“Writing started as therapy” – that was the opening line from Marc Barros is my last interview with him. Marc was the founder of Contour, a camera company which served as GoPro’s primary competitor before struggling to grow. Processing some of those learnings into very personal and effective blog posts, Marc caught my eye as someone sharing meaningful stories with founders. So almost a year later, wanted to check in and see how Moment, his new company was doing.
Hunter Walk: The previous Five Questions with you was one of my most popular posts, mostly because of your vulnerability and durability. Catch us up on the last nine months.
Marc Barros: The last nine months have been a lot of fun.
On the personal side, being a father has made be a better entrepreneur. My son is 20 months old now and he reminds me everyday to be present. The speed at which he learns and the simplicity of how he expresses himself is amazing to witness. It truly makes everything we do in building companies seem irrelevant.
On the entrepreneurial side Moment has gone from a product to an awesome small team of nine. We feel incredibly blessed to have customers who are so passionate about what we’re building. While as a team we are defining how we want to play the game, building deeper relationships together, and learning how to win as a group. I believe that building great teams takes a long time and we are very committed to this process.
HW: What’s different for you in building Moment?
MB: What’s different this time around is I’m trying to be the coach and not the player. In building Contour as a first time founder I prided myself on being able to do nearly everything in the company. I somehow believed that leading by example meant taking over when people fell down. Like a bulldozer I would run over everything and everyone in my way.
Fast forward and I’ve learned that being a great leader requires you to realize that it’s not about you. It’s actually about everyone else and enabling them to deliver their best work. And so this time around I have been working really hard at becoming a better coach.
I can’t say this process been easy but it has forced me to be more vulnerable, more empathetic, and a better listener.
HW: You’re doing Hardware Workshops in different cities. What’s the goal of those and what’s surprised you about the response?
MB: I started Hardware Workshop to help other hardware startups build better companies. I had no idea that we’d end up helping some 800 companies. It’s crazy to realize just how big the hardware startup community has become and how many people want to help in making it successful. The teachers, partners, and attendees are all committed to the overall movement in making hardware startups successful for the long haul.
In gaining feedback from previous attendees we realized there are two important stages for a hardware startup and therefore should be two different types of lessons we teach. The first is going from an idea to market where successfully shipping an MVP that customers will actually buy is critical to getting out of the gate. The second is turning that shipping product into a successful hardware startup. So based on this realization we now have a Level 1 workshop (idea to market) and a Level 2 workshop (shipping product to successful startup). We have seven workshops there year. You can read more about it here. http://hardwareworkshop.com
HW: Did you happen to catch this post by Bolt.vc – discussed how crowdfunding success is often misinterpreted as true product market fit. How has Moment shaped your attitudes towards crowdfunding?
MB: Yes, I read it and believe in its core message. I think Ben and Bolt are doing some amazing things for the hardware community.
My definition of market fit for a hardware startup is when you profitably understand how to reach another customer. Reaching a new customer is by far the most expensive aspect in building a company with a physical product so you want to figure out very early on what works best to profitably grow your base. Unless you have the resume to raise a lot of money up front, your capital constraint will force you to be creative in reaching new customers.
With Moment I feel that we only recently reached market fit. It took us about 18 months and it wasn’t until we shipped our second product (lenses + app), received high customer conversion rates on mainstream press coverage, and raised $695K with our second Kickstarter campaign. Before that we didn’t have enough data points to prove to ourselves that we had more than an interesting first product.
We crowdfunded our first two hardware products with Moment and plan to keep going back to the community with everything new we create. It not only provides incredible feedback early in the development cycle, but ensures people are interested in what we’re building. If customers don’t want the product then we shouldn’t make it, no matter how much that hurts our own egos.
HW: GoPro is now a public company worth billions. Will their competition come from other specialized wearable devices or from the phone morphing into “good enough” replacement for most people?
MB: What a story. When we were competing against one another with SD quality action cameras no one would have believed that the category for action cameras would dwarf every other hardware startup category. I remember many investor meetings where people called this a niche.
GoPro’s core DNA was to take an average product and market it extremely well, driving up the margins of the product with perceived quality. They did this as well as RedBull marketed sugar water, which is not an easy feat.
So the question is not about the camera and what is going to replace the hardware. Instead it’s about the GoPro brand and what other products/services they can sell you. Their brand owns the 90 second action video real, which is something no one can take away from them. Not even RedBull.
HW: What’s a hardware startup that’s impressed you recently and why?
MB: Fitbit. By filing to go public you can finally see just how efficiently they have executed both in growth and managing their profits. They have build a category leading brand with less than $100M raised which very rare in hardware. James and team deserve a lot of credit for what they have done.
Malay (@mxgtro) wrote an interesting piece (http://rockhealth.com/2015/05/deconstructing-fitbit-s-1/) about Fitbit and tried to break down their customer engagement and turn metrics. It’s super interesting and the kind of thinking most people have had with connected devices. But in Fitbit’s case I think it’s is the wrong way to look at their business. Health and staying in shape is not actually a constant for people. Based on life’s events we ebb and flow into our levels of fitness. Which means the success of Fitbit really shouldn’t be measured about the % of people that stay engaged with the product but the % of people that accomplish their goal. If you look at the business this way then it’s even more interesting to realize that customers can leave and come back to the platform as they need more health inspiration. Fitness trackers aren’t telephones, they are products used periodically to motivate us.
I don’t know if Fitbit will unlock this opportunity but it will be exciting to see what happens next with them. Their IPO is great for hardware startups. It not only provides benchmarking data for other hardware startups but it demonstrates that hardware startups can provide a significant return for their investors.