In my podcast today I speak again 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 second half of our conversation. See episode #21 for the first part of our conversation.
Podcast MP3: Download
Wayne Frick of ChirpSounds
John Teel: Today, I’m speaking again 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.
My conversation with Wayne lasted for nearly 1.5 hours so I have split it up into two episodes. Last week in episode #21 you heard the first part, and this week we’ll be listening to part 2 of my conversation with Wayne Frick of Chirpsounds.
So let’s jump right into the second part of my conversation.
John: Okay. Well, let’s jump on to the next one, which is, “Being organized is hard, but being disorganized is harder.” Can you maybe explain what you mean there or give an example?
Wayne Frick: Yes. Well, we already talked about when I first sat down with my SCORE mentors and they watched my eyes darting around. They could just see that I was chasing the mental squirrels.
I think one of the things that I did early on that they recommended was to just try to write a business plan. There’s tools like mind mapping which, if you don’t know what that is, you put your main product in the middle and then there’s different things and little bubbles around it.
One bubble might be product development, one might be marketing, one might be the business end of things like financing and who’s your team going to be and what’s your whatever.
I started going down one of the bubble routes. You can collapse everything else but what you’re working on, which was really useful for me. I had the paralysis-by-analysis thing going on. In my head, it was just such an enormous project that I didn’t know where to start. It didn’t start at all.
John: It’s pretty overwhelming.
Wayne: It is, yes. Mind mapping helps you focus just on– All right. Now, you have this bubble that says “product.” Now, you can populate that with, “All right. Well, what about the product? Who is the market? How am I going to reach them? What is the–” Of course, that’s probably on the marketing bubble eventually, but you just start getting things down on paper or in this computer thing.
What is the shape going to look like? What kind of plastic is it? What are the features that are necessary? In my case, it was long-range Bluetooth. It has to be weatherproof.
I wanted to get a week out of a charge, right? All of these different things and then when you’re not working on something, you can just collapse it and then that’s not on your mind. It helps you really focus.
John: That’s great. It definitely requires a lot of focus because there are so many– As you just explained, there’s so many things that you have to manage. It can just be overwhelming and people will bounce between them and then you don’t end up really getting anything done.
It’s much more efficient typically if you can focus on one area or one task and get that done before you jump to the next one instead of just bouncing all over the place.
Wayne: You have to break it down to the things that you can do, right? I can’t do this whole project. When I got it down to the point where, “All right. I can answer some of these questions about the enclosure, so let me work on that,” and then gives you something you can do today.
It’s just taking these major steps and what will eventually be major milestones. Breaking them down into maybe monthly then into weekly and daily things and just moving the ball incrementally, I think, is the way to do it. Just keep consistent, little actions that will eventually get to where you’re going.
John: I commonly say that you have to have a plan for developing hardware product. It’s just too complicated to just wing it and just make it up as you go along that you find yourself redoing– things are having to be redone and you’re going down the wrong path. It’s just so much better if you have a plan upfront. Even, ideally, a written plan, I think, is essential.
It doesn’t have to necessarily be something ready to show investors that that’s not something you’re doing, but going through the process of creating the plan is very important. In fact, I have a blog coming out on that topic this Thursday. It’s a blog on developing a business plan for hardware startup. It’s definitely important. The other comment that I agree with you is it’s much better to make a lot of small steps.
It’s like if you just are trying to make these giant leaps, not only are you setting yourself up for a lot of risk, but it also just becomes a lot more overwhelming. You feel like okay, “I didn’t accomplish that giant step this week. I’m not accomplishing anything.”
It’s much better to just to take a lot of small steps and constantly every day or at least every week trying to be doing something that’s getting you closer to the goals even if it’s just really small steps.
Wayne: If you’ve ever funded a really popular Kickstarter or Indiegogo and then waited 18 months for the product, [chuckles] you know how that all works, right?
Wayne: Once they get everybody all jazzed up about the marketing pitch that they made, now they have to back up and do all the things we’re talking about. The punting, passing, and kicking, right?
John: Yes. A lot of them have given zero thought to that until they’ve had this successful crowdfunding campaign like that. I’ve seen it many times.
Wayne: What do you mean it’s 12 weeks for this display? You promised people two months from now.
John: I thought I could have this done in three months. You end up with a lot of very unhappy funders for your campaign. I think it’s better if you can get to the point of at least having a prototype before you do a crowdfunding campaign. There’s just too many unknowns if all you have is an idea and you’re trying to say, “I’m going to develop this idea and get it manufactured in one year.” It’s just too many unknowns.
Wayne: Yes. You can also grow yourself to debt too. There’s a lot of cash flow issues that go with that too. If you think about– I don’t know. Pick a number. I’m not sure specifically where they’re going to end up, but pick a number. Say you’re selling it for $100 and it’s $50 and you want to make 1,000 of them. I wasn’t really good at math. That’s why I majored in biology, but that’s $50,000, right?
Everybody wants to be a Kickstarter success and sell hundreds of thousands of units right away, but the way I see it now is I want to get all my beta testers chanting in unison, “Heck, yes, we love this thing,” and then maybe do a short run.
Even though it’s going to cost me more money to do it, there’s problems and things that I’m working out as I go. Now, I have 100 units, then maybe go out to the people on my mailing list.
I have almost 300 people on my email list. Now, offer it to them first. Once that goes well and you stay in touch with those people and make sure that they’re all chanting, “Heck, yes,” you’re working on setting up your other things like, “How do you answer tech support questions when you have a full-time job?”
You have to put something in place to have like health tickets and things that you can keep track of all that.
All of those back-office things that once you shift from the product development thing into the business part of it, you have to think those things ahead too. That’s where having a mentor and meeting with them regularly, they say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up. Tell me how you’re going to do that again?” [chuckles] You make these ridiculous claims and it’s like, “You better sit down and rethink that one.”
John: Sometimes just getting this stuff out of your head is really the best way to realize the flaws in your thinking. If you can have a mentor, that’s great because I’m sure– I don’t know your situation, but I know when I was a hardware entrepreneur, my wife got sick and tired of hearing me talk about the product all the time. Eventually, it’s nice if you can have someone else that you can bounce your ideas off of and get those thoughts out of your head. Sometimes just saying them out loud, you even realized that that’s not very realistic what I’m saying.
Wayne: My wife has been infinitely patient. I actually took her with me to a show that I did. It was a birding festival. We only did five days, but it went on for 10 days. She had to get spun up quickly in the booth.
We had our nice shirts on with logos and a nice backdrop and all that stuff, but getting to get that little marketing talk worked out when people come up and ask questions, “What is it?” That’s almost the hardest question when–
John: Yes. [chuckles]
Wayne: How do you answer that concisely, right? It’s just you have to work all of these things out. If you try to go too fast, you’re just going to get overwhelmed with all the things that you have to try to do.
John: Absolutely. A couple of comments on a couple of things you have said is I definitely think it’s a good idea to increase your production volume in small stages. It’s really tempting to want to go up to a heart. Instead of 100 units, you’re like, “Oh, wow, the pricing is so much better with 1,000 units and I can make more profit.” That’s typically the wrong way to do it. It’s much better to start with small and just keep stepping it up. Don’t worry so much about profit in the beginning.
Instead, just worry about minimizing your risk because one thing– As you mentioned earlier, each time you make more units or you increase the production volume, new problems tend to show up. If you go from 10 units to 10,000, now you may have just had a problem that you didn’t see in the first 10 units but now is showing up and one out of 11 units of your 1,000 that you’ve just had produced, so always go up in small production volumes. You had mentioned cash flow and wanting to do crowdfunding to purchase inventory.
I just want to quickly say that there are typically, I think, other better ways of finding inventory. Not necessarily development costs, but finding inventory. For instance, there’s things like purchase order financing, invoice factoring. One of my favorites is manufacturer financing.
You just get the manufacturer to finance it by giving you better payment terms, which is what I was able to do. I convinced my manufacturer to give me payment terms that were longer than my customers. That allowed me to get paid by my customers before I had to pay the manufacturer. That just eliminated cash flow. Just a couple of random tips I wanted to throw in there based on some of the points that you had raised.
Wayne: Let’s face it. If the market gets bad enough, depending on what’s going on in the market, it might be somebody you know has things that they’ve gotten out of stocks and things. They have some money that’s parked aside and not really sure what to do with it. If you are pretty confident in your product and you can deliver a decent return to them, heck, they might be able to make a percent more than they’re making in their bank account. Who knows?
John: Yes, maybe. Probably, they’ll want to make a lot more than just a percent because any investment in a startup is going to be risky.
Wayne: Yes, initiative upfront.
John: Yes. Okay. Let’s jump on to the next one. We hit two and that one much was being organized is better and then start with a plan and break it down into major milestones and then smaller steps. Next is when building an audience, you need to keep in touch with a certain frequency with that audience. I have a lot to say on this one, but I’ll let you go first.
Wayne: Yes. That’s part of the organization thing. Again, through the local SCORE program, I met a lady that did a few seminars for free. Obviously, she’s trying to increase her business as well, but she’s obviously an expert in this. She was talking about all the different tools and what are the different types of social media platforms, what are the best thing– how would you use them, right?
Instagram is a good thing for showing the behind-the-scenes of what’s going at your business. Twitter is good for quick updates and Facebook is all these different things. One of the things she mentioned was a tool that helps you schedule these things. Maybe you spend an hour or two hours or whatever getting all of your content lined up, creating the things that you’re going to post, and then you just have a tickler system.
Well, I’m supposed to do Instagram every three days and you send your things out every three days and she said, “You should spend a certain amount of time being part of the community.
People don’t want to hear from people that just show up to sell stuff. If you’re not part of the community, they’re not going to be listening to you.” All those things, it’s just little tips like automation and things like that. It’s all comes down to being organized.
John: That also all applies to your email list as far as needing to stay in contact with your email list. Just very similar to social media. One thing you cannot do is you can’t get people on your email list and there’s all this emphasis on how big is your email list.
Well, if you just get those people on your email list and then you never talk to them until you have something you’re ready to sell, you might as well not have them on your list.
They’ll have no idea who you are when they get that sales email from you. You need to stay in regular contact because with business and everything, it’s all about building trust and you have to build trust through building a relationship.
The best way to do that is to stay in regular communication with them. Don’t get people on your email list and then think, “Okay. Well, I’m not going to email them or send them updates.
You don’t even want to get to a point where you’re saying, “Now, I’m just going to send an update every quarter, every three months or something.” That’s not going to be sufficient.
You got to stay in regular contact with them. The same applies to social media, although my emphasis has always been more on the email list. I just find that it has an ROI or return on investment much, much higher than social media does.
Wayne: Sure. Social media is fickle, right? People’s attention spans are short and they’re constantly changing and so you have to keep your ear to the ground and see, what are people using? I don’t even know what TikTok is. [laughs]
John: I’ve heard of it. I don’t know what it is either. Pretty much everything, I know about social media is through listening to things about online marketing. I’m not into social media at all other than– I don’t use Facebook except for business. I don’t use Twitter. I don’t use any of them except for business.
Wayne: Well, as soon as the adults start figuring out these things, the kids are moving on looking for something else because they don’t want us there.
John: Yes, absolutely. It becomes uncool once the parents are there.
John: Okay. That point, lesson learned, was basically in regards to building an audience. If you’re listening to this and you haven’t started building an audience, do that now. You don’t have to wait until your product’s done. Do not wait until your product’s done because it takes marketing. It’s just as difficult as product development. Why not do them at the same time and start building your audience now?
Wayne: If you’re not talking to your audience, how do you know your product’s the right thing?
John: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. The worst place an entrepreneur can be is inside their own head because that’s where you start making all these invalid assumptions and that’s just the worst place.
Speak to your audience or your customers or your market, whatever you want to call them, but you got to get that conversation outside your own head.
Wayne: That dovetails what we were talking about before with the patent thing. I think a lot of people clam up and they get really nervous about telling anybody their idea.
One of the things that– and this probably should have been a major point now that I think about it, but it’s really hard to imagine anybody else that doesn’t have my commitment and passion to this thing, going through what I have had to go through to get to where I am right now.
Wayne: It’s just hard to believe. In the beginning, I was getting non-disclosure agreements with everybody and what a waste of time.
John: You’ve really hit on an important point. It’s until you’ve been through this process and you realize, “Okay. You have to be insanely passionate to make this happen that people aren’t going to just steal your idea because no one believes in it like you do. No one has that passion to make it a reality, except the founder in most cases.
Wayne: Yes, because we’re just too stubborn, don’t know when to quit. You just stick with it.
John: Yes. It takes a specific type of person to be an entrepreneur. You definitely have to be insanely determined and passionate and all of those things.
Wayne: You find that fun, right? Solving problems is the fun part of it.
John: Yes. I don’t want to make this seem like it’s all work and no fun. It’s a blast. It’s extremely exciting. I’ll take the life of an entrepreneur, the ups and the downs, over just working a 9:00 to 5:00 job that I’ve been at for 30 years. I’ll take the uncertainty and the excitement factor of being an entrepreneur. It’s good sides and bad sides.
Wayne: Right. The only thing that is certain is uncertainty.
John: Yes, that is for sure. You might as well embrace it. [laughs]
Wayne: Exactly. Embrace the chaos.
John: Yes, exactly.[laughter]
John: Okay. Well, let’s move on to the next one, which is a really good one. It takes longer than you think, it takes much longer than you think. I think that’s a very valid statement and that’s true. We can see that in all types of projects.
For instance, you think of NASA projects or really big projects like that. They’re never on time and they’re never on budget. It’s just the way that it is when you’re doing something new that hasn’t been done before. It’s really difficult to forecast exactly how long it’s going to take and exactly how much it’s going to cost. Like you said, it’s going to cost more and it’s going to take longer than most likely what you think it’s going to take.
Wayne: Yes. I guess going back to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses and higher where you’re weak, you have to determine those things. I think I spend a lot of time trying to get spun up on things.
I go talk to the development engineers and they would ask me a question. It’s like we’re talking about apps back when I was chasing after that whole thing. I was like, “Wireframes. Let me get back to you on that.” I guess then–
John: Google, “What are wireframes?” [laughs]
Wayne: Yes, and then I go down that rabbit hole and go chase those squirrels. I’d read for half a morning or whatever and then I would have to go do my chores. I go back and say, “Okay. I understand what you’re saying now,” then you have to answer the question they asked you, which takes a whole different path of thought, “Hey, what do you want your app to look like?” That’s what the wireframes are. What are they? All right. Now, how do I answer that?” Everything takes a lot longer because you’re trying to learn all this stuff for the first time.
I think if you have a lot more money, maybe you have some investors or maybe you’ve spent a lot of years saving up the money to do something like this, then maybe you can bring more people on and have a team of people and just trust them to do their jobs. It can take some things off of your plate.
If you’re doing it by yourself and you’re trying to do it on a shoestring like most of us are, just understand that whatever you think you’re timeline is, you can probably double it or triple it.
John: Yes, absolutely. I just want to stress that I do agree. If you’re not outsourcing or having someone else do it, then even if you are, you need to know the basics. You need to know what a wireframe is. You need to know the language to be able to manage the people that are working for you. It gets a little better if you hire a large firm and then they will take care of some of that internal management, but then that can be a more pricey option.
Regardless, I don’t care what way you go about getting your product developed. It’s going to take longer than you think. It’s like when I was a design engineer for TI, Texas Instruments, involved in numerous projects with some of the best engineers and huge teams of engineers with all this experience. I never once saw a product that finished on schedule. It’s just–
Wayne: It’s humbling.
John: It’s just the way it is. It doesn’t happen. I think I may be told this story in another podcast recently, but I remember one project where an engineer comes up to me and he was all excited. He’s like, “I think this is going to be a first pass success. I’ve not found any problems. I think we’re going to be able to go straight to production.” Literally, like days later or a week later, just all hell broke loose. Basically, the design of the scrap and they had to start it over. [chuckles]
Wayne: Here’s a fun tip. If you want to know exactly when it’s going to go off the rails and your timeline is going to stretch out, you can tell because when you tell somebody when the thing is going to be available, just get ready because that’s when your–
John: Oh, yes. When you start making promises of when it’s going to be ready, yes.
Wayne: I’ve given up. People ask me, “Well, when’s this thing going to be ready in the market?” It’s like, “Well, we’re targeting,” and that’s about as far as I’ll go.
John: That’s definitely the nature of the beast, I think.
Wayne: Whatever you think it is, you’re wrong. The only question is, how wrong?
John: That’s probably a pretty valid statement in a lot of ways, I think. Okay. The next one that you’ve got is, “The things you assume will be easy will bite you later,” and you’ve got some examples of those. I’ll let you share maybe a few of the examples.
Wayne: Some of my examples were– I thought finding a battery was going to be easy, but it had to check a bunch of boxes. It had to work in the cold. It had to have a certain amount of energy density so that it could run for at least a week. It had to have a little connector on it. It had to have leads on it. It had to be certified. You can’t just ship lithium batteries around anymore because they have this nasty habit of bursting into flames.
I started that process and started going around and around and around. I think you actually recommended the company that I ultimately ended up going with. Even that wasn’t a bumpy thing because now, you’ve got a language barrier.
They’re halfway around the world. They’re on exactly the opposite time zones as us. Just trying to get a specification out there that they understand and then the pricing starts coming back and it’s three times what you thought it was going to be.
I was like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” Well, what else can we do? Now, I finally ended up settling on an 18650 format cylindrical battery because they’re made in the millions. This company that I’m using, Shenzhen Power or something, you put me in touch with them. They take a standard Samsung cell. They put the protection circuit on it, put the leads on it and a little connector and that’s what they’re going to ship you.
It’s twice what I thought it was going to be, but it’s okay. It works. If I have a supply chain issue down the road where they say that they can’t get that cell anymore, I can get something else just like it. Off-the-shelf parts helps you a lot. That whole process, by the way, it took six weeks to get my sample order placed and then another four weeks, I think, to get the samples.
John: Like you had mentioned, there are certifications for lithium batteries for shipping them. There’s a certification for that, but there’s also just a safety certification that you have to get that is– Typically, I recommend using a pre-certified battery instead of having that done on your own. In a case where you have to develop your own, you need a custom-shaped battery or something custom. You’ll probably have to have that certified.
Wayne: That’s something else. You have to figure it out. What testing do you need? What are the certifications that you have to have? There’s a difference between shipping a bare battery and shipping it as part of equipment. It has a different specification. What I did was the Samsung cell had the IEC. I can’t remember the numbers of five–
Wayne: Yes. I think that’s the one and then the UN 38.3–
John: For shipping, yes.
Wayne: They’re only adding more protection to those. I am not planning on getting those tested. I think everyone I’ve talked to said that’s okay. That was one example. Selecting a plastic or you get on these sites for Protolabs or 3D Hubs or any of the places that will quote you based on your injection molding files. First thing they ask you is, “What plastic do you want to use?” I’m like, “Good question.” [chuckles] “What’s available?”
John: You’re like, “I’ll take the good plastic.”
Wayne: Yes. “What’s available? What’s at my price point?” My case, I needed something that wasn’t brittle in the cold either to be UV stable because it’s going to sit out there in the sunlight. You don’t want to get it all crusty-looking. It has to be able to come in the colors that I need and reasonably priced. I don’t want to be compounding special color runs and having to buy thousands of pounds of this stuff. In the end, I found one that checked all the boxes, except for the color. I just decided that it was cheaper just to paint them afterward.
John: That’s what you’re doing now? You’re doing a secondary step where you paint them?
Wayne: Well, that’s the current thinking. That’s what we did with the prototypes and it worked out pretty well. You can use any kind of off-the-shelf plastic that does all of the other things and not have to worry about doing a special color compounding or anything else.
John: What plastic did you end up going with? Do you know?
Wayne: Lustran 433, I think it was. I’d have to look up that number to be sure.
John: Do you know? Is it like an ABS plastic or a polycarbonate or–
Wayne: I think it’s ABS, but I’d have to look it up.
John: Probably ABS based on, I think, what you described. It sounds like it could be ABS. I don’t know that specific resin. It’s been a while since I dealt with specific plastic resins and there are hundreds, if not thousands of them to choose from. I suspect you found.
Wayne: It’s another series of conversations with another series of experts and then you get that all worked out and it’s like, “Oh, well, heck. You can 3D print with that. Now what?” [chuckles]
You shift to the next question. It’s overlapping compromises and series of questions and they all dovetail together. Eventually, you get to your third or fourth product and it probably is easy for you. The first time through, you’re just taking the training wheels off.
John: Yes, absolutely. That’s why it’s good to envision that there’s going to be more than one product for your company because it’s very rare for a company to be successful just on one single product.
Also, the second products tend to be a little bit easier because you’ve learned so much from the first one. I’m sure for you, you’ve learned so many things from this first product that would benefit you during your second product, which is obviously what we’re talking about here.
Wayne: The next thing probably will be a receiver version because I did have the circuit board designed so that it could be populated either way as a transmitter or a receiver. It’s different firmware, but you have an–
John: Different enclosure, I assume as well.
Wayne: Yes, a different enclosure. It doesn’t need the waterproof enclosure because that part would be inside of it. Almost like a dongle that you could adapt to any speaker or stereo system to talk to the unit outside. On the other hand, there are off-the-shelf things that will do that.
They’re reasonably priced. I’m debating whether I even really want to go down that road because I’m not really sure that the market wants it, but that’s the thing. I get version one of the transmitter out there. Now, I have a lot more people that I can ask, “Do you think this would be useful? Here’s where I think it could be useful. What do you think?”
John: Well, I think you were very smart and not going that route for your first version. It’s like that’s the best way to simplify a product or the worst way to make it more complicated is now you’re developing two products even though you’ve got– or you can still use the same basic hardware board as a receiver or transmitter, but you’ve got two enclosures, two sets of firmware, two sets of certifications. Just everything gets doubled.
That’s a really good way to simplify a product is if you have a receiver or you need a display. Instead, use a Bluetooth speaker or a smartphone instead of having a custom second device, at least for your first version.
Wayne: Learn a bit about Bluetooth. There’s lots of units. One of the things that I wanted was the long-range and low power usage. I found out that it’s not so simple. I was just finding a Class 1 Bluetooth that’s pre-certified. I bet those are the major things. It also needs to have the right profiles.
My unit has to be the smart-end of the connection. It sits out there and says, “I’m here. Is there anybody to connect with?” which is very different from what a speaker does, which just dumbly answers. My device has to be like the smartphone and finding that combination of things was difficult to do. We did find that one guy and then he made promises. What’s that phrase from Top Gun? “Your ego is writing checks. Your promises–” or “Your ego is writing checks. Your body can’t cash,” or something.
John: [chuckles] I don’t remember. It’s been a while since I saw Top Gun.
Wayne: Yes, me too.
John: I get the point. I get the point. [chuckles]
Wayne: He had lots of units to ship for people that weren’t using that functionality and he had never finished it, although it was still on the sales pitch, right?
Wayne: After we had redesigned or designed our product around it, we found out that he just couldn’t deliver it. I had to start all over again, doubled the timeline, right?
John: Yes. That “start over again,” that’s a little phrase I hear quite frequently for different aspects. I mentioned the other person in the academy was sharing his lessons learned from his first product and at least a couple of points. I think he had to start over two different times.
That’s the determination it takes because like you were saying, you’ve got to be insanely passionate and determined because there are going to be just obstacles after obstacles. You got to learn to plow them down and just keep on going.
Wayne: Yes. If you just keep reading and participate, read the posts on the Hardware Academy. I’ve learned a lot just right there people posting similar questions and some of the answers that come back from the experts. A lot of times, there’s a little nugget in there for me too.
John: Yes. You’ve got to be in constant learning mode. Whether it’s just figuring out your business plan or figuring out what a wireframe is, you have to be someone that likes to learn and isn’t intimidated by having to learn new things because that’s just definitely part of it.
Wayne: Yes. The surprising thing was I’ve learned a lot of things even from products that are just vastly different from mine, but the same processes that have to be overcome, putting things in place to get them made. I think it’s useful to read as much of that as you have time for. Just keep–
John: I also recommend, you reminded me, is doing teardowns of other products. Find a product just as close as you can to yours, if not that’s similar, but at least something that’s moderately close. Just take the products apart and you can really learn a lot by doing that.
You may not be able to understand all the functions on the printed circuit board, but you can just see all the little details that go into making everything fit together. There’s a lot that can be learned. I’ve done one teardown of an Amazon Dot, but I’ve wanted to do more of these. They tend to be rather time-consuming to do, so I haven’t had the time yet. If you want to learn a lot, that’s a good way to do it, is tear down other products.
Wayne: Sure it is.
John: The next lesson learned, I think we have paused on that, but we’ve already touched on this and that’s, “You don’t know what you don’t know and you’re going to be constantly in a state of learning.”
Wayne: Yes. That’s where your team of mentors and advisors and– You can get advice from contract manufacturers who are interested in making your product for you. Try to get as much free advice as you can. Where you can’t, find people you trust.
We have lots of resources in the academy where you can find experts that can help you with any of those things. I would suggest posting them first. If it gets beyond what can be handled in the forums, I think it’s reasonable to reach out to those folks and say, “Hey, I’d like to get some of your time on the clock and get this fixed in a hurry.”
John: Yes, absolutely. You can ask questions in the community that all the experts and myself can see and other members or you can always reach out to me privately if you want just my feedback on something confidential.
There’s also you always can reach out to any of the experts privately. Most of them, your first question, they’re not going to send you a bill for, so you can get some information out of them. Up to a point, you’ll need to hire them privately if you wanted to pursue that further.
Wayne: Yes. Like any sport, if you want to be a better tennis player or whatever, get somebody who’s better than you on the other side of the net. You’ll learn a lot quickly, right? You’d be maybe frustrated and chasing balls around a lot, but I think I like to talk to people who know a lot more than I do. A lot of times, I’ll walk away just having to look things up and research things, but I think it stretches you, right? Your mind will stretch and it’ll never go back to its original shape after you do that.
John: Yes. [chuckles] It can be a little sometimes intimidating surrounding yourself with people that know more about this topic than you do, but that’s what it takes to make it happen. Otherwise, you’re going to just go down the wrong path and get frustrated and give up eventually.
Wayne: Sure. If you can find the right people, I mean, certain people, they start talking. I see their mouth moving and I’m just getting none of it. You have to find the right person that can explain it in a way that makes sense to you. Again, going back to what you say, being able to explain something really solidifies it. If you can’t explain it simply, you probably don’t understand it well enough. I think Einstein said that.
John: Absolutely, absolutely. That’s something, me, personally, I’ve tried to be good at. I’ve always prided myself a little bit on being an engineer that I can talk but not sound like an arrogant engineer.
I’ve worked with a lot of engineers and big companies where they don’t even want to talk to marketing people. They’re just not up to their technical level, “I’m not going to talk to marketing people.” I’m not that way at all. Try to make it as simple as possible. I’m all about simplicity.
That’s why I love many quotes by Albert Einstein. I’m a crazy Einstein fan, but that’s to make things as simple as possible, but not any simpler. I think there’s obviously a lot of good wisdom in that comment.
Wayne: Yes. Like we said before, perfection is not when there’s nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.
John: Yes. That’s another good one. I like it. [chuckles] I don’t know that one either, but it’s a good one to add. The last one, and this is another one that I think we’ve touched on, and that’s using vetted contractors even if they seem to be a little more money upfront. In the long run, it’s going to be cheaper to go with someone that’s vetted and that you know is going to be good and deliver what they promise.
Wayne: Yes. Somebody who charges $100 an hour but can get the job done in two hours is probably going to be better than somebody that charges you $20 an hour for 10 hours because they’re probably spending half that time learning it before they deliver it to you.
John: Absolutely. That’s why you cannot just go based on an hourly rate. If the person that charges you double is four times faster and more efficient, then they’re still going to be half the price.
Wayne: Yes, but check them out. Trust, but verify. Read the reviews. Talk to people whose projects they’ve done before and make sure that they’re not just really good at marketing themselves, but they have the real skills that you need.
John: Also, even once you go with them, just have other people, other experts that can be there to review some of their work, especially when you’re first starting out and you don’t really have a high confidence level. Have them give you a first draft of the schematic, for instance, and then pass that on to a third-party engineer and get their feedback on that schematic.
You can get a feel because we’ve had people do that in the academy and the feedback they got was, “You need to find another engineer. This design is nowhere near being ready for production.” The earlier you can learn that, the better. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up wasting a lot of time and money.
Wayne: Yes. You can see an analog to that if you watch any of the home shows. You see people trying to do things themselves. Who do they call when they get desperate and they can’t get it fixed? You call the best guy you can find. Nobody complains about what a plumber costs when the water is coursing down their stairs.
John: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.
Wayne: Those are the guys you’re going to go to when you have to get it fixed, so you might as well.
John: Yes, that’s a good point. Okay. Well, Wayne, this has been really great. I think we’ve hit all the 10 lessons learned. I’m sure you’ve learned even more lessons, but I think this is probably a good point to finish this up. I feel like we’ve gotten close to well over an hour. Maybe an hour and a half, so this will be a great– this is going to be a good podcast. I can’t thank you enough for coming on here and sharing all these lessons learned. Hopefully, some people will benefit and they won’t make the same mistakes. Can you tell listeners where they can learn more about you? Your website is at chirpsounds.com?
Wayne: Yes, chirpsounds.com is the website. If you want to reach out to me directly, you can do it at firstname.lastname@example.org. I think email@example.com, you can use that too. That’ll get here, but happy to help anyway if anybody needs an opinion on something. If it’s something that I know well enough to answer, I’ll be happy to do it.
John: Excellent. Wayne’s very active in the Hardware Academy community. He’s extremely helpful sharing what he knows. If you want to reach out to him there, you can do that as well.
Wayne: That too.
John: Okay. Well, thanks again, Wayne. It’s really great chatting with you and I hope you have a great day and we’ll talk soon.
Wayne: You too, John. I appreciate it. Talk to you soon.Finally, don't forget to download your free PDF: The Ultimate Guide to Develop Your New Electronic Hardware Product. You will also receive my weekly newsletter where I share premium content not available on my blog.
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