Product development update, among other things

New Product Development

A lot has changed since the last report – and I’m sorry I didn’t post something sooner! While we learned a massive amount with the project we were working on, it was fairly evident a few months ago that it wasn’t going converge in a predictable way. Just too large of a project for the current team, and too unpredictable to be running cash flow negative on. So world dominance will have to wait I’m afraid.
Instead we choose to shift of focus to something more short-time-horizon-realistic – and still totally awesome, but not as crazy. Something we had planned on doing anyway, after the launch of the now-postponed project. The intention is that as soon as we launch this new offering (and ramp manufacturing – and make sure it’s 100% solid) we get back to the older project, a little wiser and with more experience under our belts. I do expect to be working on that later this year.
I am personally SUPER excited about this next product offering. I think our current customers (and some new ones too) are going to love it. And it helps my excitement that this one is comparatively doable and the ‘light and the end of the tunnel’ is firmly in view. And we can do it really well I think, which is critical.

New Product Development – Target launch date of September 1.

Last time we talked about this we said April 1, which obviously now seems quite naive; I’m extremely frustrated we haven’t made faster progress. It’s my fault as I generally am the primary bottleneck and I have yet to figure out a way to prevent that from being the case. It would help to have an extremely good electrical engineer, ideally an RF engineer – flat out hard core ADS junky. Not that they would be doing RF per say, but they would have the ideal background I think. We’re making progress on the software end with our new hires, but it will take some time for those folks to come up to speed and Mark’s productivity will certainly go down as he trains and works closely with them. More engineers also potentially means less technical support time for Mark which is good. Meanwhile we could really use an executive level marketing person, and a handful of others…; That will all come if we can deliver a brilliant next product roll-out.
As an aside I would mention that if we wanted to roll out something quick just to make a buck, it would be fairly easy. Obviously we could slap a USB 3.0 chip in there (or something similar) and jack up the price. But that’s not what we’re going to do, it’s going to be awesome or we should just do something else.
So as for when, the target date is currently September 1. Actually I’m padding that somewhat in the hopes we’ll hit that for you guys.

New Hires

We made a few hires over the past months but none of them are really starting until the end of this month. Then it’s like one is starting every week! Two interns and two full time developers, all software.
The addition of these new heroes means we really need to get a larger office. We were planning on moving to some sort if epic San Francisco office at the end of the year, but if we can get away with it I’d like to move to another office in this same building, while only extending our lease essentially 6 months into 2014. This office location is much more affordable than this perfect San Francisco dream office anyway, which is much more appropriate for where we are as a company.
We’ve been using this service called “The Resumator” for applicant signup and tracking – it’s really good and I recommend it highly over the normal mess that is hiring. I personally think resumes are largely useless, and sifting through them is painful. What I really want to use is something called “Hire Vue” which is awesome and kindof a game changer for hiring. But they want $10K annually and we’re just not doing enough hiring to justify that. I’m annoyed they don’t have an offering for smaller companies, seems like that leaves them open to competition from the low end anyway.

Maker Faire

So it’s that time of the year again and Allison asks me if we should do Maker Faire this year with us being behind on product development and all – and ultimately we decided to do it. And of course I want to do it right, or at least closer to right then last time, so for better or worse (probably worse) we’ve now constructed a booth out of lumber for Lowes and a handful of new woodworking tools. This booth is now sitting in our already-too-small office and for a few days there was a thin coating of sawdust on everything. In addition we need to have some neat interactive thing to do and all that, and have new signage… Anyway it’s going to be a fun maker faire weekend, even if getting there wasn’t always fun or necessarily the most savvy thing to do.

Sailboat Project

The sailboat gets somewhere between 5 and 20 hours per week of attention. We submitted all the PCBs and have assembled them, and Mark cranked out some firmware and software for one of them. I had zero time this weekend with the Maker Faire prep to doing anything with it but it was fun to see what Mark was doing, and to help debug the board – which had about 3 issues in total I think, none of them fatal.

Software QA

We’re starting to implement unit tests for everything, and we’re trying out some cross-platform automated GUI testing software as well. When that’s in place hopefully we can reduce the number of errors that make it through QA.

Assembly Language

I had some fun doing assembly language for PIC the other week – something timing critical. It was fun to pick that up again, I programmed by first “product” right out of school entirely in PIC assembly language. I don’t think at the time I knew a C compiler was a realistic option.

Building in the US

These days we’ve actually “on shored” quite a few things. Both of our PCBs are now assembled locally, and we source ourselves via Avnet. I really like that because we actually get to work directly with the manufacturers and negotiate pricing, etc. When it goes to a CM generally you can lose visibility into that. By the way, we’re using Aligni for component tracking which we’re quite happy with. Our CM can do part audits inexpensively so we don’t need to be in the loop, we can ship directly to them. Avnet has a bonded inventory program that we’re going to be using to improve our cash flow gap – which was one of the primary reasons we wanted to on-shore: good old NET 30 terms. Sourcing from Asia in our experience means paying up front, and long lead times.
That said, I still think Asia is hard to beat, but I’m convinced you need someone at least periodically on the ground over there to stay out of trouble – and to select new suppliers.
We’re currently selecting an injection molding partner locally. It is more costly, but not that much more and I really, really want transparency. Plus at some point it might make sense to vertically integrate and that’s much easier to do with local resources to draw on. Still, vertical integration, as cool as it is, makes about zero sense right now. As if we didn’t have enough things to worry about.
We do still do finally assembly in-house, and I really don’t see that changing. I really want to move to something closer to just-in-time manufacturing anyway, and potentially product variations/configurations, and in-house assembly will be important for that.

New Carry Case Design

We’ve been working with a Soft Goods industrial designer on a new case design for Logic and Logic16 – because we don’t really love the current one, and more importantly we’re not huge fans of the supplier. But this has taken much longer than I had hoped – we’re trying to find a manufacturer now but I still don’t have a good algorithm for it. There’s limited options in the US (If you have any let me know) and it’s a bit of a gamble oversees. There’s not “yelp” for manufacturers, which is terrible, and I think unacceptable; What I really want is a great reference, like “yah we run 10K pcs a month though them and they are always superb quality and really great to work with and fair prices, etc” that’s all I want. So annoying that it’s a closed off world where a good manufacturer is guarded like a trade secret (I don’t blame people for keeping it a secret – good sourcing in Asia is real competitive advantage, especially where not everyone is an A player in that field). I know that if I was just on the ground in Asia I could get a good feel for different places, but on this side of the divide you just have no idea. I’ve thought about just picking the top 5 and sourcing though all of them, and just cutting the ones who aren’t that great. Kind-of an expensive experiment, but might be a reasonable way to go. I have a real aversion to “trading companies” or people in the middle deal with the manufacturer on your behalf – typically while hiding the identity of that manufacture. Maybe it’s a good idea but I really want to deal right with the factory. That’s the other thing about an Asian supplier – they can easily outsource to someone else, who can outsource to someone else, and then you have no insight at all into possible process improvements, etc. I just need to go there 4 times a year I guess. I’m nervous to do that, not sure that’s the reason I haven’t yet or if I legitimately am flat out too busy. Luckily I think Jonathan would be an ideal person to send, and I think he would love to.

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