I’m not a natural maker. What I mean by this is that I’m not someone who has spent a lot of time making things with my hands. Instead I’ve been the one that typically brings together makers to make something or to achieve a goal.
I’ve been trying to make things from recycled plastic for close to a year now by outsourcing the manufacturing to other people. It drives me nuts that I still don’t have anything to sell because I am so dependent on others with much slower processes.
If I need anything digitally done, I can get it down in 1 to 3 days. Yet, when I’ve tried to get a physical sample of something, it’s taken months. Try to design something from scratch? Months again. Repurpose a private label product? In Australia, it’s going on 2 months of just trying to get the right info because everyone seems to take their time.
I’m starting to realise that I might have to become the maker. It just takes way too long, not to mention cost to get anyone to do anything here. Maybe it would be different elsewhere, but I just don’t understand why the manufacturing process has to be so slow for makers when China can build an entire hospital in a week.
It’s no wonder that we struggle to be competitive against them. So, as I look forward, I think that I’m going to have to be a maker and do more of this myself at least in the short to medium term if I want to see any progress.
It was an incredibly frustrating day as my first prototype tests failed. While I didn’t expect the prototype to be perfect, I did believe that any failure would be a fault in my specifications, not because it wasn’t made properly.
As mentioned last week, my new prototype won’t stay together because the connector piece is still failing off. I thought I solved it last night by putting painter’s tape around the pin to make it slightly larger, but it didn’t hold.
The only good thing about today is that I did learn some new things about what the customer needs. The product itself also showed all promise that it would solve the intended problems with their pet. Oh yes, I also got a lot of doggie love.
Nevertheless, I’m clearly going to have to come up with a different solution over the next few weeks to avoid another prototype test failure. I only have a little bit of time left to demonstrate it properly on video for the crowdfunding campaign.
I had an “oh shit” moment yesterday when I suddenly thought, “What if my prototype fails?” In reality, that’s why you have a prototype – so that you can fully test it and make adjustments. However based on my schedule of events, I won’t have time to properly test the prototype before I need to make the video for the crowdfunding campaign (though it would be fully tested by the time we manufacturer the product itself).
Speaking with my manufacturer this week, it also looks like the company that’s making the prototype doesn’t have enough 3D printing feedstock in the same colour to do it right now. It will delay things by three weeks if I insist that all the panels are in the same colour of white/cream.
We’re going to see if they can make it in a different type of plastic – PP #5 (like a detergent bottle) versus the originally ordered ABS #7 (like legos), and perhaps they might have enough in the same colour then. Apparently, this is not an issue even though we had actually planned to manufacturer in HDPE #2 (milk jugs) because of the additives that need to be used. If your confused, more info about the different types of plastics can be found here.
Regardless, we can’t afford any delays in receiving the prototype. So, I told my manufacturer that I accept the fact that we might have to paint the prototype if it arrives in mismatched colours. It’s just a last resort though.
I also told him that after the videotaping was over, we were going to take the prototype to his house to give it a good workout to make sure that it does pass all of the tests prior to making it. If the prototype fails, it better be then. I’m sure that too will be a good video.
Today I spent the day in Brisbane to have a meeting with my manufacturer. The primary objective was to finalise the design on Product #3 as I need: 1) to know how much I need to raise with the crowdfunding campaign; and 2) we need to apply for the provisional patent before the campaign starts.
This gives us a deadline of design completion and costs calculated by end of August and the prototype complete by mid-September. I know that we are really pushing that deadline, but it is doable as there really is only one final design feature to decide.
I’m heading to Brisbane next week to meet again with my manufacturer. As we get closer to having a physical product, I recognise that I have a logistics challenge. I need a warehouse solution very soon.
My products aren’t that heavy, but big. In fact, they’re so big that they will arrive via pallets – lots of them. If I lived in a house, perhaps they could have everything delivered there to store things in my garage. But, I don’t. I live in a multi-story apartment complex.
I looked into getting a storage unit locally. The smallest one costs about $100/month. However, it doesn’t allow me to have 3rd party transportation trucks deliver there. I need a warehouse solution with a physical address that does.
A couple of the government-funded accelerators in town might be able to provide me with cheaper co-working office space, but I still don’t have a storage space for inventory. Furthermore, where would they drop off my huge deliveries?
I looked at renting a private office-space in a co-working environment. I figured that if the office was big enough I might be able to store some products there. However, the one I chatted to yesterday wanted nearly $3000/month. That’s the price of an entire warehouse in my home city (like this one) excluding utilities and any fit-out requirements.
As a new start-up, there’s no way that I want to add $30k+ of overhead to my expenses when I’m not even paying myself yet, nor have any employees to house in an office space.
After realising all of these options will not work at this stage of the business, I feel that I only have one or two possibly other options. The first one is to ask a friend if he might sublease me some space in his wood-making factory. Though, in reality I’d be surprised if he said yes since he would also have to deal with my deliveries.
The more viable warehouse option is to consider a fulfilment company where I outsource this function. While I have thought of this earlier, I wasn’t planning to do it at the beginning because I wanted more control over the quality of customer service and frankly to save on costs. Now, I realise that I might not have a choice in the matter as it will likely be my most affordable option.
Therefore, it looks like my job now is to find the right fulfilment partner that I can trust to treat the customer right.
There doesn’t appear to be any in Canberra. Therefore, I’ll look for one in Brisbane. It only makes sense to me to find a company in the same city as my manufacturer to save money on transportation, as well as to reduce emissions.
On Monday, I’ll call a bunch of companies. Then, I’ll ask for a meeting for Wednesday where I can see their warehouses in person. Fingers crossed that I can locate the right ones at the right price.
I flew to Brisbane today to meet with a manufacturer (amongst another meetings). It’s been a long process, but I finally did chose a manufacturer for two of my products. Yay!!!
Here’s my weekly video update that explains my decision:
This manufacturer is smaller than the other ones, but it seems to be making them much more flexible with lower overheads. This is obviously really important for start-ups like mine with a smaller budget.
For next steps, they will review the brief and designs I sent before and then get started on the “Manufacturing for Design” phase. From that, I should be able to get firm prices for moulds and units. That’s what I need for the business case to investors.
While I’m waiting, I need to chase some leads for intrusion manufacturers for Product #1. I’ve also been given a lead for someone who appears to be a world-class product designer to see if he might be able to give me some advice for the same product.
I got into my car at 5am this morning to drive to the airport when I realised that I left $60 of perishable groceries in the back seat from the night before. Ugh! The first sign that I’m trying to do too much. At least the car didn’t stink yet.
My flight to Melbourne was to meet with a manufacturer (cancelled another meeting with Mfg #4), as well as a publisher regarding a side-hustle.
There were so many learnings from the mfg meeting that I will summarise in a blog post after I meet with the final company on Thursday in Brisbane. For the moment, let’s just say that it’s pretty incredible to see their capabilities in person. The video below shows millions of dollars in machines. Imagine starting this business from scratch!
After a morning of meetings, I raced back to Canberra to attend a networking event tonight for an accelerator program. I always meet so many interesting people when I goes to these, and this night was no exception. I have the business cards of an engineer and a private equity company to follow-up on tomorrow.
One of the most difficult things about starting something completely new is when you don’t have a coach or mentor. While Google and YouTube has been decent in giving me an understanding of the recycled plastics manufacturing process, it hasn’t been so useful in answering my specific questions – like around pricing.
As much as I’ve asked around for the last few months, I still haven’t found a mentor or coach locally with plastics manufacturing experience. This is partially to do because I live in Canberra, Australia which is the nation’s capital. Here, most people work for or with the local and federal government rather than in industries like manufacturing.
So, I’ve expanded my network to outside of Canberra – first to Brisbane. Next week, I’ll be meeting with the CEO of a social enterprise accelerator who has already invested in circular economy type businesses like mine.
I’m more interested in meeting the other companies than I am in the program itself. It would be amazing to find a peer group of complimentary businesses all trying to do great things for the environment. With that type of network, I know that learning curve will flatten sooner too.
I finally have all the manufacturer quotes even though not everyone quoted on every item or even every part of the process. Of what I can see, it looks like 2 of the 3 products can be made at a reasonable cost here in Australia with recycled plastic. The third product needs to be redesigned to lower the cost.
Of the moulds (or tooling as they say), the most expensive quote is three times the cheapest one even though everyone says they get their moulds made in Asia. Since this difference is so dramatic, I need to understand why before I choose a manufacturer. Otherwise, the reasoning for the cheaper price may hurt me later if I go that route.
I spoke to one of my manufacturers today. This is the one that I had concerns about earlier in the week. We both decided that they should pull out of the selection process for making my products.
They’re too busy to even touch my designs any time soon. Furthermore, we both have concerns about their lack of experience with recycled plastic.
Even today, the engineer was worried that recycled milk bottles (that go through a blow moulding process to make them) might not be compatible with their machines. This is the first I have heard of this concern as it was another manufacturer that suggested that milk bottles would be the most appropriate to get the colours I wanted for my products.
We both agreed that it was the best decision for them to pull out as a result. He still offered to send me some estimated unit prices on one of my products so that I could compare the price against the other quotes. That was a very generous offer in which I am grateful.
By this decision, I’ve decided to also cancel the Monday factory tour with them. This may allow me to get back to Canberra in time for a function that evening.
So, no bridges burned, and the right outcome all around.