A few months ago, I shared that . It’s been an enlightening few months and I thought I’d share some learnings and updates on the project. I’m sharing as much for myself documenting this process and also to share my mistakes, as lessons for the thousands/millions of people working on hardware products. I’d be working on an early warning water quality IoT device (image above) The summary of the four lessons Does the data support your gut reasoning for building the product? …know that the process is messy. First figure out the function before the form and ...be comfortable making decisions with incomplete information. It’s a humbling experience and, Q Here are some lessons from the process. uoting Austin Kleon in Show Your Work ‘In all kinds of work, there is a distinction between the painter’s process, and the products of the process’. 1. Does The Data Support Your Gut? We decided to work on this project based on the amazing response to an article on . But the decision to continue is based on the sad data on water contamination from in May 2015, , , , and 4 other . And we haven’t even talked about . Having a problem to solve is serious motivation and the data proves this is a serious problem. But be sure that you’re not just using data to justify a decision you’ve already made to build the product. empathetic IoT products North Carolina Silverton Colorado in 2015 West Virginia in 2014 Chicago Hinkley (of Erin Bronkovich fame) is still worrisome states Flint “In order to get to new solutions, you have to get to know different people, different people, different scenarios, different places.” Emi Kolawole, Editor-In-Residence, Stanford University d.school The cover of March/April edition of Popular Science 2. …this hardware development process is messy. Despite this being an integration play — we are building a water quality IoT device using off-the-shelf sensors — but we are finding that there might be the need for some invention here. The lead sensor has proven difficult to source. We’ve ordered products, . We’ve searched for products off Alibaba and (I kid you not) I believe, like the real-time demand driven business model of , the bots on Alibaba generate product splash pages based on search terms for products that do not exist. that never got delivered, off Amazon combatant gentlemen Getting an ugly but functional MVP out led to donations from friends and family, conversations with experts in the water and IoT space and with heads of non-profits. Regardless of how ugly your MVP looks, it takes people away from dismissing your Because it is no longer just an idea. The makes your conversations real due to the you’ve given the . idea. MVP form product “We want to give ourselves the permission to explore lots of different possibilities so that the right answer can reveal itself” Patrice Martin, Co-Lead and Creative Director, IDEO.org 3. First focus on function over form… ..but give consideration to the form. We’ve built and rebuilt several iterations of the Minimum Viable Product/MVP (see below) trying out different sensors and calibrating/recalibrating to ensure the product detects and communicates. Despite the missteps and progress, we’ve never lost sight of the fact that our final product has to ease data collection and early detection of the top 4 causes of water quality issues with the technology we now have at our disposal. Regardless of how ugly the MVP looked it had to serve the core need; detect water quality issues earlier and more quickly than traditional water quality detection methods. Testing for some use cases we had not initial planned to. 4. Be comfortable making decisions with incomplete data Once we had the function down, excluding the lead quality measures we have not been able to find or develop, we had to start thinking about the form. We could not continue fiddling with sensors even though the device wasn’t measuring our initial list of quality measures (Turbidity, Lead, Total Dissolved Content/TDC, Temperature). The black box is the partially functional prototype of the ugly but awesome MVP. We’ve compacted the MVP in a container to enable testing. The package, while black, also starts to move folk away from questions around the quality of the product itself. The irony hasn’t been lost on me that a quality measurement device should look like a quality device. With any startup product decision making speed is one of a few things that you actually control, don’t waste that advantage. “Optimism is the thing that drives you forward” John Bielenberg, Founder, Future Partners So where are we? It’s been great working with (he’s the Wozniak on this project) and (who owns and runs and ). We’re learning a lot about ourselves and the process. It’s honing my IoT product management chops and knowledge of the water utility space. We all have the work we do to keep the lights on (I have two clients with and 3 with ) and we’ve come to a decision making point that you can have some input into; should we attempt a crowdfunding campaign or take money from a friend who’s offering to invest for a return like a traditional VC? Or should we hand the project off to someone else? We want this product to exist! Under a month ago I read ! The problem isn’t going anywhere and someone has to solve it… Waz Dan Axis Design Forge Proto Asha Labs Harper Jacobs this article stating that ~13% of kids in a particular zip code in Fresno California had 3X the lead levels of Flint And all this came from writing a blog post about empathetic IoT. It’s amazing how, whenever I’m reading Dr Seuss’ ‘ ’ to my son these days, it takes on a certain level of heft for me.. Oh The Places You’ll Go Your thoughts? Please like, tweet, share and heart the article if you enjoyed reading it. Sign up for my Polymathic Monthly Newsletter here , you’ll love it. Also, check out HarperJacobs for compelling content creation & Asha Labs for innovation/strategy consulting .