Wesley Chang

May 23, 2017

Running a Hardware Startup: Why Quality Assurance Matters

Creating a plan for quality assurance

Startups don’t become successful by a single iteration of the Lean Startup methodology or some variant of it. Successful startups are created through experimentation. While your quality assurance plans equally protect you and your customers, it is also building your reputation.

Most people are familiar with the startup quote, “move fast and break things.” And for the most part, it makes sense to do just that. The faster you understand how something works–whether it be prototyping, marketing, or even software development–the closer you’ll be to success.

In hardware, however, you can only rush certain aspects of development. Prototyping and customer development are two scenarios where you would want to move rather quickly.

But what about quality assurance?

Sometimes founders forget that a product isn’t just a prototype. It’s the packaging, the documentation, the certifications, the testing and so much more.

So why rush a process that’s meant to prevent further complications down the road?

Quality assurance still matters

Let’s say that your startup’s philosophy really is to move fast and break things.

What’s going to happen if your product fails quality tests or certifications? You’ll likely be faced with more and more costs.

Add that to your BoM.

Think about this, hardware startups are built to scale. That means you’re probably on planning to scale from 1000 units to maybe a few thousand since orders of 1000 units can actually be more costly to get set up than to actually make the units.

If your products are to ever malfunction on a larger scale, expect to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars (depending on the # affected) for just the recall.

Consider General Motors, in 2015, GM spent over $4 billion in recall costs. That of which includes victim compensation and repairs.

When quality assurance is ignored, more often than not, your startup will face a heavy expense trying to recuperate from the damage. Not only that but your quality assurance becomes your brand.

Quality assurance in the act

Think Levi’s (not hardware), Apple, Harman Kardon. These are brands that are perceived as quality. In fact, a quality assurance platform that allows startups and entrepreneurs to test their software products on a large scale called MyCrowd QA says the same. In the article, “Why Quality Assurance Trumps ‘Move Fast and Break Things’,” Matthew Cordasco said:

Just like a poor focus on quality can define your company negatively, a positive focus on quality can help your company develop a strong, respected brand.

Marketing data shows that consumers judge brands based on “perceived quality” — their view of the quality of a particular product or service. While branding isn’t yet a total meritocracy, quality does matter.

Study the most trusted brands in America and you’ll notice that the top-ranking brands all have decades of quality as their history. In consumer products and in technology, trusted brands are at a significant advantage.

Apple capitalized on its reputation for quality with the phrase “it just works” in products demos and keynotes. Compared to its at-the-time buggy competition, the phrase strengthened what many consumers perceived as superior quality control.

Over time, these companies have built a reputation that defines their quality. Yes they have awesome products with awesome features but these companies have retained their customers for the fact that their products are high quality.

I mean, how many Android users have switched to iOS because they’re tired of the screen lag, glitches, and ugly OS skins? Don’t take this the wrong way though. Android phones are incredible and have come a long way but in my opinion, they’re just now right alongside Apple, if not better–maybe the S8 will be my next daily driver?

Creating a quality assurance plan

Now that you understand how QA is meant to save your wallet and protect your reputation, let’s talk about how to actually put a quality assurance plan into place.

But first, let me ask you this. What’s the difference between quality assurance and quality control?

Often times, founders assume that the terminology is interchangeable, but in reality, quality assurance is focused on the process to prevent defects and malfunctions while quality control are methods put into place to look for these defects.

For those who aren’t QA engineers–I’m certainly not–there are a few minimum processes that should be put into place. Off the top of my head, those are:

  1. Usability tests
  2. Materials tests
  3. Component tests
  4. Certification tests

However, your startup my find that your product needs far more early-stage testing, pre-production testing, or mass production testing.

Conclusion

Taking the time to properly test your product and run it through the appropriate process not only saves you time and money in the future but it also allows your brand to represent a quality product. One that people would love to buy just because they know it’ll do exactly what they want without any hiccups.

But if you do skip the QA process, your customer’s safety could potentially be at risk, flaws will soon become discovered and your reputation could be shot. Not only that, but the amount of money you’ll have to spend to recall and fix your product’s malfunctions could possibly put you out of business. Luckily, with quality assurance, all of that could be avoided.

1 Comment

  • I agree with much of what you say, though I believe it should be tempered by executive management of the major variables at play in the business. For example, the classic “80:20” rule applies in some areas while 6-sigma (or less) apply in others.

    However, you lost me when you gave a “religious” preference to Apple without backing it up with statistics. You say, “I mean, how many Android users have switched to iOS because they’re tired of the screen lag, glitches, and ugly OS skins?” I believe you are highly mistaken here. I refer you to the VentureBeat article of May 11, 2016 1:55 AM: “Android is eating Apple’s iOS market share everywhere” (https://venturebeat.com/2016/05/11/android-is-eating-apples-ios-market-share-everywhere/). And according to Forbes (article dated 2015), “IDC most recent data shows Apple increasing the number of iOS units shipped between 2015 and 2019 from 237 million to 274.5 million , but it’s market share will dip 2.2 percent to 14.2 percent.” There is a lot of variance between market research reports, but none of them supports your suggestion that there is a major swing away from Android in preference to iOS. In fact, they almost all support the reverse.

    You have good material, but let’s remain as factual and data driven as possible. This is editorial version of QA/QC.

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