How we built it: Ringly and the first 5,000 units

To help aspiring entrepreneurs understand what it takes to translate an idea to an actual product, we recruited six hardware entrepreneurs how they did it. They’ll be presenting some lessons and answering your questions at our Structure Connect event Oct. 21 and 22. Below is the second in our series written by Christina Mercando of Ringly on how to blend old world skills with new tech as part of the manufacturing process.

When I first came up with the idea for [company]Ringly[/company], a connected piece of jewelry, and started working on early prototypes, I knew there were going to be a lot of challenges and a lot of moving parts. We’re shaping and defining an entirely new category of jewelry and fashion accessories in an industry that has been around for a very long time.

During the prototyping phase, our jewelry design team and our engineering team came to the table with their own processes and best practices for creating the product. Once we moved into the manufacturing phase, we found that we needed to challenge traditional production methods and find new ways to bring both worlds together.

Looking back, here are some pointers for every entrepreneur who’s thinking about hardware.

Research all manufacturing options, and consider working with an accelerator

Finding and working with [company]PCH[/company] and [company]Highway1[/company] was a great decision for the company. Seeking out accelerators that have experience in the general hardware space is great because they can offer advice on how to ready your product for mass production and help you pick manufacturing partners. This helps save a lot of money in the long run because you have the support and expertise of an existing team – a team who has a vested interest in seeing you succeed and who has been through the process before.

There are so many aspects of manufacturing that you have to think about – what country you want to make your product in, import duties, their other customers (what happens if you use the same factory as an Amazon product and [company]Amazon[/company] places a giant order? Your product might get pushed back…), their ability to work with other factories, etc. Choosing the right manufacturing partner can help you sort through all of these details and make the decisions that make the most sense for your business. The people at the accelerator can help you make that decision.

The Ringly launch collection.
The Ringly launch collection.

Get the right people involved and do your due diligence

After settling on a manufacturing partner, it’s crucial to involve all of the necessary team members early on and do site visits. We hired team members who’ve been through the manufacturing process before (both on the jewelry and consumer electronics side) and who knew what to look out for and where to start when choosing suppliers.

We’ve sent several team members to China to visit the factories and make sure that the products they were outputting met our standards. And speaking of factories, be prepared to screen several early on and make sure they’re able to produce what you need in the qualities and time frames you’re looking for.

With so many moving parts, it’s imperative that you stay in constant communication with your partners

We have weekly calls with China (at 9 pm every Wednesday), and the calls often last a few hours. Every week we review the entire schedule to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that deadlines are being met. When you’re a growing company, every dollar counts, and things can get expensive quickly. For example, you might need to spend a lot upfront on tooling (or the tools to create your parts), and if for some reason the parts aren’t exactly to specification, it’s an unrecoverable cost. So it really all circles back to the importance of constant communication and making sure you’ve tested everything upfront.

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Based in large part on the maker movement, and the growing interest in hardware, manufacturing can be an area that’s new to a lot of startup founders, and it’s especially tricky when you’re the first product of your kind. When you’re taking pre-orders for a device, you need to stay focused on ship date and ensuring your supporters receive a product they love. There will most likely be delays, but this is why picking a manufacturing partner that you trust from the very beginning is crucial. It’s why we evaluated so many up front, and why we spend hours and hours each week ensuring that we’re tracking against our time frame to deliver the product that everyone is expecting to see.

Learn more about building Ringly at Structure Connect Oct. 21 and 22 in San Francisco, where Mercando will spend more time discussing the challenges of building a high object that’s both small and fashionable.