Being a hardware tech startup has a lot of challenges. I come from a software background where it's much easier to come up with your MVP, iterate and make large changes every day. Hardware, as they say, is hard.
When we first had the concept for Countdown, we knew it would have 5 gameplay buttons with lights, a screen for instructions and speaker, among other features. The screen and speaker are a conversation for another day, but honestly, were pretty straightforward. But those buttons and lights. Man, they kept me up at night. We knew the basic shapes and sizes for how the buttons should be laid out. The problem is that, when prototyping, you can't always get what you want. You have to find whatever works best and that's cost effective.
In the field of buttons, there's a ridiculous amount of options out there. Metal clicky buttons, plastic push buttons, switches, you name it. And a lot of those pre-manufactured buttons can get expensive. Like $1 (or more) per button. For one prototype, no problem, but we're looking toward the future as well.. so let me do some math... 5 buttons per game, with production runs of 10k or so.. "Oh crap, that's $50k just for the buttons in our first production run!"
Enter SparkFun. I've used them before for part kits and other things for hobby projects, but honestly hadn't ever used them for a business need. After a few days of searching Digikey, Mouser, Alibaba and button suppliers far and wide, I went to SparkFun to see what they've used.. and that's when my day was saved. These little silicone, conductive buttons with a cutout for an LED were exactly what we needed. Simple design, easy to work with and beautiful. I had them in my hands 2 days later and couldn't have been happier. Our whole rev1 design was modeled all around these amazing buttons.
At $3.95 for 16 buttons (in a 4x4 pad), these are under $0.25 each, and that's not even with bulk pricing through SparkFun. On top of that, the buttons don't connect directly to the electrical board, so it reduces manufacturing costs.
While we love these buttons immensely, we're moving onwards and upwards with custom buttons that are the exact shape we want. These little guys will always hold a dear spot in our hearts by allowing us to playtest our new game with dozens of kids earlier, cheaper and looking better than any of the other options we evaluated. And to that, we say, thank you SparkFun!
Stay tuned for future prototyping and startup posts on how we got to where we are!
Colored button image courtesy of SparkFun