Product Design Case Studies

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Case Studies - Hardware Product Design

Magic Leap and Adapteva are two examples of startups that initiated hardware product design as a central part of their business model.

Magic Leap


  • Adapteva is a Massachusetts-based startup founded in 2008 that develops high-performance/energy-efficient manycore accelerator chips and computer modules.
  • Similar to Magic Leap, Adapteva was founded in response to the growth of a new industry, in this case that of artificial intelligence (AI) and its integration within everyday products and services.
  • Specifically, the company looked to create hardware products that could address the "extreme energy efficiency requirements" of AI products and services, such as autonomous navigation, software defined radio and machine learning applications.
  • To achieve this goal, Adapteva took a "clean-slate approach" to computer construction, and designed each sub-component of their hardware with a focus on parallel processing and low power embedded computing.
  • Additionally, the startup implemented a "very tightly coupled optimization flow" that considered a wide variety of requirements for the company's initial chip, such as performance, ease of use, power and ease of implementation.
  • As a result of this approach, the company shipped its first silicon product in May of 2011 and has since progressed to producing hardware products with a 25X advantage in energy efficiency.
  • Additionally, Adapteva is known for introducing the world's first 1024 core 64-bit microprocessor as well as successfully completing the world's first Kickstarter crowd-funded chip.
  • Overall, Adapteva has succeeded in creating a profitable hardware business that will "stay open indefinitely" as its ships products worldwide.
  • With that said, the startup's growth has been somewhat stymied by the slower adaptation of accompanying software markets, and the company's founder Andreas Olofsson has left Adapteva for a position at DARPA.
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Case Studies - Service Product Design

Sun Basket and MyPorter are two startups that have initiated service product designs as a central part of their business model.

Sun Basket

  • Sun Basket is a San-Francisco-based meal kit delivery service founded in 2014 that develops, prepares and delivers chef-created meal kits that are also healthy and values-driven.
  • In particular, the startup's service is unique in its variety of meal-types (gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian), use of only organic and responsibly sourced food products, eco-friendly packaging and commitment to serving the community, with steps such as its weekly donation of approximately 1000 pounds of food to local shelters.
  • Notably, when Sun Basket founder Adam Zbar created the startup, his original mission was to create a meal service that could help him and others better manage their health and lose weight.
  • Additionally, Mr. Zbar was aware of how notoriously difficult it was to launch a meal kit delivery service that was profitable, amid intense industry competition, highly seasonal customer demand and high-cost business operations.
  • In order to address both of these issues, Sun Basket's approach centered around starting small, beginning with testing out product ideas and operations with local friends and family, and followed by progressive moves to formal distribution centers and wider service areas.
  • Additionally, the startup employed new, creative tactics for reducing costs and improving overall profitability, such as the use of a cave in Illinois for food storage, which still provides the startup with natural cooling and insulation at half the cost of traditional distribution centers.
  • As a result, Sun Basket is one of the few meal kit delivery services in a myriad of struggling competitors that is still successfully raising capital and retaining customers.
  • In particular, Sun Basket stands apart from its competitors with its 24% customer retention rate, $275 million annual run-rate and a total of $143.1 million in funding after closing a Series E round in May of 2019.


  • MyPorter is an Atlanta-based self-storage startup that was founded in 2015 and is reinventing the storage and moving industry with its differentiated business model and customer features.
  • Among the many unique aspects of its service product, MyPorter offers door-to-door pickup, industry-leading customer service and an easy to use platform that enables customers to maintain a visual catalog of stored items as well as schedule pickups and deliveries.
  • Notably, the startup was created to bridge the current gap between the self-storage and moving industries.
  • Additionally, its founders sought to provide an array of features that they believed were currently lacking in self-storage and moving companies, such as online and on-demand service options.
  • To address this issue, MyPorter's co-CEOs slowly and carefully crafted both the overall business model and online tool, keeping the startup's service product in the "beta stage" for over a year, and delaying any external fundraising for three years until 2018.
  • Additionally, the startup's CEO's personally executed/tested all of the company's jobs, ranging from answering customer phone calls to completing all of the moving themselves.
  • Ultimately, co-CEO John Foshee asserts that this hands-on approach allowed him and his partner to "iron out the whole process" and ensure a successful product before scaling up.
  • Meanwhile, MyPorter recently raised $2.2 billion as of July of 2019, which the startup will use to increase its market share in Atlanta and expand to new markets in 2020.
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Case Studies - Digital Product Design

Case studies of startups using digital product design that publicly name the startup are relatively rare. We hypothesize that most startups prefer to build their products in-house (which limits the amount of information available about the design process) or, desiring to project their competence rather than share credit with a vendor, do not permit that vendor to publish the details their partnership in a case study. In the interest of best fulfilling the criteria of this request, we have included ParkJockey, a startup that launched in London before expanding to the US, with a US-based app developer named Polco.


Note: ParkJockey is also known as REEF Technology.
  • ParkJockey produces an app of the same name which helps users find and book optimal parking spaces for work, events, etc. It integrates with one's calendar and Facebook to pre-book spaces, saving the user the time normally spent circling an area looking for suitable parking.
  • On the other side of the business, ParkJockey offers parking operators the chance to improve and optimize their capacity utilization, increasing revenue, and to collaborate with event venues, all at no cost. Features available to operators include:
    • Automatic license plate recognition
    • Pay-on-foot Kiosk
    • Pay By App
    • Mobile POS for Event and Valet parking
    • Parking Reservations
    • Merchant Validation
    • Enforcement
  • Founded in 2013, ParkJockey debuted its app in London in May 2014 and expanded to Miami in April 2015. This led to a $1.9 million seed funding round in June 2015.
  • The early iterations of the app lacked functionality and features which user surveys indicated that consumers wished and fell behind as the company's branding adjusted to the market. ParkJockey partnered with digital product design firm Wayfinder "to optimize and improve the user experience from the ground-up."
    • We are unable to determine the date of this partnership, but after the seed round seems likely.
  • Wayfinder assisted ParkJockey in documenting issues and pain points, both taking user surveys and testing the app themselves, refined the UX, and gave the UI a facelift.
  • This directly led to a second funding round in 2018 and the expansion of ParkJockey's service to New York City and Chicago.


  • Polco tried to remove the disconnect between residents and their representatives by providing a "civic engagement platform" which "makes meaningful communication between community leaders and the people they serve not only possible, but enjoyable."
  • The app allows representatives to survey verified resident users, sharing questions via a website, social media, newsletters, or even in-person, tracking participation rates and local sentiment through a real-time dashboard across all channels.
  • Polco launched in May 2015 on a $50,000 pre-seed fund. They shortly contracted Boldare, a digital product design company, to launch their concept. "Boldare suggested an iterative approach to product design — from a simple prototype to full MVP (minimum viable product), and then to a scalable app."
  • Product design was based on Scrum, achieving MVP within seven sprints. The MVP was adopted by the city of Bryan, Texas, just four months after the company launched.
  • Boldare continued to collaborate with Polco "on the release of a fully scalable product based on user and market feedback" before Polco moved development to their new in-house team.
  • Polco has since received a total of $4.5 million in funding, the most recent in April 2019. The app is now in-use in almost 500 cities, including Bar Harbor, Maine; Round Rock, Texas; and Rochester, Minnesota.