a16z Podcast

Building Hardware and Taking on the Phone Giants

Steph Smith and Carl Pei

Posted April 6, 2023

People often say that building a hardware company is like “playing on hard mode”. Building a hardware company during a global pandemic, with the unpredictability of supply chains and markets, is harder than hard. Trying to penetrate the phone market in particular – where only a few players own almost all the market share – is REALLY hard.

In today’s episode we chat with Carl Pei, founder of Nothing. Between Nothing and previously co-founding OnePlus, Carl has twice managed to do what many others have failed to do. Nothing has sold over 1m units and built a team of over 400. In this episode, Carl chats with us about why he’s at it again, what it takes to successfully build hardware, and how he thinks about making technology fun again.

Show Notes

02:11 – The hardware market

02:53 – Breaking into the phone market

05:19 – Securing factories and stakeholders

07:39 – Differentiating products

10:32 – Hardware design

11:53 – Strengthening software proposition

16:04 – Table stakes

17:49 – Marketing and Youtube

19:34 – Underestimating the value chain

21:50 – Manufacturing

23:27 – Supply chain

26:05 – Remote work

27:36 – The future of hardware

30:45 – Breakthrough hardware

32:35 – Making tech fun again