Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Launching a “Product”


Some people have remarked that they may have either been confused about the goals of the project. This is the result of these goals being fairly fluid. Shown above are the next three major phases left in this project. First is to finish building the latest prototype (70%+ Complete) which will serve as the template for the beta units. Once this is debugged I will be producing several Beta units. Initially I’ll loan them out locally, then I will loan them via mail to other candidates. Assuming that things go well I am going to take a serious look at using Kickstarter as a launch platform for development kits and potentially a final FCC / ANT+ approved version. Development kits would be targeted for Delivery in Jan / Feb 2014 while a finalized version would likely be Spring of 2014.

More details of each phase after the break.

V4 Accuity Prototype

I’m confident that V4 should be considered a minor refinement compared to V3 even though there has been some major hardware changes. It’s really an adjustment to satisfy size and power requirements and not the theory of operation. I recently received the printed circuit boards which have been reflowed with parts and currently coding the last little bit (switching measurement back and forth between sides). I’m off for a while the end of July / beginning of August so there might not be any major updates until I’m back. For each section I’m doing  a SWOT analysis. There are some flaws in this type of analysis, but it’s still valuable.


  • Testing has gone well. Everything is documented openly and works well. My background and knowledge of ANT+, strain gauges, etc isn’t in question by anyone that I can find.


  • Antenna tuning and reflowing circuits. I’m inexperienced at both.
    • Reflowing was a hurdle, but Antenna is working decently without being tuned. Need to get RF Spectrum Analyser.


  • New feature sets can easily be added and tested at this stage. Partnerships could potentially be forged more easily with a more polished prototype.


  • Factor Bikes has just released a Bike / Powermeter which has a similar feature set. Rotor Power is shipping. Garmin Vector rumours are ramping up again, likely to lead to a release soon (Sept?).  People could lose interest compared to an F1 supplier and major component manufacturer.

Beta Test

Once I have completed testing myself and I am happy with everything I’ll move on to building the first five+ power meters for the beta test. It sounds simple enough, but this is a time and financially consuming exercise. While my estimates on construction hours may seem unreasonable from earlier analysis, it’s likely to take 10 – 15 hours to assemble each beta unit and debug them. This is about three times longer than estimated in low volume production. I tend to be a person who likes to deal with new and varied technical challenges. It’s hard to imagine spending an entire week and a half or more of free time assembling prototypes.


  • I’m familiar with the hardware. Even V3 proved very reliable. Little doubt about V4 functionality left.
  • I control the size and location of the beta testing and I have access to some industry engineers who could potentially link me to professionals and higher level cyclists.


  • Never ran a beta test, so there could be some disorganization initially
    • Dealt with by more planning
  • Limited hardware to loan due to cost
    • Select the highest use candidates, test against Quarq unit
  • Could feel tedious and take even longer to assemble prototypes


  • Customer interfacing is an important skillset and being able to make the customer happy is important. This stage can provide the experience to required even in the event where a potential customer cannot be satisfied.
  • Ability to gain valuable research and invent new technologies in collaboration with experienced riders.


  • The hardware may be kept or refused to be returned.
  • Could be damaged. People could accuse me of damaging their bikes.


Kickstarter / Pre-order


Assuming Beta testing goes well and the prototypes have held up to use and there has been only minor issues (or major issues that can be worked out in a reasonable time) the plan is then to look at Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

I have misgivings about using crowd funding. They mainly revolve around “Laserspoke” which proved to be a large failure on their wheel based powermeter. There are theories why (too many levels, hacker kits might be a poor idea, wouldn’t reveal how it “calibrates”, Crowd funding was in its infancy) but this also causes me to doubt the market potential. Kickstarter is also changed regulations to avoid “designed without engineering” products – what I refer to as products that were imagined but nobody ever solved the technical challenges.

There will always be early adopters and always people who are laggards.


  • Kickstarter itself aids in marketing by virtue of the traffic to it’s site.
    • If not proving popular it moves off the front pages
  • Several sites likely willing to post links to Kickstarter projects (Engadget, Most cycling sites, DCrainmaker does a week end review that usually includes crowd funded projects) potentially


  • Kickstarter keeps some funding
  • Blog has had difficulty gaining traction outside of the hacker community / early adopters interested in me launching a product. However they may feel frustrated that development takes a long time and lose interest.
  • Some sites have pushed away from Kickstarter ( which have previously supported the site and my projects.
  • Currently I’ve been locked into one crank, the SRAM Rival. SRAM owns Quarq and therefore may no want to sell cranks to me at wholesale costs.
    • Alternative companies available, buy retail (cover warranty myself).
  • I’m not good at marketing. I’m much better at engineering. While I can be social in an engineering sense, that doesn’t translate well to the general populace.
    • This is the major weakness in crowd funding. It’s best to try and enlist professionals of some sort even with limited funds to help with this. The kickstarter video is likely one of the most crucial parts.


  • This avenue would readily determine if a pivot and repurposing of the technology is warranted due to a saturated or uninterested market.
  • It may be possible to have lower reward levels of the main PCB. This gives back to the hacker community and potentially makes mass assembly of the PCB more viable.
  • “Dev kits”, a finalized version but not FCC approved unit, could allow my device to get out there, gaining traction long before an FCC approved unit. It can also allow a more people from the hacker community to get involved and improve firmware.


  • Overload on orders – Failure by success, unable to meet demand or shipping targets
    • This has derailed several Kickstarter projects. Potentially limit the number of purchases. While more funding could be good, don’t grow too fast.
  • Product warranty support issues. Need to be able to support people who need help but maintain quality of service. Only so many hours in a day.
    • Potentially enlist workterm students from University of Waterloo at this point. Low cost and provide them with valuable engineering knowledge.
  • Insufficient sales
    • MVP failure? Repurpose the tech for other applications – “Pivot”


  1. Have you contacted any local PCB assembly shops about stuffing your beta-test boards? The fixed engineering costs are a little expensive, but small shops shouldn't have a problem doing prototype quantities of a board. They just need to make a paste mask and program the part placement. The advantage of this is that if you want more boards in the future, the additional cost is very low.
    If you decide to go this route (even if you don't, you will eventually want to worry about manufacturability), make sure you have 3-5mm of clearance between components and the edge of the PCB so they're able to clamp it in the machine. Also, you'll probably want to panelize the raw boards (an array of boards in a single PCB panel that are cut apart after assembly) to reduce costs and speed up production time.
    Most shops require parts you supply to them to be in tape/reel form. Digi-key Digi-reels are perfect for this, since they let you purchase lower quantities but keep the reel packaging.

    I haven't looked at your schematic or layout, but I've been following your blog for a few weeks and I'd love to see you succeed. I wanted to attempt hacking together a home-built power meter myself until I came across your project and saw how far along in development you already were. Good luck!

    PS. I hope you have friends at a nearby university that will let you temporarily use a lab with a spectrum analyzer, otherwise be prepared to drop $15k+

    1. Hi Jeff,

      I wanted to keep PCB assembly for the prototypes and beta's "in house" -- I guess literally. I have 0 interest in putting together even batches myself. I haven't gotten pricing but I'm going to get quotes and figure out what a minimum order quantity to make outsourcing that part viable. I'm still avoiding China for such small scale manufacturing.

      Good advice on the clearances and panelization. I'm hoping that the assembly house will sort most of that for me but if not your advice will likely prove valuable. Ya, 99% of all my components can be sourced from digikey on a digireel. The nRF51422 -- I'm not 100% sure but I'm hoping mouser offers a similar service. EEVblog said digireels can cause a little issue compared to original reels, but nothing that can't be overcame.

      I'm quite expecting about 15k for FCC certifications. I'm hoping the startup accelerator will have contacts for the University of Waterloo that might be able to help. It produced the engineers that started RIM / Blackberry so I'm hopeful they have some RF facilities.

      Thanks for the support!