What Burning Man Taught Me About Manufacturing

Absolutely Fabulous Sign

Hey hey. It has been awhile since I put my thoughts to blog. The reason for the hiatus is that I have been re-entering back into society. That means I took a trip to camp in the Nevada Desert for 11 days. Yep, I went to Burning Man. This was my second time going and this time was more fun than the last. I want to go back.

Every time I have gone I feel the re-entry. I’ve heard other Burners talk about this and until I felt it for myself I did not know it was a true feeling. The feeling of missing the time you have had. Reminiscing about the things you have learned.  Missing the friends you have made. Going back to the real world where you have obligations, expectations and society’s pressures on what you should do and be.

While I was there I helped to build three art installations. My main concentration was to help with the electronics pieces on one of them. The art piece I worked on was the Toilet Bowl (See video below).

It is amazing what you can do when you have limitations imposed on you and you are a member of a great team. We were in the middle of a desert! We could not go to Home Depot if we forgot a tool or material. There is an expression, “The Playa will provide”. In this case I think the playa provided us with a great team. When I think back on the experience I am so impressed with the level of experience each member had and how we worked of each other to solve very complicated problems ad hoc. There were problems of course, it was not always roses, but we got things done and had a great time doing it.

So now about the manufacturing connection and a great team. While in the desert working on the projects I had a thought about how important a great team is. We hear all the time that VC’s invest in great teams and not necessarily the idea. And I look back in my past to see what my experiences have been while developing products and the team was the shit. Time and time again when I look back, I see the product, but I see that what failed was the wrong team. I am a strong believer that with the right team elements you can do it.

I talk with many hardware startups every week. They show me their product ideas, but what I am most curious about is their team. Why should a manufacture care about their clients team members? That is easy to say, when you are manufacturing a product for a client it is a long marriage. During that marriage there will be challenges that will need solving and if the parties can not work these things out then it will fail. Crash and burn is more like it. Is it entirely an experienced team that makes or breaks a product launch? What is experience? Age? To me it is the road that you go down not the length of the road. I have seen teenagers create a great business. I have seen people in the opposite category create a great business. Where I have seen people fail is that the members of the team were not right. The mix is wrong. I am not concerned about the number of members on the team, but does the mix of personalities work.

I am reading Walter Isaacson’s book, The Innovators. I am more than a quarter of the way done. The best part so far is the discussion about the make up of teams. The part about how Intel started and their founders is one example. The people who developed the first transistor to the people who had the vision of what a computer is to become. These breakthroughs all need successful collaborations.

Enter the right people at the right time and presto you have innovation. It shows in the product, business and in the experience.

So when you are looking to create a product look for people who fit well within what the goals are for the venture.