Because we’re little.
We’re little. We’re a little company and growing, and we’re learning a whole lot along the way. We’ve learned where there were some minor miscalculations, we’ve learned which choices were the right choices in the beginning, and we’ve most importantly learned that there’s still a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of relationships yet to build. I mean it in the most positive way, it’s quite exciting. We started out making a product for ourselves, which turned into making it for a handful of friends, which has evolved into our being able to create an awesome product that we can share with the whole world.
But being little has had its ups and downs. The pros of being a “little” manufacturing startup are:
- Low start-up costs
- Lots of wonderful people willing to help for free or low cost
- We fit into tight places (quite literally, you should see this room where we’re doing our board assembly!
- No overhead
- Complete control over design, production and marketing
- Speed (despite being a few months behind, we’re still technically ahead of schedule)
- No politics
- No bosses
But the cons, though few, are heavy:
- Lower production quantities cost more money
- Since we’re working on borrowed time, some elements of production take longer to arrive
- We don’t have much negotiating power for lower prices and faster turn-around times
And the most unfortunate part of all–we’re SO small, in the vast world of parts manufacturers and distributors, our order quantities are just too small to get much attention. This has weighed on us in two ways. Our first thought is always “Hey, they weren’t the right kind of relationship. It’s mutual, I can dig it.” We know that it’s no loss when someone says no, because somewhere out there is a “yes”. But that thought is always followed by the pressing question of “Ok, who can we call next?”
Frankly, there are lots and lots of companies just in the St. Louis area who perform many of the services we need. But like the door-to-door salesman, cold-calling is often a dead end. A few of our most promising leads have been through personal recommendations, but going strictly off of personal recommendations has its pitfalls, too.
In fact, it’s a lot like playing Plinko, except you don’t want the 10,000 slot. It’s difficult to predict where the chips are going to land — how valuable those recommendations are going to be.
It’s been a rocky road. But we’re not trying to say that there’s anything wrong with these companies. The more startling fact is that there just aren’t very many small manufacturers out there, so lots of these companyies just don’t how to approach a business relationship with a company like us. However, the other side of the story is that many companies are approached by entrepreneurs who have the next “big idea.” They help them through the development and prototyping process, only to lose the job to a manufacturer in China. We’ve found that many of them are willing to do the work but have expensive fees in the beginning to help buffer that kind of loss. The unfortunate thing is that when people like us walk through their door who are actually interested in building a lasting relationship and have little start-up funding, there’s not much they can do to help.
“Are you making them in China?”
One of the things that we keep getting asked is if we’re going to have them made in China. It’s actually pretty complicated. There are a few things here to consider. The first thing is more about ‘Murica. We like supporting our local economy and creating much-needed jobs.
The other thing is that to move production to China, we’d have to be doing some serious business. It may be in our future, but for now, we’re having a ball building these units ourselves and are getting some great help from our friends.
Where are we now?
We’ve had a very productive month and are still busting to fulfill our (pretty late) Kickstarter rewards as well as some pre-orders. Our boards are in and they’ve been populated. We did all of our board population by hand, including the surface mount components. It took some patience, but we apparently survived the arduous process. Edward got quite good at it, in fact.
Alas, due to that whole “being little” cons list, we’re still short some metal parts. We’re hoping to alleviate that over the Holiday weekend and be shipping before New Years. Finger’s crossed!