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Collaborators and teams share top takeaways from Boot Camp

Entrepreneurs, funders, and product experts met the cohort teams in San Francisco on August 20-21 for the Tool Foundry Boot Camp. A wide range of collaborators — including Schmidt Futures Chief Innovation Officer Tom Kalil, Mule Design co-founder Erika Hall, OpenROV co-founder David Lang, Daughters of Rosie CEO and co-founder Danielle Applestone, and Arduino founder Massimo Banzi — shared their best advice on business scaling, user research, product design, and marketing strategy. We selected a few of the top insights for scaling accessible tools:

1. Build a go-to-market strategy based on user insights
Explore all potential types of users in your target market and get to know their needs, wants, and habits to learn if the product will fit into their lives. When defining the target user, OpenROV’s David Lang and Daughters of Rosie’s Danielle Applestone recommend asking “Who has the greatest need?” and “Who has the purchasing power?”

“Keep in mind is that having a good question is a lot more useful than having a good answer.”
Erika Hall, Co-founder of Mule Design

“Figure out during the prototyping phase what your go-to-market strategy might be. Pick lanes — are you going to sell something direct to the consumer? Are you going to sell it to an organization who is then going to sell it? There are so many ways to get something to market, especially early on.”
David Glickman, Brand strategy and product expert

2. Define a clear end goal before developing your idea
Have an honest conversation about what your organization aims to be and do from the start — and make sure to do it before making funding decisions. Without a clear end goal, you may be making decisions and taking risks that don’t align with your business mission and vision.

“You’re going to get so much input and so much advice that you can take your idea in so many directions, and then it can suffer from not having a clear focus — not having a clear user that you’re trying to serve or needs that you’re trying to solve.”
Janna Gilbert, President of Luminary Labs

3. Approach every aspect of your business as a prototype
From the business model to the go-to-market strategy, focus on getting as much feedback as possible in order to refine or refocus. Think about every aspect of the business early, run experiments, be agile, and change course if necessary; it’s easier to pivot early on. 

“Some technologies are explained as a very tall wall that you have to climb. But if you take that wall and turn it into stairs — where you can see the destination and which have very defined steps — someone can do something very simple in a few minutes and have a small success. Then they say, ‘Well then I can take another step, and another step, and another step.’ And by going through this process, they get up there. It may take some time, but they will do it. Unfortunately, with a lot of technology, people abandon it before they even start.”
Massimo Banzi, Founder of Arduino

“Create the simplest minimum viable product you can put in the hands of users early on. Feedback is critical and it’s easy to wait too long for it.”
Thomas Reilly, CSO of Access Sensor Technology and On-Target Cards team lead

4. Show funders why they should invest
Elevate the case for investing in your tool by crafting a compelling story. Be cognizant that different communities may talk in different ways, and tailor your messages to appeal to the unique priorities of potential investors and partners. 

“Strengthen the case for investing in democratizing science inventions. Describe the impact prior folks have had. Say what might be possible over the short, medium, and long term. If we make more investments in this area, what are some of the things we might be able to accomplish in the future?”
Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures

5. Take advantage of lower-cost resources
Given the availability of new, lower-cost resources, ask what’s possible to build now that might have been impossible to build five years ago. For example, using mass-produced parts to build prototypes will help you be more agile in development and provide more opportunities for testing.

“When companies like Apple and Samsung buy something, they buy it in very large volumes, and so that eventually means they cost somewhere between $0.50 to $3.00. A lot of entrepreneurs look at the parts list of the smartphones and say, ‘What is it I can do [to] reuse smartphone and consumer electronics that are high-volume, low-cost, high-quality technologies?’”
Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures

“Just do it. It’s never been so cheap to prototype and iterate hardware — it might take a while to do it on the cheap, but I encourage you to start.”
Jean Rintoul, Spectra team lead

6. Go beyond your network
Capitalize on every opportunity to get advice and make connections. When you meet a new advisor, consider asking them who else you should be talking to. 

“Talk to as many people as you can — of course the people you’re trying to create for, but also other people in the community — because they may give you ideas you would not have come up with on your own. All of that knowledge can create something more than what you thought was possible.”
Hannah Twiggs-Smith, MakeItSo team member

“Try to gather as many opinions and viewpoints on your product and whatever you’re trying to develop, because even though the field of expertise might seem a bit far-fetched or detached from whatever space you’re working in, users, experts, and potential clients can help you in development.”
Lucas Fuentes Valenzuela, Octopi team member

Thank you to our Boot Camp collaborators for their support for Tool Foundry’s mission:

  • Bobbie Casey, Engagement Manager at Autodesk Foundation
  • Chas Sullivan, Sustainability Customer Engagement Manager at Autodesk
  • Danielle Applestone, CEO and co-founder at Daughters of Rosie
  • David Glickman, founder of David Glickman, LLC
  • David Lang, co-founder of OpenROV
  • Eric Wilhem, founder of Instructables
  • Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design
  • Heather Kerrick, Senior Research Engineer at Autodesk
  • Jerome Tavé, Designer at 10th Floor Studio
  • Joe Speicher, Executive Director at Autodesk Foundation
  • Josh Molho, Director of Engineering at ProteinSimple
  • Kelly Gardner, CEO and co-founder at Zephyrus Biosciences
  • Massimo Banzi, co-founder of Arduino
  • Megan Brewster, VP, Advanced Manufacturing at Launch Forth
  • Mei-yen Shipek, Global Internal Communications Lead at Autodesk
  • Stephanie Oberg, VP of Hardware at Sensel
  • Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures
  • Victoria Davila, Industrial Designer

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue spotlighting cohort teams and share a preview of the upcoming Tool Foundry Showcase. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more and to follow the accelerator.

Published: 09/11/2019