I say molds, you say moulds

I spoke to the manufacturers today about my Request for Quotes. I think we’re all on the same page now. Essentially, they believe they can give me unit product costs estimates, but will struggle with giving me the moulds’ prices until they have redone the design work. That’s because the moulds (or tooling) are outsourced to other companies.

What I have also learned is that there are many things to consider when designing the moulds. For instance, I can combine parts or create multiple pieces of the same part in the same mould. The bigger the mould, the more it costs. However, I can save money in the unit cost. Of course, if we get it wrong I might also have a lot of excess parts the customer doesn’t need.

I’ve also learned that it may be possible for the manufacturer to amortise the tooling cost into the products with them essentially acting as a bank. That could be really useful depending on how much money I can raise from investors. I’ll be surprised if they’ll do this though without a large order – something I can’t agree to do until the products are proven.

I’ll write a longer article next week about what I might have done differently in the design phase.

If I make it too hard for business partners

I’m starting to get feedback on the product designs from the manufacturers. Even though I told them that it was only meant to convey an idea of what I had in mind, I think they are evaluating the designs as already fit for manufacturing because I sent them CAD files.

I’ve asked for a phone call with one of them in the morning. I have a feeling that I’ll need to jump on a plane and spend a day with each of them to get the information I need.

I would have done this already, but I didn’t see how I could get competitive quotes this way. I still can’t, but maybe by meeting their teams and seeing their factories I can choose a partner and go on from there. Right now, I risk losing their interest in my business if I frustrate them too much.

Feeling naive…

First view of Product #1 design

I saw the first draft CAD design of Product #1 today. Even though this was my first product idea, I waited to do this one last because it needed the most thought to get it right. The manufacturers’ engineers could disagree, but I do think this turned out well from an aesthetics and functionality point of view.

Design workshop for Product #1

Design workshop on Product #1 today with my uni student designer and mechanically-minded friend. I think we sorted a decent solution, but will test it with manufactures.

Good chat with Manufacturer #4. Sent him a NDA so that he can bid on work too.

It struck me really hard this afternoon that there’s a chance that I can’t make these products at a reasonable price in Australia at any quantity. This is what happened with my previous tea company where I was being forced to package it elsewhere. Is it worth continuing if I have to outsource the work to China and screw the social mission of using Australia recycled plastic? Most people would tell me yes.

I hope to know the estimated product and set-up costs in the next two weeks. In the meantime, I’ll slow down my spending on the company until I know for sure. Last night, I just spent another $2k on a premium domain I really needed. Fingers and toes crossed that the product manufacturing costs are in line with my budget projections.

Product #1 redesign

We’re still working through the design of Product #1 today as I have been going back and forth via email with my more mechanically-inclined friend, “B”. While we do have a workable solution, I still feel like the product assembly for the customer can be simplified.

I think I’m going to ask my uni student designer and “B” to do a wipeboard session with me to see if we can do it better. I’m just waiting for my designer to finish his drawings of Product #3 first.

Product #1 design concerns

I’ve been rethinking the design of Product #1 before I give it to my designer to put into CAD. It is certainly the most complex of all my ideas. My concerns with the current design is that I don’t feel like it’s flexible enough to allow the customer to install it without some above average DIY skills. I want to simplify it, and the answer isn’t obvious. Therefore, I feel like the only way to do it is to rethink the entire concept starting from the customer’s needs again.

After a lot of googling and drawing rough sketches, I have a new idea that might work, but I don’t feel 100% certain about it yet. Sent an email to my mechanically-minded friend to ask his thoughts – using my food metaphors again to try to describe the technical bits I don’t know. In this case, “like two donuts stuck together,” I tried to explain to him.

Received an early morning message from my father advising me to bring on investors and not use up all my savings on the business. Poor dad – I really hate worrying him!

Manufacturer #3 onboard

Finally received the signed NDA from Manufacturer #3. I was starting to give up, thinking that I was too small for them. I sent them the rough CAD design for Product #2 and asked for a phone call to discuss it further.

Received the first draft of my Product #3 design. Wow! This crazy idea is feeling more like a real business every day.

Simplifying my brand strategy

I decided to simplify my branding strategy. Rather than promoting each product’s brand individually, I will only promote the brand line itself. Otherwise I think it might get too confusing for the customer. Good thing I made this decision before all the design work was done on the products. I’m sure that I’ll find some other good use out of the logos I’ve already had designed.

Told Manufacturer #1 that I would be back in touch when I have all three draft designs done so that they can give me a proper quote on all three. Once contracts are signed, they need between 5-10 days to update/test the designs (apparently called the DFM process) and to produce a 3D print prototype. I need at least one prototype ready for a grant that I’ll apply for next month. It would be great to have all three.

The challenges of customer service as a sole trader

Thinking ahead – one of the challenges of starting this business on my own is the need to always be present to answer customer service calls and mail out orders. While this will be fine at the beginning, I will eventually need to take some time off – like to visit my family back in the US. I might not have enough sales at the time to warrant hiring someone though.

So, I was chatting with a fellow entrepreneur about this today, and he gave me some info about drop shipment companies that he considered. He just saved me a lot of research time. I still need to find a way to cover customer service though.

I’m still going back and forth with my designer about Product #3. Better to take the time in the design phase now to avoid unnecessary costs in the future.

Note: this is Sunday of a long weekend. I’m glad that work doesn’t stop for weekends while I am in the Start-up Phase. Each day is costing me money until I start selling products.

Milestone: Product #2 design complete

Received final pdf files from my local designer for Product #2. He’ll send CAD files tomorrow. This is just what I need to send a manufacturer. The manufacturer will go through a full review of it to ensure that it will actually meet the functional and technical needs in the best way. I’m sure there will be changes. I already have some concerns about its robustness