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> ...harder to do in startup-sized companies; namely hardware engineering and mass manufacturing innovation.

Don't forget all the hardware companies you know today were once startups. Yes there's a current fashion to call companies that are basically small businesses "startups", but the term encompasses a far more profound class of enterprise.

And Apple itself was founded by an engineer (Woz) who first got his start at a big company, HP, which is celebrated as a hardware startup that grew.

I think the article and your comment do get to an important point, which is that Apple is big enough to have solid (and at the moment very successful) processes and infrastructure so that you only get experience in that matrix, and don't have to spend any time learning stuff outside your own area. You can, of course, and plenty of companies have come from Apple alums.

Clearly hardware start ups aren't impossible, but we are talking about relative difficulty. The article is only comparing them to software companies (Google, Yahoo, Paypal).

I also think its right to compare now with the 1980s when F500 companies didn't know how to compete in the new tech hardware space. Companies like Samsung rush into new product spaces very early in the adoption cycle.

> Don't forget all the hardware companies you know today were once startups.

Unfortunately the winds of VC have changed a lot since then. Originally, VCs were willing and eager to invest millions in a promising innovation. Now they expect you to demonstrate traction before any large investments—which is infinitely harder with hardware startups.

Not only that, but software startups used to not be so cheap either. 15 years ago you need to raise millions just to buy servers. Granted that wasn't the case in the early days of software (Microsoft didn't need servers when they were a startup), but it's an interesting dynamic in the internet age.

Indeed. As the cost of software startups has come down dramatically, hardware startups have become relatively more expensive.

> Microsoft didn't need servers when they were a startup

Wrong. Gates and Allen used Harvard's University mainframe to do their first gig, then paid for other mainframe time:


That's a dev box not a server Mr. holier-than-though smartass.

You are wrong. At that time the whole universities had, if they were rich, a couple of mainframes for the whole institution, if they were poorer, one or none.

All the students wich are entitled to access to the mainframe worked typically on a single mainframe which was also used for the university accounting etc.

Mainframes were, using the more modern words, the big servers with the capital S, effectively.

Hobbyist keyboard alone (without the TV) had the price of nearly 1000 US dollars equivalent today in 1975


The cheapest self containing computer that year had a minimal cost of 30,000 of today's US dollars.


The "operating system" of it were Basic and APL, and it had the storage of 200 KB.

Now compare all this to the "server" which started this discussion. The claim was that when Gates started he didn't need "servers."

Don't lecture at me, you are not giving me any new information. Yes, having access to a mainframe was incredibly expensive and difficult. Yes, Microsoft leveraged that access.

But were they selling Altair_BASIC running on said mainframe? No they were not, hence they did not have servers. They used a mainframe as a dev box.

You can't redefine my terminology just to suit your own viewpoint.

The attempt to hang to the verbatim word "server" is at best anachronistic.

thou (you)

thanks, I was a little hasty in my typing homophones responding to https://twitter.com/karlvanhoet

Really? I get the strong impression (what with people throwing the word bubble around and making regular comparisons to the dotcom era) that VC's are far less picky today then they were 10 years ago.

The hardware companies you know today weren't founded in the 2000s. The golden age of hardware startups was the 70s/80s.

Well, lets tease this apart.

Hardware startups are still being funded. Software startups are still being funded. Life science startups are still being funded. And it's a lot of the same old line VCs who are doing these deals. I'm thinking $15M-$20M first round, with companies need significant funding but get quite large.

Then there are a ton of small companies, many of which are really small businesses (just look at the list of companies at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9666013), that are getting small amounts of funding ("spray and pray" funds). Are their funders really "VCs" in the classic sense when the amount they invest is =< $100K and they can't participate in future rounds? Although they get a most of the press for "startups" and "VCs", and they are the volume in absolute sense, most of these seem designed to run for a little while and then be aquihired away. So no need to build most of the infrastructure for a sustainable business. In that role, the "VCs" are really more like agents getting a commission on the aquihire.

It's the latter that aren't particularly picky. The traditional VCs seem mostly to still look for the same things.

While true that hardware companies were also once start ups, they were also startups at a different time. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't they start ups when there were no existing hardware companies that operate at the same scale the current big hardware companies do?

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