How do I get my product assembled and shipped?

Here are the options for final assembly for a first build. 

Do it yourself (yes, you, yourself)

  • This is the absolute scrappiest method.  I know entrepreneurs who have assembled thousands of units in their basement with their own two hands.
  • The best part of this approach is that you don’t have to pay yourself to do it.
  • This may be the right way if you are at a pre-funding stage and watching every penny (and because of this, you are ok with things going longer, and ok with fielding quality issues down the line)
  • That said, there are issues you should be aware of.

Build it with interns

  • This is the second scrappiest method.  You can get college students to intern for you and build the product for you – or you can enlist friends and family to help you build it in their free time.
  • This approach, while not free, is more cost effective than hiring assembly and test technicians from a placement agency (see next bullet).
  • This may be the right way if your product is relatively simple to build, you have a high level of confidence that you can teach your interns the right skillset, and you want to minimize the cost while optimizing for faster time to market.
  • That said, there are issues you should be aware of.

Build your own production facility (including space, equipment, and staff)

  • This is the most expensive method. You rent space. You buy equipment. You hire staff technicians to do the production. Either you manage the staff, or you hire a shift supervisor to manage the staff.
  • The good news is that the people doing the assembly are professionals. You can trust their workmanship.
  • This may be the right way if your product mix changes constantly, the skill level required is high, and your margins can tolerate the overhead of owning your own production facility.
  • That said, there are issues you should be aware of.

Hire a contract manufacturer (CM)

  • For many startups this may be the right way – especially if they have expectations of rapid growth.  Let’s say you start with a 2000 unit build.  You may have reason to believe you need to get to 10,000 by the end of the first year, and 50,000 by the end of the second year.
  • If this is the case, it is almost never worth the trouble of setting up your own temporary line.  Instead, you should spend the energy up front identifying the right contract manufacturing partner, and co-developing a production process and associated documentation to consistently produce your product for the next year or two.
  • If this is the route you want to take, Scott Miller of Dragon Innovation has a fabulous talk on how to select a factory on SlideShare that you should check out.
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