Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

Around the block again: Tricks and tools learned in the trenches building a follow-on product

Ian Ferguson (Formlabs)
2:55pm–3:35pm Thursday, 06/25/2015
Location: Cowell Theater (Herbst Pavilion)
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 2 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

No prerequisite knowledge is required. I will show some live software demos written in Python, mostly, that might scare some complete non-techies.


It’s not every day that a hardware startup has success and goes on to grow, expand, and seek more technical and more challenging goals. At Formlabs I’ve had the fortunate chance to take our company through the release of our first product, the Form 1, its significant update Form 1+, and an unnamed future product.

Building a next generation product gives a company and individuals a chance to improve and incorporate experience earned by shipping product. This includes integrating intensive customer feedback and usage, responding to real-world hardware life testing and wear and tear, more thoughtful and intentional design cycles, and learning to iterate.

It also brings with it a whole number of challenges that didn’t come up the first time, like building a product with a comparably huge engineering team and effort, coordination, pacing and timelines, ramping down and up manufacturers, and doing business with top-tier suppliers and manufacturing partners. Assuming everything goes according to plan, you’ll walk away from the talk with actionable advice, tools to implement, and information to share with colleagues.

This is an example of bullet points of a sub-topic:

“How to use an iPython notebook to allow engineers (even mechanical engineers) to analyze customer data quickly”

  • Customers are an amazing and helpful source of data and information.
  • Collecting information from customers is a tough but valuable exercise.
  • Choose the data you collect carefully. It takes time and effort to collect each piece.
  • How to choose between opt-in and opt-out data
  • How to hook up your database to an iPython notebook
  • So easy, a mechanical engineer can do it

Other topics I hope to give concrete examples of:

  • How to build a spreadsheet to collect customer issues. What should you be tracking? How to connect customer support to engineers?
  • First-hand advice on how to pick which contract manufacturers to talk to. How do I pick where to manufacturer my product? Is China the right answer?
  • How do you ramp down a supplier? What are some negotiating points to discuss?
  • How to build a realistic and agile project timeline. How long does it really take to build a product, and how does a Gantt chart actually help?
Photo of Ian Ferguson

Ian Ferguson


Ian Ferguson is lead engineer at Formlabs, where he works on all aspects of producing products from design to manufacturing and ongoing support. With an entrepreneurial background in mechatronic and robotics engineering, he likes to get into the nitty-gritty elements of design and development while maintaining a sharp focus on the market. He’s used to the startup hard work lifestyle, having worked previously at Bossa Nova Robotics creating high-tech toys, and building robots for academic and military research at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.