Config is the software that founder James Proud wishes he had at his last startup Hello, maker of sleep tracker Sense. “Config would have been a lifesaver for us at Hello and had a massive positive impact on our team,” he told TechCrunch. The platform pulls together different elements of the hardware development process, ranging from CAD files to supply chain documents like bills of material and procurement tracking, so hardware team members can not only collaborate with each other more efficiently, but also with external vendors like suppliers and manufacturers.
Founded in 2019 by Proud, Config announced today it has raised $5 million in seed funding from angel investors including Twitter founder Biz Stone; Coatue chairman and former Facebook vice president Dan Rose; Future Positive founder Fred Blackford; former Stripe early employee and investor Lachy Groom; early Spotify investor Shakil Khan; Coda founder and former YouTube vice president Shishir Mehrotra; and Soleio Cuervo, Facebook’s second product designer and Dropbox’s former head of design.
Before starting Config, Proud, one of the first Thiel fellows, founded and ran Hello for five years, where it got backing from investors like Temasek and reached deals to sell at Best Buy and Target before shutting down in 2017.
When asked if Config would have helped keep Hello from shutting down, Proud said building a hardware company means “you constantly fight to avoid death by a thousand cuts. I saw how simple coordination mistakes in a build process could end up costing us thousands of dollars, weeks of delays and lead to a far higher opportunity cost of lost revenue.”
Proud drew on his experiences scaling both Hello’s hardware and software teams to create Config. “As our software team grew, I watched how they efficiently collaborated with tools such as GitHub and everyone was on the same page,” he said. “But as our hardware team grew, the complexity grew at an even faster pace, and there were no great software tools designed to help.”
As a result, teams had to add more processes, stand-up meetings, reviews and documents, all of which were necessary for shipping, but slowed down Hello’s work a lot.
Config helps hardware companies avoid the same issues by serving as a central platform to manage the entire lifecycle of building a hardware product. Its customers range from consumer hardware to large industrial machinery companies. The two that Config is currently disclosing publicly are Mill, the kitchen compost bin maker, and Humane, which is building an AI hardware and software platform.
Proud explained that hardware teams have computer-aided design (CAD) programs, but beyond that, they have to rely on manual processes, like Google Sheets and Excel, to collaborate with one another and external vendors like suppliers and manufacturers.
“Building a physical product at scale is one of the most complex coordination challenges possible, both internally and externally, for a company. Currently, startups are forced to do this with terrible tools or none at all. It always felt wrong to me that a hardware company’s most significant cost center, the hardware team itself, had the least amount of money invested in software,” Proud said.
He added that one of the reasons tech giants like Apple can ship a new iPhone every year is their internal software, which helps their teams, supply chains and operations coordinate.
“With Config, we want to give every other company the same level of sophistication for managing their hardware design and build processes that a company like Apple has internally,” Proud said.
To do this, Config’s team carefully tapped into CAD programs’ existing APIs and built desktop tools that could easily be adopted by hardware engineers, so they don’t interrupt their current workflows. Another challenge is that each CAD program uses proprietary file formats, so Config spent a lot of R&D making sure they integrate smoothly into its platform. Config supports Solidworks and Siemens NX for mechanical CAD and Altium for electrical CAD, and has plans to integrate into other tools like Autodesk and KiCad.
To start using Config, companies that don’t have existing processes can begin with best practices like part numbering, revisioning and release management. If they have processes in place already, they can import them directly into Config, including part numbering schemes and a set of bills of material.
Proud said Config’s competitors are the various software tools hardware teams cobble together to collaborate, like spreadsheets, Google Drive and Dropbox. WIth Config, they can share documents on Config’s desktop app, instead of through Google Drive or Dropbox, which often leads to confusion about which part is the plan of record of what to build. They can also see what their colleagues have in the works, similar to how a software engineering team would use GitHub.
For Mill and Humane, Proud said Config has helped them work with outside partners more efficiently. For example, instead of sending design files through email for feedback and modification, Humane onboarded their overseas manufacturer onto Config. This meant they were able to work with them more closely, as if they were also engineers at Humane.
As Config grows, Proud said its development will be less focused on the types of products it helps teams build, and more on the sizes of the teams. “The challenges of supporting a 50 to 200 person team are undoubtedly different from a 10,000 person hardware team,” he said. “So far, we have been bringing near-whole companies onto Config. Still, as we work with larger companies, we will start working with individual product lines before spreading across the entire organization.”
Proud said that Config decided against raising large sums at high valuations during the fundraising craze of 2021-2022. Instead, the startup kept a small team and focused on solving the problems their customers face on a daily basis. The new funding gives Config ample runway, but Proud said it remains focused on generating revenue from clients.
“It is important to acknowledge that hardware founders and their teams are heroes in our minds. Creating a physical product out of nothing is one of the most terrifying, challenging and rewarding things to do,” said Proud. “With software, there is close to zero cost of experimentation, but in hardware, you have to make big choices and live with them.”