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EXECUTION The Road Beyond $5M....

WestCoast

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You know what's frustrating? When life and business are going great - and someone I've never met (but who's opinion I respect) points out that I could be doing more.

MJ posed a question in his second book, Unscripted, that shook me to my core. I emailed him about it, and told him I would do something about it. After half of this year reflecting, digging into myself, meditating, exploring, pondering and asking myself hard questions....this is my response:



Sooo, Who Are You 'WestCoast'?

I bought my first business the day after graduating college in 2005.
When I started it, I said to myself:
'I'll do this for 3 years, and the worst that happens is I'll go broke and learn a lot'.

13 years on.... through innumerable ups and downs, it's grown every year.
We're approaching $5M in annual revenue with 15 full time staff.

But back to what MJ said that got me fired up: "I operate a hobby business."

Basically, I'm swimming in a small fishbowl - and we don't know if I'm a shark, or a guppy.



What Are You Actually Saying???

It's time for me to swim upstream again! To leave the comfort of the salary, distributions, expenses paid and steady annual growth.

It's time for me to see what I'm really made of, and what I've learned in 13 years.

If this seems like madness, to leave a comfortable position like this... yeah, I had to grapple with that for a couple months too. My life is really good.

Yet.....I can't argue the point MJ made.


Our current company is nice, but when you dig down... we violate a lot of the aspects of CENTS.
We don't control our own product, we have to deal with discounters, and we're basically a middleman (though, I'd say, a very good, honest and customer focused one)

It's been great for 13 years, but, at some point, there will be a recession, and my industry is not the most recession proof. I want to be well on to the next thing - operating from a position of strength, never back on my heals.

(You can actually read how I almost bankrupted the whole thing here: I've Made Major Errors and Put My Company On the Brink)



Soooo, What's The Bright Idea Smart Guy??

(I'm actually not that smart)

Over the last few months, I've been looking into some solutions I can offer to address a significant unmet need for renters of apartments and offices. (Strangely, someone on the Forum posted about the need 3-4 months ago.... I smiled when I saw it)

Let's call that Business A.

THAT project is a potentially 12-18 month research and development process. I have spent the last 2 months building an outline for it, budgeting and learning to speak 'engineering' so I can get proposals from firms to design/prototype/iterate/produce my product. I expect to get my first bid in the next 1-2 weeks, and see what it's going to cost to develop this concept.



*whispers* This Smells Like Action Faking 'West Coast':

Fair point, so, how about this:

While that main projects stews on the middle burner - I decided I wanted to do some practical things to warm me up on starting another business from scratch. I want to get my skills dialed back in, remember the ups and downs - the fun, excitement, frustrations.

So, instead of planning endlessly for Business A....
In true entrepreneurial fashion: I'm going to start on new Business B.

Yes, I have to keep running my existing company, and I worry a bit about spreading myself fairly thin. BUT, I'm working on technology and processes that will allow me to automate and use technology to have Business B be not super reliant on my time after startup.

Anyway, that's what 4:30-7am are for.



Sounds Crazy, But, I'd Like To Subscribe To Your Newsletter....

Great! Should be a fun ride!

I'll outline what I'm doing about it in my next post, but for now, consider joining me on this journey - as I seek to address all the issues (CENTS) that my current company does not follow.
I'll share what I know, what I've learned.

I'm ready to start my next business adventure and dive head first into a much larger pool.
Now let's see if I remember how to swim :p
 

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WestCoast

WestCoast

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"It's better to violently execute a good plan today,
than a perfect plan tomorrow"
- General George Patton



>>>>>>Unrelated Note: I KNOW the pain a lot of people feel in unceasingly trying to figure out 'what should I do'? 'What should I make'??? 'Can someone just tell me what to do??'

I can't solve that issue for each person, but I will echo the comments of every successful business story I hear of.... ask questions, be observant and train yourself to think like a problem solver.

Don't ask how to 'make money' or 'have big margins and a monopoly on an idea. Rather, my own success has come from solving the needs of customers in a unique way.

So, I say to the community reading (echoing not my own original thoughts, but what everyone already knows). Seek to help other people first. Strive to solve a problem someone else has.

While it may not set you on the path to billions (as it has not done for myself up till this point as yet).... it will set your mind on a path to understanding how to create value.


So, here is how I am attempting it:


Step 1:

Action To Be Done: Research and hire a CAD Designer to create an initial model

I've decided to start with a small business, making a fairly ubiquitous product. It is one in every house, every apartment, every office and every building in the world. It is both unremarkable, as well as inexpensive. It's prevalent enough where most people will dismiss the idea summarily - which makes my mouth water... :)

I believe there is an opportunity arising for customization of, what to this point, has been mass produced / lowest priced commodities. With the advent of rapid prototyping, 3D modeling and the ability to right-size small production runs of goods .... I believe we will see a new predilection for people to want to have things customized to their tastes.

And if I am wrong in that regard, certainly there are infinite businesses that would wish to further their brand, and customer messaging, in places that are otherwise bland and blank.


There is already a massive market for these items I refer to, and the question is, are people willing to pay more, for individualized ones?

--
The good news is, with 3D printing, I can build a number of prototypes, without the expense of massive tools/expensive machining or committing to thousands of runs to get a cheap price.

I am not graphically minded, but, for $4.99, I purchased an App for the iPad called Procreate (ha)
With it, and an Apple Pencil, I am able to digitally create the simplest sketches, that I can easily share with designers around the world. (and I am far far far from artistic)

I am currently in the process of contacting 3 local design and build firms for quotes on
a) doing the CAD design next week (converting my sketches to a 3D .stl file)
b) producing a prototype for me

In addition to local firms (I just like the idea of working with people I can visit, or pick up a phone and call), there are HUNDREDS of people on platforms like Fiverr that claim they can do what I need, for $65- $250 dollars.

>>>> Unrelated Note: (that we live in an age where I can sketch something on a screen, send this to someone anywhere in the world, they can create a file that then is able to create a 3D model of my idea, via a 3D printer... is just.... staggering. If that doesn't impress you about technology, nothing will!)


Once I have quotes for 3D designers to build me a model, I will likely actually select two firms to work on this independently. I'm simply not expecting a terrible cost for the initial CAD file creation, and I sure like to have two firms working on a project than one. (this gives me more insight into HOW they work with clients, and a sense of speed and efficiency in how they turn around projects).

Once I have CAD files created of the items (it won't matter how exactly they *look* at this moment, I'm just working through the process with these firms), I will get a unit of each produced, and bring them home to stare at for an evening, before moving on to the next step in earnest.

--
Final note: I hate to put timelines on things for things that I am unfamiliar with... (ie, design, prototyping) - but I want to show everyone my intention to move with all possible speed.

I expect Step 1 to take 14 days (I would like to imagine it will be 5-7...), and since I am not traveling - I expect little to stand in my way of completing my initial Action by August 3rd.

As I do more, I expect my ability to more accurately predict timeframes for Actions to become more precise - but I do think everything important must have a timeline attached for completion.
 
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MJ DeMarco

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We're approaching $5M in annual revenue with 15 full time staff.

But back to what MJ said that got me fired up: "I operate a hobby business."
Wuh? Not sure I would call this a "hobby" business. Sure you're not just suffering from shiny object syndrome?

Congrats on building something fresh out of school!

Our current company is nice, but when you dig down... we violate a lot of the aspects of CENTS.
We don't control our own product, we have to deal with discounters, and we're basically a middleman (though, I'd say, a very good, honest and customer focused one)
This suggests that the company might not be worth much upon a sale. Why not sell? You sound like I did when I sold, just sort of burned out on the management, and looking for something new.
 

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What about channeling some of that money you are making into Real Estate? It can be as active or as passive as you want it to be and it scales very well.
 

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Ya, why not sell it BEFORE the recession hits if that's a legit concern.

It would certainly provide some cushion and capital for your new venture.
 
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WestCoast

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^^^
I don't intend to get too much into my existing business in this thread. This is about new ventures.
But, for you guys:

@MJ DeMarco - yeah, I forget exactly how you phrased it, but hobby business is what has stuck in my brain. Tinkerer... a guy who makes his money off his passion/hobby.

For the business valuation - I agree it's not worth as much as it could be. But, it throws off ~$300k/year in cash, owns $800k in inventory, grows every year and I take 2-3 months off to travel the world. It's not worth zero :)


@JordanK , I've looked into real estate, just not interested in all that. Maybe if I bought into large buildings with built in/on site management/commercial. But, that isn't an interest of mine dealing with any of that.


@IGP - Actually in the process of giving part of my business away to my top staff. 5% each to my top three guys. 10% each if they guide the business to $10M in revenue by 2022.
Thought about selling, but it can still teach me things... I happen to think we can make big gains in the next recession buying out competitors and investing into our manufacturers actually.

--
For for your comments, keeps my brain thinking. Update tomorrow on Business B here.
Things are happening!
 
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WestCoast

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Quick update - this is fun so far!

I've completed a number of sketches on my iPad.
(for what it's worth, I started with free 3D CAD files I downloaded at thingiverse.com Great easy resource)

I spoke with the first CAD engineer yesterday, another one this morning, and might do a site visit with one this afternoon (yeah yeah, I still make time for normal job :)

Expecting estimates from all firms by end of week on a first article!
 
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WestCoast

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Wasn't planning on daily updates... but... this is really exciting times. Just the idea of motion/taking action again. I'm really energized and working non-stop on it all.


--
1) I gave a presentation today to a large engineering firm (for Business A, if you're keeping track). Surprisingly, they actually found uses beyond what I had proposed. They think it will be very hard to do and expensive... (multi year...??) but, they got it. They see what I see.


2) Business B - Sent in my bid requests to designers with all my notes, and got back notes from both of them asking clarifying questions.

3) My girlfriend is stoked that I'm so excited... and even my lovely parents showed me a doodle of how they would design this product. :innocent: :halo:


I realize it will get harder, and more expensive shortly, but, I forgot how much fun this is. Executing an idea is a drug....and I think I'm back off the wagon... :praise:
 

MJ DeMarco

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1) I gave a presentation today to a large engineering firm (for Business A, if you're keeping track). Surprisingly, they actually found uses beyond what I had proposed. They think it will be very hard to do and expensive... (multi year...??) but, they got it. They see what I see.


2) Business B - Sent in my bid requests to designers with all my notes, and got back notes from both of them asking clarifying questions.

3) My girlfriend is stoked that I'm so excited... and even my lovely parents showed me a doodle of how they would design this product. :innocent: :halo:
Ah yes, the rush of starting something new. Feels entrepreneurial, not managerial.
 

Arun Siva

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Good read and a good quote from Patton i may add.

If you need any help with manufacturing/quality control please do not hesitate to pm me;
 
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WestCoast

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Since I started this week - I've met with or talked to three firms (1 for Biz A, 2 for Biz B).
I am waiting for quotes from all three.

While I was waiting (impatiently), I started playing around with designs on my own.
I mentioned I had used a $4.99 iPad app -

And then I found TinkerCAD. Totally free web based CAD software...
Now.... I have very very very little graphic skills.
And yet, there are enough tools here where I can easily create some of the basic designs - myself, for FREE.



I'm not saying I can replace any of these firms... but, with the tools available online....
I just can't get over what a world we live in.

Anyone, from anywhere, with a computer and internet access....... for FREE - can create products that solve problems.

The journey continues....
 

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Since I started this week - I've met with or talked to three firms (1 for Biz A, 2 for Biz B).
I am waiting for quotes from all three.

While I was waiting (impatiently), I started playing around with designs on my own.
I mentioned I had used a $4.99 iPad app -

And then I found TinkerCAD. Totally free web based CAD software...
Now.... I have very very very little graphic skills.
And yet, there are enough tools here where I can easily create some of the basic designs - myself, for FREE.



I'm not saying I can replace any of these firms... but, with the tools available online....
I just can't get over what a world we live in.

Anyone, from anywhere, with a computer and internet access....... for FREE - can create products that solve problems.

The journey continues....
Hi WestCoast, just wanted to suggest TinkerCAD to you! This program is awesome and gets you started quickly with 3D. If you also need a platform to manufacture your first ideas quickly with lots of different materials, I suggest Shapeways. (No affiliations, just think they provide good value and have competent customer support. If this link is not okay for any reason, I will remove it.)
If you need any advice on correct pricing for 3D modeling, repair of self-made stl-files or just plain old modeling, just pm me! I would be happy to help you on your impressive journey. Even though you seem to do very well already! Best wishes,
Gepi
 
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WestCoast

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@Gepi, thanks for that. I am trying to use local firms.... but I'm starting to regret that....
And if I keep getting no action... I'll send them to you Gepi and maybe you can take action!


I've now had communication with 3-4 companies to finish the design of the first article and print a couple samples in different materials..
And....
No quotes yet.

I'm not going to win 'worlds most patient guy' anytime soon... but... this is annoying to say the least.
I am giving them all 24 more hours to respond with a price quote and delivery date or I'm moving on:

I could:
a) buy a 3D printer (this seems drastic, but, I've got 3 days to my self imposed deadline to have product created for testing)

b) use a Shapeways or Fiverr or any other contract printer (I then have to wait for shipping, which is one thing I was really trying to avoid).


--
Anyway, the point here, I guess, is the process.
If you're following along - my experience has been: No one ever goes as fast as I want to go. (Which makes sense, everyone is going fast for themselves).

I don't want to start trying to be a designer and production guy. I'm trying to have patience and let the experts do what they do...
But I also don't want to be waiting for others for extended periods.

I *think* after I demonstrate sales/purchasing, that I'll move up their list a bit.
They might just assume that I'm some crazy hobbiest right now...
(which, maybe right now, is close to true)

Anyway...

Goal is still first articles in hand this week for Business B. That's what I set out to achieve and I'm pushing like hell to get that accomplished to my stated timeframe.

Learning lots, having some fun, my brain is going non-stop now with innovation I can bring to others... Which is a fun state to be in.
 
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WestCoast

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My stated goal was to have hired and designed parts by August 3rd.
I'm happy to report as of Aug 2nd, my first parts were already in production!

My two firm plan worked so far. (I engaged two firms, with the idea of seeing both to completion of a printed prototype.)

Firm 1 is a big regional company - they have taken my design and are building away on it.
Should have it next week.
Bad news is the first articles are about 5x what I predicted ($75/per vs my goal of $15/per)
But, we're going anyway

Firm 2 is an independent guy, and he has been very hit or miss. I still hope he will send me a quote and build parts... but he's slow to respond for sure.

--
Lesson: Multiple suppliers/contractors for the win.
 
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WestCoast

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Weekend Update: I forgot the fun hurry up and wait in parts of starting new ventures...... :jawdrop:

--> I'm up at 4:30am every day, and putting in in 1-2 hours on each project as needed. I like the mornings. Quiet, no distractions, and I can focus and be quite efficient.


Business A - First articles are finished (yeah!)
At 5x the price (ugh)
And... they but didn't actually ship them too me (grrrr)

They got wires cross, blah blah.... so they are complete sitting in a warehouse.
(I feel like I've seen this movie before....)

Plan was to evaluate and get initial feedback from friends/family this weekend.
Now that will be middle of next week.

I'm not great with patience, but, remaining calm.... we're getting close.


Oh, and the second designer was AWOL most of the week, but he came through thursday with *his* price to clean up my initial designs.
I'm going to wait for first articles and then likely pay him to do a Rev 2. on them.

So, I'm now about a week behind where I wanted to be.


Lesson!: It doesn't take much for things to get delayed. I respond in afternoon to email from morning... They miss my shipping instructions.... someone doesn't write back for a full day... poof, half the week gone.


Next Step: When I get the samples, this is my gut check on: Yes, this will be the killer product I dreamed up! Or.... hmmmm, need to do more work to refine it.
I do of course expect to have to do some revisions... but I'll be closer to a Go - No/Go on the business once my samples are here.
Should be Tuesday the 14th.



Business B - This is starting to get pretty interesting.

If you recall, I met with original design firm. They really like the idea, but it's going to be expensive...

This last week, I reached out and started talking to 3-4 more engineering firms about tackling two specific issues. Two of them are interested, and one of them I had an hour phone conference with, and they get it.

They agree it will be challenging, and a 6 figure investment to bring this to life...:blank:
But, they get it.
They totally see the commercial application, and actually recommended a few additional ones.
I am waiting on two bids for the Phase I / II of this project.


Lesson!: Be prepared. I normally rush into things, full speed, just like a wrecking ball.
Here, I've been more calculated. Did more research, talked to professionals I know.

Gathered more data, refined the scope of work required.
I went to these larger firms better prepared and 'on their level'. I have a budget (I don't tell them what it is... they are just impressed I have a budget...)

And they seem to be taking this concept as seriously as I am.
 
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WestCoast

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@Sebastya - the existing business? Yeah, in 3-4 years.
I'm giving away 15% equity to top 3 staff, and then I'll double it to 10% each (30% total), if they get it to $10M in sales by 2021.
 
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WestCoast

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Ok, update time:

I got my samples! :clap::

Yeah, it took at least a week longer, but, I got them, and they are workable for my needs.

*Turns out, in teaching myself CAD, I missed a detail on one of the dimensions (they are, basically, thicker than they should be, if that makes sense).


I've showed them to a few people, and the reaction is mixed. I am not sure they are going to work and sell as intended for the home market. I can't get the 3D printing cost down to a level I need.
I also don't want to build tools for injection molding (the entire idea is to avoid that, and have rapid and fast customization).

So, I'm now looking at the business market. Hotels, corporate headquarters, etc.
One of my designs lends itself to that more, and the budget requirements are different.

--
For business #2, I think I left off that I had pitched it to 3 engineering firms.
Well, I'm still waiting for the last 2 to give me a project estimate to complete Phase I & II


Side Note: My damn condo (that I never should have bought in the first place) is finally under contract, so I will be getting a good chunk of equity money back from that to invest in these other businesses.
I'm losing ~$49,000 :duh: over just 20 months of ownership, but whatever, many many many lessons learned...


--
Summary:
Bit of a mixed bag. Relying on others to make things happen is annoying, but I'm trying to be patient and keep progress happening on other fronts.

I'm meeting with another software guy tonight on a third project.

My brain is going like a locomotive, and while that means I'm not focusing on just one thing... it is very satisfying to me to be tinkering again.
Playing with new ideas, developing businesses models, and investing money into new concepts.

It is an interesting ride to be on again.
 
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WestCoast

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I am talking to myself a bit here in this thread... but, that happens :smile:
I wanted to share a bit of the process here for Business A.

--
I decided I wanted to 3D print customized, geographical relevant, household items.
Concept was/is that people are willing to pay a few dollars more for something that they identify with - compared to a generic/plain version.

So, I napkin drew this:
TH First Artwork.jpg

--
After that, I looked at some models that were commercially available, for free.
I found an outlet cover @ Thingiverse, and downloaded it (again, totally free).

Using ProCreate ($4.99) on my iPad, I mocked up this super basic concept.
TopoHome OR State Draft 1.1 (3).jpg

I showed this to a few CAD designers, and they said it was still too vague...
So, I found TinkerCad (free), and built the file myself:

TopoHome - Test Article 1 (Screen Shot).jpg


I played with this for a couple weeks.
a) because it was fun
b) to try to get the proportions right

And then I got it printed: (sorry it's low res/dark, it was early this morning)
TH First Article.JPG
 
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Ok, so now what??

First off, I hope this highlights the power of the modern age we live in....

- I designed this myself on a tablet (no prior experience)
- Created a CAD myself with free basic objects from internet (no prior experience)
- Printed with a company I never visited (no experience here either)
- Finished articles arrived at my door a few days later...

I spent ~$220 getting 3x samples made.
(I created two other very different designs simultaneously, and had them printed as well, but ignoring those in this thread)


FACTS:
- The printing cost per unit for my first articles ended up at ~$74.
- That was about 10x what I expected (I clearly didn't do enough research on costs before I designed it).
- The finish on the first article is not nice enough to use for production (putting aside it has design errors inherent in it due to my lack of experience)


LESSONS LEARNED:
- 3D printing isn't really geared for production volume/pricing (yet)
- The cost to make an injection tool is too high to justify for small production runs
- Designing and iterating is not difficult, but, I had to learn the language and get some advice


NEXT STEPS:
3D printing through a third party is simply not going to pencil out here, my costs will be wildly too high.
One of my guys at work is going to lease a 3D printer for work this winter, and he'll help me produce some more of my designs on it (what a boss I am!).

If we can get the cost down to $5-7, I think we're onto something.
If not, I'm going to try a different angle, and look at some different customers that might be willing to pay more for items like this.
 
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WestCoast

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Updates:

Personal:
Took some time off last month, and have been traveling around the country almost every week since then.
Just back and forth, up and down, pounding the pavement for my main business.
We're looking at new locations and it's exhausting. (but exhilarating too!)

3D Printing
For the above 3D printed objects, the costs are just too high at this point to proceed.
So, for now, I've shelved the concept. I set a calendar reminder to come back to it in a year.


Project B
After a couple more months of engineering firm conversations, today or tomorrow I'll sign the first contract with a firm to start the development process.

I'm sending $10,000+ to a firm I selected here in the states to start walking me through the process of product definition and all that.


It's a big chunk, and it's probably going to hit 6 figures quickly to get it to a finished product.
But, after 8 months of conception, iteration and a lot of market research - I'm going for it.


**I imagine I'll wind down this thread and post a new one on Project B once that kicks off here in early November. The goal had been to share the entrepreneurial process as I evaluated different ideas.
I think I did that, but this thread didn't generate the back and forth I hoped to - so, it's been just me updating things. I think I'll try a new thread and a new approach next time to spur some more dialog and try to answer more questions or whatever that comes up**
 

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It's a big chunk, and it's probably going to hit 6 figures quickly to get it to a finished product.
But, after 8 months of conception, iteration and a lot of market research - I'm going for it.
Exciting times man. On this, make sure your contract is air tight with the firm. It’s good you know design costs can blow out, but put some strict parameters on them. Especially the outcomes you expect at each stage of the project when they’re expecting to be paid. And don’t hand over the cash until you see the outcomes you set.

After 13 years in business I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this. Just a little learnt from my own experience working with an engineering firm. I deferred too much to them and didn’t hold them accountable early enough which added more time/money to the project. Which I’ve had to retrospectively dispute and recoup. Lesson learned. And hopefully of use to you.

Good luck with it!
 
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WestCoast

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SYK- My experience is similar to yours.
These guys have only asked for 50% up front, 50% upon completion.
I made a relationship decision to pay them 100% up front for Phase 0 here.

Even at age 35, owning a decent sized business for a decade plus...I get some looks from folks wondering if I'm serious.

So, I have found that at appropriate times, I can short circuit that thinking a little with cash up front on projects. Won't be my normal mode, promise, but, I did it for Phase 0 to make sure they knew I was serious about things.


Appreciate you following the thread, I signed the contract this morning.
Mailing in my check today. I really like my odds.
 
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SYK

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Won't be my normal mode, promise, but, I did it for Phase 0 to make sure they knew I was serious about things.
Good to hear! I know I'll be doing things differently next time around. One big thing is someone else's version of "done" is very different to yours as the project/product owner. Basically, no one cares as much as you do. Minor details to them can be critical factors to you.

SYK- Appreciate you following the thread, I signed the contract this morning.
Mailing in my check today. I really like my odds.
Congrats on kicking things off. Seeing your idea come to life is super fulfilling. Will be following along!
 
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