Monday, May 18, 2015

What's up with me these days.

I have so many moments where  I think, "that would be a great blog post". The end result is what you see on Bytecruft, not so many posts. I really enjoy writing a blog, though somehow it always ends up close to last in priorities.

My business, Anibit Technology is doing OK. Not great, but not exactly where I had hoped. The hardware business is hard, really, really hard. Re-selling other's hardware is even harder. I love being part of the "Maker" movement, however marginal. I wanted to make it something that I could do full time by diving head-first into it, and supporting myself and family by doing something that I love. That's the ultimate American dream, right?

My plan was, and more of less is, still something like this:

1. Design and produce hardware with accompanying software that will help people who like to invent, or who want to lean to invent.
2. ???
3. Profit.

Alright, that's a little facetious, but not as far from the gist of it that my characterization doesn't make me a little self-conscious.

I've focused a whole lot of time over that past year on what can be summarized as step 2. Re-selling hobby electronics related products was my idea at getting a presence established that would allow me to focus on other undertakings. In hindsight, that was probably not the best approach. Reselling electronics is cut-throat, and a lot more work that I thought it would be. Between suppliers, who are trying to support themselves as well, and customers, who are looking typically for the best prices, often leave little room for "the middle man". My suppliers I work with are fantastic, but I have had many more where agreements have fallen through or we couldn't come to a common understanding. And then there's the question of value added. What do I have to offer over my suppliers, most of whom consumers could buy from directly anyways? Ay my small scale, it's hard to offer much of anything over and above. For large custom orders, it is fun to see what I can do that makes me feel like I offered a deal no one else could or would. But for small, one-off, why would someone buy from me when they can get it right from Adafruit, or Pololu? I'm guessing my eternal gratitude is not a major selling point. With my small purchasing power, I don't have the ability to play around with price much, and I've even run into a few scenarios where I've had to sell at a loss due to falling prices on existing inventory. My hardware re-sell aspect of Anibit barely made a profit last year, and that is ignoring all of the "hidden" overhead and fixed costs I didn't attribute to it, such as hosting, etc.

That sounds an awful lot like a post-mortem. It is, in one respect in that it's a reflection on past performance, but I'm not done with reselling, Going forward, I'm just, not going to give it as big of a percentage of my effort as I have in the past. I'm not going to let it suck time away from the efforts that get me to my end goal.

The other part of "step 2" I have done to build up the business is consulting services and contract/freelance software and hardware development. This has been much more financially rewarding than the hardware reselling, but even more time intensive, as what I'm selling is my time and expertise. I love doing it, I love designing and making things, but even better I would love designing and making my things. Freelance consulting is a strange thing too. I never did the online dating thing, I was lucky enough to meet my wife the old fashioned way, but online consulting reminds me of what I think online dating would be like. There are enough flakes out there that make the overall experience frustrating at times. I've met and worked with some great companies and individuals for sure, but I've also experienced some shocking levels of unprofessionalism. I think it works both ways, I think there are a lot of bad consultants and contractors out there, and understandably some clients are shell-shocked. There's nothing like spending a few hours researching and planning for a meeting with a prospective client only to be "stood up" at meeting time, and never heard from again.

I have spent a lot of time developing my own ideas, but very few of them have made it out to the public level. There are many reasons, that vary for each idea. Some of them I decided that maybe the market wasn't there for what I was working on, and my time would be better spent somewhere else. Some of them, I felt weren't as urgent, so I mothballed them. For many of them, they answer is that I'm still working on them, but I have spread myself so thin that progress on each project moves at a snails pace. I've thought a lot about how to tackle this problem. I could hire help to work on some of them, but I need a decent way to fund development. I could look for inventors or crowdfunding, but I think I need to have the particular idea to a certain working prototype first. I could look for the "low hanging fruit" ideas, that could be the easiest to bring to market, to get the ball rolling. I've done all of these things, and somehow the "spreading myself to thin" aspect is still there. I think if I could better just focus the most important thing, it would have the best chance of seeing the light of day.

I have built a lot of really neat stuff in the past year, there's been so much of it that I wanted to blog about, or present, or show people, and I always have this fear that if I did, someone, might have better resources to get my idea out before I did. I know that's a blend of paranoia and rational fear.

So to address some of the things that's been holding me back, I'm going to have a minor pivot. My mission or purpose hasn't changed, just how I plan to execute it.  I've decided to 1) cut back on expanding my reselling offerings. (I'm not stopping, just not trying to expand much), 2) cut back on how many projects I have in active development at once (ideally only 1, but probably at least 2). and 3) I think I'm going to focus on some software-only or software centric projects/products initially, since I'm really good at software, and it's much much easier to scale as well as iterate. Some of these may even be only marginally what's considered "Maker" related, if at all.

I would also like to try to be more open about what's going on with my efforts to bootstrap my company. If you happen to live in central North Carolina, and have your own business you're trying get up and running, drop me a note, I'd love to commiserate over a beer sometime.


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