of the resulting acceleration vector. It can be seen that walking causes his vibrations to be close to sinusoidal. By their frequency, amplitude and shape can be judged a lot.

    With the help of GPS, we can not track the coordinates inside the premises, we can not do this with the help of the accelerometer. But with its help we are able to recognize for example the ascent and descent of the stairs, the movement on the elevator. When using the gyroscope also turns. When a person is inside the room, it is logical to turn off the GPS receiver, because it is useless. However, then how to determine at what point he went out into the open and it’s time to turn it on? One of the options that can be implemented with an accelerometer is tracking the duration of walking. If you are indoors, but at the same time you walked 15 meters in one direction, this is a reason to check the presence of a signal on the GPS receiver - with a high degree of probability you left the premises.
    Here we come to the next concept - types of zones. A small child is quite strongly limited in its movements. The number of places in which it is usually located, and even more so between which it can move independently, is small. Apartment, courtyard, nearby playgrounds, the nearest park, grandmother and grandfather's house or friends, kindergarten or school ... With the help of a mobile application, we can mark these zones and control whether the tracker is inside one of them, as well as the nature of the movements that it is there commits.

    Moreover, the paths of movement between these zones are usually, if not rigidly set, then have small variations — for example, from school to home you can be reached by two or three roads.Zones and their names are set by the user from the mobile application. If you enter the self-learning mode, the tracker in automatic mode can track the most characteristic paths between zones and add them to the list of “typical routes”.

    As a result, we get a self-learning system that can warn parents that a child performs uncharacteristic actions and, depending on the chosen message profile, send a warning signal using the client application installed on your phone. For example, your child moved away from the playground in the direction of more than 10 meters, or instead of going home after school, headed in the opposite direction. This topic can be developed for a long time, but it is already clear that your tracker has become a unique device and cheap Chinese crafts are no longer competitors for it.

    Thanks to the inclusion of GPS only when necessary, the operating time from one charge, with the same battery, increased from one day to two weeks, you do not need to peer into the Google map and try to understand where your child is, looking at the smartphone. Information is provided in the most convenient way - at home, at the grandmother, on the playground ... And if suddenly, in the middle of the way home from school, the child began to move at the speed of the car, an alarming message immediately arrives on the smartphone.
    It remains to work a little more - to remove the functions that have become unnecessary - a panic button, a speaker with a microphone, which will increase the tightness, reduce the size and reduce the price a little.

    As a cherry on the cake, you can enhance the emotional component - put the tracker in a beautiful plastic case or a case made in the form of a toy, for example, a cute dog. It will be much more pleasant for a child to wear it instead of a rectangular box. In addition, due to this, tightness can be added - even if it falls into a puddle it will not sink. If we are quite creative, you can increase the fee and with it the ground plan and, thanks to this, raise the gain of the antennas of both the GPS receiver and the GSM module.
    Another good step would be to place the device in the case of children's hours, but this will already significantly increase the cost and complexity of development. Specific case and constructive, custom chipset, indicator, antenna integration into the strap ... All these are very non-trivial tasks. In addition, the lifetime of the device from a single battery charge will sharply decrease.

    The result is that we have gained clear competitive advantages over the products on the market in the niche we have created. The likelihood that our device will find its consumer has increased many times, and the price of output to the market has dropped significantly. We were able to get out of, the scarlet from the blood of competitors, the ocean in the free blue! Passed fire and water, but this is only part of the way!

    The curve for the device we got is added on the graph above. It can be seen that the red strategic outline has seriously diverged from the first two. We added new functionality and removed unnecessary, which is duplicated by our client application on the smartphone. They added an emotional component, which is very important so that the child would like to carry the thing with him and try not to lose it. In fact, based on the accelerometer chip and the creative use of its capabilities, a new market subsegment has been created. We received the first MVP, while virtual. It's time to take care of the details. Radio Details.

    Copper pipes

    It's time to think about physical implementation. It is very useful to purchase the closest analogues of our future instrument and carefully analyze their device, element base and operation. It is likely that one can draw interesting ideas from them. For example, in the Pilgrim tracker, the GPS module antenna was implemented by printed wiring on the board, which was part of the case. Subsequently, this prompted me to install a ceramic antenna perpendicular to the board, which significantly saved the board dimensions and provided acceptable characteristics of the receiving-transmitting path.

    It is necessary to make a decision whether we have enough information to start designing the finished device or whether it is worth starting with research - R & D.

    At this stage, a block diagram of the device is created and key components are selected. By key I understand those on which price and direction of development largely depends. Usually these components are active - a microcontroller, a power conditioner, a GPS module, etc., but in some cases they can also include passivation - for example, inductance with special properties for a PLC modem, a battery or an ultrasonic emitter. The board's manufacturing technology is chosen - material, number of layers, thickness, etc. The dimensions of the future device, the material of the body are determined. The body is chosen, if it is customized, or an overall three-dimensional model of its own is made, if necessary, sketches are drawn.

    The selection of key components is a very important stage, which is not always paid due attention. For example, STM microcontrollers in the low price category exceed ATMEL counterparts in price / functionality, but in the more high-performance segment ATMEL chips are now MICROCHIPlook more attractive. The hardware function you need, which is present in the general datasheet of the microcontroller family, may not be available for a particular chip in your chosen package. An inertial sensor from one company can cost less than another, but it can be different with lower power consumption, and even have additional functions of the FIFO buffer and signal preprocessing ... Of course, in the next iteration of your board, you can replace these key components, but often leads to a significant increase in development time and additional material costs.
    The case of R & D

    In the case of preliminary research and development on the shape of the hull, of course, it’s too early to worry, and instead of a board, you can use a set of demobords, which will later serve as sources of reference design and to test the software’s functional modules.

    Based on the key components used, the approximate cost of the finished product is calculated.

    If both the functionality and the cost price of the future device suit you, you can finally move on to the next step - forming a framework, for the entire project, and detailed, for the first Minimum Functional Model, TK and a schedule plan based on the Gant chart, if not - repeat iteration.

    By the way, while the TK is being prepared, the project founder will be able to conduct the first tests. For example, having bought several toys of different shapes from different materials and with the participation of children to choose the optimal size, shape, type of attachment to clothes ...

    But about the intricacies of the formation and content of the Technical Specification, already in the next article of the cycle. I hope there will be a place in it also to discuss the optimal selection of the development team, communication with them and find out that there is no need to fear remote development even in the field of hardware.


    In conclusion, I would like to give the names of wonderful books, the ideas of which I widely use in my workings out:

    “Startup. Founder's Handbook ”
    Authors: Bob Dorf, Steve Blank

    “ Blue Ocean Strategy. How to find or create a market that is free of other players. ”
    Authors: Rene Moborne, V. Chan Kim

    Both are available in electronic form. It is better to read in the sequence in which I brought them. The first requires a thoughtful reading, and the second can be bought in the audio version.

    Budo is especially grateful to those who not only read the article to the end, but also found the strength to share their opinions in a poll published below.

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