HWTrek seeks to help people overcome the manufacturing hurdle in getting their crowdfunded hardware projects off the ground through mentorship.
Lucas Wang, the CEO of HWTrek, isn’t that impressed with FitBit’s Force activity tracker. Examining the device in his Taipei office, Wang offers a critique of the device: the display is not aligned perfectly with the frame; there’s light leakage; the charging port is exposed to skin.
The last of his critiques pointed out something that has cost FitBit dearly. After reports of skin irritations on the wrists of users, FitBit has recalled all of the devices. The jury is still out on the exact cause of the issue, but Wang offers a theory that has been floated around online. Because the device’s charging port is exposed, a buildup of sweat and moisture on the user’s arm has the possibility of creating a slight discharge from the charging port.
In many ways the FitBit recall is also a compelling advertisement for Wang’s company, HWTrek.
HWTrek offers to match makers – people with a design or prototype they want to see become a reality – with experts in a specific field. HWTrek has a variety of experts in its stable to cover every facet of the manufacturing process, from industrial design consulting to liaising with Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in Taiwan to get a production run going. If one of HWTrek’s experts had seen prototype of the FitBit Force, they would have probably caught these quality and design issues before it went to manufacturing.
A Match.com for ideas
Wang explains HWTrek as something between a dating site for ideas and experts, and a crowdfunding service to get hardware projects off the ground. It started with just the former, and recently added the latter.
“We try and bridge the gap between a software guy and hardware guy,” he said. “We want to be the ‘Match.com’ for putting together ideas and hardware experts.”
Wang said the idea for HWTrek came about during a trip to San Jose. During his time in Silicon Valley he noticed there seemed to be a plethora of people looking for hardware solutions for their proposed software, a contrast to the demand he observed in Asia where hardware manufacturers were looking for software for their gear.
Why not try and link the two groups?
All someone has to do to get their project off the ground with HWTrek is submit an idea, Wang explained. Ideally this would include technical and CAD diagrams, as well as a proof of concept, but a detailed writeup would also work. For users perhaps unfamiliar with submitting a formal Request for Quote – a technical summary and pitch of the idea – HWTrek provides a free online tool. After the idea is fleshed out, experts in the relevant field can be consulted to ensure the idea is plausible and without any major oversights. From there the project can either be crowdfunded or linked up with a buyer who might commit to financing the production run. Finally, the project is set for manufacturing and the creator can try and match it with an ODM or OEM to get it built.
Wang said that HWTrek has relationships with over 130 companies in the ODM and OEM business, including Pegatron, Wistron, Qisda, and Foxconn. While he can’t guarantee that they would commit to a project, they would certainly be receptive to the pitch.
A realistic model for makers, creators and crowdfunders
The defining problem of the crowdfunding model is in the delivery stage. An idea may be promising, but in many circumstances the people behind the project haven’t thought of it through to the delivery stage. The failure to deliver has spanned the gamut of projects when it comes time to put ideas into motion, from phone accessories, to boardgames, to attempts by Gawker to get a video of a mayor smoking crack. Often people are left without their money, as on many crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter there is no obligation for refunds to be issued if the project does not go through. Most of these problems have come from people getting carried away with their idea and not thinking it through to completion.
HWTrek’s model of mentorship and communication with experts will help instil more faith into the crowdfunded model. Experts can assess whether a project is viable, or has some major flaws in it. They can help makers pitch their ideas to manufacturers, to guide them through the process of getting a production run going.
The potential is there for HWTrek to incubate some exciting and innovative projects. It will be interesting to watch where it goes as the service matures.