A Process and a Plan

raja-gopuram
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What does it mean to have a process and sticking to it? A repeatable business process or a process that works for what you are working on is like finding gold. I have been talking with startups that want to automate the hardware product development process. The scenarios run the gambit from automating the idea submission process, to just automating the PCB/PCBa, and then there is the ones that try to automate the process from idea to production.

The sentiment is very clear, people want to get rid of the human element or at least lessen the human effects. Such as; some people are hard to deal with or they don’t understand me or the best one yet – you don’t understand my business. All of these shouts in the crowd makes us seem antisocial. I believe that it is a collaboration between willing parties that produce the best work. The machines do not have the capabilities to act totally autonomously (for now) and with creativity. So when it comes to hardware product development you need both. There are just too many variables to automate.

The process approach works. It works like a well oiled machine and best yet it can be adjusted with feedback. Take this example I ran into all the time. The misunderstanding game. You schedule a meeting, but at the last minute the meeting changes from an in-person meeting to a conference call. Not a video call. Once the call starts you can hear on the other end the person click with the mouse and the keyboard. What are they doing over there? They are distracted. The call covers the topics discussed, but the key elements of the call. I will call this the understandings fall to the waist side. What has happened? Unknowingly without you paying attention the parties on the call don’t get it and the call was a waste of time. How often does this happen? Well in my time more times than none. So what I do is make sure you can see the person, at least at first. And this can be done easily now with the Google Hangouts or Skype. The face-time is essential for building trust and the relationship. After the sense of trust is there then the non-face-time tools will work much better and the understandings will not fall to the waist side. A personable approach just works.

Why is this part of the process and not assumed to be operational? That is because too many people are rush rush rush and too busy to know how to make a relationship. The relationship building is essential to the process. Once a sense of trust is there, even a little bit the rest will be simpler. Mistakes will not be the blame game, but a game of how do we fix it and come up with a creative way to solve the problem. Interwoven in the process is trust.

How could you then automate this in a computer? People have thought of various was to build trust or cred online. There is klout, linkedin, etc. However, we know that social media can be faked and the posts can be BS. Nothing new there. Before all of this people would BS on their resume and the only way to find out was to be a good interviewer or try the candidate out. Been there done that. Could you automate this? What would be a software solution for trust building? There is the recomendation engine solutions, but what happens if you are new to the site and you have none listed and you have many years with experience. What would be the online solution for trust?

Let’s experiment with a particular scenario – I am a hardware startup, I have a great idea, and I want to get my product idea to market. I have a limited number of skills. So let’s say that you are not very technical (You don’t know manufacturing) and you have made a software startup before. What is the process to use? Every step of the way you can get people to help. The things to watch out for is money, time and quality. Do you have the money to pay people, can you get people to help you for free or can you learn what you need to know yourself? How fast do you need to get this product out? If you say I need to sell this within a few weeks, you are crazy – That will never happen. The best thing to do is to research other products that are similar as yours. Research the business portions of your product idea for viability. That is right – Is it a viable product? There are methodologies out there to help you such as Lean Startup. Viability also means that you need to dive in and see who out there is doing what you want to do, what markets they and you want to be in and get a sense of the cost. The cost is not in the details yet but is important to know what the market would pay for your product.

Feasibility is the next step. Can this product idea be built? I have heard some crazy comments about this. Oh yes, everything can be done. However most people read that up to that point and then don’t read about the cost and time elements. Sure you can develop a new method of communication (for example), but what about the technology and what about the market acceptance? Is it too soon? Does the technology need more time to cook? By cook, I mean does it need more research and development. Did you pick a technology that no one is using or the only ones using it are the big players? For you to enter you need to be a big player. Startups that have reached this step tend to look at the future technologies and don’t put into account this. An example of this is that you want to use a screen technology that would make your product look gorgeous. You find a technology that is great, but very few people are using it and the players are big companies. What do you do here? You start out and create a version 1 of your product. The product does not use the new technology, but you can get a product out there that can be used and feedback gained. Or you can wait till the technology matures. If you are a large company with limited access to the technology then you can wait. You have the time and the money. For a startup, you need to get something out there so you can tell if the product is the right one for that market. It is best to know now before you spend a lot of time and money on the product. Look at it another way. You need to gauge the market and get data so you can understand the acceptance. Through the lifecycle of the product, you will have other versions of the product. This should not be your first and only one – how will you have a business with repeatable rents? So come up with version one. Call it the MVP or call it the beta product. Get the data and repeat.

Hardware product development takes time. You can tell from the latest crowdfunding campaigns that people have underestimated the duration and skills needed to deliver. Get someone that has done this before and ask their advice. Find out how similar products were made. What were their hiccups – Then put together your plan. Having a process and a plan will make you successful.

In future blog post, I will get more specific about how all this works. I have thought about creating a multipart post, but I have not thought that far yet. I need to get my writing process together and then create a plan.

Photo credit: Prabhu B Doss / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Look ma no optics. Bending light with a tiny chip | Solid State Technology

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Imagine that you are in a meeting with coworkers or at a gathering of friends. You pull out your cell phone to show a presentation or a video on YouTube. But you don’t use the tiny screen; your phone projects a bright, clear image onto a wall or a big screen. Such a technology may be on its way, thanks to a new light-bending silicon chip developed by researchers at Caltech.

Look ma no optics. This technology looks very promising. Thin devices could project images without lenses making our Scifi dreams come true.

via Bending light with a tiny chip | Solid State Technology.

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

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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.

#CleanwebNY February 2014 Hosted at NYU Urban Future Lab Brooklyn NY

Patrick Morris Co-Organizer With Opening Remarks
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I got there very early. It said it started at 6:30pm, but the people started to arrive at 6:30PM. This was my first time attending the #CleanwebNY Meetup being held at NYU Urban Future Lab Brooklyn NY on the Engineering (formerly know as NYU-Poly) School’s campus. The venue is a partnership project between NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering and the NY NYCEDC. The space is in the 15 Metrotech Center building. Amy (Head of Community) gave me a great tour of the space. It has not officially opened yet, but it is looking great. I can’t wait till after the build out and they have their opening. Congrats on the great space NYU Urban Future Lab!!

The  #CleanwebNY meetup is about startups developing products (software or hardware or both) for the Clean Technology space.  They also are a part of this initiative: Cleanweb.co

Patrick Morris Co-Organizer With Opening Remarks

Patrick Morris Co-Organizer With Opening Remarks

The opening of the event was done by Patrick Morris Co-Organizer of the event. Great job in introducing the line up. The theme of this event was Cleanweb Connected Devices.

The first up to present was Jun Shimada Co-founder of ThinkEco. Their produce connects electric utility customers’ appliances such as air conditioners to the web. The data the devices collect flow into their cloud solution and gets processed for the utility companies. They partner with the utilities companies to create a program such as this for the customers. I have seen many variations of products like these in the past the difference with ThinkEco is their execution strategy. The partnerships with the utility is key. From the presentation it sounds like they have learned how to work with the utilities communicating their vale to them effectively.

Next up was Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron Co-founders of Grove Labs. Grove Labs creates hardware and software appliances for greenhouses and farms. The have created their own platform called GroveOS. Their competitive advantage is that they are cheaper and cloud connect when you compare them to their competition. They are also working on a pilot with Abu Dhabi and the UAE. If successful their products would be used in the entire country. That is a huge deal. I wish them a lot of luck. It sounds like Grove is a company the big players would want to buy. Such as what happened to MakerBot (bought by Stratasys). The big companies are making an effort to outwit the Innovator’s Dilemma. 

The last presentation was given by Brian Langel Co-Founder Dash Labs. Dash Labs creates software that uses information collected from a OBD device. These devices connect to the car diagnostic. I have seen their product before. I had sworn that they at one point they were selling a hardware product. I am not sure if they pivoted from that. Their direct competitor Automatic sells the hardware and provides the software. Dash Labs concentrates on the data collection and provides a social driving experience for their customers. If I had a car I would use their product. 

All in all I thought this event was informative. It was great to see the progress of the companies I have seen before.  

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 15th NY Hardware Meetup and 16th MakeIt NYC Meetup Join Forces For a Blow Out Event!

15th NY Hardware Meetup a packed house
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My how much the community has grown. The NY Hardware Meetup is at it’s 15th meetup. The MakeIt NYC is at it’s 16th meetup. All the meetups have been chock full of interesting stories coming from the trenches of the hardware scene in NYC. This one is no different except that the attendance was through the roof (see image above of standing room only crowd). By the way the back of the head in the foreground is Jonathan Hirschman organizer of the MakeIt NYC Meetup. If you wanted to know.

This event was a joint event between the NY Hardware Meetup and MakeIt NYC Meetup. Four entrepreneurs presented. After the announcements, next year predictions and sponsor pitches the audience was treated to some great startup stories.

Patrick Raymond presented his Curvit product and the two-year journey from it’s conception to national retail. Curvit solves one of life’s annoyances – it stops “shower cling”, and gives you more space for your daily spritz at the same time. Patrick is the founder of the Inventors Association of Manhattan, and he has hosted of Food Network’s Invention Hunters. It was great to see his progress and he started a Indiegogo campaign.

Coming off of their successful Dragon Innovation crowdfunding effort, Hammerhead Piet MorganLaurence Wattrus, and Raveen Beemsingh told the story of how they started. I wish I had a picture of the slide they showed of the iterations of their product. They started out in a apartment in New Jersey. LIving together, sharing space and creating a great product.  It was great to hear about their problems they faced and the direction they want to take the company. Motorcycle support is next! They are in the R/GA Connect Devices Accelerator.

Next up was Kurt Workman‘s and Jacob Colvin‘s story about their Owlet  product. The product takes baby monitoring to a whole new level. The Owlet Vital Monitor collects heart rate, oxygen and sleep data, and helps keep parents aware of possible indicators of danger. It was great to hear their story. As parents or would be parents themselves they were their own first customer. Their presentation was great and very warm feeling. Showing baby faces on the screen made people say awe.  They fielded questions expertly such as “What about the RF signal? Would cause the baby hard”. Their answer was two fold. They said that doctors say the risks out way the value you get from the information and how Bluetooth LE has at least 10 times less power then cellular RF. Their knowledge showed through. Way to go guys. They are also in the R/GA Connect Devices Accelerator.

Next and not least was Ben Melinger. He tells us two stories. The first one was about Smash Cup, a cool green, clean collapsible travel tumbler. I could use this product. I would make coffee at home and then take it with me. Clean it, collapse the cup and through it in my bag. Done. My bag is small so it would fit nicely collapsed. The other product story we heard was bout Fyll, a fashion-forward, tough glass water bottle that keeps water from being flavor enhanced (in a negative way) by plastic or metal flavors. Ben talked about his journey from beginner to pro. He gave the MakeSimply X Education program a shout out. Thx Ben. His story continued by discussing the hurdles he had to over come to get his products to the state they are today. One such hurdle was having to learn SolidWorks. For those that don’t know SolidWorks is a very popular CAD tool that is used to render complex solid 3D drawings and helps you move toward an engineering drawing.  The type of drawing that factories want to see. He discussed the huge cost of entry it is to buy this product. He wishes there was a cheaper solution out there that is just as popular. Thanks Ben for your great insights.

All in all it was a great event. We have defiantly outgrown that space. I can’t wait for the next meetup.

Disclaimer MakeSimply, a company I am co-founder of is co-sponsor of this event.

Technology and jobs: Coming to an office near you | The Economist

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Technology and jobs: Coming to an office near you | The Economist.

INNOVATION, the elixir of progress, has always cost people their jobs. In the Industrial Revolution artisan weavers were swept aside by the mechanical loom. Over the past 30 years the digital revolution has displaced many of the mid-skill jobs that underpinned 20th-century middle-class life. Typists, ticket agents, bank tellers and many production-line jobs have been dispensed with, just as the weavers were.

The Economist agrees with my last post

“Assembled” vs. “Made”, What is the Difference?

Assembled in USA
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Two weekends ago I spotted an op-ed piece by Thomas L. Friedman. In this piece he reviews a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s called, “The Second Machine Age”. This book is their sequel to their very popular book called, “Race Against The Machine“. The main idea of their books are that technological advancement is happening faster that ever before and there are ramifications to the fast pace or technological progress. There is some good and some bad side effects ( I am down playing it here a bit. Your will see why in a few). This relates to how we manufacture products in developed countries and what it really means when we say “Made” vs. “Assembled”.

When is a product assembled and not made? If you are a tech person you are aware of the new Mac Pro that Apple release on Thursday, December 19 2013. Sorry Apple for using you as an example (I own a Macbook Air, an iPhone and an iPad mini). There were several articles such as this one by Time that characterized the building of the product in the USA. This is not true. The Mac Pro is assembled in the USA. You might ask what is the difference? There is a huge difference. Just because the factory is located in the Arizona, USA does not mean the entire product is made in the USA. Also it does not mean there will be a ton of new jobs created. On the contrary it is the exact opposite. Few jobs are created.

“Made” implies that the product and components are built in that location. Everything. There are also other implications that people assume with “Made”. Such as, there are people in the factory on an assembly line and people at stations building components. That was true and in some situations is still true, but less and less people are making things today. Robots not humans are making things more and more. People tend to think that since there is a factory then there must be people in it making and  building.

“Assembled” means that the components are made some place else and brought to the factory to be assembled into a finished good. This requires even less people at the factory. Even less in the future. Machines do the assembly. Again not many people needed in this process.

“Apple is bringing manufacturing back to the USA and leading the charge for manufacturing in the USA. Bringing back jobs”…Not

People were over joyed that “Apple is bringing manufacturing back to the USA and leading the charge for manufacturing in the USA. Bringing back jobs”, but that is the furthest from the truth. As an American I was happy too, but having a new factory built does not mean there will be jobs. That is what is elegantly discuss in the Thomas L. Friedman piece and the two books I mention. In the not to distant future 5-10 years as we get closer to autonomous robots the numbers of people in the factories will get closer to zero. The good thing about that is the factory location can now be located closer to the consumers and the factories could handle customizations at a low price. This is a boon for the manufacturers too, logistics (getting the product to the consumer) become easier and labor costs are reduced to near zero. The not so good thing is that this will not increase employment, but reduce it.

As machines get smarter (faster and cheaper) they will replace people in many jobs. As a society we need to decide where and how far this should go. There needs to be a way to balance this out. As a technologist I am excited about the potential. As a member of society I am concerned. Should I be?

Top image is from anandtech.com Thank you.