Starting a hardware business is tough. There are many barriers to entry, not the least of which is financial. But through creative deal-making and industrious problem-solving, I was able to take $12,000 in savings and turn my company JamStack into a $1.4-million-dollar business in under 12 months.
My aim: to produce the first attachable guitar amplifier that connects to a smartphone, and then to get people to buy it. Here are the steps I used to ensure JamStack became a successful business in the most efficient way possible.
Solve a problem.
I’m an engineer, tinkerer, and inventor; I’m also an electric guitar player. And in the latter context, I felt the need to alleviate the annoyances I was experiencing. Specifically: It took too long to set up my equipment; my amps sounded terrible at lower volumes; they could not handle backing tracks; and nothing was portable or ergonomic. I remember thinking, I wish all this equipment was already on my guitar.
There were several epiphanies which led to the final JamStack design. The biggest was the realization that Bluetooth speaker technology and modern smart phones were now at a place where they could facilitate a superior guitar-playing experience. The first iteration was actually a custom-built guitar, complete with 3D printed phone mount and numerous holes for the speaker components.
It became my favorite way to play guitar, and I knew I had something, but at the time I was a full-time teacher and didn’t know much about business or bringing a physical product into reality.
Create proof of concept/prototyping.
Fast-forward a few years: I noticed someone had created an ultra-premium version of my guitar and raised almost half a million dollars on Indiegogo. I was simultaneously validated and frustrated that I had lost out on an opportunity, though I felt there was still a spark of opportunity there. So, I ordered speakers, phone mounts and parts from the hardware store and began working on my own proof of concept.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could make something that was fun and easy to use regardless of how it looked.
Bring in experts.
I began seeking advice and started touring the innovation hubs in my hometown of Toronto until someone directed me toward the industrial design firm Cortex Design. I was told that its professionals had a great nose for sniffing out great ideas and that they do amazing work.
Paying talented people to design a product for you is expensive, but if you have strategic partnerships behind you, sometimes the right people are willing to give you a chance. I was able to structure a deal where I paid Cortex Design enough to cover its costs in exchange for a return on a crowdfunding endeavor. The deal was also contingent on my landing a successful and credible crowdfunding manager as well as a talented videographer.
I approached my good friend Dan Slater for video production work and he agreed to do a $10,000 video but also to wait for his money until after the crowdfunding process. Next, I pitched my product to a highly respected crowdfunding manager, Khierstyn Ross, and won her over with my plan. I was extremely fortunate to obtain these three partnerships. I think that if you have a great idea you can really defend, and emanate fiery confidence, people will believe in you.