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.

The Everything Factory: Let’s Open a Factory That Does It All


The decision to close a VegasTechFund company due to over-ambition is beyond ironic. As I’ve written before, Hsieh’s plans to regenerate downtown Vegas are cursed by over promising, often from Hsieh himself.

Many people have approached me over the years saying “We want to create Blah Blah that will revitalize manufacturing and provide all the resources hardware startups need”. What resources? What the what…Everything! That is impossible. Good factories specialize in various capabilities. No one does everything. We have an ecosystem of partners that provide the capabilities. Why? Because we want the right factory to help with the outcome and we alone can not do it all

via Factorli killed by VegasTechFund due to over-ambition, because irony is dead too | PandoDaily.

Kickstarter project spent $3.5M to finish a working prototype—and ended in disaster | Ars Technica


The “Designs” are complete, patents filed, component suppliers selected, the manufacturing process is defined, the CM [contract manufacturer] chosen so all we need is your support in this project as we size the first myIDkey production run and ship product in September 2013. Please make a pledge and receive your myIDkey!

So the product was ready to go directly to manufacturing…What happened? They over promised and promising more until they ran out of money. I see this happen so many times I could cry. I mean really!!!! This product was very promising. The idea solid. The problem; stop adding features and making changes. JUST STOP!!!!

Feature creep is an easy pit to fall into, but you must resist the temptation to change your product after you have made commitments. Also don’t change your product unless you really have to do so. It will cause delays. Have you ever played the board game Monopoly? Think of it this way if you change something, add something then you do not pass go, do not collect $200 and you have to start at the beginning.

Here is an example. Lets say I want to change a button. You might say well that is not a big deal…right? However after you select the first button you had to work it into your PCB design, industrial design, package design, and your manufacturing plan. When you select a new part you have to go back and work through all those plans you before did again. What happens if the button just does not fit the enclosure right, then industrial design must take place. Then what if you try to get the button in the MOQ and price you can afford, then find out it is a strange type of button that is not common in the market. In that case you will have very long lead times and may not get the part at all. You must ask yourself some business questions (not technological questions):

  1. Is this going to bring added value to the market by adding this feature?
  2. Will this increase the revenue I hope to get for my product in a substantial way to justify the effort?
  3. Will I be able to meet my deliverable commitments, for sales, marketing and volume?

If any of these are no, do not add the feature. Wait till version 2.0 to reconsider it.

via Kickstarter project spent $3.5M to finish a working prototype—and ended in disaster | Ars Technica.

The 17th NY Hardware Meetup At the New Microsoft Space In Times Square

Hardware Meetup Organizer Haytham Elhawary

This month the meet up was at the new Microsoft corporate looking space. It was funny I walked in and thought about the times I worked at IBM. The space was huge. I would say that this space was at least three times the size when compared to the space at eBay. It was a welcomed relief not to be packed in like sardines.

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

At this event we had two groups presenting. Tom Kennedy and Stephan von Muelhen first talked about their experiences at EnergyHub and what they learned a long the way about the manufacturing experience. They had some great pearls of wisdom that I totally agree with.

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

The line from one of their slides said it best for me, “Process is product”. There are a lot of details that need taken care of when you are manufacturing a product. There a thousand things that can go wrong at any given time. Developing a great product means that you know the process from end to end. I can’t tell you how many times I talk with startups that refuse to embrace what needs doing from start to finish. “Embrace The Horror”. This does means that you have an understanding of what needs to get done and realize that there are things that will come up that you may not of thought of. Actually for startups it is not a matter of if, but when it will happen. Since most startups are new to manufacturing and process in general.

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy introduced us to his next venture called ReFactory. So, in a nutshell, ReFactory wants to make the PCB/PCBA development and manufacturing process easy. They have many services ranging from design consulting to real PCBA. One main point is that the work is done in the USA in Brooklyn, New York.

Christina Mercando, founder of Ringly Presents

Christina Mercando, founder of Ringly Presents

The next presenter was the fab Christina Mercando, founder of Ringly. I have to say that the product is great looking. It looks high end and wearable. Men’s version? It was great to hear her prospective on bringing a fashionable product to market. I have talked to people who have studied this and they say we are at the infancy of this. I think that Ringly has done some great execution. There are many obstacles to get a product like this to market such as look, electronics and battery size. It just can’t be to big and the battery must last for most of the day. The radios have to penetrate the casing for charging and for Bluetooth. It seems they have solved these problems. The ring is big, but it goes with the styling. Congrats on the great execution.

That was the last presentation. Another one was schedule, but they called to cancel.

Check it out. I have more pictures of the event below. Sorry for the low light conditions, but you should make out the slides and the speakers ok. I did my best to caption the images and make adjustments to the images. Enjoy.

The dark side of 3D printing: 10 things to watch – TechRepublic


As with any new technology, it’s easy to get swept up in the benefits of 3D printing. It opens up a world of new possibilities for all industries, and stands to lessen transportation costs, environmental impacts, waste, and reliance on corporations by enabling the maker movement.

This is a great list of opportunities that await the innovators of 3D printing.  Overcoming these issues are not big feet to achieve.

via The dark side of 3D printing: 10 things to watch – TechRepublic.

Made in The USA Back in Style for Small Businesses


“Instead of hiring people, we’re using robots,” Ellram says. Chinese companies are also using robots, but U.S. manufacturers are ahead of them, she says.

via Made in The USA Back in Style for Small Businesses.

Everyone wants manufacturing back because they think it will bring back jobs. Fills me with American pride to see people trying to bring it back. However it is to be seen if the return is an automated one at best. Where are the jobs for humans? The jobs will be for the robots.