Sometimes it’s not about creating something new, but improving on what already exists.
Frustrated with what was available on the market, that’s exactly what James Morrison, founder of Ara Innovation, did when he designed the AraHub – what he calls “the world’s best, most beautiful USB hub” – and launched it on Kickstarter last week.
A USB hub isn’t exactly revolutionary, or a game-changer, but like most technology, you notice it when it stops working.
“I couldn’t access hard drives anymore, or I could and they would suddenly disappear, or my data would get corrupted, which is even worse,” says Morrison, who bought a USB hub to go with his brand new iMac almost seven years ago.
“About two years ago, I said, ‘Enough, what If I make one?’” he says, recalling how he replaced several flimsy versions that didn’t look quite right on his desktop.
He then designed and built a seven-port hub that was not only robust, but that complemented his existing devices. It’s a plain and unassuming aluminum box, but as Morrison says, “A good design always looks simple.”
For Morrison, the transition from owning an electronic design company to founding a hardware startup wasn’t as seamless as one would think.
“Until you experience [founding a startup], it’s kind of hard to grasp that it is not really much about the product,” he says. “Although the product is important, the marketing part of things is really required.”
For Morrison, an engineer, the transition to marketing was difficult. He made the leap through a lot of market research and by learning about market validation from the Pathfinder Program at the Stratford Accelerator Centre.
“The only true market validation is when someone actually pays for it. You can ask questions all you want, but it doesn’t cost money to answer a question,” he says.
However, there are perks associated with having a business and a startup at the same time, especially when it comes to hardware, as costs can be high. His latest venture was funded though his previous one, reducing some of the capital strain that can be a barrier for those who are looking to create in the hardware sphere.
“I was kind of a step ahead, because I’ve run my other company a decade, so I have all those tools and all that stuff that I didn’t have buy, and that can be expensive,” he says.
Capital to get going isn’t the only issue facing hardware startups. There are plenty of regulations that need to be met in order to sell your products legally, and compliance certification can be another high-cost item.
“A lot of Kickstarter campaigns kind of gloss over [compliance certification] and don’t really do anything,” he says, explaining the implications. “If this goes into your house and burns it down, I become liable if it doesn’t have the CSA label on it.”
Those kinds of steps can be skipped by greener entrepreneurs, who may be out just to make a quick buck. Morrison has a different set of motivations that keep him going through the late hours: wanting to create products that look and work great, and are easy to use.
“I would love to grow a company of four or five passionate individuals who are world-class in their sphere, and do crazy, creative, inventive things.”