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Hardware Startups Have a Secret Strength

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Hardware is risky. Making something you can touch and feel usually takes more money and time than developing software products. 

Yet five out of the last seven startups I recommended to my First Stage Investor members are hardware (or hybrid hardware and software) companies. That’s because in each of them something significant is offsetting the risks. 

The journey these hardware companies take is complicated, expensive and requires founders to have diverse skill sets. It takes longer to develop hardware. And when founders finally have a product or prototype, they have to spend time reiterating on it to make sure it’s ready for market. And that process can be expensive, complicated and time consuming too. 

But where other investors look at hardware and see problems and potholes, I see defensibility. The harder it is to make a product, the harder it is for someone to compete with it. This is a huge deal. It’s why hardware companies are worth investing in. But it often goes unnoticed. 

Here’s a basic list of all the tasks that go into bringing a hardware product to market… Design the product. Build a prototype. Experiment in-house. Tweak the prototype. Repeat a few more times. Make more prototypes. Send to customers. Selectively incorporate feedback. Build new prototypes. Send to customers again. Finalize the pre-commercial prototype. Build tooling (in-house or via a contract manufacturer). Develop supply chain. Build in redundancy. Lock in the cheap prices. Hire a logistics specialist or contract one. Develop a spreadsheet to manage cost (for goods and components, manufacture ops, shipping, warehousing, last-mile delivery and dozens more categories). 

If you’re making a consumer product good, then also figure out packaging, labeling, returns and shelf life. And develop software to collect data that will tell you which products to ship to which stores at what amounts. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I just wanted to give you a general idea of what’s involved. Not any one thing is daunting. It’s the totality of what goes into manufacturing a product that makes it challenging.

CB Insights analyzed 400 failed hardware startups and found that one of the top two reasons hardware startups fail is a high burn rate. In other words, the journey is very expensive. The other reason is lack of consumer demand. That could mean a lot of things — bad pricing, bad marketing, etc. It could also mean if the hardware startup gets it wrong the first time with customers, there’s no do-over. 

So hardware isn’t easy. But that high level of difficulty also carries an enormous advantage. Because it’s so hard to build an innovative hardware product, it’s also much harder to build a better one. That’s defensibility.

As an investor, you don’t have to know all the gritty details about manufacturing. But apart from defensibility, you do need to know if the company has a firm grasp on these three critical areas…

  1. Operations. I believe the leaner the better. In particular, shortening product development cycles and iterating as rapidly as possible — while getting feedback to achieve product-market fit — is a boon to a hardware company. Also, contracting out as much as possible. Other people may disagree, but in my book, the more that’s farmed out — from engineering to manufacturing to logistics to e-commerce — the better chance startups have of doing more while spending less. But as the next rule suggests, finding that balance isn’t easy.
  2. Finances. The challenge is to deploy best-of-class contractors, partners and hires within a responsible budget. Costs can quickly mount by doing too much in-house. But they can also add up by using top-of-the-line third parties that are expensive. The best founders know where to find bargains. They also master the fine art of determining when it’s worth spending money and when it makes sense to go with a cheaper alternative. 
  3. Scaling. This is a whole new ballgame. Has the company developed the software and physical infrastructure, expertise, organization and skill to transition from small-batch production and modest marketing and sales to something much bigger? If done right, the company can reap significant economies of scale, fatten margins and unleash revenue growth. But if not done right, it becomes a big and usually unfixable mess.

Scaling is often years down the road and therefore not an issue of immediate concern for some early investors. But it should be. Even at an early stage, hardware companies should develop scalable supply chains and fulfillment infrastructures, mass scale contract manufacturing and multi-year contracts with third-party logistics, warehousing and marketing partners.

The biggest myth about hardware startups is that they have to settle for slim margins. That’s too simplistic. It varies from company to company. But it’s certainly not a death sentence for those that do bear slender margins. Vizio has thrived as a high volume and low margin manufacturer of large-screen TV’s. Last year it raked in more than $2 billion in revenue. Its net income was $102 million — not great but more than sufficient for it to file for an initial public offering this week.  

But many hardware companies sport generous margins. I just recommended a hardware company that sold its product for $5,300 or higher. Its cost of goods was $1,000. As it scales, it aims to drive down costs to around $350.  

I take the talk of high costs, long runways, extended product iteration cycles with a grain of salt. America has always excelled in manufacturing. And startups are upholding this proud tradition. Their upside can be every bit as enticing as software startups. And because it takes more than a couple of coders on laptops to develop a product, hardware startups provide plenty of defensibility in addition to upside. And that’s the recipe for a good investment.

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Source: https://earlyinvesting.com/hardware-startups-have-secret-strength/

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KeyBank & Laurel Road Unveils Digital Bank Specifically for Doctors

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Laurel Road, a brand of KeyBank, announced earlier this week the launch of Laurel Road for Doctors, a digital bank specifically for physicians and dentists. According to Laurel, the goal of the new digital bank is to help ease the burden for doctors of paying down student debt, finding more balance between work and life, and planning for the future—many of whom have worked tirelessly through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With Laurel Road for Doctors, Laurel Road and KeyBank expand on its existing suite of tailored digital banking and lending products and extensive experience working directly with doctors to create a platform that meets the distinct challenges of this community.”

. The online experience, from originations to servicing tools, will include new offerings such as:

  • Student Loan Cashback Credit Card: The only credit card that offers 2% cashback to pay down student loans with most loan servicers.
  • Student Loan Refi & Linked Savings: Link new savings accounts when refinancing student loans to build savings while obtaining an even lower interest rate.
  • High Yield Savings Account: Qualified borrowers can open an account and earn 10x the national average Annual Percentage Yield (APY), with $0 to open, no minimum balance, and no monthly maintenance fees to fast-track savings goals.
  • Financial Insights: Personalized data and guidance that allows doctors to compare against those in similar specialties on salary, debt and more, utilize educational content to build financial literacy, and access custom insights for budgeting.
  • Laurel Road Perks!: Exclusive offers, discounts and benefits through a newly established and growing partner network of premium brand partners such as P.volve, Sakara, Rent the Runway, Brooklinen, KidPass, Talkspace and The White Coat Investor.
  • Premium Care Team: Financial healthcare support specialists to provide personalized care seven days a week.

While speaking about the launch, Chris Gorman, Chairman and CEO of KeyCorp, added:

“We acquired Laurel Road in 2019 with the intention of scaling this digital born business. Through this new digital bank offering we are able to provide a secure online experience and customized banking solutions to meet the special needs of physicians and dentists.”

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/04/173861-keybank-laurel-road-unveils-digital-bank-specifically-for-doctors/

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Celsius Network Update: Offers Yield on Gold-Backed wDGLD Token

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Celsius Network, a cryptocurrency lending and borrowing platform, announced on Thursday it will add support for CoinShares wDGLD token. According to Celsius, customers will be able to hold wDGLD tokens in their Celsius wallets to earn weekly compounding yield or use their coins as collateral to get cash loans against their crypto.

“CoinShares and Blockchain.com launched the wDGLD token in November 2020 as a solution to bring digital gold onto the Ethereum network and extend its usability within the digital asset ecosystem. wDGLD is pegged 1:1 with DGLD, a gold-backed token built on the Bitcoin blockchain and is currently available in the Blockchain.com wallet, home to over 69 million created wallets.”

Alex Mashinsky, CEO of Celsius, spoke about the support by stating:

“It’s a win-win-win when we’re able to form mutually beneficial partnerships that also generate more value for our customers. At a time when dollars and other inflationary currencies are losing value at an exponential rate, adding wDGLD provides our users with yet another option to diversify their assets in a way that acts in their best interest.”

Founded in 2017, Celsius addresses the financial needs of today’s consumers worldwide through a democratized interest income and lending platform accessible through a mobile app.

“Built on the belief that financial services should only do what is in the best interests of the community, Celsius is a modern platform where membership provides access to curated financial services that are not available through traditional financial institutions.”

Celsius recently announced it now holds more than $5.3 billion worth of cryptocurrency assets.

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/04/173860-celsius-network-update-offers-yield-on-gold-backed-wdgld-token/

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A Day in the Life of Madysson Bouchard, Indie Film Producer and Co-Founder of Sunday Breakfast Studio

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Whether you’re raising funds for a creative project or a new business idea, running your own crowdfunding campaign is no easy feat. It takes a healthy dose of passion, discipline, and commitment to bring your ideas and concepts to life, and get your backer community excited about them. Ever wondered what a day in the life of a creative entrepreneur on Indiegogo is like? We’re here to give you an exclusive glimpse into 24 hours of their day. 

Juggling creative projects, a film production company, and a crowdfunding campaign can be challenging, so we’re always inspired when we encounter a woman can do it all. Meet Montreal-based indie film producer and graphic designer Madysson Bouchard who co-founded Sunday Breakfast Studio.

Together with indie filmmaker Gregory Thomas David, she is running a campaign to fund Portraits of A Family — a film that adapts the true story of a Filipino-Canadian family, spanning over two decades, as they struggle to put the pieces back together after divorce and drug addiction has torn them apart:

“Portraits of a Family is the story of a family of four, including two first generation Filipino-Canadian boys, and the hardships they face within the span of two decades. We see this family at their lowest of lows, struggling through the complexities of divorce and the pain and frustration of drug addiction, but through it all they find a way, as individuals and as a unit, to remain strong, intact and full of love. Although this is a family drama that may sound familiar, and that many people can probably relate to, we are driven to create this film in order to show an authentic Filipino-Canadian experience that the film industry is sorely lacking.”

Your contribution will allow their production to start filming, and get this story out to screens everywhere, in a world where AAPI voices and images are missing some real representation.

The team at Sunday Breakfast Studio

Read on to see how Madysson spends 24 hours in her day, working as a creative professional in Montreal. Then scroll down for a brief Q&A to get to know her better, learn more about Portraits of A Family, and get inspired!

6 A.M. As a mom to a two-year-old boy, this is usually where my day begins. I’d love to say that I get up  early to do yoga and get a fresh start to my day, but it’s more along the lines of watching  cartoons while sharing cereal with my son. Although I could use some extra sleep on most days,  this is the hour in my day where I get to spend time alone with him and get a good fix of his tiny  cuddles before the day fully begins. 

7 A.M. The action begins. It’s time for our little family to get dressed, have breakfast, get ready  for the day and leave the house for daycare. As simple as it looks, this takes a full hour for us,  because best believe that a pregnant lady and a toddler are not the fastest when it comes to  getting ready! 

8 A.M. Once I drop off my son at daycare, I switch hats to become both a graphic designer and a  producer. Making an independent film is a lot of work, but so is taking care of a family. So, at  the same time as being a full-time producer for Portraits of a Family, I also have a full-time job as a graphic designer, which helps us stay afloat and develop my creativity. 

9 A.M. The time in my workday where no one is yet active and I get to catch up with the many emails I’ve received since the last time I checked. It’s usually the same: new design projects that  need to be finished within the week, or questions from actors, volunteers and sponsors.  Answering all of these takes no less than an hour, and it helps set the tone for the day, too.

Madysson Bouchard at work

10 A.M. It’s time to get down to business. As opposed to a producer on a regular production, I  have to wear many hats to be able to get things done. That means PR, graphic design, set  design, castings, finances, and many, many more! Our team is made of the director, who is also  my fiancé, and a handful of volunteers who give a few days a week to the project. When  something needs to be done, I usually take care of it! This is the time of the day where I map  out the needs of the production for that day and decide what to do and what to delegate. 

11 A.M. By that time, I usually have most of our PR needs answered for the day. Emails have been  answered and sent, our Inbox is clear, and our volunteers have been reached to know what to  work on that day. On busy days, the director and I spend some time watching new auditions  and writing notes for potential call-backs. When I have more time, I focus on creating visuals to  update the website, our social media platforms, or our Indiegogo campaign. 

12 P.M. Did I mention an Indiegogo campaign? That’s right! All of us spend a lot of time sending the  campaign to friends and family, as well as posting it on different groups and to communities  who can offer support. We also have a newsletter thanking personally all donors which I send  from the Sunday Breakfast Studio email at this point of the day, every day. 

1 P.M. Time for a well-deserved break. Although working from home allows us to spend time together,  my fiancé and I like to put everything aside during lunch time, including work-talk. We fix  ourselves a quick meal, share a few thoughts and stories, and go right back to work. 

2 P.M. After lunch, I usually have a few meetings scheduled. Some people like to get the day started  with meetings, but I’d rather have time to prepare first. As a graphic designer working  remotely, zoom meetings are the best way for me to fully understand the client’s needs and get  a complete brief. And as a do-it-all producer, I often have to answer questions regarding  auditions, funding, pre-production and logistics. 

3 P.M. Only one hour left before we have to go get our son. It’s a short 15 minutes from our house, but  once he’s home, we put our computers, and the workload that comes with it, aside. So, it’s  crunch time to send the last few emails before I go MIA for a few hours. I send draft projects for  approval, requests for the next day, update our Excel tables and make sure all the data,  information and visuals made during the day are available to everyone on our drive. 

4 P.M. Picking up my son has to be one of my favourite moments in a day. Even at his young age, he  has loads to tell us; including what he did with his friends, what games he played and where he  went. It’s a good reminder that he has his own world, too, filled with just as many adventures  as us. We usually play some more once we get home and I get things ready for dinner. 

5 P.M. Now that I’m pregnant again, dinner can be tricky. It happens that I can’t stand being in the  kitchen, and that’s where my fiancé takes over. The rest of the time, though, I make dinner and  the boys (yes, even my son) get involved by mixing, cutting or washing the dishes. Now, just like  the morning, this is kind of a hectic time in our house because we also try to fit in a bath and a  small story time for our son. 

6 P.M. Usually means we’re really close to my son’s bedtime. We tidy up the last few things he  might’ve left around, make sure he has everything he needs, and then up in bed. For us this  also means we have time to wind down and rest a little bit until he’s 100% asleep. 

7 P.M. You’d think that my workday would be done by the time I first put away my laptop, right? Well,  it’s not the case! The dishes are down, the little one’s asleep, and we go right back to work. As I  said, being a producer is a full-time job, and with another full-time job keeping me busy during  the day, I have to find time to work on the film, and that happens to be at night. As exhausting  as it sounds, there’s nothing better than working on your own projects.

8 P.M. At night, most of my focus goes towards visuals and logistics. Since everyone is pretty much off the grid, it’s the perfect time to work on the social media calendar, on our budget sheet, our  prop list or design the costumes. In this production, I act as pretty much every department’s  head, and make sure we’re respecting our tight schedule and budget.  

9 P.M. And still going! With the TV on in the background, I write a list of the things that need to  be done the next day. It can be hard to balance two full-time jobs as well as being a mom, and  keeping a house clean, but this is where my fiancé comes in. As the director of Portraits of a  Family, he wears just as many hats as I do and shares the full load.  

10 P.M. On most days, this marks the end of our workday. We work until we have to, but seeing how  early our son wakes up, it’s safe to say that bedtime shouldn’t be too late. I usually take a few  minutes to relax and leave the day behind before going to bed. 

11 P.M. And it’s lights out! Although this schedule is pretty packed and often asks us to juggle  many things at once, it’s one that I chose and that I’m happy to have. I wouldn’t change one  hour of my day, nor would I change any of the many hats I put on.

Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse of what their day is like, get more inspiration in our exclusive Q&A with Madysson below!

INDIEGOGO: How and why did you become a film producer? Was it something you always intended  for yourself? 

MADYSSON: I studied in fashion marketing and business finances for 3 years. I had many jobs in the fashion  industry, including visual merchandising, designer, stylist, etc. When I met Gregory and learnt  about his passion and ambitions when it comes to making films, I wanted nothing more than to  support him. Throughout the process of helping here and there, I realized that producing a film  regroups a lot of the things I am good at and love doing. It was never in my plans, but it all  makes sense now.

INDIEGOGO: What makes your Indiegogo film project unique? 

MADYSSON: Portraits of a Family is one of the rare Filipino-Canadian stories out there. There are very little  films being made in Canada that are made by and showcasing Filipinos and their culture. And  because of that, it makes it an important project to a lot of people as it would be a chance for  the Filipino community to hold leading roles amongst the cast and the crew. This is definitely  something to be a part of. 

INDIEGOGO: What’s your biggest piece of advice for women who want to make movies? 

MADYSSON: There’s never too much planning. They say you can never make a movie in a cheap, fast and  good way. You always have to choose two; it’s either cheap and good, but a slow process, or  expensive but you get to do it faster. You will know which one is right for you. We knew that  money would be our biggest challenge, and so we’ve scheduled every month for over a year,  from development until production and beyond. Make sure you know the schedule by heart,  because it’s easy to forget deadlines or important steps when there is so much to do. 

INDIEGOGO: What are the film influences behind your movie?

MADYSSON: A lot of the inspiration for Portraits of a Family comes from these films: The Squid and the Whale, Moonlight, After the Storm, A Separation, and Boyhood. From the look to the thematic  feel of these five movies, we can find similarities in what we’re trying to create. None of them  are Filipino movies, hence why our film is an important one to make. 

INDIEGOGO: What tools would you recommend to anyone starting their own business,  crowdfunding campaign or project? 

MADYSSON: I wouldn’t have been able to learn everything that I know without the book Producer to Producer by Maureen A. Ryan. She’s a genius when it comes to explaining everything a  producer has to do in the most efficient way. Every step is described along with the resources  to get further help. I would also say to always keep two copies of everything. If you register your IP for a film, make sure to also scan the official paper and keep it on a Drive. Same goes for schedules, contracts, and so on. Anything can happen and some papers are too valuable to lose, such as permits and official documents. Our team shares everything through the same Drive, and communicates using apps like Teams, or Slack. 

INDIEGOGO: What’s your favorite Indiegogo campaign? 

MADYSSON: I really liked the East West Eats Cookbook campaign by Ellen Lee. It featured many chefs from The Bay Area and helped a student project at the same time, plus the recipes looked great. We have a Filipino recipe book ourselves as a perk and we can never have too many!

To support Madysson and Gregory in making Portraits of A Family happen, check out their Indiegogo campaign page or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. To learn more about her other creative projects, you can follow her on Instagram.

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Source: https://go.indiegogo.com/blog/2021/04/a-day-in-the-life-of-madysson-bouchard-indie-film-producer-and-founder-of-sunday-breakfast-studio.html

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Pine Labs Reports that CIMB Bank, HSBC Bank, Others are Using its Buy Now Pay Later Solution, Now Also Available in Malaysia

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Pine Labs, an Asian merchant commerce solution provider that’s backed by payments giant Mastercard, has introduced a Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) solution in Malaysia.

Pine Labs aims to offer a technology-focused offline payments platform where several different credit card issuers can use a common terminal to provide BNPL offers to clients.

AFFIN BANK, AmBank, CIMB Bank, HSBC Bank, RHB Bank are now using Pine Labs’ BNPL solution.

Pine Labs reports that it has managed to achieve success with its offline BNPL platform in India where it claims a 95% market share. During late 2020, Pine Labs had revealed that it was planning to introduce its BNPL platform through a partnership with Mastercard. The company said it would launch the service in Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Kush Mehra, Chief Business Officer, Pine Labs, stated:

“It is an excellent product and a win-win proposition for everyone involved including consumers who get affordable buying options, merchants who are getting an enticing proposition to woo customers back to the stores and boost their sales, and banks and brands who get to build their brand loyalty. This integrated solution that we launched with Mastercard will now be further expanded to newer markets in the region.”

As covered, Pine Labs is an India-headquartered merchant commerce platform that’s focused on expanding its services to Southeast Asia, thanks to key organizational changes.

As previously reported, Pine Labs offers a merchant platform that includes technology and financial solutions for merchants to help them in increasing their revenue, reducing the cost and complexity of running a business, and managing the risks involved. The company connects financial institutions and consumer brands to empower merchants to deliver value to their retail customers.

Pine Labs and its tech platform power both offline and online “last-mile retail transactions, provide customer insights to merchants for targeted sales and offer risk-managed financial solutions for merchants’ business growth.” Today, more than 1 million merchants in India and several other Asian countries, use Pine Labs’ solutions to “run accessible, affordable, speedy and risk-managed last-mile retail operations.”

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Source: https://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2021/04/173848-pine-labs-reports-that-cimb-bank-hsbc-bank-others-are-using-its-buy-now-pay-later-solution-now-also-available-in-malaysia/

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