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Lessons From The DEMO Tour: Hardware Is The New Software

Just before the holidays, we wrapped up the first leg of our DEMO Tour. In partnership with some amazing VC firms--Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins in Silicon Valley and First Round Capital in New York City--the DEMO team met with about 30 mobile startups and developers vetted from more than 100 applicants for the Tour alone.

These were private sessions, and were every effective in surfacing early, high-quality candidates for DEMO Mobile in April. (The deadline for scholarships is January 15, so apply now). Partners at each VC firm, including Frank Chen and Ronny Conway at a16z, Chi-Hua Chien and EIR Stephanie Tilenius at Kleiner, and Chris Fralic and Howard Morgan at First Round (pictured below), sat in with us to provide feedback to the presenting companies.

We saw some terrific products targeting areas you would expect to be hotbeds of activity such as mobile media, commerce, communications, enterprise, and health. What surprised me the most, however, was the variety of hardware products. Now, I can't go into too much details just yet on exactly what these products were (you will have to wait for them to launch or come to DEMO Mobile in April to find out). But they weren't phones. They were creative applications wrapped in hardware.

Some of these were the types of products you might see on an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign. A few were really out there--in a good way. (Try to guess what the product being demoed in the photo above is supposed to do). The engineers and entrepreneurs with hardware products were the kind of people who don't have the patience to wait for a bigger company to build the hardware they need. So they just did it themselves, and with not much more money than a typical software project would require.

Hardware is the new software. In an era when anyone can be a maker, manufacturing is like server capacity--it is available to every entrepreneur on the planet. If you can imagine it, you can build it. The new devices we saw took advantage of cheap sensors and standard computing parts to collect data from the real world in new ways or to create immersive experiences that blend the physical world with the digital. It was eye-opening, and I can't wait to see more hardware products that solve real-world problems in astonishing ways.

If you are working on a new mobile device, or custom-built hardware that solves thorny problems, please apply to launch at DEMO Mobile. I am especially excited to find new consumer health devices and mobile enterprise hardware built for specific industries. Of course, software and mobile apps are always welcome as well.

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