New product idea, but where should I start?

I believe I’ve found an opening in the market for a new home automation product. This is something that I’ve spent 2 years looking for here and there and I’ve found multiple threads of other SmartThings users looking for a solution to the same problem, but nothing exists. I want to fill this void by bringing a new product to market but I don’t know the first thing about designing, developing a product or mass manufacturing. My expertise is in business, so I am confident I can get a handle on the business plan (financing, marketing, etc) when we get to that point. I am also connected to a solid group of programmers that are well versed in home automation and IoT.

Looking for advice on where to start in designing a prototype. Where should I start? Who should I contact?

Are there any startup advisors that specialize in home automation tech?

Thanks in advance for the advice.


Since you have seen multiple people looking for the same thing, the first research step is to determine why it doesn’t already exist.

Is it physically possible?

Is there an existing patent blocking development?

Is it possible to do at the desired price point?

Will it meet required safety standards for retail sale in the US?

If you yourself have a new patented process/technology, then you’re in one situation. That’s how, for example, Sensative strips succeeded with their super thin contact sensors. They literally invented a new kind of battery.

But if you are not introducing a patent-worthy innovation, You need to answer the four questions above to see why there is a hole in the market.

Once you know that, you’ll know what kind of hole you are proposing to fill, and that can lead you to your next steps.

The process of getting a hardware device certified and ready for sale in the US will typically take at least 18 months and usually closer to two years. So if your Idea is just a good idea based on recent advances in technology Introduced into the market by other companies, you can be pretty sure that one of the other companies is going to fill the hole before your product is available for sale. Or very close to it.

That’s what happened, for example, to the nucleus intercom. They just had a good idea, no patents or anything. They did bring it to market, but within three or four months Amazon had added similar functionality to their own echo devices and that pretty much killed the nucleus marketshare. Amazon had been working on theirs for a long time, but without patent protection there was nothing nucleus could do once another, much bigger company brought their product out.

All of that said, the next question is you said you have a team of programmers. What about engineers? Hardware is hard. And most programmers just don’t understand the issues that go into hardware design. I can’t tell you how many times some software person has told me “it should be easy” when they are describing something which is physically impossible or violates US safety codes. :scream: Hardware is hard. You need to have a couple of people on your team who have solid experience in hardware design.

So let’s say you get that, you’ve answered the four questions and you think you do you have something that fills a market gap. You can build a prototype. What next?

There are several hardware incubators they can help you figure out how to scale production and handle international patents and markets and safety requirements. one of the best known is Highway one in San Francisco.

Among the hardware success stories that have come through Highway one are the flic button, Drop, Ringly, and Calliope.

The following is a good article about the process from the startup company’s point of view:

But you have to have your own hardware folks on staff. Dedicated to your product and with a solid understanding of physics and certification processes. :sunglasses:


Where are you located?

In San Francisco, there are dozens (if not hubdreds!) of resources for this… They’re not all good, but some of them are.

I’d start with, as it lists a lot of groups on this topic. By networking you’ll find group support (ie, groups that bring in advisors for presentations, or other startups sharing their “stories so far”), experienced individuals, and be wooed by incubators.

As for individual networking… You’ve already made a good start! PM me if you’d like to chat.

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Another example of why it’s helpful to have hardware people on your team:

About three years ago, a whole lot of people got the idea that it should be possible to retrofit blinds for home automation by adding some kind of small motor to move the cord.

Most of these companies were just “good idea” people, and most didn’t understand the safety issues that would be involved to keep from harming little kids and pets. Or anything about power management and industrial design. So they did some drawings and some marketing materials and started kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns.

Meanwhile, a different company, my smart blinds, did have a hardware team in place. They got to work on the “minimum viable product” path, trying to come up with a safe product that they could get to market as quickly as possible while also producing multiple patentable innovations.

They ended up with a product that could only be controlled from their own app to start. No IFTTT channel, no HomeKit integration, no voice integration. It only works with iOS phones. But it worked, it was relatively safe, it was pretty inexpensive, it had a six-month battery life, and they filed for 50 different patents. It became available for sale in late 2016.

Since then they have continued to improve it and they were awarded almost all of their patents.

They still don’t have a IFTTT or echo integration, although now they are hoping to introduce those in mid 2018. But what they do have is a market position which will prevent entry by almost all of their former kickstarter competitors. Their product is being sold, the Amazon reviews are good, and the patents are real.

And because they focused on safety requirements as well, their product is sold at Home Depot. (they had a rather brilliant innovation, where they moved the long pull cord inside of the case for their motor, meaning it’s no longer hanging down where it might catch a kid. And yes, the idea is covered by patent.)

As I said, most of the other good idea companies that focused on lots of cool features and outsourced their hardware design are going to try to come to market in 2018 and find that they are in patent violation. :disappointed_relieved:

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Depends on the complexity of your design. From prototyping something using generic hardware like ST Nucleo kits that can be later turned into real products with specific PCBA and housing designs to only providing software solution not related to any hardware.
If you only focus on SW to value your idea, then there are a bunch of US or Taiwanese design houses that can help if you are ready to invest. You might not have to reinvent the wheel if the purpose is to attach some sensors to an MCU and a connectivity solution.

Regarding the beta-test, a vaste community of testers is available in this forum, including myself. Customer beta is more than relevant for SmartThings due to the variety of setups, heterogenic devices, level of automation. Will be happy to help if you are not planning a kind of industrial device that requires 12kW power supply :wink:

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JD, this is a great “heads up” for anyone thinking of product ideas involving hardware & safety. It should be required reading. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

What someone does at home is not a problem until something bad happens. I cringe every time I read about someone trying to “guess” how to connect something because they don’t know (or won’t pay a licensed electrician!) or rig up a way to turn on a fireplace or space heater…

Safety concern is real and I hope readers learn from your response…


To sell a product on a market you have to comply with required certifications/logo/labels and regulatory requirements for this market, for instance FCC, CE, ANATEL, etc.
As we are talking about radio-transmission devices, you have to add all the radio related norms which can be covered by your module maker (this is the cas for your laptop wifi/bt cards), however, as the antenna is always proper to your design, depending on how close from a human body/power used, you might have to get a lab to measure your design radiation level and be in the reqs of a given market.
These are changing matters and require to have an expert to advise if/what is needed. Submitting a product for these regulatory can be prohibitive for a small company, so you would generally address the key regions driven by FCC/CE logos.
Depending on the market you want to address, things can get much more complex and remember regulatory requirement are also political means to slow down importations for a country, so that’s not only for the sake of people safety.

Here is an example how the CE logo would drive the regulatory needs to apply for shades as we talk about it:
Now that doesn’t mean that if you follow these ones, your design is safe. It only means these are the minimum requirements to be able to sell your shades in EU and other countries following CE logo.


I just wanted to follow up here and say thank you to everyone who has provided advice so far. You’ve given me more than enough to consider in planning/exploring next steps. Great stuff.

@tgauchat I’m located in Oklahoma City, but I already travel to San Francisco on business a handful of times a year. I’ll look into aligning one of my next trips with a bit of networking on this front.


Oh great! Be sure to ping me when you set plans, as I’m sure we can meet while you’re here. PM anytime.