Ashu Srivastava .

Hard truth about Hardware Startups.

I'm Ashutosh.

Some of you know me well and we've interacted in the past.

For those who are seeing me for the first time, I run an early stage startup company called We-Convert, an IoT startup trying to innovate across the Waste Management space and now failing.

On the other side, Neeraj Joshi and I met during the super early days of PushStart back in 2017 when I was asked to share my startup information in the community, collectively as an Idea, my inspiration and to the extent i recall, this is how PushStart actually started!

People signing up and new ideas being shared weekly.

(Correct me if I'm mistaken)

What is this about?

This is about THAT area of the ecosystem where no one speaks or share insights about, the brutal Hardware spectrum.

I built this startup with a clean motivation of bringing a change to the society and create an impact at larger scales, 4 years ago and here i stand today, with a startup that's struggling hard to save the boat.

As a starter, we are building a Smart Trash bin unit for businesses and Cities that does trash auto sort and perform necessary data analytics around trash management space, eventually optimizing the end trash disposal and accounts for economical benefits.

Think of this as a connected, smart TrashBin that reads your trash and takes care of the rest.

Here comes the story

We-Convert was on the verge to loose its runway 8 months back and completely blacked out during the start of the year 2020.

We knocked the doors of several funds (Accelerators, Micro VCs and others) yet all they came back was a NO NO.

Hardly 2 out of every 10 Institutes decides to risk themselves into startups building HW element.

We worked hard, day and night to build the product and perform needed iterations, did initial pilots, failed, stood up again and practically explored everything to scale this up and at this point, i feel completely helpless and directionless.

  • Fake it till you make it concept didn't really worked out well for our case.
  • Product development and R&D ate up almost all our cash reserves.
  • I practically visited every accelerator program across the globe that keeps a certain interest in tech IoT but failed.

We were doing pretty well until 2019 (Landed a spot at Alchemist SF too!), however the demand and operations always outnumbered the cash reserves we had.

(Our engagements with our current investors restricts them to reinvest in any form of instrument)

We did mistakes like every startup does.

We learnt from them, stood back everytime we fell, but this time i'm finding it different, hard and practically running out of options.

I haven't made an official quit yet (I don't want to either!)

Pandemic has made it even more disastrous for us.

We can't think of any practical pivot.

Team's loosing motivation with every email that pops up and has a NO in it.

Debt's piling up.

Product development has been put to a halt since there's no cash in the bank to fuel the developments.

Not sure if i should call this a failed attempt?

I'm inviting all constructive ideas, suggestions and recommendations or anything in general that may help us save the boat from sinking.

Originally Posted Here
22 Comments

Khushbu Davda 

How much have you implemented in ground level? Prototypes / systems Working in any Indian city?

Ashu Srivastava

not much. Few double digit but rolled back in for level 2 development. That’s where the bottle neck is.

Agni Chatterjee

Contact Sampurnearth they are doing well in waste management and they were my seniors at TISS. Try to conenct with Debartha Banerjee seems he is part of the group and also a founder. I can fund if your tech is good and we can make some commercial products,

Ashu Srivastava

I’ll be sure to drop a connect.
Thank you

Shayak Ghosh

From a layman's perspective, here's my understanding. I think your product is too early for the Indian market. No one cares enough about their wastage YET. In ten years time with more environmental pressures and new laws, there's a good chance for this to take off. Dont mean to discourage. An opinion.

Khushbu Davda

Weill actually we dont have an option but to care about our wastage. If its a cost effective solution, it should be encouraged like no other.

Jainam MJ

Agreed but I don't think it's 10 years early. Maybe 2-3, waste management is gaining popularity.

Rajat Jain

Hi Ashu,

Please check https://www.recity.in/- They are also doing some good work in waste management (using tech)l. If you think there might be some synergy between your product and them. Let me know, I'd be happy to make the connection with one of the directors:)

Ashu Srivastava

Thanks for the link.
This looks interesting!

Appreciate a connect!

Jason Samuel

Hello,

I saw the product website and I would like to make the following points. I am a Product guy and I have been designing and building more than 100 hardware products ranging from simple consumer electronics to complex automotive parts for the past7 years. I would sum up things based on my experience.

1. Let's start with the hardware. I don't think you would have had to spend a lot on R&D if you have a Design company which can back you up but the problem is Design companies are expensive for startups (Even mine is - that's why I am working towards something that is cost effective for Pushstarters alone)

Having a design company to back you up = The investor will have more trust on the company since the company will eat more in R&D and product development as it scales.

2. Any investor who invests in a product company does it for only reason. For it to scale. It might be a licensing play if it's a patent. Indian patent sucks - so unless you have your product company registered in US or Europe with their patents (utility+design), licensing won't work or the product cannot be built as a company. What you have is just a product and not a company yet.

3. The reason why it's not a company yet although you have made (can I say invented ? - If it's proprietary), is because you have just made a product. A product that needs to undergo severe iteration. You have to get the packaging done, where you are going to sell it (Retail/Online), figure out your inventory cost, your distribution and ofcourse margins. I don't see it making any NET Margins as a profit if it continues to run as a subscription starting at INR 999/-. Nobody gives a shit about shit that needs to be taken out of their place as soon as possible if it doesn't give you any incentive back in return. I don't see this is a consumer product but rather as a product for large companies and Industries - Still the front end hardware product has been designed for consumers although the whole product isn't (Reason for Point No. 1). I would have appreciated if you had mentioned that the Hardware you have just is PoC. But still, you would have to answer the horrendous timeline+Money that was eaten by just a mere PoC

4. All the above points make it as an un-investable product (it's still not a company), for any investors.

The bottom-line is that no consumer is gonna pay a lot for some trash can which is gonna read the trash. Excuse me, Trash has the most secret. If I wanna know a person and his habits, I will go through his trash. I would still want to know the legalities about this in other abroad countries.

I saw that you aren't able to pour in cash to the product development process.

With all this being said, I will ask my legal team to look into getting data from trash as it will poke into user-privacy. If I don't see any major issues coming in, I have an offer for you.

I will be the point No 1 for you. My company will take over your product development and R&D costs with respect to design for Equity with the following contingency

1. Legal tussles on user privacy sorted
2. Getting the proprietary product abroad and get patent after checking for IP database for similar products
3. And your acceptance on the licensing play.

Let me know your thoughts on the same. If you think what I have commented helped you and if you want to voluntarily pay the consultation for the same, I will send you the payment details for the same :xD;-)

Ashu Srivastava

Thanks for your comments.

1. Spending lot on R&D particularly doesn’t have to do much with the design!
Much of our HW deals with sensor tech, image capture and configuration of RPi boards and then replicating the model and running tests.
We do have design engineers in the team and I’m confident around that area.

2. I think patents are overhyped. The ticket size and the type of funds I’ve been looking at lately, they don’t raise red flags around patents (and we ourselves have been reluctant to do so).
About licensing, I’m little unclear when you say license the tech?

3. We have ran validation around numbers with initial setups and pilots and hence the 999 recurring price point.
I think you are mistaken but this isn’t a regular consumer product at all and is targeted much for enterprises (co-working spaces, hospitals, etc).
Henceforth the value prop has been designed to support the pillar ecosystem for commercial spaces and not for a consumer. This doesn’t or won’t ever sell on amazon.

4. About horrendous timeline and money, if you are into HW development, lot of iterations cause a rise in expenditures and i hope you would know this. We encountered test failures, a generous pivot, procurement challenges which eventually base lined the escalated costs.
Some previous collaborations didn’t produce results and eventually developments from technical standpoints couldn’t be fulfilled.

5. How a can of coca cola basically invades user privacy? Given one of our trash cans are deployed in a commercial infrastructure and all during the day it experiences random beverage cans, paper cups or other plastic bottles? The way we see it is different and holds a great commercial value.

In a nutshell, a lot has been happening and I’m afraid I can’t summarize it all up in a fb post.

Hope this helps you give a new standpoint.

Jason Samuel

Thank you for answering.

1. I was unaware of the same since that wasn't conveyed in the OP.

2. Patents in India are. In US and Europe, they aren't. You own the market if you have. I still don't understand if your reluctance is based on your assumption that it's "over-hyped". Licensing, yes on the utility of the tech and hardware.

3. Goes right. Your answer is perfectly fine that you are gonna go B2B.

4. I understand the same. But that's exactly why you go with companies who have already done it time and time again - they know the path that it's taken. You reduce your cost of development and time.

5. I didn't understand it was just a coco-cola can. I thought you are gonna examine all trash. And, privacy issue is still at stake. I just need to have a camera to capture who is putting what trash and access to your subscription to basically know the people in the entire commercial infrastructure block. I have done it before on my help with one particular cyber crime for the Law Enforcement here and that's why I know how it can be done. In India you won't have any problems with zero concerns of privacy here.

Sorry if I don't understand how you see it as different and how it holds a great commercial value - Because you haven't shown it yet.

Ashu Srivastava

Also thanks a ton for the generous collaboration opportunity.

Like i said, we put a halt to the product development and our team is confident suffice to lead the developments further.

It’s more around the resource that we’re looking for to regain momentum and get things back on track.

We have a functional and running dashboard that basically is an ally to the HW structure we deploy across facilities.

The data points collected by the HW gets directly processed and visible on the SW dashboard which ultimately calculatestrash value from different standpoints (Recyclables vs non recyclables, prediction for the future, task fragmentation, create digitised maps and much more).

All this information is graphically displayed and is interactive.

If you read it again, i did mention, “Trash analysis” which eventually translates to reaping unseen value outta trash in different forms (which comes in both commercial and as an impact value).

There isn’t a link to the dashboard here because that’s not the area I’m seeking help over.

This is how i see it differently because that’s what the whole idea of this venture is!

Jason Samuel

alright. But still you haven't explained how is it going to make MONEY. What is the incentive for the customer who buys it ? I am not ready into buy it into "Reaping unseen value in different forms in both commercial and as an impact value" - as you have mentioned..

I don't want to invest or buy a subscription on something that it's "unseen value"

That's what bugs me the whole time.

Ashu Srivastava

4. We did go with this option an year ago. Collaborated with a product company simply aiming to accelerate growth under a confined budget, which didn’t produce results.
But by the time the D day arrived, lot of cash was infused already and couldn’t be recovered.

5. I’m still convinced that user privacy has nothing to do anything with our core values.
On a broader note, our implementation never asks for user sensitive information at all!
In layman’s language, our system at this moment doesn’t know if Jason is the guy who threw the 600ML coke bottle into the trash cans.

Jason Samuel

4. You get monkeys for bananas - Shabana dabana. I am willing to drop this out of discussion for the same.

5. In layman's language - your system can be used effectively with an additional camera to know about Jason's habits - an effective tool to invade user privacy easily. You just made it easier for me to know about others for 999 INR per month. That's where I see the value if I am someone involved in covert-spy activites or if I am an evil person or simply if I am company who wants to invade user privacy to see their behaviours so that I can push sufficient products with this data.

If the above case point is true, I am subscribing for the last point.

Ashu Srivastava

I’ll be most happy to loop in my team if we are looking at this as a investor or may be a sales pitch?

Do you have an infrastructure that generates trash and needs help?

I’d then be delighted to formally pitch you the entire Business model and help you understand with example when i say, “reap unseen benefits” along with the USP and all dynamics, provided if there’s a term sheet on the table or a potential sales contract.

Ashu Srivastava

Dude this nowhere is a system that has a camera pointing right at you, capturing data point or anything that invades your personal privacy like i said!

We do not, by any means, wish to execute any other sided application.

Mapping Trash as data is purely a classic use case to optimise the trash ecosystem of today and I won’t say we can’t track user information ever or in the future.

It’s not our area of focus at all and I’m sure we won’t look at it as a USP

Jason Samuel

We can consider the same. Email: jason@prodotype.eu

I know yours is not. Gun makers are subjected to safety laws not Gun users;-)

Yours doesn't have a camera. I can have and use your system. LOL.

Vishnu Vardhaan

Let's collaborate. I run a sustainable waste management company, working with the world's leading corporates, handling over 20k tonnes monthly.
I love your idea.
Let's connect.
DM your number.:)
Also, if you want to know more about me, LinkedIn is the best:https://www.linkedin.com/in/vshvrdhn

And btw, you aren't a failure story. You are a story of grit and persistence.🙏

Piyush Suri

Thanks for sharing your story. I have more than a decade's experience in running a physical product based company and I can imagine how hard this must be. I am happy to help/consult you for anything you need - infact any hardware start-ups here can getin touch with me and I am happy to share my knowledge on marketing, sales or supply chain and help them without expecting anything in return. Lastly, please know that there's only one thing that separates profitable companies and those that shut down - perseverance.

Pratik Bhambri

Hi ashu.. I took a look at your website but was not able to understand clearly what you product does and how it benefits organizations for cost savings.. I have small contacts in bmc nas can at least try to get visibility for your product but wanted to know how it will help with cost savings

Join India’s
most active community
and interact with 20k+
like-minded entrepreneurs