Tips for Creating User-Friendly Hardware Designs From Mr Beam’s CEO

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With a 2016 Kickstarter campaign for the Mr Beam II laser cutter funded at more than 11 times its original goal, the development of Mr Beam Lasers as a company illustrates the benefits of persistence and openness to change in a design-oriented entrepreneurial process.

Software developer Teja Philipp and his two co-founders launched the upstart, which is based in Munich, Germany, to make Mr Beam II available to makers and artisans across the globe.

The machine’s cutting-edge technology became a reality by way of a trial and error process that included feedback from supporters.

“Your friendly desktop laser cutter and engraver,” as the company calls Mr Beam II, is platform agnostic, can cut a variety of materials and costs significantly less than typical machines. And it’s meant to be plug and play.

Jaycon sought some tips from Mr Beam Lasers to share with entrepreneurs who are engaged in the design stages of a prototype.

In the interview featured here, CEO Teja Philipp offers insight into various aspects of his company’s development, including the design process of Mr Beam II.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Mr Beam?

Laser cutting is an awesome technology — but I became annoyed by existing machines, which I found to be quite complicated. Their user interfaces look like software from the ’90s, most of them work with Windows only and they have a lot of usability issues — like the well-known, “your lines have to be 0.000001mm wide, otherwise they will not cut” thing. In 2014 when I started the Mr Beam project, that seemed ridiculous to me. So I decided to create my own laser cutter.

Q: Would you briefly walk us through a simplified journey of your product creation?

I was interested in 3D printing, and wanted to learn about the creation chain of 3D printing from modeling to the final assembly. To learn more, I decided to create a project — a laser cutter. At that time, 3D modeling was new to me, and so were electronics. I started alone and modeled the first prototypes within two months. Though the first result was only a paper birthday card, my friends were quite impressed. I had so much fun with my friends that we decided to put the project on Kickstarter. The campaign went well, and seven months later we shipped 250 Mr Beam laser cutter kits worldwide. But the most important insights from the 2014 campaign came from our backers. We learned — through the Kickstarter campaign page and email — that the buyers were not attracted by the kit or the technical details; they were fascinated by the use case and our easy-to-use software. The assembly was mostly perceived as a necessary pain.

With this feedback in mind, we decided to create the real product they wanted to have. We got help from several genius designers and engineers who had heard of our first Mr Beam kit. One year later, Mr Beam II was born.

Q: Can you name and describe some of your company’s major accomplishments or notable milestones?

We have made laser cutting affordable. It is our greatest motivation to see how others’ creativity is boosted with our product. There are people having fun with it, making gifts and even earning money.

We have managed to grow our startup without external investment until now. The Mr Beam II campaign, which closed in May 2016, is listed on Kickstarter as the second best funded campaign in Germany.

Q: What is the next step for Mr Beam?

A huge topic for us right now is to scale according to the demand. It is a difficult task to grow properly without losing the spirit and motivation.

Q: What would you say were your company’s most difficult hurdles?

After the first crowdfunding campaign, my former co-founder and I had strong differences. It was a tough thing to separate and continue. Additionally, to find a new co-founder and trust him was quite difficult.

Q: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of product ideation or design?

Get feedback on your product quickly. Someone wise once said “fail early, fail fast” — this is so true. If your product is meeting the interests of your target group on crowdfunding sites, it is worth using those groups as market testers. Don’t be afraid to talk about your ideas — the feedback is super helpful most of the time. If you are afraid of copycats, keep in mind that you are the one who usually has spent most of the time thinking about your idea. That is a big advantage.

Q: How did you choose your manufacturing partner, and what do you think are the top three things startups should look for in a manufacturing partner?

  1. Local partners are best for first batches because:You can discuss issues in person. Prices are not that different if the process is highly automated.

  2. Introduce only one new technology at a time. For example, if you need injection-molded parts, try to get all the parts manufactured that way. It is not efficient to use a mixture of different technologies, because you need experience in all of them.

  3. Optimization too early is a trap. Make a clear feature freeze, get your product manufactured and postpone your remaining 1000+ ideas to the next product iteration.

Q: How important would you say your entire team is to the creation of the product, including external partners such as investors, manufacturers, and mentors?

A: My team is literally the backbone of our company. We have a good culture about dealing with mistakes and learning from them. Without this spirit and passion, Mr Beam never would have been realized. As we don’t have investors on board, I can’t give a statement about them.

I am in contact with some mentors from startups I have formerly been employed with. Their advice is great for business development. They know best practices, including when to hire an office manager, when to outsource human resources and how to negotiate supplier contracts.

Close contact to your manufacturers is important to optimize production costs. There is always a cheaper way to produce an item than the way you originally had in mind.

This article was published by the Jaycon team. Learn more about how we can take your product design and hardware idea to the next level here.