The Demise of Pebble as a Platform

Despite owning five, including the original Pebble, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about smart watches. Even so, the leaked news that Fitbit is buying Pebble for “a small amount” has me sort of depressed about the state of the wearables market. Because Pebble could have been a contender, although perhaps not for the reason you might guess.

Pebble is a pioneer of the wearables market, and launched its first smartwatch back in 2012, two years before the Apple Watch was announced. But after turning down an offer of $740 million by Citizen back in 2015, and despite cash injections from financing rounds and a recent $12.8 million Kickstarter, the company has struggled financially.

An offer of just $70 million earlier this year by Intel reflected Pebble’s reduced prospects, and the rumoured $30 to $40 million price being paid by Fitbit must be a disappointing outcome for a company that was riding high such a short time ago.

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Life on Contract: How to Fail at Contracting Regardless of Skill

I believe higher quality learning happens from sharing failure than from sharing stories of success. If you have set your mind to living on contract, I present this cheat sheet of some of the most simple and effective ways to muck it all up that have surprisingly little or nothing to do with your technical skill, knowledge, or even deliverables.

The previous installment of Life on Contract discussed how one might find clients as an engineering contractor or consultant while also taking a bit of time to pull apart the idea of whether life on contract is appropriate as opposed to, for example, bootstrapping a business instead. Assuming you are set on working as a contractor, let’s talk about what happens after you have found a prospective client (or perhaps more likely: after they have found you.)

WARNING: this article features an utter lack of success tips and tricks. Partly because those can be found in any seminar or business self-help book, but mostly because I do not have a foolproof recipe for success, and cheat codes to unlock easy mode still elude me. But I have witnessed (or committed) and reflected on many excellent ways to fail at contracting; or at the very least succeed in not being invited back.

Just because I won’t be sharing success stories doesn’t mean success has no learning value. Got a success story, or a better way to fail? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Life on Contract: How to Find Clients as an Engineering Contractor

The following is my personal advice, it probably doesn’t apply to all contractors, but it’s certainly applied to me. When you start contracting, your most pressing question is probably “how do I find clients” so here’s what little I’ve learned so far…

1. Don’t

For some, contracting is seen as a potential escape route from the hum-drum of a dull, often political office environment. But contracting isn’t always the answer. Pay, while often better, is inconsistent. I’ve had clients pay two months late (and think it’s normal), pay the wrong amount (due to misunderstanding currency conversion) and just plain forget to sign off an invoice. Chasing down these invoicing issues will all be your job. Clients will say “we’ll definitely hire you” and then a contract will never happen.

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Should You Outsource Manufacturing? A Handy Guide

A lot of people assume that the product development cycle involves R&D, outsourcing to a Chinese manufacturer, and then selling the finished product. It’s almost ingrained in our heads that once a prototype has been developed, the next step involves a visa and airplane tickets. Here is a guide that will explore a few other options, and why outsourcing may not be appropriate for everyone.

First, let’s talk about goals. We’ll assume you’re not a large company, and that you don’t have a huge budget, and that you’re just getting started with your product and don’t have big volumes; a startup trying to sell a kit or breakout board, or a consumer electronics product. Your goals are the following:

  1. Validate your product in the market. Build a minimum viable product and get it in the hands of lots of users
  2. Get the most bang for your limited bucks. All money should go towards getting products out the door
  3. Reduce risk to your company so that any single failure doesn’t crater the whole operation and you can safely grow.

With that in mind, what are your options?

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Life On Contract: How To Have a Meeting

Meetings can actually be useful. It’s hard to believe, but they can actually save time if done right. While most of us are in a perpetual state of torture by Kevin in marketing holding another three-hour meeting during lunch hours, there are a few of us who know their hidden power when put in the right hands.

Working as a contractor, wasted meetings mean wasted billable hours. Even wasted meeting time is covered in the cost of the contract it runs the risk of giving the client the impression that you’re not as productive as originally thought. Organized, productive meetings show that you know what you’re doing and that the cost of your services as a whole is a good value. Yeah, some meetings suck but they are necessary and should be productive.

A meeting needs three things to be worth the time spent on it.

  1. A well prepared for, simple, and clear agenda.
  2. A time limit.
  3. Something needs to be written down at the end of it.

I’ll start with the third item as it shapes the rest. The point of a meeting is to have something to write down at the end of the meeting. Any meeting that ends up in anything requiring fallible human memory was a waste of everyone’s time. This includes, verbal agreements, handshake agreements, ideating (pronounced idioting), brainstorming, think tanking, and the like.

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Life On Contract: Estimating Project Time

You sit there, irritation bubbling deep within as minute forty-five of the meeting ticks past on the clock in the corner of the office. Fight or flight is in a contest with your attention span as you struggle to keep an interested look on your face while they drone on. Real work could be done in this time. Maybe if you go to the bathroom you could sort of… fast forward the meeting. Panicked thinking continues for a bit until your awareness snaps back to the babble of words in the room.

“How long will it take you to do this?” the manager asks.

“A couple of days maybe?” You reply in turn. The manager nods and you take your escape. Little do you know that you have failed.

The project swerves out of control. Two days on the dot the manager is there expecting results. How? How did this happen again? It felt right! Two days is all you’d need to do such a simple project. It ended up taking a week.

The next meeting you say two weeks just to be sure. Everyone nods gravely, upset that something would take so long, but the work must be done. Two days later you sheepishly wander into the manager’s office with a completed project. He looks pleased but confused. The next meeting, he insists that you can do it in half the time. You and your fragile pride bowl ahead only to deliver late. The mystery!

This was my life until I started bugging the more experienced around me. I learned a lot from them and I ended up distilling it down into a few rules.

  1. There Is No Other Unit Than Hours
  2. Be honest.
  3. Get Granular.
  4. Promise a Range. Give a Deadline.

Why?

Why does someone want a time estimate? What are they going to do with this information? When working on a contract job it often feels like sticking a foot in a trap when a time estimate is given. Are they going to hold me to this? What if it goes wrong? After all, we are not fortune tellers. Unless the manager is extremely bad or you show yourself to be extremely lax in your duties, it is unlikely that a time estimate will be used against you.

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From Project To Kit: After The Sale

However you sell your kits online, you’ll have to find a means of shipping them to the customer. For an online operation this unseen part of the offering is more important than any other when it comes to customer satisfaction, yet so many large players get it so wrong.

This is the final article in a series looking on the process of creating and selling a commercial kit from a personal electronic project (read all the posts in this series). We’ve looked at the market, assembling the kit and its instructions, and how to set up an online sales channel. In this part we’ll look at what happens when you’ve made the sale, how to get it safely to the customer and how to keep the customer happy after the sale by offering support for your products. We’ll also give a nod to marketing your site, ensuring a fresh supply of customers.

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