Wynd is one of the best Kickstarter projects I own. It has both an air purifier and air quality tracker that work together to help improve the air quality around you. It is a great example of using technology to improve society’s quality of life. For those with allergies and/or highly polluted environments, this can make a world of difference. Ray Wu, founder and CEO of Wynd, was kind enough to answer some questions around building and shipping a hardware product. Here are 11 lessons I drew from what he shared.
Successful products often have a strong reason for why they exist that keeps the team going when times are tough. One of the biggest things that stood out for me when Ray talked about the story behind Wynd is that they had a truly honourable reason for starting Wynd. This really helped them reach the heights they did. Ray explained the Wynd origin story like so,
“We initially designed the small form-factor purifier (which eventually became Wynd) to help one of our team members clean the air for his infant daughter. She was very sensitive to the environment and while they were traveling overseas, they were in an area with intense air pollution and she started coughing and her skin developed rashes. Our hardware guys all went to MIT and they were used to tinkering, so we quickly prototyped a portable purifier that was powerful enough to use next to her wherever she went. Soon other parents wanted us to make these same prototypes for their children, and for themselves as well! We made over 50 prototypes for beta users and received a lot of feedback to improve the design.”
Ray later discussed just how much the personal stories around Wynd’s use really does help push their team to keep working on the product:
“We’ve heard so many personal stories about how air quality is important to our customers — from people with debilitating allergies, to those living in polluted urban areas, to new moms looking to keep their infants healthy. Many told us how Wynd was helping them have a peace of mind and enabling them to do more. We have one customer with lung disease and she told us that Wynd helps her get through the day – it really inspired us to keep moving forward.” — Ray Wu
One early realisation when starting Wynd was that they needed more than just an air purifier. Ray explains that “since air is usually invisible, having a purifier only is not enough”. How can you tell if the air around you needs to be purified? They needed an air quality sensor. However, Ray pointed out that they needed to “match the portability of the purifier with an air quality sensor that can monitor air quality in real-time, generate alerts, and work with the purifier to automatically clean the environment” — simple enough right? It turned out that such a thing didn’t exist:
“We initially wanted to just buy an air quality sensor from someone else and integrate into the Wynd device, but what we found is that most sensors are either too expensive and too big, or too inaccurate. Rather than be resigned to use a sub-par sensor for Wynd, we invented our own.” — Ray Wu
Instead of seeing this as a hurdle that was insurmountable, they genuinely did go and build their own! Now, Ray points out that their Wynd Air Quality Tracker is “the smallest and most accurate consumer air sensor in the market, and it pairs naturally with the Wynd Purifier to maintain a clean environment.” It works better than any third party sensor ever could have! The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to go out and build the hardware you need if your team have the skills to do so. Just because it hasn’t been done yet doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
Your project is going to have delays. They aren’t necessarily going to be ones you’ll foresee (in fact, they’re most likely going to be the sorts of surprises you’re always not so happy to receive!). Plan for the unexpected delays. Give your product timeline some leeway for the unexpected. Wynd experienced this firsthand, as Ray recounts,
“Always leave extra cushion in your timeline for delays — they can happen for any reason. We originally planned our timeline assuming every step from Engineering Validation Testing (EVT), Design Validation Testing (DVT), and Production Validation Testing (PVT) was going to progress smoothly, and that wasn’t always the case. We actually ended up with two different EVT and DVT steps which added weeks to our timeline.”
Who you work with to build your product can be the difference between success and failure. Wynd’s team were right for the task at hand. They even had a rocket scientist.
“We assembled a team with many years of experience in mechanical engineering (including a rocket scientist), electrical engineering, industry design (including the co-founder of IDEO), and manufacturing. Some members of the team have overseen products that sold millions of units worldwide.” — Ray Wu
Editor’s Note: You probably don’t need a rocket scientist, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.
Ray wasn’t shy to mention that Wynd has had many challenges along the way. Their aspirations for this product ended up requiring multiple products — each with their own challenges and each needing to work seamlessly with the rest. Ray explains,
“There were many challenges with designing and creating the Wynd product. First, we are not just one device but multiple – the Wynd Purifier, Wynd Air Quality Tracker, and related accessories such as the Medical-Grade Filter, Kickstand, and Stroller Holder. They all had to work well independently but also the smart hardware such as the Purifier and Tracker also had to work in unison to automatically react to each other to maintain healthy air quality. The toughest was our Air Quality Tracker, which is a scientific measuring instrument, capable of achieving very similar accuracy as devices costing over 100x as much.”
Things that you wouldn’t think of will pop up as unexpected challenges! Like finding a way to make 936 air intake holes:
“We spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to injection mold the 360 degree air intake with all the little holes (936 of them). We probably came up with a dozen different tooling designs that all had their pros and cons before finalizing an approach. The tool that we chose was quite complicated – every one of those holes has a metal pin that gets inserted and pulled out – that’s 936 pins!” — Ray Wu
Wynd’s potential to help others goes beyond just the hardware they’ve created. They’ve extended the capabilities of their hardware by bringing in the power of data and software! Using their Wynd and Air Bubbles mobile apps, people can uncover more insights about their air quality and device. They can compare the quality of their air with that of the air around them. The more data Wynd devices collect, the more shared benefit they can provide too:
“Our long term goal is to combine crowdsourced environmental information from all of our users to help inform whole communities to make healthier decisions about their environment.” — Ray Wu
It doesn’t need to be all about hardware. Or even rock-solid software. The potential from producing valuable insights from data cannot be overstated — being able to help communities with all of the environmental information brings a whole new level to what Wynd can achieve. It goes beyond just helping a single infant in a polluted city, or keeping someone’s allergies at bay… it could help entire communities see details about the air quality in their area. That information alone could be the catalyst for action to improve things in areas which need it.
Opening up your product to the world on Kickstarter means you need to find a way to get your product to those backers around the world once it’s ready. This is definitely one of those stages which most of us aren’t likely to be experts in — when was the last time you had to ship a product to dozens of countries and account for all the complications that could occur? Engineers and developers working on the product itself will likely need to enlist some help with shipping and logistics. Good news is — there are companies for that! Here’s what Ray had to say when I asked about the potential difficulties of shipping a product worldwide:
“When we launched on Kickstarter we opened the floodgates so to speak and allowed anyone in the world to pre-order Wynd. We ended up having customers in 81 countries, and had to figure out how to ship to them later. Luckily you can find shipping and logistics companies that are well versed in this sort of thing, and they are more than willing to provide advice. Some countries are notoriously difficult to ship into — with high customs and also potential for people stealing the goods along the route — your partners may advise you to not ship there.”
I think Ray’s advice speaks for itself here:
“It might sound strange but my most important piece of advice is to not be afraid to ask for advice! No one teaches manufacturing and shipping in school, so it all comes down to experience. If you don’t have that experience built up yet, then you need to reach out for help. We found that in the startup community there are so many people willing to go out of their way to provide it.” — Ray Wu
Ray also points out that there are always going to be compromises when it comes to manufacturing products. You need to prioritise the factors which are most crucial for your product:
“When you manufacture, you can prioritize between quality, speed, and cost – but you can only pick two.” — Ray Wu
In owning my own Wynd device, I’ve had first hand experience of Wynd’s customer support and was so surprised at how responsive and helpful they were every single time I needed them. It made me wonder whether Wynd had spent some huge amount of money on customer service training or something, because it was so much more solid than most startups I’ve had to deal with (owning so many emerging tech products… I’ve had my fair share of not-so-good customer service experiences!). When I asked Ray about how they’ve managed such good support for customers, he explained:
“We always prioritized the customer experience because that’s our lifeblood. Also, we feel very responsible to the customer because they gave their hard-earned money to purchase our product, and we want to deliver a great one.”
“We’ve been regularly improving the product with firmware and software updates, and needed to constantly communicate and be available to answer questions. Everyone on the team participated — including myself and co-founders.” — Ray Wu
“The benefit of having everyone participate is that all the functions — from hardware to software to marketing — saw the pulse of the product and customer feedback so we can align quickly to improve.”
That’s right — everyone saw customer feedback and helped answer questions for customers. I know this is true as Ray personally answered one of my support queries a few months back. Their system is working out great.
One final piece of advice from Ray and the team at Wynd — Learn, learn, learn. Even this team with a rocket scientist is spending time learning, seeing what other teams are doing and building up their knowledge. Keep that curiosity.
“Remain curious and always keep learning. We love taking things apart, reading blogs of other hardware teams and companies, and finding ways to learn from others in the community.” — Ray Wu
A huge thank you to Ray for taking the time to share his experiences around making a hardware product like this! You can find out more about Wynd on the Wynd website — if you’re needing an air purifier or air quality tracker (or both!), it’s definitely a device I’ve no regrets in owning myself (really good when travelling!).