Two years ago, my brother Jon brought me an idea for a unique gift product and asked (1) if it was technically feasible, and (2) if I would be interested in helping him build a company around it. I liked the idea, and had the engineering experience to make it work. "Count me in!", I said, and we were on our way.
Two years later, we're still on our way. Our doors are open and we're shipping product. We haven't turned the corner to profitability yet, but all signs are looking up. Bootstrapping a manufacturing business (especially during this economy) has been a real learning experience. And the lessons continue.
In subsequent columns, I plan to review some of the mistakes we've made (and continue to make!) and some of the lessons we've learned — hopefully to provide a little guidance, and reassurance, to others wishing to turn a product idea into a real company.
This column is not for successful business starters. They know this stuff. Indeed, they may find some of our insights trivial, and may disagree with others. But for the rookies among us, who want to create a manufacturing company from scratch, I suspect much of what I have to say will prove useful.
First, a little background. Strictly speaking, neither my brother nor I are true rookies when it comes to products or business. Jon has been a successful commercial craftsman (pottery) in the Ann Arbor area for almost 20 years. His artistic skills and his years of selling his work to craft customers have been invaluable to our efforts.
I'm an electrical engineer with nearly 25 years in product design and development, primarily with small to mid-size firms. I learned a lot at these companies. However... they all had supporting casts that took care of all the little details of business. I didn't have to worry about purchasing, receivables, payables, hiring, the rent, utilities, etc., etc. Well, I do now.
In addition to Technacraft, I also run a tech services business, Brighton Technical Services, that does contract electronic design (hardware and software). The tech service work keeps the family in food while the manufacturing business develops.
Our product (which I'll discuss more in a future column) is a solar-powered chime product, called the Sun Chimes<tm>. It sells into the gift and accessories market, wholesaling for about $25 and retailing for about $50.
Subsequent columns will focus on particular lessons we've learned in bringing this product to market. Some of the topics we'll cover are:
In each article, we'll talk about problems we encountered and our solutions to those problems. Recognize that these solutions are simply what worked for us. They're not necessarily the "best" way. If any reader knows of better ways, please tell us. We're always looking to do things better.
I hope these columns will help readers better understand and cope with the daily grind of entrepreneurship. The emotional highs and lows are unreal! The time required for things to happen seems always to be twice as long as you need and four times as long as you want. And that's only if you bust your butt to make them happen. And believe it — when you're doing it all, nothing happens until you make it happen.
Our goal is to build a successful manufacturing company whose quality products bring happiness to people. Ultimately, we seek financial security for our families. We know we will have to work very hard and smart to achieve that.
We don't expect to get rich quick. If you do — good luck! This column's not for you. On the other hand, if your goal is to add value, provide jobs, produce a quality product — and create some wealth — then maybe we can share what we learn as our companies grow.