At Galvanize, we’re putting a whole new spin on Study Halls with monthly, members-only sessions. At every Study Hall, industry all-stars present on one of three topics –– growth, funding, or product –– and collaborate with Galvanizers to spur innovation, solve problems, and harness the power of our dynamic startup community.
Rachio’s product story starts with a billboard. In 2012, the US was battling the worst drought in 20+ years. The Mississippi river was facing historic lows, the lawn painting industry was booming (yes, people would actually paint their grass green in drier areas of the country), and Colorado had just launched a brilliant outdoor marketing campaign reminding their citizens to “use only what you need.”
Chris Klein, CEO and co-founder of Rachio, took that billboard seriously and shared his story during a Study Hall on product at Galvanize’s Platte Street campus. As someone who had battled waste throughout his career, most noticeably in the construction industry, Klein felt a strong desire to help however he could and as such, Rachio, the internet connected sprinkler system, was born. “We’ve got a puncher’s chance of winning,” Klein laughed. “We’re up against the incumbents in the sprinkler industry who haven’t updated their product in 30 years.”
The Choice: Connect the Dots or Custom Build
Founders have two main options when getting underway with product development. Are there pre-existing software solutions that, when connected, create the product that your customers need? Or, would it be worthwhile to head to the drawing board and build your own custom software solution?
The answer comes back to one simple question – what is the Minimum Viable Product experience that will delight your early customers? If you’re building something wholly different from what’s currently in the industry, then you’re probably staring at a whiteboard as we speak figuring out what’s next.
Klein was a proponent of the idea that a minimal, clean designs in both the hardware and software side were required. The product had to work, first and foremost, and had to be easy enough to use that any homeowner, from a 20 something to a 70 something, could grasp upon their first experience.
The big leap forward came when Rachio connected the actual sprinkler system to their app. It’s a significant part of what gave them a “puncher’s chance.”
Creating Hardware That Thinks Like Software
Klein and his co-founder never set out to build any hardware to solve the water problem, it just happened that way. While researching and prototyping different combinations of software-enabled solutions, the idea for a hardware piece partially came from early user research sessions where the question of, “Where’s the box?” kept coming up.
The team had done an extensive amount of research on software products that helped to mitigate water usage, but none of them connected to an actual sprinkler system. Rachio’s solution was prototyped on a wifi-connected Arduino board – an open-source mini-computer that users can program to interact with physical devices.
By simply taking the software-side MVP and pairing it with an Arduino board connected to a home’s sprinkler system, Rachio had developed a product that put homeowners back in control of water management, rather than the installer.
Klein noted that the shift to a hardware MVP that worked alongside the software they had already built cut product development time in half. And when Home Depot came knocking at the early stage startup’s door asking for thousands of units to put on their shelves, that extra time came in handy.
“With product development, there’s a lot of right time, right place, right luck,” Klein continued, “and the best startups figure that out early on.”
Anyone can build a product that solves a market need, but to have the passion to build the right product for the right customer at the right price, and pair that with the right customer service, user-friendly design, and a compelling story behind the product… all of those things matter when you’re trying to bring all the elements together to create a successful startup. “Get two of the things wrong and you’re toast,” Klein joked.
From early-stage entrepreneurs to established founders, Galvanize Members at every stage of their careers will benefit from the insights shared at our Study Halls.