I believe that human beings are drawn to beautiful design. I also believe that every early stage company should be sure to use design as a critical differentiator.
One of my favorite books on design is The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. Design is a process but great design is an absolute art. Great design is the bridge that allows new technologies to be useful to the consumer.
Because of companies like Apple, more than ever consumers expect better designed products – they are no longer happy with a subpar products that are not integrated well from a hardware, software and user interface perspective. (Apple took this a step further than most companies – they actually thought through the entire ecosystem solution as well!)
Early stage companies often have to make many compromises but one thing I always stress is not to lose focus on the industrial design of a product, if your company does not have a strong designer then hire one. The benefits of great design transcend the device itself, making it easier to get PR coverage, placement into retail and overall consumer awareness through social media and other mechanisms.
Bringing consumer products to market is difficult as can be seen by the high failure rates of start-ups in this market space, leveraging great design is a major factor in making any early stage company a success.