Making Building Hardware Easier: Why We Funded Workbench

March 23, 2020
Investments

Dorm Room Fund is excited to announce our investment in Workbench, a next-generation software platform to power the supply chain operations of any company building physical products. While building their first hardware company, Workbench founders Prince Ghosh and Lucas Fridman realized supply chain management was a massive problem. With first-hand exposure to this inefficiency, Prince and Lucas set out to level the playing field by making hardware as easy to produce and manage as software.

Supply Chain Management Is a Nightmare

Information mismanagement and difficulty sourcing suppliers at every stage of a company’s lifecycle create massive bottlenecks that are paid for with time and money. 

Small companies are mashing together general-purpose tools like Asana, Dropbox, Excel, and Quickbooks with a smaller sample using Python scripts and Zapier to automate some workflows. However, these tools were never meant for heavy-duty supply chain management, and lead to a lot of manual work to keep these systems usable. 

When these companies start to scale, these ad hoc systems break down. They are then forced to purchase monolithic, expensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to capture this data and maintain a source of truth. Granted, tools like SAP are often not cloud-based and rarely receive updates, take months to implement, and can cost hundreds of thousands, making these solutions infeasible for any company not attaining millions in ARR. 

When Workbench founders Prince and Lucas were building their first hardware company, they faced these information management problems themselves, even losing a deal because of a lost email. Realizing how many other companies must be slowed down or even crushed by these problems, they set out to create a solution.

Workbench’s Solution - A Unified Workflow 

Workbench's platform creates a unified workflow bridging four important parts of getting a hardware product to market:

1. Storing product information like versioned computer-aided design (CAD) files in a bill of materials manager.

2. Managing communications with suppliers that can be sourced from the vetted network through a customer relationships management (CRM) system.

3. Generating quotes and purchase orders for suppliers communicated with through the CRM.

4. Tracking order status of the purchases down to the individual line items.

There are more than 10 million supply chain operators and engineers who use this kind of software every day. We're most excited by the idea that making building hardware as easy as building software could create a massive new market and spur innovation in the world of bits and bytes that we’ve seen over the last two decades.

Why Dorm Room Fund Invested

When we invested back in October, Prince and Lucas were working on a company that was solving inefficiencies at a different part of the supply chain — directly on the factory floor. Though the market and users are different now, there are a few things that have stayed consistent.

1. Obsessive Product Minds: Prince and Lucas showed incredible depth in understanding their market — from the small incentives that drive user behavior to the macro forces that made the timing right for product adoption. We were also impressed by how far they were able to progress in building a product and a venture-backable business model without a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem around them at Case Western. They found Dorm Room Fund on Twitter, continued to hustle and hone their thinking, and recently graduated from Y Combinator’s W20 batch.

2. Massive Market for Manufacturing: Prince and Lucas were always laser-focused on understanding how the small inefficiencies in supply chains stack up to make hardware production expensive and inefficient. When we invested, they were building hardware and software that helped factory floor operators expand production capacity, after their personal experiences working as engineers on factory floors at NASA contractors and battery tech firms. However, they realized that factory floor output wasn’t the real bottleneck in the supply chain — it was actually the friction found when connecting with the right manufacturers. If the founders could make it easy for hardware companies to connect and communicate with manufacturers, the companies could mimic the efficiencies of incumbents with vertically integrated supply chains. This could empower a new wave of companies who want to build physical products.  

Making building hardware as cheap and easy as software will unleash hundreds of billions of dollars more of opportunity. Workbench is making great strides in making this idea into a reality, and we are excited to see the world of innovation they unlock for hardware and manufacturing companies.

Written by Shohini Gupta, Dorm Room Fund Partner (SF). Follow her on Twitter.

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