We recently sat down with Awair Director of Product, Dean Young, to discuss the challenges that come with building hardware products. It’s a great listen for anyone who is building or has an interest in building hardware products as well as anyone who wants to work for a mission-based organization.
Building hardware products comes with its own unique set of challenges. Product Talk host, Anthony Atlas, and Awair Director of Product, Dean Young, discuss that topic and more. The whole episode of Product Talk is worth a listen, but you can catch the highlights below as well.
On how we got into building hardware products.
What would your parents say if they knew that playing with LEGO as a child lead to your career?
“In college, I did a lot of sort environmental sciences and economic policy, so very interdisciplinary. I like to learn. From a young age, especially with the Legos and more recently with digital type things, tinkering all the time. Hardware now, as opposed to many years ago, involves a lot more software. So, embedded software and applications and things that run on those tiny computers. I started like building home automation things and kind of evolving that. Then I brought that a little bit to Awair and liked what they were doing. So ever since, it’s been just kind of marrying those two, you know digital and physical aspects.”
On learning quickly within a company and with new technologies
Young shares a curiosity that many great product leaders have.
“We have environmental sensors indoors. Things like temperature and humidity, Newer type concepts, especially for America, like particulate matter that shows up in cooking and pollution. They’re not exactly like new concepts, but, the technology is always evolving and getting better.
Being able to do a deep dive into these different sensors and evaluating them and looking at the documentation. Just being curious and asking a lot of questions. Hopefully surrounding yourself by smart people and having them educate you a little bit. Just being willing to listen and absorb like a sponge.
It’s one thing to be curious, but I think I also had the capacity, especially in college, I had kind of an interdisciplinary degree and, you know, all the subjects sort of interested me. Even if I wasn’t specifically an engineer or did a deep dive in any one area. So, bringing together all those disciplines and finding a balance there and seeing connections was was important to me.”
On how to build hardware products quickly and prototyping
This answer highlights the importance of building product teams, not just products.
“Not only the talents that we have on the team, but we’ve also got PhDs and people with business degrees and masters. We have all different disciplines, especially in the engineering side. Being such a kind of full sack from mechanical, electrical, embedded software, back-end software, front-end software, we have applications and web properties. So, getting with all these technologies, we’ve got all these folks in house and sometimes they wear different hats. Then we also have an office in South Korea. That’s really fortunate. We do our manufacturing there, outside of Seoul. Having that proximity there and those connections in the manufacturing world to rapidly iterate on molds and other components is a huge advantage.”
About the speaker
My life has been a highly educational adventure. I spent my formative years moving around and seeing many parts of the US. I have also traveled quite a bit around the world, exposing me to many cultures. I am a sponge of new information, even the weirdest/randomest/most useless facts. But it all comes together to inform my two main philosophies. Product Philosophy: Move fast, and make things! If you aren't shipping products, then you aren't delivering on your Vision and Mission, which means you aren't bringing Value to your customers. The goal isn't to ship anything and everything, but you should be iterating and refining. Unless you're working in a laboratory, your product isn't new, so it's about releasing those improvements to the world rapidly as a way of finding product market fit as quickly as possible. Researching, tinkering, and perfecting for too long can kill innovation. Personal Philosophy: Never lose perspective. Get curious. Be humble. Find connection. Develop empathy. Ask lots of questions. This is how you get to insights and true understanding deep in your bones. This rings true in both my personal life and my career. If you think you know the answers, think again, and consider ideas and concepts from all angles. If you can't do this through a thought exercise, immerse yourself in the problem areas you are trying to tackle. If you don't struggle, you won't find answers.