In my podcast today I speak with hardware entrepreneur Wayne Frick of ChirpSounds. I’ve worked with Wayne for a couple of years now and he was also one of the first members in the Hardware Academy.
Wayne has made a lot of progress with his product but it’s also been a bumpy road for him to get to where he is now. He was generous enough to want to come onto my podcast to share some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.
My conversation with Wayne lasted nearly an hour and a half. We really went in depth into lots of different aspects of building a successful hardware startup. So I’ve split up our conversation into two bite size pieces. This podcast episode includes the first half of our conversation, and here is the second part of our conversation.
Podcast MP3: Download
Wayne Frick of ChirpSounds
John Teel: Today, I’m speaking with Wayne Frick of Chirpsounds.
Wayne is someone that I’ve had the pleasure of working with for a couple of years. He had started off with my Predictable Hardware Report. He was also one of the very first members in the Hardware Academy.
He has made a lot of progress with this product, but it’s been a bumpy path as is typical. Wayne offered to come on today’s podcast and share some of the lessons that he’s learned getting his product through where it’s at now.
Welcome to the show, Wayne.
Wayne Frick: Hey, John. Glad to be here.
John: I’m happy to have you here. I obviously know what your product is, but you can explain it better than me. You can maybe just start by explaining what your product is, who it’s for, and then maybe touch on what your current status is and where you’re at with the product?
Wayne: Sure. Chirpsounds is for the 80 million people who feed their backyard birds in North America. US and Canada. We always say that watching backyard birds when the windows are closed is kind of like watching TV with the sound turned off, so you only get part of the experience.
John: Oh, that’s a good analogy. I like that.
Wayne: Yes. Chirpsounds was created to add real-time audio when you really don’t want to have your windows open, whether it’s too hot or too cold or the allergies have your eyes swollen shut.
It’s just a little rechargeable, wireless, weatherproof device that hangs up by the feeders. It picks up and amplifies the streams, the sounds to a speaker inside, and just kind of restores the audio part of it.
John: That’s great. It’s something I’ve always kind of got in your product because I’m in that audience. I’m very much into wildlife watching and birds. My wife and I get a lot of pleasure by watching all the various birds. We have feeders and stuff.
It’s definitely something that I get. Fortunately, the weather is nice enough. At least early in the day that we can have the windows open to hear some of it, but I definitely– I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Wayne: I was going to say, one of the things that– we’re in beta testing right now. I’ve got 11 people who have units out there.
One of the things that they’re pointing out is the things that they can hear that they wouldn’t normally be able to hear because you could never get that close to the birds without scaring them away. One of my friends who lives up in Toronto, Suzy Rosenstein, she’s got hers up by her birdbath.
She knows that without even spending a lot of time at the window, you can just tell when there’s birds out there. You hear them splashing around. You hear them chirping and making a little soft– They have these vocalizations that, again, you would never be able to get close enough to hear them, but this thing amplifies it and streams it inside.
It’s kind of funny. She has videos of her parrot talking to the birds outside through the speaker.
John: Oh, that’s funny. That’s great.
Wayne: Yes. We’re starting to get a lot of benefits. When you have the thing really amped up with the sensitivity, you can hear seeds cracking and just rustling around. The kind of things that alert you that they’re there that, again, you wouldn’t even think to hear it.
John: That’s really cool. I hadn’t really thought of that. I suspect birds, they make a lot of high-pitched noises that probably don’t travel very far. Having a mic right in there allows you to listen to that. Hearing the seeds cracking, it just adds a whole other element to– It’s like watching the TV with the sound on versus off like you said.
Wayne: Yes, exactly.
John: You mentioned that you got 11 units out beta testing, is that correct?
Wayne: That’s right, yes.
John: How is that going? Did you have alpha test units or are these the first units that you have out in the field or what’s the status of that?
Wayne: Well, the alpha testing was me. Not to say that I’m the alpha, but–[laughter]
Wayne: Hey, it’s my thing, right?
Wayne: I get first dibs. Yes. We can kind of just jump right into some of the things I learned because getting those beta test units together, boy, what an education that was. I’ll get into what the status of it. We did uncover one problem that I didn’t hear in my testing.
As luck would have it, when you get a bunch of units in and you pick one of them to test, I happen to pick the goldilocks unit. It’s like the absolute perfect one that doesn’t share the problem that all the other ones have. Actually, as we’re recording this, Bill Whitlock is working on and trying to figure out what exactly what that is and how to solve it.
John: This is the noise issue that there’s been a lot of discussion in the academy, I’m assuming what you’re talking about?
Wayne: Yes, yes. In my unit, you can only hear it when it’s really, really quiet. On some of the other ones, it was just a lot more pronounced. Part of it was the inconsistent way that I assembled them. Part of it was some things actually broke inside when they were shipped.
When you design something for injection molding, it will be a nice strong part when it was all one piece. Now, all of a sudden, you 3D print that? You lay it down in layer line.
At the base of the two little clips that hold the speakers, you have a little line and it’s a natural place for that thing to break. Never thought of that upfront, right? It’s another hole-filled money, right? Just one more thing.
John: Yes, yes.
Wayne: There was a little shelf that prevented the PCB from sliding too far into the unit when you insert the USB charging cable. That also broke off again for the same reason.
When people got their units, they’re like, “I can hear something rattling around in there. Is that normal?” I said, “No, but I know what it is.” Because when I was assembling them, the same thing happened to me.
I had things breaking and the little tabs on the lower part of the housing that are supposed to snap up inside of the cap, they were breaking off as well.
I spent a lot of time being creative trying to get these things together like putting the bottom part in the freezer and the upper part in the oven to try to differentially expand one and freeze the other so I could get it together without the breaking, right? A lot of things like that were just learning experiences.
John: Yes, 3D printing can definitely be less than ideal. You’ve probably heard me tell this story. I’ve said it several times.
For my product, I had shipped to Blockbuster video. Their lead buyer who was interested, he wanted a sample. It was 3D-printed. I shipped it to him. He got it. I talked to him on the phone a few days later and he was kind of a man of few words. He just said he thought it was awkward to use.
I was devastated from it. I had a couple of days of self-pity and then I was determined to figure out why he said that. It turned out the 3D model had melted partially en route to him.
When he got it, it was melted just enough that it didn’t work properly, but not so much that it was obvious it had melted. That’s my lesson learned with 3D printing. Have you ever looked into CNC machine for your enclosure?
Wayne: I did. It was just so prohibitively expensive to make. I was trying to get a dozen units together.
John: Yes, yes. It’s more a three to four number unit kind of thing instead of that many. That’s more where you’re kind of getting into maybe urethane casting or something like that.
Wayne: Yes. I think I may have launched a few of those discussions online about how to injection mold in low quantities. There’s a bunch of ways. Like you mentioned, urethane molding is one I’ve read about. Apparently, there’s a way to 3D print mold inserts so that you can actually injection mold into these 3D-printed forms. They’re only good for 25 to 100 parts, but that would be perfect for me. It’s a cheap way to iterate, try things out if they don’t work. You’re throwing away a $75 part versus cutting metals. It’s crazy.
John: Yes, absolutely. It’s at least similar to the final process that would allow you to– It’s going to mimic the high-pressure injection molding a lot better than 3D printing or even scenes changing for sure.
Wayne: Yes. It would have solved all of my breakage problems.
John: Yes. That’s what you have out in the field now, the 3D-printed models?
Wayne: That’s right, yes. Most of them, they have things rattling around inside. A few of them, they try to solve the problems with the noise.
I had them open up the units. In doing that, even the ones that I’d put oven in the freezer, some of those broke as well. Now, they have electrical tape holding them together. Even despite all that, they’re all still pretty happy with them, so I’m pretty happy with that.
John: I’m curious who your testers are. Are these people that you already know and have relationships with or are they completely just people that you met, they were interested in the product?
Wayne: Well, some of them are friends going all the way back to high school, which was handy too because one lives locally and she had a problem with her unit. Caused by me asking her to open it.
I did a house call and actually soldered some wires back together. I have a few people in that camp. I have a few people that have found posts that I’ve made over the years just trying to gather some market feedback.
I was asking questions about– I see people posting about putting baby monitors out there and long threads of Instructables where people were trying to MacGyver something in their backyard to provide my idea basically.
Some folks reached out to me through that, have been following for a long time, and kind of got friendly with them. Some of those are my testers now too. One of them actually has a shop that caters to backyard bird watchers. It’s just a mix of people.
John: Yes. Well, yes. That’s some good validation that there were people out there trying to hack together a solution. There’s a problem that people are willing to try to solve that. Obviously, your products are a much cleaner solution than using a baby monitor pet.
Wayne: Yes, for sure. Sound quality is awful on those things and you have to plug them in typically on the transmitter end.
John: Yes, yes, absolutely. Let’s maybe go ahead and kind of jump. We kind of touched maybe on the first one. I don’t think we’re going to go through this number, but you had shared roughly about 10 lessons that you learned getting to the point that you’re at.
The first one is to keep it simple, but you kind of mentioned your– Is this where you met the acorn shape of your product, which obviously is a neat idea? Let’s maybe touch on that one and I’m curious. I’m assuming that 3D-printed prototypes you’re talking about breaking are this acorn shape?
Wayne: That’s right, yes. One of the things that– if people are not clamoring for these features– and I’m talking about your ideal customers. It goes back to marketing and getting to know who you’re trying to sell this thing to. If they’re not clamoring for these features, they probably shouldn’t be in your first version.
I violated that rule so many times. My poor developers, their list kept changing on them and I kept thinking, “All right. Well, I’m spending all this money on engineering.” I should probably build some future capabilities. Even if I don’t use them in version one, oh, man, do those things come back to bite me?
John: That’s funny because I had someone recently ask if he should– in the academy trying to simplify his product. He wanted to know if he should build in future features but just not program them. I’m like, “No, no, no.” [chuckles] Even if you don’t program them, you’re still developing the hardware and they can cause all kinds of problems.
Wayne: Oh, yes. Send them my way. I’ll tell them horror stories.
John: Yes. [chuckles]
Wayne: One of the things, like you said, I wanted to have the functionality of a graphical equalizer. Because when you amplify the sounds outside, unfortunately, you get everything. If your neighbor fires up a lawnmower next door or you happen– Like me, I live about a hundred yards from a fairly busy road. Rush hours are worse than other times, but you get a lot of traffic noise and that’s all low frequency. I thought, “Okay. Well, maybe we can have a little thing where you can differentially shift it to the treble end of the scale versus the bass and kind of knock some of that out.
We danced around trying to make that happen. We went down the path with one vendor who said he could do everything. After we had designed around his product, it turned out he couldn’t really deliver. He never got the software done.
We never got the Bluetooth profiles and never got the firmware and had to start all over with a whole different solution, still going down this path, trying to provide that functionality. Honestly, the people who are testing the units, they’re not reporting problems with ambient noise. It’s other things.
John: You were trying to solve a problem that people weren’t really complaining about?
Wayne: Yes. They say an answer to a question nobody’s asking, right?
John: Yes. That’s very common that no one wants everything to be perfect and every feature to be included than the founder. That’s, I think, a very common dynamic.
Wayne: That’s the importance of talking to lots of people and getting your testers to be honest with you. That’s one of the things I told them. I said, “Look, there’s only two requirements.
You send them back at the end of the test when I asked you to and you have to honest with me because you guys are really the first people that are not me that are seeing this.” You have to get some people that are willing to give it to you straight and not worry about hurting your feelings and all that because the last thing you want to do is make 10,000 and find out that nobody really likes it.
John: Definitely, that’s always a risk with having your friends or family do any of the feedback. You definitely have to drive home. “Please you’ll hurt my feelings more if I find out you’re being nice and patting through.”[laughter]
John: It will come back to haunt you.
Wayne: Part of it comes down to asking specific questions to doing polling and things like that. I have a whole list of things that I ask them to test out. I had some things, very specific questions that I want to ask because that will then dovetail into the marketing effort.
We use these things as case studies, and then we can put them on the website and use little quotes from people. It’s important to get people to be honest, but you want to ask them questions that really gave you that marketing feedback as well.
John: Absolutely. The better you can get to know your customer, that’s always going to be beneficial even from my own case with the academy. One thing I really love about it is I get to work with people long term and have a longer-term relationship. I’m learning so much about the people in my audience just because I get to work with them more.
Instead of it just being one way and them reading my blog, I have actual discussions and it’s been so beneficial. Regardless of what business you’re in, you need to know the customer. The odds are you don’t know them as well as you think you do. It’s like so many people think that I understand what the customer wants. I’m just going to move forward building what I think they want and they’re usually wrong.
Wayne: Well, yes. The part that you can’t unknow what you know, right? There’s things about the product. Okay. Here’s another example. I’m writing the instruction manual, a quick start guide because nobody reads the instruction manuals. We all know that. Only when things get really, really grave and desperate that we resort to the instruction manual.
John: Mostly men, I think, are that way.
Wayne: We don’t ask for directions either. It’s the same gene on the Y chromosome.
John: Yes, exactly.
Wayne: I wrote this thing and I read it and I reread it. I kept remembering that phrase that perfection is not when you– there’s nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away. I try to keep it real simple and real basic and thick. These are people who are seeing this for the first time. How do you get this thing started? What are the functions that they really need to know and how do they do them?
When I was all done with it, I sat my wife down with the closed box and I said, “All right. You’re a new customer. You know a little bit about it,” but she didn’t get the functionality part of it. I said, “Run through it.” She just got to about page two and was totally stumped about something that I had said. To me, it was very obvious. Me, I’ve been working on this for 12 years, right?
Wayne: You don’t know what they don’t know and that’s why it’s important for people to ask those questions too. How’s the manual? Is it clear? Folks asked, “Could you do some videos?” I put some videos up on my website demonstrating each of the functionalities that if they didn’t get the written instructions, they could just go watch it real quick. One minute, a minute and a half, something like that.
John: I think I’d heard someone mentioned recently. I don’t remember the age of the child, but they were basically saying not being critical of people, but you need to write so that a child could understand it.
Otherwise, you’re missing a big part of the audience, not to say that they’re like children. If a child can understand it, then you’ve got it simplified enough. They don’t make assumptions and things like that.
They will ask you questions. The kid can read it and understand it, then you’re probably in good shape. You’d mentioned the equalizer being able to filter out unwanted sounds with something that you had tried to incorporate but ended up not being something that was a necessity up for version one. The other thing I hinted at was the acorn shape for your enclosure. If you want to maybe touch on that briefly?
Wayne: Yes. The acorn shape was something that I pre-tested with my– I had a small email list of people that were following the project and it wasn’t even going through the website at that point. It was just something that I kept my own little private list and I asked them, “Which one do you prefer? Do you prefer a modern look or a more rustic look?”
Almost everybody went for the rustic look. Among those two things, the acorn shape that I floated out there was the one that tested the best. Even with my beta testers, the positive reaction was almost universal. Everybody loved the look of it. They recognized what it was right away. Even though it’s three inches in diameter, it’s big for an acorn.
John: It’s a big acorn, yes.
Wayne: I even worried about the squirrels being interested in this thing, but they–
John: There’s like teeth marks all over. [chuckles]
Wayne: Fortunately, they didn’t see it as an acorn, but it caused all kinds of problems with getting a battery that was big enough to fit inside of that because now you have a curved enclosure. How do you hold the battery?
The first quotes that I got back from injection molders were really high because they were having to do side actions to get this thing to come out of the molds.
It was harder to secure the custom PCB that we came up with. It’s just one thing after another that had to be solved. At that part, I really don’t regret it. It’s going to cost me more for tooling, but I do like the look of it.
Could I have gotten away with just a simple round ball or something? Probably, but this is one case where it did cause a lot of problems. I think in the end, it’s going to be worth it.
John: Well, the key is to ideally know what the impacts of any decisions are going to be down the road. As long as you understand them that this is going to add a lot of complexity, but it’s a really important feature, then you can make that decision to move forward.
The worst cases, if you think you have a feature that you’re not quite sure about but you find out later that it’s going to be really complicated to add, then that’s not a good situation. It’s best if you can know the impact of those decisions and now where you have all the data so you can make the right decision upfront.
Wayne: I think it’s arguably high on the list of nice-to-haves. Could I sell it with something more simple? Probably, but I think this is probably going to work for me pretty well.
John: Yes. Because either way, you probably would have had to have a custom enclosure made of some sort. If you can get by with a stock enclosure, that’s always going to make your life so much easier. For something like this, just having a square probably wouldn’t have been that great of an enclosure for this product, I imagine.
Wayne: Well, part of it needs to be waterproof or at least weatherproof. The thinking behind the way this thing was designed was if the water would shed down the sides. Underneath where the microphone and all the ports are is raised up a bit, so it makes like a little drip lip around the edge. Where the ports are, that’s recessed even further and then there’s a rubber boot that goes over that.
Now, you have to figure out how to get this thing– You’re holding a flat PCB in what’s essentially a spherical enclosure. Now, you have to figure out, how are you going to hold that thing and secure it and slide it in so that it engages the holes in the bottom of the housing? Around and around and around we go.
John: This is a perfect example of something that sounds fairly simple. Let’s make it an acorn shape instead of square around, but there’s all these other little issues that that opens up that you’ve discovered.
Wayne: You don’t know what you don’t know until you get bitten by it, right?
John: Yes. That’s for sure. Okay. Your lesson learned number one was to keep it simple. I couldn’t agree more. I’m always pushing MVP. The main new things I’m really encouraging people to do is spend a significant amount of time upfront before they start custom-design to try to simplify that product down as simple as possible and still meet the requirements for features that they absolutely have to have.
Simplify, simplify, simplify is always good. Number two, you’ve got experience costs more on the front side but less on the backside. Can you maybe explain what you mean by that?
Wayne: Yes. This is probably the part where I should give a shout-out to you and the Hardware Academy because the free expertise that we get, I guess it’s not free, there’s a monthly charge for it, right? The level of expertise that we get in the Hardware Academy is really hard to find everywhere else and a lot more expensive, right? We have people that are just hanging out in there.
Some of them are official parts of the program, but then there’s the whole community that jumps in and really helps out. Use as much free advice as you can or inexpensive advice. There’s nowhere better than the Hardware Academy. Any one of the answers that I’ve gotten in there would have probably cost me a heck of a lot more somewhere else, so kudos to you for that.
John: Well, thank you for that, yes. I, of course, agree that there are some amazing experts in there. I’m always amazed because there’s a lot of them that aren’t really doing it so much. They’re not trying to get work or I’m not paying them or anything like that. They just do it because they enjoy helping people and they have a lot of knowledge.
That’s not the case with everyone. There are some of them who are contractors or whatever. Just the amount of advice and feedback you can get from these people, many of them charging over $100 or more an hour versus you’re getting access to them for $49 a month.
Wayne: Yes. There’s other places that you can get. Some like business advice. I started off with the SCORE mentor, the Small Business Administration program.
John: I did the same thing.
Wayne: They were really helpful because when I had to sit down and explain my project, it’s one of these things where it’s all in your head, right? When you have to start telling somebody what it is, you start stumbling over yourself.
After they listened quietly and patiently for about 15 minutes, one of them holds his hand up and says, “You need a business plan. You need to formalize this and figure out, answer these five questions.” That helped me tremendously to sit down and have to quantify this whole thing.
I started doing mind maps and just laying it all out so that it first made sense to me and that I could explain it to somebody else. I worked with some incubator programs like through, here’s another shout-out, Leo Daiuto over at Penn State Great Valley. They have a program that used to be called REV-UP. Now, it’s called LaunchBox, where they’re formalizing it. They have advisors as well that don’t cost anything. They’ve had a little pitch competition that I’ve done a couple of times now. Last time, I didn’t really get on the podium. The first time, I came in third.
John: Yes, I remember that.
Wayne: That’s another thing. It helps you clarify, right? If you only have five minutes to explain your thing to investors, boy, you better be clear about what it’s about.
John: That is true. You can gain a lot of knowledge by working on that elevator pitch and getting that fine-tuned. I personally have always found that explaining something is the best way to learn it. I can know something until I know it pretty well. When I go to explain it to someone else, either I’ll realize certain things I don’t know or it just reinforces what I do know.
Wayne: Finding a mentor, however you do it whether it’s through your network or through one of these organizations, is really important. In fact, a good friend of mine and my former college roommate, Carlos Navarro, is my marketing guru, so just like look at your own network of people. There’s probably people in there who either directly have the skills that you don’t have or know somebody that can put you in touch with.
John: Yes, and odds are you’re going to need a lot of people. It’s really hard to find someone that has all the knowledge. Like SCORE, I found it’s really great for getting people that have business knowledge and have run businesses. At the time, I don’t think I was able to find an advisor that had done a hardware startup, for instance.
I don’t know if that was the case when– I don’t know if your mentor had hardware startup experience or not. Mine didn’t. He had product experience working for large companies and he had business experience having his own business, but he didn’t know anything necessarily about the specifics of hardware development. That’s why you need a lot of advisors, a lot of experts.
Wayne: The first advisor that I met with invited a second one on and he did have manufacturing experience from industry.
John: Sometimes at work, you get one and then it can spread from there as you get– They can refer you to other people.
Wayne: Right. They introduced me to the REV-UP program. It was very new at the time. I don’t even think it had been around for a year. It was good. I wasn’t at a point at that time where they could help me with the hardware part of it because that was before I even had a business plan or I knew exactly what the feature set was going to be.
Another shout-out to you. Doing that whole process of you gathering enough information to do the Predictable Hardware Report was also really useful because it helped me solidify some things and solve a couple of problems that enabled me to go wireless. Because at the time, I don’t know if you remember, but I was actually thinking about doing this wired.
John: That sounds familiar. I remember that.
Wayne: Again, you just have to have some conversations with people who know more than you do. You got to figure out what your strengths are, right? Maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Where you’re weak, you find experts for free if you can. If not, go find the best person that you can afford at your stage of the business.
John: I think it’s always a good idea to try to focus more on the big picture when you’re first starting out. That was my goal of the hardware report and the academy was to help people look at the big picture and try to map out their strategy and their product definition before they just jump into the details of development.
They get excited by the idea of getting that prototype and they want to skip a lot of the stuff upfront and just hire an engineer and say, “Hey, make me a prototype.” That will typically come back to bite you later. It’s definitely time well-spent upfront. The big picture, simplify where you can and just know what the path is that’s ahead of you.
Wayne: I think a lot of people that are attracted to the Hardware Academy are already in that cycle. They’re already on the hamster wheel. They’re working the process to come up with the hardware. I really think that you have other resources on the site too that I would almost want to direct people to start with the marketing part. Make sure that your idea is not an answer to a question nobody’s asking.
I’ve known people that have just gone crazy. They think this is the greatest idea and they run right in a bit. The second thing, they do runs. They run right and get a patent on it, which is why 95% of the patents that are out there never get made, right? Because then they find out that, “Oh, yes, it’s a really novel and unique idea.” Unfortunately, nobody wants it.
John: I think everyone focuses on the product, the product, the product, the product. That’s where just all the emphasis is. They’re just building a product when, reality, you’re building a business. First of all, your priority should be the customer, not your product. You have to build a business around that product and not just a product.
That’s something that I want to be a big part of the academy’s– a lot of people will– I’ve seen people have the misunderstanding that the academy is just for engineers that are wanting to develop their own product. That’s definitely not the case. That’s a big part of it, but it’s also about the business side of sales and marketing and logistics and manufacturing and operations and all the other stuff that goes into having this be a success beyond just a product.
Wayne: Being an entrepreneur is like the Everglades, right? It’s about 500 miles wide and about two inches deep. How much time you have for anything, right?
Wayne: I listened to a lot of podcasts. It’s one of the things I do when I’m on the track or cutting the grass with my noise-canceling headset.
John: Yes, me too. I’m a podcast fanatic. I love it because I can learn on the go and I’m like, “Hey, I can learn while I exercise and drive. This is great.”
Wayne: There’s a lot of them out there. One of the ones I like, this guy named Stu McLaren. He does one called Marketing Your Business podcast.
John: I don’t Know Stu personally, but I’ve listened to the podcast.
Wayne: You should probably do his TRIBE program. One of the things he said the other day is he was very specific about what it is we do. There’s three questions you have to answer for your customers and it’s, what is the problem you’re solving, how are you solving it better than everybody else, and what’s life going to be like when they buy your product? If you don’t start there, you can waste a whole lot of money coming up with something that is really not quite right or just not something anybody wants at all. You have to start there.
John: Yes, absolutely. It takes a lot of practice to get that marketing message right. The best way to do that is also to be working really closely with your customers. The better you understand them, the better you can frame your marketing message, and then everything just becomes clear for everyone else.
Wayne: Yes, absolutely.
John: Okay. Number three, although now, I’m numbering them and I said I wasn’t. The third one is listed is the true cost is somewhere between your high and low bids.
Wayne: Well, other than you don’t want to take the low bidder all the time because sometimes there’s a reason there’s a low bidder. In my case, I went out for some engineering reviews. One of the folks that I asked for a close quoted me 110 or $120,000. It was just so far out of my budget that I just couldn’t afford to do it.
I went with a middle-of-the-road quote and, still, I got almost all of what I needed. Again, probably part of the reason that those guys at the high end were charging what they were charging was because they realized upfront that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing either and they were going to have to walk me through the entire process.
John: I think that’s definitely true to some extent. You’re right. You definitely do not want to go with the low-end. I’ve had several people, new members in the academy mentioned the website Fiverr, which I’d never used. Apparently, you can hire people really cheap on there to do various jobs.
Wayne: If you know what you’re doing, yes.
John: That may be okay for a really quick job. If it’s just a one-off little piece of a job or something or if you know what you’re doing. To go that route if you fully developed a product and not knowing really what you’re doing, it’s just a nightmare.
Both of those members ended up just losing their money. I think one of them was able to dispute it and get his money back, but they still wasted time and money and never got anything delivered.
That’s so common. You’ll find people that are giving you a low estimate. They’re likely new. Either new to engineering or perhaps they just lost their full-time job and they’re doing freelance work.
They’ll give you a low price because they don’t want to scare you away. I don’t think they’re necessarily being dishonest, but they’re being overly optimistic probably that everything is going to go just perfectly which, as you know and I know, it never goes perfectly.
Wayne: No. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
John: Yes. If it seems to be too good to be true, then you’re probably being scammed or ripped off or something like that.
Wayne: Yes, or you just don’t know what they’re offering you.
John: Yes, absolutely.
Wayne: Including a way to bang out 10 different logos for you to consider for $5 apiece, that’s probably a good use of that.
John: Yes, absolutely. For really little simple jobs that can just be off by themselves, then I think a website like that is fine. For a massive project that, first of all, is going to require multiple engineers working on it and so much management and everything, that’s the worst way I think to get a product developed is to go through some really cheap website like that.
Wayne: In my case, there were a few things that I had to go back and get fixed. In my case, I got a very can-do attitude, but maybe some of those things were out of their strong skill set. I ended up having to have a guy redesign the injection molds files for me. He was pretty clever. I think it was maybe a couple of grand. That increased my costs probably by 10% though over what I was hoping to spend for my engineering.
The next few things that came along, I have to change a couple of other things. Now, I’m spending some money to fix this noise problem. Whatever the low bid is, just understand it. If you go that way, you’re probably going to have to spend some money to plug some holes, right?
John: Yes. I think that’s a good point. You can maybe go that route to get a very crude prototype that you just want to do some testing, but you’re going to have to throw more money to get it to the level being something that can be produced in any type of quantity.
Wayne: I think some of the resources on the Hardware Academy with the reference list, the different vendors, that’s probably a really good place to start. There’s probably a good range of things. Send the quotes out there and see what comes back and then have some conversations.
Ask them some pointed questions, see what kind of projects they’ve done. If they haven’t done a project that’s similar to yours, at least in the complexity level, you maybe want to look at something else, right?
John: It’s definitely not something I recommend that you just find someplace and just go with who you think is going to be the best. It’s always best, pretty much anything, if you can get referrals ideally from prior clients of theirs, but also from other engineers that have worked with them.
I think both of those can be really beneficial. That’s obviously something you can get in the academy for at least the firms and the freelancers that we’ve worked with.
Obviously, I have the list of recommended developers and freelancers that either I’ve worked with or other members, but then there’s also reviews and stuff that I’ve added recently where members can leave reviews of different freelancers and firms.
John: Okay, that’s it for part 1 of my conversation with Wayne Frick of ChirpSounds. Be sure to tune in next week for part 2 of my conversation.
Other content you may like:
- Episode #22 – Hard Earned Lessons Learned with Wayne Frick of ChirpSounds – Part 2
- Introduction to Online Marketing and Audience Building
- Episode #18 – Development Costs for Hardware Startups
- The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for Hardware Startups
- Should I Keep My Product Idea a Secret to Prevent It From Being Stolen?