Ask anyone who runs a company or start up what’s the hardest part of business and nine times out of ten you will get the answer “people“. Employing people is time consuming, expensive, difficult and can create serious problems, especially if you employ the wrong person. People are human and here in lies the complexities of dealing with them. Emotions, health, personal issues, opinions, beliefs, the list goes on.
By employing people, managing all these human traits is your responsibility and can have a big impact on the day to day dealings of your business. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that good people are what make a great team, and great teams achieve amazing things but in any business there are tasks that no one likes doing. These are the task that if you can, you need to out source.
Here are my top 5 reasons for out sourcing
5. Makes Scaling easier
If business is booming and your growing quickly, having a task outsourced makes scaling easier and a lot less painful than having to employ a bunch of people to keep up with demand.
People get sick, plain and simple. If you only have one person doing a particular task, when they are sick that job just doesn’t get done. Outsourcing it creates redundancy. By outsourcing you can having multiple people trained to do the task, so if one of the out sourced team members can’t do it, another steps in.
3. Time Zones
If you services a global market (like we do) then your business hours are only going to align with 1/3 of the globe. Customer Service is one area that has some great advantages from out sourcing especially if you can do so to people located in different time zones. We outsourced our customer service to Influx which has teams of customer service agents all over the world. This allows us to have customer support agents working round the clock. In doing so our email response time dropped from 24 hours to five!
2. Only pay for what you need
As an early stage boot strapped start up every penny counts. When you outsource you are able to reduce your costs by only using and paying for what you need, as you need it. When your business scales you’re costs will increase but so should your income so it should all work out. If it doesn’t then you may be regretting outsourcing your business plan.
Weather you’ve just started your business or have been running it for a while, having the flexibility to pull in more resource when you need it and scaling them back when you don’t is very, very handy. Outsourcing provides this flexibility. Daily our online order volumes are pretty consistent. This makes managing order fulfillment pretty straight forward, however throw in a promotion or a new product launch and order volumes can go through the roof!
We outsource our order fulfillment to Shipwire (a 3rd Party Logistics provider). Shipwire can quickly scale up their team to handle the increased demand and then drop back to regular volume once the wave has passed. They can also help you get product out to locations all over the world much faster than shipping from your office.
Not everything can be out sourced and there are definitely some things that should never be palmed off, especially in the early stages of your business. If you do out source tasks it important that you jump back in every now and then to make sure you still have your finger on the pule and that the task is being done to a satisfactory level.
Check back soon on how to identify tasks that can be outsourced.
If you’ve read this before and want to jump to my conclusion click here.
There’s been a lot of hype about the Apple Watch and being in the business of making accessories for the iPhone a lot of people has been asking me if it will have an impact on what we do. My answer to that question is yes, it will have a positive impact. My reasoning being that the Apple Watch relies so heavily on the iPhone that if anything it should increase iPhone sales and hence build a bigger market for our accessories.
Before I get into my thoughts on using an Apple Watch I want to make two things clear.
1) I’m not a watch person. I have never worn one and don’t like having anything attached to my body. My wife insisted I wear a wedding ring and that is the only object that has remained on my body for more than a month. I have tried fitness trackers and they usually get about a week before I stop wearing them. It will be interesting to see if I am still wearing my Apple Watch this time next week.
2) I am an industrial designer and I love Apple products. I grey imported the very first model of the iPhone from the US way before they were available in Australia. Using it is where I came up with the idea for Quad Lock so I am always pretty keen to try out new Apple products to see if they generate any new ideas.
The packaging is typical of Apple, a long white box with nothing but the Apple Watch logo embossed on the top. I was surprised with the large size and weight of the box. It seemed excessive. Considering Apple ships millions of these things around the globe it seemed very wasteful having so much excess ‘air’. You could easily package them in a thin box allowing four watches be shipped in the same volume as one in the current packaging.
Inside the white box you will find a high gloss injection molded capsule. I assume Apple provided this as something you could store your watch in but seriously I don’t think anyone will. It would make a pretty nice pencil or storage case but when you remove the form fitting tray from the box the lid has nothing to locate with so that rules our that idea. No other Apple products come packaged with this type of storage case and again its excessive. It would add a fair chunk of cost to the product and I don’t think it adds much value.
When I finally get the box apart my first reaction to the watch is that it’s tiny! Its a lot smaller than I thought it would be. I ordered the 38mm sports watch as I have small wrists but still, its smaller than I thought it would be. The design and quality is amazing but you’d expect nothing less from Apple and would be disappointed if it wasn’t. The material used in the sports watch strap feels awesome, its kind of like a cross between rubber and leather. It’s also very light. I haven’t compared it with the stainless steel version but when its on you barely notice it.
Putting it on for the first time it feels pretty good. The strap is easy to use and fits my wrist really well. Comparing it to the 42mm I am glad I went with the 38mm. Syncing with the iPhone is super easy and is done so using the iPhone camera. Once it see’s a trippy video on the Watch screen it’s synced. This must be how it recognize which watch to sync to if there are multiple watches close by. Navigating through the various screens takes a little getting used to. Its very different to the iPhone and I found I was pushing the button to go back when I should have been pressing the crown.
Force touch is very cool and I can see this being added to the next iPhone. Sending drawings as text messages is cool but the screen is so small you can’t really draw much except for dick picks. Sending your heart rate is cool but a novelty which will wear off quickly, but it does the vibration from a heart beat does feel pretty cool. Taking phone calls from your wrist makes you look and feel like a dick but its handy if someone is calling you and you can’t find your phone.
The fitness tracking features of the watch are killer and this is one of the main applications I see people using the Apple Watch. It easily stomps on all other fitness trackers I have tried. It gives you live updates of pace, distance, calories and heart rate and is super easy to use. I’ve only used it while walking home from work but it did a pretty good job of it. So far I really like it. Apart from feeling a little sweaty under the band I don’t mind wearing it as much as I thought I would, but time will tell (pardon the pun).
Still got it on my wrist! Liking it so far. The integration with Apple TV and the remote App is pretty handy as I hate it when I can’t find the remote. Being able to control Apple TV from my wrist is pretty cool.
Went for a drive using the Apple Maps navigation and discovered that the Apple Watch sync’s with the turn by turn direction giving you 3 clicks for left, 3 different clicks for right and one click to go straight. Nice touch Apple.
I am looking at and using my iPhone a lot less since strapping on the Apple Watch. Main behavioural change is from viewing text messages that don’t need to be replied to from the Apple Watch. I’ve also turned off a lot of the notifications from other Apps as they were getting annoying.
The novelty factor has started to wear off. The main reason I am using the watch for now is checking the time (duh!). The watch face I am using has room for 3 different time zones “complications” which has been handy when organising Skype calls with people in the US and UK. Besides time, I am also using it for tracking activity and viewing text messages but apart from that not much else…. How long will it last on my wrist is anyones guess.
I’m starting to forget I have the Watch on which is a credit to how comfortable it is on the wrist but also an indicator that the excitement level is no longer there and I am not using as much as I thought I would. Again the main uses are checking time, viewing text messages and as a remote for Apple TV/Netflix.
I forgot to put on my Apple Watch this morning but I didn’t notice until later afternoon. Uh oh…
After seven days with an Apple Watch yes I’m still wearing it, but I don’t know if I will continue too… At least not every day. I am in no way near attached to it like I was my original iPhone. I went to the extend of importing an iPhone from the USA as they weren’t available in Australia when first release. I recall spending ever spare second I had playing with it for almost two weeks. It was a serious game changer and was the spark that ignited the idea for Quad Lock. Alas, unfortunately for me, the Apple Watch has not had the same effect.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the product and think the engineers and designers at Apple have done an amazing job fitting so much technology into such a small, beautifully designed package, but I am just not using it as much as I thought I would.
As I have said before, I am not a watch person so it was always going to be an uphill battle to get me just to wear the damn thing. Unfortunately the limited functionality it provides isn’t enough to convince me to strap the device to my wrist everyday. Keep in mind we don’t have Apple Pay in Australia, which is one of the Apple Watches core features, but when we do it may be enough to change my mind. However if I could completely replace my phone with an Apple Watch I would do so in a second. Why?
Because the best part about the Watch, and I might sound a bit contradictory here, is that you wear it. Unlike a phone its very unlikely that you will lose it or accidently leave it somewhere like in the back seat of a taxi. It’s strapped to you, not in your pocket so you never miss a call or a text message. And you spend a lot less time wondering where the remote for the Apple TV is because you can use your watch!
I will not be the first to admit that taking a phone call on the wrist makes you feel like a wanker but if there was a small bluetooth ear piece or even head phones which paired with the phone I would be more than happy to ditch my iPhone completely and run with just a watch. Sure the screen is too small for email and browsing the web but I can do that on my iPad or my Laptop and hey, if more people had watches instead of phones there might be more social interaction instead of people staring blankly at their smartphones!
So should you buy an Apple Watch? If you’re a watch person, can handle the price and don’t mind charging it daily (which is pretty effortless using the magnetic inductive charger) then sure go for it. But if your hoping the Apple Watch will change your life… maybe hold off for version two…
That voice resonating in Kevin Costner’s head if you build it, they will come was wrong…Plan wrong. This may apply to building a baseball diamond in a cornfield or building the World’s tallest building but it does not apply to building a product! If you have an idea for a product, app or services, don’t go dumping all your savings and every spare minute of your time into building it until you have spoken to at least 20 people about it. And 20 is the bare minimum.
You may think you have an idea for the best product in the world but unless your market is made up entirely of you, it may not appeal to anyone else. There’s a fair chance that other people will have different opinions, ideas or suggestions which could make it a lot better than you ever imagined. To have a successful product you need it to appeal to a large number of people and unless you consult a large number of people about your idea before you build it, you might end up in a cornfield wonder where all the people are.
Having a great product that appeals to a large bunch of customers is referred to as product market fit and its critical for a product to become successful. No one ever made much money building a product no one wants.
Knowing this I am still amazed about how many people claim to have a million dollar idea but refuse to discuss it. “What if someone steals my idea?” To be honest the average person is not going to steal your idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen and everyone has one and in the scheme of things an idea is the 1% inspiration and the 99% perspiration required to turn the idea into some thing real…well, most people just can’t be arsed doing. Obviously there are some people you don’t want to tell and for good reason. These people include anyone who is active in the same space and has the ability to easily act on your idea. Use common sense when selecting who to disclose your idea too.
Make sure you select a well rounded group of people to discuss it with. No point just showing it to friends who will tell you its a great idea. You’re looking for people who will look for the problems with it and try to shoot holes in your idea. And when they do, take note as these are the same objections your potential customers are going to have when they are deciding on if they should purchase your product so if you can get rid of the objections your one step closer to a sale.
There’s been many times when people have shared their top secret idea with me and I do a quick Google search and say, “you mean like this”? I don’t mean to shoot down their idea, by all means finding out that someone has already acted on your idea proves there is a market and there’s always room for competition, but the more people you talk to the more likely you are to shoot down a bad idea early or turn a good idea into a great one.
What if I want to patent the idea? This complicates things but there are still ways to discuss it your idea with people with out publicly disclosing it. Non Disclosure Agreements are one option but you may also be able to gauge feedback on the idea with out disclosing your IP.
That voice in Kevin’s head should really have be saying “if they want it, you should build it”.
This week I decided to walk to work instead of riding. 5K is a short ride but it’s at good hour long walk. To make the time go by I’ve been listening to a podcast called ‘Startup’. Startup is a podcast created by Alex Blumberg about creating a startup that makes podcasts… I know it sounds weird but its an awesome podcast that is extremely well produced, very entertaining and a super intriguing story especially if you’re looking to start a startup.
Earlier this week I was reading Steve Sammartino latest rant about the John Oliver Show being pulled from Youtube, and something that Alex said in the Startup podcast resonated with me. Alex was promoting a live podcast of him giving away all his secrets on story telling, which he is very very good at. His plug was “listen live for free or pay to download it later”. Brilliant! If you want to watch it live you can get it for free, but if you want it at a later date, sure you can download it, but you’ll have to pay for the convenience.
Why don’t more content providers do this? They can generate revenue from ad’s while live streaming and then from pay per download later… When you broadcast it live, it’s free you can guarantee more people will watch it. Then people who can’t watch it live or want to view it at a later date pay. You could even charge a higher price for a version with no ads.
I also like this because it brings back a consistent viewing time slot. Media on demand removes the “did you watch (insert name of cool TV show) last night” that I remember from my school days, which was a great conversation starter. With this model you’d be more inclined to get people watching content when its broadcast.
PS: Thanks to Steve for reminding me to keep blogging.
I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately and by accident I happened to come across Shopify Masters. Obviously its a podcast focused on Shopify however their latest episode was great interview with Shawn Rowland from DronesEtc.com which I wanted to share. Shawn and his co-founder Jon Baird won the “everything else” category of the 4th Shopify Build-A-Business competition and judging by the interview they have been selling a shit load of drones.
Shawn and Jon Baird wanted to create their own lifestyle and be able to take care of their growing families. Motivated by seeing a couple friends achieve entrepreneurial success and Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week, they set out to give it one last shot at starting their own company before falling back to Plan B and getting day jobs. This is a story of how Shawn went from $200K+ in student loan debt and had to re-mortgage his home to turn DronesEtc.com to a $600K/month ecommerce store.
I meet lots of people that say “I’d love to start my own business but I don’t have an idea”. Sure, its pretty hard to start a business with out an idea, well a successful business at least, but you don’t need an idea to start a business. What you need is a problem.
Ask any business owner or entrepreneur how they ended up running their own business and there is a fair chance they will say “I couldn’t find a good solution for this”, or “I wasn’t happy with what was available” or “I felt I could do it better” so I decided to do something about it. Good ideas come from trying to solve problems. They are born out of person frustration and the thought that there has to be a better way.
So stop trying to think of an idea for a business, and start looking for things that piss you off, annoy the hell out of you, or just don’t work . Then start coming up with ways to fix those things. If something pissed you off there’s a fair chance it pisses off a lot of other people too but most people are to lazy to do anything about it. Instead of complaining about that thing that pisses you off, starting coming up with ways to make it better. You never know, you might just come up with an idea that is so good you are compelled to start a business around it.
Update – 20th May 2015: Having spent a good 18 months using a Form1/ 1+ I thought it’s about time I updated my thoughts on the device. In the 18 months we have been using a Form1 we have had the machine replaced twice. Our original Form1 developed issues where the parts had rough surfaces and what appeared to be thin fins growing on the part. From what I read this was related to Laser issues, even though FormLabs.
The machine was eventually replaced after months of trouble shooting. We wasted considerable time and resin going through the various tests and eventually FormLabs agreed to replace the machine, as long as we would pay for shipping it to and and from America. The replacement Form1+ was a much better machine but within four months the same problems appeared. Again the trouble shooting process started and after months of no improvements after checking, cleaning and even replacing a mirror that appeared to have absolutely nothing wrong with it FormLabs agreed to replace the machine, again as long as we paid the very expensive shipping bill. Everything I read pointed to a laser issue however FormLabs insisted it was an optical path problem.
Would I recommend this machine? When it is working it prints great parts but unless you’re prepared to have it replaced every 6 months its a tough sell unless you are located in the USA so return shipments don’t cost a small fortune.
FormLabs have just announced a welcomed update to the Form1 3D printer. Dubbed the Form1+ (the plus indicating the additional upgrades) the machine looks identical as the original Form1 on the outside but on the inside, the Form1 team have upgraded key components which allow it to print more accurately, more reliably and up to four times faster then the original Form1.
If you’re reading this theres a fair chance you are already aware that the Form1 was one of the first low cost SLA 3D printers to take the focus away from FDM 3D Printers that were dominating the entry level 3D printer market at the time. It received huge amounts of interest from industrial designers and engineers as it gave hope to be able to print highly detailed, very accurate parts on your desktop. I was especially excited as the products we develop were all a size that fit nicely within the 120mm envelop.
We received our Form1 in March 2013 and had it printing within 15mins of taking it out of the box. The ease of setup and operation are a testament to the FormLabs team. You can read my review on it here. The parts it produced were much more detailed compared to the parts coming off our Cube 3D printer but thats expected when comparing SLA parts to FDM parts. However the more I used the machine the more I started to notice that the parts were not as accurate as I had hoped and fine small detail was getting lost when the resin to cured between features. Over time this got worse and eventually the parts started to print with weird gill like features making the parts totally unusable. At this point I contacted FormLabs to see what was going on. After many emails back and forth the FormLabs support engineer diagnosed the printer as having a faulty laser. He informed me that I would need to ship the machine back to FormLabs in the USA to get it repaired, however FormLabs would not cover the shipping costs, not even one way! Not exactly impressed with the situation we figured the machine was useless in its current state so we bit the bullet and paid the shipping fee and sent off our Form1 for repair, luckily we had hung on to the packaging.
As time dragged on FormLabs contacted me to let me know that the machine would be upgraded with the new laser and peel system which would be released on their new model. Getting wind of the new model I asked if we could upgrade to the new version of which they eventually agreed to what we would be getting back would effectively be the same as the new Form1+. Unfortunately we didn’t get the extended 12 months warranty as we’re located in Australia but you can’t have everything. I believe FormLabs is no longer accepting orders from Australia so I guess we’re lucky to have actually have a Form1 in OZ.
Three months after the initial contact with FormLabs support we finally received our replacement Form1+ and could get printing again! Out of the box it looked identical to the Form1. I plugged it in, updated the software and firmware on the machine, filled up the resin tray and set of a print. The first thing I noticed is the peel system sounded different and the clicking sound it makes when homing the build tray against the build platform was much quieter than the Form1. The platform plunged into the resin and the laser started firing. Straight away I could see that the laser was much brighter and moved a lot faster than the original. As I was printing a fairly small part the peeling between each layer was the most time consuming part of the print. Two hours later I had a part which would have taken 4-5 hours on the Form1. I removed the build tray and removed the part. Straight away I could see that part was miles ahead of the parts printed on the Form1. The detail was clear with crisp sharp edges and you could see the consistency in the layers. In fact the part was that detailed that I could actually see the tessellation’s in the STL file and this was at the course setting of 0.1mm layers. Note to self, export STL files at higher resolution from now on…
The mounting system I designed (Quad Lock) requires very fine tolerance for the male mount plate to connect with the female recess. Parts I had printed on the Form1 would not fit together as extra resin had solidified on areas it wasn’t meant to making it impossible for parts to interlock without lots of manual adjustment and sanding. However parts on the Form1+ went together straight out of the machine! No sanding required.
I’m much happier with the Form1+ as its now much closer to my expectations of what the Form1 should have been capable from originally. And I am not alone with this opinion as you can see on the FormLabs forums.
If your looking for a great low cost SLA 3D printer I can highly recommend the Form1+. It’s not going to give you the same level of detail as you will get from a professional SLA 3D printer but for the money it is exceptional value.
I’ve listened to many interviews and read lots of books that say if you’re in the tech space learn how to code. Even if producing code has absolutely nothing to do with your role we’re told it’s beneficial to have some understanding of code, even if to just give you a basic grasp of how software works.
The way physical things are designed has changed a lot in the last few decades. In the old days people had an idea and either sketched it out on the back of a napkin or went straight to the shed and started sawing and nailing until they created that idea they had buzzing around in their head… or at least a close approximation to it. Over the years things progressed with the invention of the drawing board and “drafting tables” but ultimately things were still drawn by hand and produced using jigs or tooling which were made or machined by a real person. With the introduction of the computer some smart engineers figured they could control machines with computers allowing them to take out all the manual work and reduce the chance of errors…. They called this CNC, Computer Numerical Control. By replacing manual controls with electrical motors you could make a computer guide a cutting tool on a milling machine to create parts with amazing accuracy and repeatability. The language that control these machines is called G-Code and is a very basic form of software. Hard core machinest know this code well enough to punch G-Code manually into machines to create basic shapes but when you have a very complex organic form you’re out of luck. Then along comes CAD or Computer Aided Design. CAD allowed us to create a virtual 2D or 3D model of the object we want to create. Feed the CAD model into a CAM program (Computer Aided Machining) and the software will output the millions of lines of G-Code to cut your part or tooling to make the part. 3D Printers operation the same way by they add material instead of taking it away.
Every mass produced product in the world today is designed in CAD so if you want to start making things… start learning CAD.
Learning how to Code or how to use CAD can sound intimidating but with the rise or low cost CNC machines and 3D printing, the accessibility of CAD has improved dramatically. CAD program’s which used to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars and took months of training to learn how to use are now much more user friendly and way more affordable. Forward thinking companies like Autodesk have even release free software packages to get people into CAD at an early age.
Here’s some free programs that are a great starting point if you want to learn CAD.
TinkerCAD – Web based and very basic but great to for beginners.
Sketch Up – More architectural focused but fast and easy to use.
123 D – A very cut down version of Autodesk’s flagship CAD packaged Inventor but good intro to parametric modelling
Blender – A open source poly modelling package which is great for more organic free form character style modelling.
Quirky recently released a product in collaboration with GE called Aros. It’s a smart air-conditioner which can be controlled by a smartphone. If you’re not familiar with Quirky, they are a company who manufacture products which are dreamnt up by people like you and me. In fact anyone can submit an idea to Quirky. But if you can’t think of a good idea you can contribute to (or ‘influence’ as Quirky says) someone else’s idea. If the idea gets enough traction Quirky put it into production and give back a small percentage of profits to the person who came up with the original idea as well as the key influencers.
Quirky’s latest marketing campaign for the Aros is built around a video show casing the manufacturing process of the Aros. The video shows factory workers at various stages of production assembling tooling, painting parts, screwing in components, braising tubing, testing, packing and eventually shipping the products out of the factory. The focus is on people making the products, not machines or robots. There are very few shots that don’t feature a person doing some of the work. It’s a very well put together video however the focus on people left we with a very different feeling when compared to watching the making of the Apple iPhone 5C.
Making of the Aros Air-conditioner
Being a designer I love seeing how things are made. I find the manufacturing process more interesting than the product in some cases. If I have witnessed how something is made I get to see all the effort and technology that goes into a product and I am more likely to want to own it. This was definitely the case when Apple released the video showing how the iPhone 5C was made. The technology and precision involved in making that handset was up their with fine watch crafting.
Making of the iPhone 5C – The manufacturing component is from 1:35 – 2:20
The big difference between the videos is that Apple does not show a single factory worker. Sure there is more robotics and automation involved when assembling an iPhone compared to an air-condition but I guarantee there are lot of other steps which involve actual real people assembling iPhones that are just not shown.
The two videos left me with very different feelings. The Aros video made me feel for all the factory workers assembling products all day long getting paid very little for their efforts. Where as the Apple video still makes we want to buy an iPhone 5C and I don’t even think about the factory workers because I don’t see them in the video.
I respect Quirky for showing it how it is, however I wonder if the humanising factor will have a negative effect on their marketing campaign.