5 tips for establishing a Hardware MVP

December 5, 2013 by Uncategorized No Comments

A common and often effective practice in software development is to release a “minimum viable product” (MVP) as soon as possible in a development lifecycle. A MVP is a V.1 product with basic functionality and unrefined usability. Getting out a MVP early in the development process makes it possible to begin learning from users sooner, iterate faster, and more effectively establish product-market fit.

This MVP concept applies well to hardware development, but requires a slightly different approach. Companies building a physical product need to get it right the first time. A typical product cycle is 12-18 months, which means there ‘s no room for bugs, and the initial design and usability must be excellent. A seemingly minor product flaw can have devastating repercussions with regard to security, manufacturing, industrial design, launch strategy, etc. There’s less room for mistakes with hardware.

Here are five things to consider when developing your MVHP (minimum viable hardware product):

1. Know your customer
Your MVP is the minimum product feature set needed to delight your customers. So who are these customers? It’s not you. Your customers are the people walking around Best Buy, Target and Starbucks. These are the people you need to identify. Having a clear idea of your target market will guide many decisions when building the product. Determine your customers early.

For example, the founders of Flip video were able to tap into the video camera market by targeting a younger demographic by offering a pocket-size, inexpensive camera and strategic marketing.

2. Focus on the concept
The ‘M’ of MVP stands for minimal and minimal = your concept. This doesn’t mean remove features to get to market faster, instead focus on the concept and why people need this product. Perfect your concept with the things around you: we recently met a man who runs a successful 3D printer company.  Instead of spending money early on testing his concept, he used plastic molds to create things. They only lasted 30 or 40 times but it was faster and cheaper than using metal.

3. Establish Early
It’s best to determine what will go into your MVP as soon as possible. There are many moving parts in a hardware development project, emphasizing the need for careful coordination and planning.  A roadmap is needed, and establishing your MVP early will help you set up goals, have something to refer to and improve upon.

4. Minimal doesn’t always mean less
So, you’ve got the concept and your MVP is set…not so fast. Depending on your team’s capabilities and the scope of your product, often more can be done. More features, better interactions, cleaner design. But it’s up to you to decide which features are necessary for your MVP. Minimal doesn’t have to be less, but all MVP features should enhance the core concept and must be well executed. Some features are best saved for a generation two product.

5. Be patient
Building hardware takes time and speed bumps are bound to happen. With that said, there’s many components to developing a physical product and establishing your hardware MVP early will only make your journey much easier. Hammer down your concept and target market, find a mentor or two and have patience with the process of building (hopefully) a revolutionary product.

“Minimum viable does not equal mediocre, think of it as minimally awesome.” – Eric Klein, Lemnos Labs

Bluetooth credit card? There’s a market for that.

November 25, 2013 by Payment Trends 2 Comments

If you’ve been on Facebook, Youtube or maybe Twitter in the last week, there’s a good chance you saw a nicely done video showcasing an all-in-one payment card similar to Echo. It’s a pretty neat concept (our biased opinion, of course), so we were unsurprised it was received with such interest and excitement.  A snazzy Bluetooth Low Energy card connected to a mobile app hoping to revolutionize the way we pay? Awesome – sign me up!

Of course, the buzz around this concept is about much more than novelty and cool tech. In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of innovation around smartphone-based payment systems.  The need for payment solutions that are more intelligent, capable and integrated with our digital lives is widely recognized, but so far none of the solutions introduced to market (Google Wallet, Isis, Square Wallet, etc.) has resonated with the public.  When it comes time to pay, we all still reach for our wallets.

Here’s why Echo will change all of that:

Connected card
Phones aren’t fit for payment. Paying with a card is quicker and easier than phone-based payments. Pulling out your phone, fumbling through a collection of apps, then holding your phone to a sensor at the register is, quite frankly, a pain. A simple swipe wins every time.

Echo merges the efficiency of the conventional payment card with the power and convenience of a mobile wallet.

Universally accepted standard
Today’s mobile payment solutions require merchants to upgrade their existing POS system, an unwelcome investment in unproven technology. What’s the value in a payment solution you can’t use anywhere? Echo works everywhere cards are accepted, even ATMs!

Capable technology platform
For years, Near Field Communication (NFC) has been the darling of the payments industry. We’ve long considered Bluetooth Low Energy a superior wireless protocol for payments use cases. The ability to communicate over a meaningful range makes BLE more capable than NFC, and BLE needn’t be any less secure. The wise decisions of Google and Apple to support BLE on their iOS and Android platforms means BLE is also the more compatible of the two low-energy wireless protocols.

A Bluetooth enabled, all-in-one payment card just makes a lot of sense, and the overwhelming response to this concept witnessed over the past week provides resounding confirmation that it solves a genuine need that a lot of us have.

For now we’re 100% focused on building an awesome product. We can’t wait to share more details, but in the meantime, stay tuned for more on Bluetooth Low Energy, trends in the payments industry, and other topics that catch our interest.

Welcome to the Age of Connected Hardware

November 12, 2013 by Uncategorized 4 Comments

Connected Hardware
Grabbing a cup of coffee on my way in to work this morning, something caught my attention: not a single person seated at the coffee shop had fewer than two or three devices running at the same time.  One woman transferred pictures from her iPhone to her Macbook over the cloud, while the man beside her synced his smart-watch with an app on his tablet. Such sights are common today, and to think, just five or six years ago this would have been inconceivable.

In the last two decades, mobile and web technology has redefined how we interact with information and with one another. Today, we are witnessing an equally important trend in which our mobile devices become not just information gateways, but part of a growing ecosystem of interconnected devices and sensors that are transforming how we engage with the world around us.

All of this is made possible by a new generation of wireless communication technologies that operate in the background of our everyday lives. Of these new technologies, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is of particular interest to us at Protean  (we use BLE to connect our ultra-low powered card with your smartphone). As evidenced by Nest, Pebble, Lockitron and Fuelband and a host of popular new products, we consider BLE a robust and highly versatile standard with a long life ahead of it.

Unfortunately, as we soon discovered, far too little documentation and guidance is readily available for those interested in Bluetooth Low Enery.  In a series of blog posts to follow, we will share our findings and discuss the unique challenges and opportunities intrinsic to BLE.  If you would like to learn more – please stay tuned!

Phones aren’t fit for payment

October 30, 2013 by Payment Trends 2 Comments

Financial technology dweebs like ourselves have a tendency to over complicate simple matters. Case in point – mobile payments.  So often, the failures of mobile payment ventures (e.g. Google Wallet, Isis, LevelUp) are attributed to infrastructure problems, balkanized standards, over-regulation and a host of other abstract concepts. All of the jargon tends to mask a basic reality: phones are a bad way to pay. Here’s why:

Less is More
The modern smartphone is, well, smart. What it gains in versatility and raw processing power, it often loses in practicality. My phone has a calculator, but I’d rather buy a dedicated calculator if I need to crunch a lot of numbers. Similarly, I could use my phone’s GPS for a road trip, but if I’m traveling across country I’d rather use my Tomtom. A similar comparison can be made between the credit card and the smartphone. As a frequent shopper, which of the following sounds more appealing?

1) Pull out your phone, load up an app, enter a pin code, select a card and pay, then wave it in front of a terminal


2) Pay with credit card: Pull out your wallet, pull out a card and swipe

For most of us, this is a no-brainer. Fact is, cards are extremely quick and efficient at what they do. Products like pebble, fuelband and fitbit have been wildly successful because they’ve accurately diagnosed the need for simple, specialized hardware interfaces.  Replacing the card with a phone accomplishes just the opposite.

Reliability Matters
Let’s say you’re grabbing a coffee, so you pull out your phone to pay and it’s dead. With no access to the specific app you were hoping to pay with, you’re out of luck.


A card won’t spontaneously die on you, nor will it time out, freeze-up or log out on you out at the most inopportune moment.

Would you hand off your phone off to a waiter/bartender?
When you go out on a Friday night and open a tab, are you prepared to hand the bartender your phone?  Suppose you rent a bicycle and the shopkeeper asks to hold your card, how would you feel about parting with your mobile phone all afternoon?

Here at Protean, having the ability to pay with our phones just doesn’t get us excited.  On the other hand, we’re optimistic as ever about the opportunity for cloud and mobile technology to reinvent how we shop and pay.  As such, our mission is really quite simple: combine the power and intelligence of mobile and cloud with the form and efficiency of the traditional payment card.

What do you think?

When can I get my Echo card!?

October 24, 2013 by Uncategory 2 Comments

We owe you an update, scratch that, several updates!

We’ll start by saying, things are busy (in a great way) at Protean HQ. We’ve grown our team and have continue moving full steam ahead. Great progress has been made, but it seems we spoke too soon when we announced a release timeline last year. With New Years just around the corner, Echo will not be available in 2013.

Designing, programming and manufacturing new technology is a long and involved process that tends to hit delays. As it turns out, packing a Bluetooth- enabled microcomputer into a card-sized device comes with a number of unexpected challenges.   It’s important to note as well, Protean is more than a Kickstarter project. Our goal is to make a dent in the payments industry and build a company of passionate, bright people backing an awesome product. These things take time.

For now, we will hold off on announcing a new release date until we have all of our eggs in one basket and full confidence in our ability to deliver on schedule.

Although this post doesn’t answer the question of ‘when’? Instead, we’re hoping it begins to answer ‘why’, as in why we’re taking every step necessary to make Echo the very best it can be.

For the latest updates, make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Twitter,  and don’t forget to sign-up for our Newsletter.

We deeply appreciate your support (and patience)!

Protean adds Nick Bognar

October 15, 2013 by Watercooler No Comments

The Protean team (Proteam?) is growing, slowly but surely, and we’re happy to announce Nick Bognar as our Content Producer. He may or may not be writing this, but either way we’ll continue to refer to him in third-person.

Nick will focus on all things content; blog posts, newsletter updates, social media content, publicity/outreach and a bit of everything else to help inform and build the Protean communities moving forward.

When he’s not in the office, you’ll find Nick daydreaming about his next (hopeful) travel destination and binge-watching Netflix, you can also find him on twitter or at nick@getprotean.com.

Welcome to the team, Nick!


Jack Wink joins Protean

September 18, 2013 by Watercooler No Comments

We’re super excited to add Jack Wink to our engineering team! When Jack isn’t hosting 1200 person hackathons or not blogging, he’s slinging Python, Java, and C++ code. And riding air matresses in the street during Ann Arbor flash floods.

Welcome Brittany Morris!

September 16, 2013 by Watercooler No Comments

It’s always an exciting time to bring on new team members, especially so with a small, tight-knit team. So when the question became, what do we need in our first hire?

We made a list:
- someone to help with booking travel and team events
-someone to coordinate the renovations/redesign of our office
- someone to handle our administration/paperwork
- someone to lead our HR efforts in the future

Sounds like we should  hire four people, right? Nah, let’s just hire one, do-it-all, jack-of-all-trades, superhuman and they’ll be called our “Team Coordinator”.

And we found her!

We’re happy to have Brittany Morris onboard as the Protean Team Coordinator. Not only will Brittany doing the above-mentioned duties as both our  product and team grow, but she’ll also have her hand in helping shape our culture, keeping things inline and on time as well every other detail to keep things running smoothly around the office.


When she’s not here with us, you can find Brittany cooking, tailgating and cheering on her favorite teams. Find her on Twitter, here.

Welcome aboard, Brittany!

Google Has a Card up its Sleeve

Google Wallet and CardDespite generating impressive buzz with its Wallet offering, Google’s foray into the world of payments has so far proved disappointing.  As Google prepares to unveil an overhauled version 2.0 of Wallet, now would seem an appropriate opportunity to autopsy Wallet’s original platform, take measure of its shortcomings, and scrutinize Google’s new direction. (more…)

A Brief History of Reprogrammable (Dynamic) Card Technology

We use our payment cards constantly.  Rarely can we be found outside our homes without them.   It would seem obvious, then, to try to get more out of the payment card – to have it do more than serve as a dumb, unsecured receptacle for small amounts of financial data.   Indeed, over the past four decades a tremendous amount of thought and creativity has been applied toward developing cards that are smarter, more powerful, more convenient and more secure. 

Payment card tech has advanced along two separate development tracks:   innovation around cards that are compatible with the ubiquitous swipe reader (e.g. powered cards/reprogrammable stripe cards), and innovation around cards that require specialized card reader capabilities (e.g. smartcards/chip cards/RFID cards).  This article briefly traces the history of payment card technology, emphasizing the development trajectory of powered cards with dynamic magnetic stripes.  (more…)

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