How Two Women Successfully Launched Hardware Startups

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Jacqueline Ros wants to keep you safe. Her little sister suffered two attacks before the age of 17, and Ros found herself wishing for a discreet, nonviolent solution that could help resolve dangerous situations—a magic button to help her sister get home safe.

So Ros built Revolar, a small, personal security wearable. When activated, the device tracks your location and sends an alert to your emergency contact list, updating every three minutes so your loved ones know exactly where you are.

Revolar Device

Revolar’s Safety Device

“I wanted Revolar to be a peaceful, nonviolent solution,” said CEO and founder Ros. “My sister started carrying pepper spray after her attack, but she couldn’t take it with her everywhere. In fact, she was suspended from school for bringing a weapon.”

Ros began building Revolar in 2013, and went on to raise more than $83,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that concluded in May of this year. Now Revolar is moving into actual development, nailing down the device’s mechanical design and finally starting production.

From Idea to Product

Developing new hardware poses a number of unique challenges not found in traditional software-based startups. For one, everything takes longer—you can’t just test something and make a small adjustment. The recent adoption of 3D printing has made manufacturing prototypes a bit easier than before, but it’s still a considerably greater concern than simply tweaking a line of code and and seeing instant results.

“It takes a lot of money to build any product,” Ros said. “You have to go and actually manufacture it, and the testing is just so extensive. It’s so hard to be lean in hardware.”

Another big challenge is figuring out how you want to actually get your product in the hands of customers. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo effectively let potential customers pre-order your product possibly before its design has even been finalized. But most companies don’t want to use a pre-order system forever, which means transitioning into a more traditional sales model.

“We always had the clear idea that our product had to be in retail stores,” said Alexandra Zatarain, co-founder and CMO of Luna, a mattress cover that essentially turns your bed into a smart bed.

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Alexandra Zatarain with Luna’s Founding Team

Luna raised more than $1.1 million via an Indiegogo campaign in March of this year. The device can track your sleeping patterns, regulate bed temperature, and wake you up using a smart alarm that activates during the optimal time of your sleep cycle. It also communicates with other wearables and smart devices in your home to create a personalized sleep profile that can recognize how various factors might relate to your sleep patterns.

“When we finished our Indiegogo campaign, we knew transitioning into a normal sales cycle had to be an immediate focus,” Zatarain said. “Going direct is one thing, and we’re starting to talk to distributors and retailers to really understand the system and adjust anything that is needed, such as determining what our wholesale price is going to be.”

On Ros’s end, coming from Kickstarter allowed her and Revolar to better understand their potential customer base. Revolar had already closed a seed funding round, so taking to Kickstarter was much more about directly connecting and interacting with customers. They walked away with a pile of data that has allowed the company to restrategize accordingly.

“We got some surprising information that we didn’t anticipate,” Ros said. “For example: real estate agents are incredibly interested in our technology. We wouldn’t have initially focused on that group if they hadn’t come out and expressed a huge interest.”

Making it Personal

Perhaps one key to Ros and Zatarain’s success is their personal investment in the projects they’re building. It’s certainly something they have in common.

“I find that women entrepreneurs tend to have really strong emotional connections with what they’re building,” Zatarain said. For Ros, obviously, that connection is her little sister. For Zatarain it was her father, who passed away from terminal cancer shortly before she joined Luna. “If we had this product in his bed, my mom could have monitored his vitals while she went to work.”

But that personal connection is not exclusive to women—Luna Sleep itself was conceived by Luna CEO Matteo Franceschetti in the hopes of alleviating his chronic restless legs syndrome. Even so, it may be a factor in Ros and Zatarain’s similar experiences in the industry—that is, neither reported having faced the kind of ostracism that has led many women to leave the tech industry.

“I’ve actually experienced quite the opposite,” Ros said. “So many people have stepped up to help, and I think it’s because they have this emotional attachment to what you’re trying to do. They believe in the vision, and there’s so much passion behind that.”