I have written previously on the “Internet of Things” being a terrible moniker–it’s not about the fact that something is connected. It’s not about the device. It’s not about the hardware. Having good hardware is the new table stakes for a connected device startup. It’s [generally] insufficient to make your company unique or successful, but is important enough that poorly chosen or implemented harware can be the downfall of a startup.
Hardware is just part of the stack now. Just like your database or server OS or really anything else that falls under the purview of DevOps. The unique part is in however users or developers interact with your product, whether that’s the UI of an app or API requests. That’s where the magic happens. Your hardware needs to be good, it needs to be easy to deploy or set up, it needs to be reliable, it needs to be secure. But the end goal is for the hardware to fade to black. To create an experience that is magical.
My experience is generally that the best and most successful startups that have some sort of hardware component are really good at software and documentation. Their UI is impeccably well-conceived. Their documentation is complete and easy to reference. Their repos on Github are very active and their developers monitor issues closely. A good indicator of this is whether developers like working with them. Any time I’m looking at a new company, especially a connected device company, one of the first things I try to do is dive in to their developer docs, API docs, tutorials, etc… My anecdotal evidence is that companies that care about developers and communities of users make good products, not just good devices.
Build something people love, yes. But build something developers love. I’m not sure to what extent this is ultimately true, but I find myself believing more and more that if you win the hearts of developers, you stand a much better chance of winning the hearts of consumers, or of middle managers, or of whomever the further-down-the-adoption-curve users are.