I am blessed to live in a town with a lively and thriving Farmers’ Market. It is a source of healthy food, friendships, and growing businesses. Today was the last day of the regular market for the 2018 season, and already I look forward to the Winter Market later this year. Even though I am sometimes traveling or unable to make it to the market, it is my soul place- there are vendors there I have known for years and who know me as well when I show up at their booth.
I am always excited each year to see who the new vendors are, and revel in the bounty that comes out of their hard labors. I appreciate each and every one of them so much. And all the vendors never stop amazing me with their creativity and new experiments- where else could I find a brains cupcake?
After shopping today, I took out the 360 camera and shot some video bites, so you could also share in the awesomeness that is the Kokomo Farmers’ Market. Take each video for a literal spin and see what joy you can find at our Market.
Last night I got the email that our Kickstarter failed. This does NOT mean that GearLab, Jr. failed as a game. As a matter of fact, starting today, you can order it from the Cogbots website. For me, this means we are not $27, ooo in debt. I should backup a bit, for those of you who have not been following along.
GearLab, our travelling community driven kinetic art piece, has been a huge success. We continue to take it to Makerfaires, Steampunk and ComicCons and art openings as a feature. We have had schools and science museums order parts to build their own. Everywhere we went, people would pine for the space to have one at home.
This drive to have a smaller, cheaper version was the birth of GearLab, Jr a build your own Gear Puzzle Game . We did design and prototype work in the shop and tweaked it until we were ready to show some other folks. We took it with us to the Steampunk World’s Fair for wider play testing, as well as to test the price point by taking some pre-orders.
The game has a lot of pieces ( and holes!) and took over 11 hours to cut on our equipment. It is made from high quality cabinet grade plywood so it will last and feels good in your hands.
We had no idea what to expect.
The results were overwhelming. People loved it. They thought the price was reasonable, and started giving us more and more ideas for potential markets. “Take it to the Montessori market and it will sell like hot cakes” we were told by the Montessori mom who pre-ordered one for home and one to donate to her school. “This would make an awesome bar game”, another customer told us as he pre – ordered one for his home. People of every age were getting into the idea of competitive challenges and came back day after day at the show to see what the new challenge for the day was.
It was infectious. We got more and more excited about the game we already loved. Maybe this really was a breakthrough product… maybe this was going to be huge… would we be able to see our game in specialty game stores some day? It was starting to feel surreal. But if the market was really that wide, the orders would flow so quickly, we were in trouble. The single CNC machine in our art studio could never handle that kind of volume.
It is important to us that our products remain locally made of high quality materials. I spent much of the drive back from New Jersey to Indiana with my laptop open, running numbers in excel. Building models in excel, we calculated the minimum volume needed to support equipment dedicated to cutting just this one product and the cost of the dedicated equipment and infrastructure upgrades to support it. We talked through how we could re-arrange the shop in the studio to make sure we had the space and the pacing we could produce for large orders. It was going to be a $27,000 investment.
The thought of making a $27,000 investment without a true proof of market made me a bit nervous. We decided to use KickStarter to truly test the market. If the market was as hot as everyone was telling us it would be, the Kickstarter would fly, and everything would be great. If the KickStarter did not meet the target, then we would put the game in our web store and continue on. We knew it would take about 650 orders/yr to sustain dedicated equipment. But for the Kickstarter, we not only had to raise the $27,000 – we had to raise the cost of the materials for the game and the shipping as well.
More spreadsheets were born. I finally came up with a spreadsheet I liked where I defined the different reward levels, put in the costs/revenue for each level and play with projections for how many at each level we thought could come in. From that, we could project total number of games to be built, total material and shipping costs and a target for the Kickstarter could be set. It looked like between $60K – $85K. That felt a little crazy. We took the game to some more gatherings and events. The feedback continued to be uniformly amazing. I pushed Dave for some design tweaks and he came up with some ways to keep the game pay identical but cut a few small costs and bring the cut time down to 10 hours. I re-ran the numbers and we had a new target, $57k. It was time to launch. Either there was a hidden huge market out there, or we just had niches of devoted fans who wanted to think that everyone would love us.
During the KickStarter, we took the game to 2 different MakerFaires. The more people play with the game, the more I believe in it. I am a firm believer in things that engage kids of all ages in STEAM/STEM activities. Reactions like this still give me goose bumps:
This game is still one of the proudest things I have helped to create- and I look forward to watching it get into the hands of folks who will love it through generations.
So what does this “failed” Kickstarter mean for us? The mass market that our fans wanted to believe in, isn’t there – yet. Maybe someday, maybe not. But in the meantime, we are not carrying an extra $27K in debt and the art studio can instead invest that money into continuing to build and design cool new things.
This recent blog post in the ISBDC blog jelled so well with discussions I have been having lately, that I had to share. All Entrepreneurs Are NOT the Same. talks about the different types of entrepreneurial attitudes- think of it as a Myers Briggs for entrepreneurs. What has been getting stuck in my crawl lately is hearing over and over that the hallmark of an entrepreneur is a desire to make cash. Now, do not kid yourself. I want to make money- who doesn’t? But making tons of cash is not a goal that would keep me pounding through 16 – 20 hours days of turning a startup into a viable, stable business. What keeps me going when the day goes long is the knowledge that this work will translate into more jobs for the people in my community. The fact that in a few weeks there will be families who can make their mortgage and do something fun together because Thavron Solutions brought job opportunities in is what pushes me through the hard spots.
In the test, I classified as a BI ( builder/innovator), which reads pretty true to my self assessment.
It is time to stop and think about Design for Economic Sustainability.
Businesses have argued that built in obsolescence is a good thing- it means that people will continue to spend money, and businesses will continue to grow. To make this more appealing, they have created goods that are ever cheaper, ever more disposable.
Mass production in the 1920s brought goods into the hands of the middle class which they previously could not have afforded. And soon after, an entire ecosystem rose up around the manufactured parts. Manufactured Automobiles? You needed mechanics and auto repairmen to keep them running. Manufactured radios and Televisions? You needed radio and television repairmen. You needed another industry creating spare and replacement parts. Manufactured clothing? There were still women ( and men) at home sewing clothes from scratch, or doing repairs and fittings. Manufactured shoes? The show repairmen were there to help extend their life, replacing heels and soles. Manufactured did not always mean disposable. Goods that were manufactured were still expected to last nearly as long as those which were individually hand-crafted.
Gradually, over the last two decades or so, we have allowed companies to convince us that goods should be disposable. It is cheaper and easier for them to manufacture if repair is not a consideration. If you are never going to open up electronics to repair them, who cares if they cut costs and use glue instead of screws to seal something? If you are never going to repair a shoe, who cares if the pieces are glued together instead of sewn? We have allowed the life cycle of goods to become ever shorter in exchange for cheaper purchase prices. One of the consequences of this has been that in addition to de-valuing the items themselves, we end up de-valuing the work it takes to make them, and the workers who do those jobs. Which makes you more excited: working to build cars that people are going to have and care for and maintain for decades, or working to build cars that people are going to junk in a few years?
I say it is a time for a different plan:
Support businesses that design products you can repair, that are meant to last.
Go out of your way to extend the life of your products
Look for new ways to rebirth old things into something new and exciting.
Creating a product/market ecosystem that we can sustain over time is at the roots of what attracts me to the Maker movement, to Hackerspaces and keeps me excited about the entrepreneurs I interact with.
“Design for Sustainability” has been a movement for decades now. If you search Google, you get thousands of hits. The wikipedia article on Sustainable Design links out to many other articles, movements and manifestos. Sustainable Design has even leaked over into technology.
“Sustainable technologies use less energy, fewer limited resources, do not deplete natural resources, do not directly or indirectly pollute the environment, and can be reused or recycled at the end of their useful life. There is a significant overlap with appropriate technology, which emphasizes the suitability of technology to the context, in particular considering the needs of people in developing countries. However, the most appropriate technology may not be the most sustainable one; and a sustainable technology may have high cost or maintenance requirements that make it unsuitable as an “appropriate technology,” as that term is commonly used.”
Consideration of the environment in design is simply not enough. I am not arguing about the importance of considering our impact on Mother Earth. It is important, but not sufficient. We also need to consider if the new products we design, or the new processes we use to make them, create an economic ecosystem that can support the consumers.
Now is the time for us to stop and take action. Now is the time for you to stand up and shout with pride how long you have kept that backpack, how long you have maintained your car or how well you hand-built something. This is the new pride movement. It is time for you to stand up, be counted and let manufacturers see your beliefs through your purchasing practices.
This Christmas, we will be wishing folks “Maker Christmas”. This means that presents will either be tools/aids for allowing people to become better makers, or items that someone else has made, upscaled or produced in a small business. How will you make an impact?
Every once in a while, I am reminded what an incredible geek I am.
When you swim in the geek every day, it is so easy to forget that terms like QR Code, Foursquare, G+, Podcasting, mp3,twitter,square, facebook page creation, blogging and video conferencing ( to name just a few) are either complete greek or else sound frighteningly technically hard to do.
I believe it is important for businesses to be involved in their neighborhood in ways that improve the neighborhood. Since part of what I do is IT and Social Media Consulting, my neighborhood is both digital and physical, so here is a little give back – 5 quick tips about using Social Media for Business.
1) Social Media – all digital interactions that involve people to people communication and conversation. This happens in many places (or platforms) on the internet- Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa , Google+, Quora, Empire Avenue, Foursquare are just a few you might hear people talking about. In the digital world, this is the same as the beauty shop/barbershop chat, the back fence or front stoop chat, the “after church coffee” chat or a postcard from someone traveling that comes back home. The same sorts of things happen in both places- people share news, movie reviews, baby pictures,travel pictures, product and business recommendations,or insights and opinions on politics, economics, and philosophy ( to name just a few). Just like in real life, there are people you trust and love, people who gossip, people you respect, people who are blowhards and people you avoid. Remember- Social Media is conversation and engagement- it is the online way to spread word of mouth advertising.
2) Facebook– one of the current leading platforms ( or places) for social media exchanges, although it is not always loved by the people who use it ( ask me why and I can post more). Most of you probably have a Facebook Account. If you have a lively Facebook community near your brick and mortar, or you sell online and ship product, your Business should have a Facebook page as well. This is frighteningly easy to do. Simply go to your home page, click on “pages” in the left menu and then click on the “create a page” button that shows up on the top of the page. Warning- just having a page is no good at all, unless you post to it, check on it, respond to people on it and make connections with it. One of the easiest ways to do this is to go to your page, then click on the “use facebook as page” option on the right. Now go forth in Facebook land. Like other pages that are strategic connections, comment on other people’s things, be a lively and contributing presence and people will stumble across your page. [There is, obviously, tons more to be said about Facebook- you can contact me as a contractor if you want the full scoop or more hand holding]
3) Twitter– another social media platform, where the things you share are limited to 140 characters, but can be links to other things ( like youtube videos, pictures, blog posts, etc..). The nice thing about Twitter for businesses is that it is very easy to search and find people interested in the things you do, to “follow” them ( see the things they post) and respond back to start conversations. Twitter is all about conversations. This is NOT the place to broadcast only links to your press releases, details about your latest specials or your latest product releases. Those things are fine to include in the things you share, but remember this is a conversation- no onne likes listening to someone who only talks about themselves.
4) QR Codes. These are those funny looking square barcodes ( known as 2D or Matrix barcodes) that you are starting to see all around town. Big businesses and manufacturing have been using 2D barcodes for many years because they can hold more information than a regular barcode. Then someone got smart and turned them into a QR ( Quick Response)code that can used to show on the spot information. All phones that have a camera and run apps can get a free barcode scanner application ( most come already installed) that can be used to scan the QR Code and display the information. This information might be a link to a web page ( URL), some text( offer a discount or special sales promo), a link to other online services ( maps, Foursquare, youtube, yelp, etc..), contact information, a phone number, or to send an SMS (to your phone). If you have one of those phones, you can try this one and see what displays on your phone.
5) FourSquare. ( also known as 4Square). As a personal service, it has lovers and haters. Some people love to “check in” and broadcast all over the internet where they are and what they are doing and some people hate it. But as long as there are lovers, becoming a place that people can check into makes good sense. When users check in, they share that information with all their friends online. This means lots of other people are seeing them come to your business. You also have the ability to offer specials through Fourquare, and when users check in anywhere, they see a list of all the specials nearby, potentially reminding them to come to your address as well. You do not have to personally use the service, but you do have to have an account and log in at your business to make it a place. You want to create an account and search to see if anyone has already added your place. If not, go to the store, log into foursquare and add the venue. Then go to your computer, find your new place and “claim this venue”. Foursquare requires verification, which can be done via phone or email and then does a lot of hand holding once you tell it you want to claim a venue and you are off and running.
Hopefully those first 5 tips give you something to think about and act on and let you get started in Social Media for your business.
The Inventrek Center is starting a monthly Entrepreneur/Innovator/Business StartUp Meet Up. This will be a great opportunity to connect with resources, get great information and connect with like minded folks. Be sure to stop by the Inventrek Center and put the monthly meetup on your calendar.
The Agenda this month is:
Wednesday, June 22 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Inventrek Auditorium, 700 East Firmin St. Kokomo, IN 46902
Discover the multitude of resources available to help you develop your product or service and/or help you start your business
Tim Martin & Jeff Bell
Lean practitioners and co-authors of the book New Horizons in Standardized Work: Techniques for Manufacturing and Business Process Improvement.
Business coach, Small Business Development Center (S.B.D.C.)
Business Growth Services Leader, Purdue University Technical Assistance Program (TAP)
Director – Entrepreneurial Education, Inventrek
Open discussion/networking opportunities immediately
Scott Adams published an article earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition on the value of college for an entrepreneur, and it made me immediately reflect back to Cameron Herold’s TED Talk on raising kids as entrepreneurs.
The crucial point that both of them raise is that you have the best shot at becoming a better entrepreneur by doing , trying, ( and even failing). When you are personally motivated ( either for cash- or for Free Beer, as Scott was at The Coffee house, or just by reputation), you try things that might have seemed daunting before or take risks that might have been too much effort. This is in many ways like the apprenticeships of old, where you work side by side with someone with more experience, but have real responsibilities in the business and learn by doing, not by listening to lectures.
While highly motivated parents and students seek out opportunities to grow entrepreneurial skills, I would love to see more colleges and universities add apprenticeship type opportunities to the curriculum ( much like an engineering co-op) so that we raise more highly skilled entrepreneurs and fewer lawyers.
How do you as parents nurture entrepreneurial skills in your kids? How do you grow them personally?
In this nationally advertised “dying town”, there is a grass roots movement to be seen as active and vital. Much of this activity is taking place on Facebook, through a group called “Let’s go Kokomo”. The “let’s go Kokomo” movement is not new, it has been active here on local radio for a couple of years. The movement was originally designed to help people find locally owned and operated businesses and to encourage them to shop there instead of driving out of town or shopping on the internet. The shift to Facebook has happened only in the last couple of months, and I think it is a nice rallying point for the folks here in town to gather and discover things about themselves. There is a lot of information on Facebook right now about Events and groups in Kokomo, but the truth is that it is still the result of a lot of effort by a very small group of people. And while it is fun and informative and makes living in a dying town less painful ( sort of like a morphine drip), I have not yet figured out how it will counteract the death march. If I am on Facebook, why would I search for and be interested in a group about Kokomo, unless I was already here? The Facebook activity reminds me of the Whos on the puffball, happily going about their business, in denial that the pot of oil is coming.
I do not want to discourage the Let’s Go Kokomo founders, because as a resident, I find the information infinitely useful. I even contribute. But we should be honest that we are doing this for ourselves, not to save the town.
I think there are ways to leverage the web and technology to let people out there know what a great town and what talent awaits businesses here in Kokomo. We need to get more involved in online activities that are focused outside of Kokomo and let people know where we are from with pride. Here are a couple of potential starting points:
1) The OpenStreetMap of Kokomo is almost empty. With so many people who have technical knowledge finding themselves with time on their hands, we should have the most densely filled in and informative map out there. Not only would this be helpful to people in and outside of Kokomo, but it shows that we take pride in our city and that we have a vision of the future where OpenSource and OpenData are important. A town full of forward thinking individuals is attractive to businesses, start ups and innovators.
2) Take all that resourcefulness and start innovating yourself. Stop looking to figure out how you can move away and get a job, start looking at all the great ideas trapped in those engineering brains and start building things right here. There are people already starting, and there are resources to help you out. The Inventrek center is looking to expand and launch lots of startups.
3) If you are out of ideas, or are not convinced that yours are worth working on, help out with someone else’s. Head over to sourceforge.net ( or your favorite open source area) and start contributing actively to other opensource projects. After you put in your 4 hours of job searching time each day, do not waste time cleaning the garage, or watching reruns on TV. Sit down and build something. Interact with the other people on your project, make connections and make the world a little bit better.
4) If you can not afford to give your time away for free and really need to work on more income, check out Innocentive.com for crowdsourced engineering and problem solving opportunities for pay.
These are just a few ideas. I would love to see discussion in the comments from the folks outside of Kokomo, what would you like to see and hear that would convice you that we are in fact alive? What will break through the barriers of understanding so that you hear us yelling “We are here, we are here, we are here….” ?