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Johnny Bravo

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I am looking for contractors to develop a prototype for ultimate production. This is a small electronic device with an accompanying smart phone app and probably computer app as well.

The problem is, I don't know the first thing about electrical engineering. How does one go about selecting a good group of contractors without having the prerequisite knowledge to even know what qualities to look for? Does anyone have experience hiring on people for contract work?

Perhaps this thread can go from a question into a how to.
 

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Johnny Bravo

Johnny Bravo

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Turns out that this is a fairly common problem for entrepreneurs wanting to build a physical device!

There are a bunch of great articles available at Predictable Designs. John Teel is an electronics design engineer and offers a few packages for wantrapreneurs. Simply send him the info on your idea and he'll give you a detailed report on specific hardware items, potential issues, suggestions of prototyping and production, and even suggestions on improvements. I was a little apprehensive about whether or not I would get much value from his products, but sent him some fairly vague descriptions anyway. Gotta say I was blown away by his response. I got a ton of value from him.

As you may have guessed, there are also a ton of companies out there which will help you build a prototype so long as you have deep enough pockets. I've narrowed my selection down to NeuronicWorks in Canada and Accomplio in California. Typical NDA stuff with all of them. We're still in the consultation period so I'll let you know how things progress.
 

404profound

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Desert of Desertion
Do you have any concerns about not having control over the design / total understanding of its operation if you use external support?
 
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Johnny Bravo

Johnny Bravo

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Do you have any concerns about not having control over the design / total understanding of its operation if you use external support?
That is a great question. The simple answer is yes.

That said, let's consider it from another perspective. The way I see it, there are essentially two options: 1) do it myself, or 2) hire someone to do it.

If I do it myself, there is a massive chance that it will fail because I simply do not have the expertise to do just about any of the work. I know enough to have a rough idea of what sort of direction it needs to go, what sorts of components should be included in the design, and roughly how the software should be built. Beyond that, I'm a moron.

The other option is to hire someone.

I could bring someone into the company and have them put some skin in the game. Pay them just enough to make it worth their while and offer an ownership percentage upon completion to ensure good work. But the scope of this project would still require outsourcing. I may eventually hire on a PM for this portion of the company, but I think getting a basic prototype would probably be a better first step.

Thus we come to contracting with a business which specializes in product design. Assuming that one chooses a quality company to deal with, I wouldn't expect control or knowledge to be an issue. In fact, after conversing with a few of the engineers, it seems that the design process brings up many questions which actually assist in further working through the operation of the product in my own head. In other words, it forces you to turn your vague ideas and generalities into very specific processes. It's pretty cool.
 
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Johnny Bravo

Johnny Bravo

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As a quick update, I've had second thoughts about my contractor so I have widened my net a bit. For those of you who are in need of these types of services or ANY sort of B2B contacts, check out ThomasNet. This company specializes in connecting businesses to B2B services companies and is a real gem of a resource.
 
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Johnny Bravo

Johnny Bravo

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Latest update:

It dawned on me that the contractors I eventually select will have a very direct and dramatic effect on the outcome of my product. This caused me to pause and consider how best to make the selection. I thought I might share that process with the forum.

It is quite apparent, if one bothers to look at the available data, that most hiring practices are quite unscientific and have little to do with qualifications. Resumes are terrible at portraying talents and shortcomings. Interviews are really just short popularity contests. And even after hiring, not many companies make much of an effort to review how effective their hiring process truly is.

With this in mind, I was determined to figure out a better way.

First and foremost, I wanted a company which had the expertise to develop my product. My initial round of interviews was filled with questions which were specifically designed to invite a candidate to show knowledge or the ability to spew bullshit. I researched the various companies as much as I could. I looked at some of the other products they had been involved with. All of this was largely along the same path as is typically taken.

Finally, I decided that I should change my goal. Even though it adds to the expense in the short run, I chose to select three companies to perform a short duration exploratory contract. The purpose of the contract was to answer a seemingly simple question: Is it possible to develop the product I have described to you (the companies) and if so, can it be done securely?

By awarding this contract to all three of my finalists, I have increased my costs. However, the results I have obtained from this process is well worth the extra cost.

First, I discovered a number of different ways to solve the problem of my product development. Since the IP is ultimately mine, I am now able to share the results of a wider distribution of minds with the ultimately chosen team.

Second, the quality and expertise of the various teams was brought to the surface in real terms. Rather than relying on my gut feeling, resumes, and interviews, I now had tangible results showing exactly what sort of work these teams produced. The creativity and excitement of some teams was unmistakable.

Most importantly, by investing a relatively small amount on the front side, I have been able to narrow my selection to a single company based on actual results, potentially saving me from a subpar product.
 

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