Duro drags hardware product development into the age of agile

To software developers, the process of creating a hardware product can seem distinctly 1980s. Even in the most high-tech of work flows, there are tons of error-prone and potentially expensive manual, steps including spreadsheets, confusion and a general feeling of the will to live sagging away through the musty, solder-stained floorboards of the hardware development shop. Along comes Duro and the $4 million the company just raised, in an attempt to bring some agile methodology sanity to a final-bill-of-materials.top-assembly.final.final.final.final.no-really-final-this-time.xls world.

Duro’s fundraising round was led by B2B SaaS investors Bonfire Ventures, with follow-on money from hard-tech investors Riot Ventures. The new funding will be used to expand sales and marketing teams and to further develop Duro’s product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions.

“I am a former electrical engineer. For 20 years I designed and manufactured products — IoT, Drones, telecom equipment, wearables, cleantech, you name it. I got frustrated with how much of my time was being spent managing the most fundamental elements of hardware development: CAD files, your bill of materials and your supply chain data,” explains Duro’s CEO Michael Corr. “There’s a product category called Product Lifecycle Management — or PLM — which is meant to be a receptacle for that information for centralizing and managing it. It includes revision control, and you use it with your own teams, as well as sharing it with your contract manufacturers. And yet none of the tools I used were actually saving time or actually providing value at the end of the day. It’s all done so manually and is so process-driven that it was often easier to just use spreadsheets. That’s still the prevalent technology today, because the established tools are just so damn complicated and prone to error, and they’re not actually providing value.”

With an axe to grind against the status quo, co-founders Michael Corr and Kellan O’Connor developed Duro as a cloud platform to centralize all product data and remove the friction of connecting disparate teams and tools. The goal is transparency and giving everyone from the product teams, the engineering teams and the suppliers and manufacturing teams access to the most accurate and most recent data at all times.

“To simplify things a little, the hardware industry is dominated by a bimodal culture. You have the older generation that came into the workforce in the 80s and 90s, who established these toolsets that we have today. Meanwhile, there is a gap — young engineers were more interested in learning web, mobile and app development, as it was so much more in vogue. There wasn’t a continuation of young engineers entering the hardware space,” Corr outlines the market landscape where Duro is staking out its territory. “But now they’re coming back. Hardware has proven itself to be a sexy product. IoT happened, and the cost of developing hardware came down drastically. Now what we are seeing is a wave of a younger generation of engineers that’s entering the workforce. They are the ones that Duro is going after. They are used to the culture from software development, and they have different standards for the software they use.”

In other words, where SaaS, GitHub and dev/ops processes completely changed how software is delivered on an ongoing basis, Duro wants to take similar mechanics and invite the hardware folks to join the current millennium.

“GitHub did an excellent job of proving that it can be done. You can have a single cloud-hosted source of your source code control, and then you build an ecosystem of tools and people and tasks around it. And everyone’s always pointing to GitHub. In the hardware industry, traditionally, that hasn’t been the case. You have multiple teams, doing their disparate responsibilities: electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, procurement, manufacturing, etc. Because there hasn’t been a concept of centralizing it, everybody has their own copy of the data,” explains Corr. “Everybody has their own separate copy of the bill materials, for example, and that creates a problem. It creates this additional necessity of overhead to manage all those communication channels and making sure that everybody has the latest copy.”

“We’re incredibly excited to partner with Duro, which is bringing a fresh solution to a big market dominated by old companies. When a startup like Duro lowers the barrier to entry for a whole new set of users, it positions them to get the lion’s share of that new addressable market,” said Jim Andelman, co-founder and managing director at Bonfire Ventures. “Customer affinity for Duro’s platform is off the charts: it’s clear to us that this is the PLM solution of choice for engineering-driven businesses.”

In addition to the product itself, the company is innovating on its business model, taking a leaf out of the SaaS playbook.

“There’s a lot of friction in software sales for hardware in the past. Very expensive applications, driven by user-license business models. And there are rarely trials available — if you want to use it, you just have to pay for and just accept what you get. So Duro innovates a little bit there too. We have three subscription packages. The starter package allows companies who know that spreadsheets are not a good solution and want to get into properly managed data, centralized and controlled environments. The Pro version works right out of the box, without the complex configuration and setup needed by other products. It’s designed for teams who are at the cusp of doing its first round of production, and want to do proper revision control interface with their suppliers,” explains Corr. “Our enterprise package is more the expansive package for teams that have outgrown those lower two tiers, or that are just more established and they have existing workflows.

The starter package is $450 a month or $5,400 a year. The Pro package weighs in at $750 per month or around $9,000 per year. The enterprise package is a little bit more open ended, depending on the needs of the customer. The Duro team told me that they have contracts ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, depending on how the software is configured.

“Given our extensive experience investing in full-stack businesses, we know that issues surrounding data continuity are synonymous with hardware manufacturing and weigh heavily on the industry,” said Will Coffield, co-founder and general partner at Riot Ventures. “We love Duro’s approach to modernizing hardware design/development, using automation to replace manual processes and connect teams to information for intelligent and efficient collaboration.”