I just got back from a 6,000 mile woodworking expedition to the Korean Furniture Museum in Seoul and learned several valuable entrepreneur lessons I’d like to share with you. OK, maybe that’s a stretch. We went to Korea for my day job and had some time to kill before our return flight and took the opportunity to research some woodworking designs. The mission’s intent was sound, but it quickly took some interesting turns. Here are a few lessons learned from the expedition:
Lesson #1: Surround Yourself with Positive, Like-Minded People
Given our government-mandated return flight time, we had some time to kill in Seoul, so I figured I’d tour the Korean Furniture Museum for some design ideas. The Lonely Planet Guide for Seoul recommended it and it seemed interesting. One of my colleagues, Rich Davis (see interview with him here), tagged along since we are both on artisan journeys: mine in woodworking and Rich’s in photography. Our first task was to figure out the Korean subway system. I’d ridden it a few years ago, but was a little rusty. Fortunately, the digital kiosks had an English option and we were able to quickly purchase a couple tickets and be on our way. A couple subway stops later we got off and started walking toward the museum which the Guide said was on a beautiful hilltop location. It was a pretty warm day and as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed we realized we weren’t seeing any more signs for the museum and were lost (more on that in #2 below).
At this point, Rich could have started cussing me out, but he understood it was all part of the journey. If I hadn’t had him along, I might have thrown in the towel and headed back to the subway station. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people. They will encourage you to keep pressing on.
Lesson #2: People Want to Help You
So there we were, lost in Seoul, but we saw a police “box” which is an extremely small outpost for a policeman or two to stand in. I figured “what’s the worst that can happen” and went to ask for directions. The two Korean policemen were extremely young, maybe around 18, and I had no idea if they spoke English. Luckily, even though they didn’t think so, their English was very good. One of them even drew a map on my guide book to the museum. We followed his map and ran into another police box. The policeman there gave us the final directions and we finally made it to the museum.
I’ve traveled to at least two dozen countries and have found that people, in general, are very friendly and are willing to help you out. This is a good lesson for entrepreneurs: if you are stuck, ask for help.
Lesson #3: Never Quit
We got the museum and asked the security guard about tickets. He made a chopping motion with one arm against his forearm. He was either a Seminoles fan or something was amiss. He was on older gentleman who didn’t speak any English and flagged down a co-worker. She told us the museum was closed! According to the guidebook, we were there during normal hours, but apparently they were going through some renovations or something. Rich and I laughed it off and starting heading back down the hill. We went back to our hotel and rehydrated with a couple of cold ones. Rich was able to climb the hill near the hotel at sunset and snap some cool time lapse photographs from the old city wall, so the day wasn’t a total loss.
This could have been a very disappointing afternoon, but the way we looked at, it was just one event in a very long journey to create. In addition, we’re likely to go back to Korea again next year and can give it another shot.
There you have it: surround yourself with like-minded people, ask for help when you need it, and never quit. And by the way, if you are ever in Seoul, please let me know how the Korean Furniture Museum is ; )
(Thursday night) We got kicked out of the house! Given that we’ve been banished, it seemed like an opportune time to update the blog. Some of you have asked “Jerry, what’s up with the blog?” Well, it’s three things. First, I’ve been busy keeping the world safe for democracy in my day job. Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire, so we have 23 more months to go. Second, Traughber Design has been swamped with orders, which is a good thing. Third, we’ve been getting the house ready to sell so we can continue our minimalism journey. That’s the reason we got kicked out of the house tonight: our realtor told us to beat it for the open house. That actually turned out to be a blessing since we caught up on our Five Guys addiction and it gave me some time to update you on the happenings at Traughber Design.
As far as those commissions, many thanks to Lisa Love for the furniture repair commission, Jeremy Wood for the woodturning commission, and neighbor Dave Strong for commissioning two home base footstools. Dave also commissioned some baseball bat stools which we’re working on. And a huge thank you to Dr Steve Ford for his gun cabinet commission (see our first post about that commission here). Speaking of which…
The picture above shows the glue up we did today attaching the face frame of the gun cabinet to the cabinet itself. Believe it or not, it took almost 40 hours to get to that point. The cabinet involves over 70 pieces and it took some time to carefully select each piece to match grain and avoid knots in the raw boards. In order to maximize efficiency, I cut all the 70 pieces at once so I didn’t have to keep switching back and forth between tools later. Not that it wasn’t fun, though. I enjoy letting the wood talk to me and tell me what each part wants to be. It’s also important to finish sand certain parts before gluing since they won’t be accessible once they are glued together. When finish sanding with three grits (80, 120, and 180) it takes some time. Be sure you are not sanding where the joints glue together, however, or you won’t get a solid bond. In the next step we’ll cut the two back panels which consist of black walnut plywood. After that, we start working on the base molding and crown molding which will be three carefully routed pieces glued together in an intricate pattern.
While projects like Steve’s are drying, I flip over to the second project, in this case the baseball bat stool. Thanks to Jacob Hummitzsch for his engineering prowess on this one. We jerry rigged a frame to hold the bats in place and to get the angles right for the stools. Now I just need to drill the holes and dry fit everything together. With any luck, I’ll post an update with pictures when that stool is done.
We just made another deal last weekend to make some baseball bat themed footstools and bar stools, which was terrific. Then I did the math on our total backlog and it’s over 100 hours! Remember, this is a part time gig until I retire (Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire) and I can only comfortably do about 6 hours per week in the wood shop, especially given work travel. That means my backlog works out to about 17 weeks or 4 months, which is too long for my taste. Why? Because there are a few other commissions I’ve been discussing with potential clients that I’d really like to build. They look like really fun projects. Doing these new deals is not about bringing in new business, but about making things that are interesting. How does an entrepreneur manage their backlog when it gets too big? Read on!
#1: Throttle Back on Marketing, But Not Completely
An entrepreneur needs to maintain the flow of business, because the backlog could be gone at some point. We always want new business walking in that door, but not too much or quality will suffer, or we’ll have to turn away too many clients. To give you a specific example, you may have noticed I’ve started to tweet here and there with some updates on what is going on in the shop (follow us at Twitter handle @TraughberDesign). I could be tweeting a lot more, but decided to just tweet occasionally until we’ve worked off more of that backlog. We also have a Pinterest account and could be doing a lot more other on the social media front with apps like Instagram. At this point, though, we need that time in the shop.
Something else to start thinking about is what is your ideal backlog number? That number could be in hours or number of projects to ship, or some other metric. Then work towards that metric you’ve set. Over 100 hours is too much right now for Traughber Design, but once I’m doing this full time, that number may be too low if I work a 40 hour week in the wood shop. What’s the right number for your business? Have you thought about that? You want enough of a backlog to keep yourself gainfully employed for a while, but how long? How frequently does new work typically come in the door? As I mentioned earlier, this backlog will take me 4 months and I can estimate pretty well how much new work we’ll get in that time period. That will determine how much effort (or not) we spend on marketing. We’ve already had 4 commissions this year and it’s only February so we need to manage the incoming and outgoing flow.
We just talked about investing less (time) in marketing, where should the entrepreneur invest?
#2: Invest in Capital Expenditures that Make You Faster
Maybe buying tools should always be the default answer! One can never have enough tools, I suppose, unless you’re traveling a minimalist journey as Mrs Woodworker and I are. But what do I mean by “buy more tools”? I mean to look for opportunities where a tool or jig will make you faster or more efficient in whatever your creating enterprise is. To give you an example, I anticipate we may be making a lot of the baseball bat themed foot stools and bar stools. Is there a tool I can buy that will speed up production while maintaining or improving the quality? Is there a jig (a specially made apparatus to hold pieces in place to make cutting/sawing/drilling/etc. easier) I can make that makes positioning the bats easier to speed things up? Yes, of course there are. I’ve made one prototype foot stool from three bats and can see the value in making a jig for the bar stool to precisely align the bats and drill holes for the cross pieces that will hold the bats in place in the stool. If I make the jigs now, we’ll reap the benefits in the long run with time savings on every piece.
So we can speed things up with capital expenditures, but how about allocating our time wisely?
#3: Reallocate Your Time
As I wrote about earlier in the post Get Out of the Rat Race: How to Manage the Transition from Career to Maker, entrepreneurs have tremendous freedom to decide where to focus their efforts. That’s one of the reasons we start these journeys: freedom and creativity. Not only is it about allocating time after the day job is over, but occasionally an entrepreneur will run across some “bonus time.” There was a bit of serendipity with this holiday weekend. We had planned to go cross country skiing in West Virginia, but the snow forecast was abominable. We cancelled and went out with friends at least one night, but that freed up the entire weekend for some making every morning. I’m the lark, or early riser, in the family so I naturally get up to write a little then hit the wood shop before every one is up. Then we spent the rest of the day together. I try not to work in the shop late in the day because fatigue and power tools don’t go together. I’d like to keep my fingers. If you are an entrepreneur, look for opportunities like that to do a little extra making. For you, would that be early in the morning? Stealing some time during the day? Late in the day? Using a portion of a holiday weekend?
As we’ve written about earlier, if you don’t have enough time you can always pull out that time creation machine we wrote about in the post Time is not Finite and make some time.
#4: Enjoy the Ride
When you run across a “problem” with a backlog like this, it’s important to step back for a minute and do a couple things.
One thing is to pat yourself on the back for having a backlog in the first place. Remember when you started as an entrepreneur? You had zero backlog and were just hustling for revenue. Now that you have one, congratulate yourself. Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases, discusses that more in our entrepreneur interview series.
No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
I used to think that time is finite, but have since learned that’s not true. We can create time. If you are an entrepreneur, or would like to be an entrepreneur and have a dream you are pursuing, you must create time to devote to it, just as the philosopher Epictetus said that we need to allow time for that fig to grow.
Let me share three ways you can create time:
Cut the cable
As we wrote about earlier regarding Stoicism and having correct perceptions, we can change our perception of time to trick our brains into thinking there is more of it by reducing stimuli, in particular, eliminating TV. Did you know the average American watches 5 hours of TV per day according to the New York Daily News! By eliminating TV you are creating 5 hours per day, 35 hours per week, or almost 2,000 hours per year! That’s the equivalent of a full time job (in France). Not only that, while you are watching TV, the minutes seem to be racing by, but when you eliminate TV time slows down, or at least appears to slow down. You’ve tricked your brain into thinking you have more time. So how specifically can you go about it?
My pal Rich Davis turned me onto a blog by a guy called Mr Money Mustache (view his blog here) whose primary focus is sharing lessons learned for achieving financial independence. MMM, as he’s called, advocates cutting your cable for primarily financial reasons, but my opinion is that the primary reason is to create time, with the ancillary benefit of reaping huge financial savings over time. I decided to pursue MMM’s advice because we weren’t watching cable much and were paying $180 per month to Verizon. No matter how much I negotiated with Verizon and cut services the price always moved back up to what I was paying before. So Mrs Woodworker and I decided to cut both cable and the phone landline to see what would happen. We had stopped answering the landline because almost all the calls we were receiving were telemarketers, so why pay Verizon for a service we weren’t using? Anyway, our Verizon bills with the bundles (Internet, phone, and cable) were $180 before we cut the cord. Now we are paying $85 per month, which is a net savings of about $100 per month, almost $1200 per year, or $12,000 (!) over 10 years. There is one major drawback which we haven’t fully mitigated, however.
How do we watch our favorite professional and college sports? I think we’ve cracked the code on pro sports, but college sports are a work on progress. I was finding that the ending of NFL games were so late here on the East Coast, that I needed a workaround. A couple years ago I started subscribing to NFL GamePass ($99.99 per year) which allows you to watch all NFL games via replay. I get up for work at 0430 (remember Traughber Design is a part-time business for now) and if an NFL game doesn’t get over until 0100, that’s only 3 1/2 hours of sleep. That’s not a sustainable model. With NFL GamePass I can just watch the game the following night and get 8 hours of sleep (or close to it).
College games are a bit trickier, but I’m finding more games are starting to be streamed on the Internet live and that ESPN is starting to show many games via replay on their website. A fallback option is to Google the closest watering hole that is showing your favorite college team’s games. I always feel obligated to keep ordering things while I’m there, since I’m receiving the benefit of watching the game in their establishment, so this can be an expensive option. Another option is to “invite yourself” to your friends’ (thank you, Kevin Hanson) houses ; )
Truth in advertising here…does that mean we watch absolutely no TV? Of course not. We’re not Luddites. We’ve got Netflix for $9.99 per month and now we purchase about two TV series per year on iTunes (of course, we have to keep up with The Walking Dead). Each series runs about $30 for a season, which means we are netting over $1000 per year, or over $10,000 over 10 years versus cable. That’s a whole lot of power tools!
So…you can create time by cutting cable. How else can you create time?
Do a cost/benefit analysis of Amazon Prime Versus Running Errands
We signed up for Amazon Prime about a year ago as an experiment. I looked at our orders over the preceding year and we didn’t have enough orders to justify the $99 annual fee, but I wanted to experiment with it (See our post about failing fast and cheap. This was an inexpensive experiment) to see what all the hubbub was about. There’s no surprise given the clever mind of Jeff Bezos that we are purchasing more from Amazon than we had before, because it’s so convenient. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if we were going to purchase those things anyway. Where Prime really comes in handy is in creating time by having packages shipped to your house if they are the same price in the local store. You’ve just created the amount of time required to do that round trip to the local store by ordering via Prime, not to mention the time to stand in line. To give you an example, recently Mrs Woodworker’s headlight went out. I was going to run to Advance Auto Parts and buy another bulb. Then I got to thinking “I wonder what the price is on Amazon?” Sure enough, the price was about the same. Now if Mrs Woodworker was going to be doing night driving, I would have gone straight away to buy the bulb to keep her safe. She was only going to be driving during the day for the next 2 days, so I ordered on Amazon and the bulb showed up 2 days later. I had just created 40 minutes of time (20 minutes each way, plus any additional time standing in line).
Jeff Bezos just helped you create some time, how else can you do it?
Stop Doing Something
It’s important we evaluate our to-do lists from time to time to make sure we’re not doing things we don’t need to be doing. I tried to zero in on things that were repetitive which would mean large time savings over the long haul. One of those things was paying bills. We’ve been paying bills online via our bank for a long time, but were too lazy to fully automate the process. Before you pay one more bill, go to the company’s website and sign up for autopay. You will never have to write another check or facilitate another payment again. I figure I was spending at least 15 minutes every Saturday paying bills. I just created 12 hours per year. Now we just get an E-mail every month stating when our card was charged and by how much. In addition, I’m using that wonderful Naval Federal Credit Union (NFCU) Visa card that pays 1.5% cash back (thanks Gareth Embrey for the recommendation).
Another great way to eliminate errands is to leverage Craigslist and Freecycle. People will actually come to your house and pay you for your stuff if you use Craigslist! Think about how many trips to the dump or donation center that will eliminate. If I post something on Craigslist and it doesn’t sell, then I usually post it on Freecycle. For example, as I mentioned in the post about moving the wood shop, we are getting ready to move. Our realtor recommended replacing two old ceiling fans and an old light fixture with three ceiling fans, which I just finished installing. I posted the old fans on Craigslist, but they didn’t sell so I posted them on Freecycle. A very nice lady came and took them away. Bam! I just saved the time it would have taken to get rid of them, and she got three fixtures for free.
What else is there on your to-do list that you can eliminate or automate?
Well, that’s enough temporal philosophy so I’d better call it a day and head down to the wood shop.
Thinking about cutting the cord? Go for it!
For other Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures on managing time, check out our post here.
Before we launched Traughber Design, I put a lot of thought into what kind of company I wanted. I wanted a company that gave back to our clients via high quality craftsmanship, but also wanted some of the profits to flow to its employees (currently an Army of One) as well as the community. I wanted that entrepeneur philosophy to be embedded in the company DNA from the very beginning. The first 2 years of operation we invested heavily in tools and ran at a loss which I had fully expected, but here in year #3 we are going to turn a profit and it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and execute the vision we had at the beginning. So this year we are going to invest a portion of our profits in the local community. A percentage of the proceeds from our first commission has been set aside to sponsor a sports team at the local high school. As future commissions roll in, we will disburse that same percentage of our revenue to other causes.
We all have time, talent and treasure. Some of us have more time than money, while others have more money than time. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, have you thought about giving your time, talent, and treasure directly in your community, if you are not already?For example, in our local church we have a ministry called Helping Hands of Grace where we serve dinner to the homeless on Friday nights during the winter when the need is greatest. Several other churches sponsor different nights of the week. What we are finding is that those service nights at our church get signed up for very quickly by the various small groups in our church. People want to help their fellow man and are being intentional about serving on those Friday nights. Events like those are a great opportunity to give your time to others. If you would like to serve by giving your time, consider contacting your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or church for opportunities.
Earlier, we wrote a post about John Rockefeller and his keys to success. One of the things we didn’t write as much about in that post, was his struggle after he become very wealthy to find his way in philanthropy. Setting up a foundation to distribute wealth was a new thing back then and he had to basically invent the model which is used today by some of the large foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Foundation, but had a difficult time deciding how it should be run, who should get the funds, and how to ensure the receiving organizations had a sustainable model. One of the first large efforts he started was establishing the University of Chicago, but he fought with the leadership because they weren’t broadening their donor base and weren’t (Rockefeller felt) being frugal. Rockefeller didn’t want the receiving organizations to be solely dependent on his foundation. Of course, when he was a young man he didn’t know he would have this “problem” of distributing extraordinary wealth, but now that we have his example and the example of others, we can incorporate this thinking about giving early on when we craft our entrepreneur philosophy.
It is up to each person to consider what is appropriate for them. To whom much is given, much is required. If you’ve launched an entrepreneurial venture, have you thought about who your stakeholders are and who should benefit if your venture is successful? Should it be solely you? Your employees? The community? All of the above? In what proportion?
I think some of the most important questions a founder can ask themselves are:
“Why am I starting this enterprise?” “Who are the stakeholders?” “How can I support them?”
In addition to philanthropy, an entrepreneur should give back to its employees. I did another of our entrepeneur interviews last week (we’ll be publishing that interview soon), this time with the owner of Better Display Cases, John Johnson. He is giving back to another group of stakeholders, his employees. Here is a veteran who just retired, started his own company and already has two employees and is looking for a third. Business is booming and he is giving back to the community by providing good jobs here in Northern Virginia. BTW, if you’re looking for work, contact him at his website here.
Another great example of giving back to employees is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments. Dan is a very thoughtful guy and was troubled by the stories from his employees of struggling to get by in a high cost city. He was making over $1 million per year and thought it was unfair that he had it so good, while his employees were struggling. He decided to set a “minimum wage” of a $70,000 annual salary for every employee including himself (you can read all about it here in Inc. Magazine). The reason he picked $70,000 is that studies have shown $70,000 will meet most families’ needs and your marginal happiness does not increase much above $70,000 no matter how much you make. As you can imagine, his employees were shocked and overjoyed. They were so ecstatic that they bought him a new Tesla last year which you can read about here.
My point is, in both Johnson’s and Price’s cases they have thoughtfully considered who the stakeholders are in their enterprises.
So we’ve discussed giving of time, talent, and treasure to two groups of stakeholders, the community and employees, but not much about the third, yourself. This goes back to that earlier question of why you’re starting the enterprise. Are you seeking a certain level of income? Self-fulfillment? Something else? In my opinion, if you take care of your clients, employees, and community, your needs will be taken care of organically. Those stakeholders will support you, if you support them.
These philosophy discussions are best had before launching the venture or early in its development, because once it’s launched you are going to be unbelievably busy as I saw at Better Display Cases this week. John and is two employees are really hustling to fulfill orders and have boxes stacked from floor to ceiling in the entire building. They receive large shipping containers from China monthly and race to unload the containers and deliver their products to all their customers. John’s time to have these philosophical discussions now is extremely limited.
Along those lines, seek out mentors who are farther along the entrepreneurial path who can share what they’ve done. It may not be exactly the correct path for you, but will help clarify your thinking (check out our blog post here on Stoic philosophy for more on clarity).
Several years ago when I was going through a military course, we had a reading about Admiral James Stockade, who won the Medal of Honor for his actions during 8 years as a Prisoner of War during Vietnam. In the article, Stockdale was describing the mission where he was shot down over North Vietnam and talked about how he was flying along at hundreds of miles an hour, had to eject, and realized he was suddenly entering the world of Epictetus. I had never heard of Epictetus and thought how significant it must be that in that moment, of all the things that might have been going through his head, Stockdale was thinking of someone named Epictetus. Intrigued, I started to do a little research and found that Epictetus was a Greek philosopher who belonged to a school of philosophy called Stoicism. I wanted to learn more and during one of my business trips, found a copy of Epictetus’ Discourses in a used bookstore. The Discourses are lectures written down by one of Epictetus’ students. I don’t agree with everything in the Discourses, but there are some useful concepts for designing our lives, entrepreneurs and woodworkers in Stoicism. We can learn much from studying philosophers. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. We can get so caught up in the tactical details of life that sometimes we don’t step back to ask the question of whether what we are doing is even important. Shouldn’t we be continually asking that question?
That being said, Stoicism seems to be enjoying a resurgence these days. Some of the more popular Stoics are Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. Epictetus was born a slave, taught philosophy in Rome, then was exiled to Greece. Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher and advisor to the Emperor. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who wrote the Meditations on Stoic philosophy. It’s important, though, when someone declares “Stoicism says” that you take that with a grain of salt. Each of the Stoics has a slightly different take on things. If you’d like to read more, I highly recommend The Daily Stoic.
There are three principles of Stoicism that I think are very relevant to lifestyle design, entrepreneurship, and woodworking.
Clarify our perceptions
Many times what we perceive is going on is not what is really going on. For entrepreneurs it’s especially important to think about what data you need to gather to tell you if you are on track to your vision. Sometimes entrepreneurs analyze the data that’s readily available, rather than what’s important. The important data may be difficult to get, but is not usually impossible to develop. If someone asks you “how is your business doing?” how do you you know rather than just saying “fine”? For example, if you are writing a blog it’s important to install at least a couple plugins that gather metrics to let you know how you are doing. The blogger needs to look at the data to find out what ground truth is. They tell you exactly how many users there are every day, where they are coming from, what they are looking at, etc. For example, if someone asks me how the blog is doing, I’ve got the data and it’s clear this blog is growing. This month’s traffic is on track to be double last month’s. In addition, we can see that the hits from search engines are increasing, which means the search engines are finding us or we’re writing about things that more people are interested in, or just having more published posts is drawing more search. We’ve made mistakes with the blog such as running into a photograph interface issue between WordPress and Facebook, but it’s clear we are on the right path. We wouldn’t know that if we hadn’t decided which data to collect to clarify our perceptions.
Another aspect of clarifying our perceptions is to control our thoughts, which is especially important for entrepreneurs. I think over the past 2 years, I’ve gotten much better at banishing negative thoughts about what could go wrong. This is a skill any small business owner can exercise and develop. For example, I noticed that most of the time these thoughts are late at night before I’m going to bed or in the middle of the night. Knowing that, if one of these thoughts rears its ugly head, I can say to myself “oh, it’s late and I’m just tired” and let the negative thought go.
As the famous French philosopher Montaigne said “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened” (see brainy quote.com. Why dwell on something if it will probably never happen?
Act reasonably and wisely
In an earlier post, I wrote about failing fast and cheap which aligns with acting reasonably as the Stoics recommend. An entrepeneur probably shouldn’t do an experiment that would bankrupt the company, but should instead place small well-thought-out bets. For example, many entrepreneurs following a strategy of doing A/B experiments. This means “A” is the current method and “B” is an experiment trying something new. If “B” is successful, you switch to that method even if it’s only an incremental gain. If “B” wasn’t successful, you default back to “A” then dream up some more A/B experiments. Over time, these incremental gains of the “B”s that worked will add up to big gains. It’s important to not agonize over “failed” experiments, but to consider that you learned something in the process. Make sure you know how much you want to pay for those failed experiments ahead of time to cap your risk.
The third Stoic principle is related to the second.
Know what is in our control and what is not
This is one of the most fundamental Stoic principles. Epictetus says at the most basic level, all we can really control is our will. That’s why Stockdale referenced Epictetus when he was shot down. He realized that if he was captured, he would be in a test of wills with his captors, which he was…for 8 years.
This relates to entrepreneurship as well, especially blogging. One of the most successful bloggers right now is Maria Popova who has 5 million readers per month and writes a blog called Brain Pickings. I’ve listened to interviews with her and done some reading of her blog and she shares some terrific points on successful blogging. One thing she emphasizes is to write for yourself. This is within our control as the Stoics would advise. Popova’s point is that we shouldn’t chase an audience. We won’t be interesting if we try to write what we think most people will like, rather than what we are really passionate about. In addition, we’ll likely lose interest if we are constantly writing about what we think others want to read rather than what really interests us. Readers can tell if a blogger is passionate about something.
This also relates to woodworking in that woodworkers should focus on the task as hand; it’s in our control. We can control the level of craftsmanship in our project as we’ve written about previously in the post on the Soviet gulag and the post on glue, but have limited ability to control external factors.
It’s important to be present when we create which is something I have not mastered, but am always striving for.
We were very excited to receive the deposit for our first commission of 2017 only 9 days into the new year and we’re jazzed about sharing philosophical musings regarding our maker journey as we build the piece. This commission is for another black walnut gun cabinet which we’ve made before (see picture), but we’ll be making subtle design changes in this version. Also, the last one took approximately 100 hours to make, so we’ll be very interested to see how far up the learning curve we’ve gone. For example, we’ll be putting that fairing stick to work that we wrote about in September to streamline making the curve at the top of the door. Several additional techniques we’ve learned since then should speed up the work. Then again, the design changes will add some time to the project so it may be a wash to the overall hours count. As we mentioned in our post on moving the shop, we’re a bit under the gun since we’d like to complete this piece before the wood shop move this summer. A little pressure is good : )
We picked up the raw lumber from Dunlap Woodcrafts yesterday (for tips on buying lumber, read our post here). One of the most fun parts of the process was chatting with some of the other woodworkers and the owner. There was a young guy there looking at a board and I asked him what he was making. He was making a coffee table for his wife. Another guy walked in and said I should buy all the boards I was gazing at (which I did) and said he was making a guitar for his son. We just have a great woodworking community here in Northern VA.
The walnut we purchased is S2S cut and we’ll square it up in the shop with the planer, tracksaw, and mitre saw. Carefully cutting all the pieces with precision will take a long time. We tracked all of our hours on the last cabinet and have a pretty good feel for how long each operation will take. That’s why it’s so important to always document your hours. Then you can more actually predict how long future projects will take.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. The first step is to to stand the wood up, take a look at it for awhile, and listen to what the wood tells us it wants to be. For example, we need to think about what the most visible parts of this piece are and where it is going to sit in the client’s house. In this case, I’ve talked with the client and have a good idea where it is going to be and how people are going to see it. In this case, the door, face frame, and crown moulding at the top will be the most visible parts so I’ll look at the raw wood to see which boards are knot free, have matching color, and pleasing wood grain. I need to ensure the opposing sides of the glass door and opposing sides of the face frame have not only matching color, but matching grain. That means I’ll cut those pieces immediately next to each other from the same board. Likewise, I need a long enough board that will allow the entire crown moulding pieces to be cut from it, so the grain flows all the way from the top left to the front to the top right of the piece in one seamless flow.
We’ll keep you updated how it goes. As I stand in the shop looking at the boards, I’m thinking I have 100 hours of joyful creating in front of me. As I wrote about in blog post #1, this is a part-time business for now so I’ll continue to follow the time management framework I laid out in the post on making versus managing. Working 6 days per week with Sundays off, we’ll make good progress. As I mentioned in the last post, we’re also getting ready to move: talk about a self-inflicted time management challenge! Ay caramba!
Stay tuned. We have several more interviews with entrepreneurs queued up, some random thought pieces, and a couple other potential commissions we may be writing about soon!
Well, Dear Readers, this time comes in just about every woodworker’s life: the time to move the wood shop. In our case, we are moving in about 6 months which means the shop has to be moved lock, stock, and barrel to the new house. Not only that, we are going from a cushy basement shop, back to a garage shop since we are on a path to downsizing and minimalism which we’ve written about earlier. Kudos to Mrs Woodworker for letting me monopolize the basement as long as I did. Unfortunately, in the garage during certain weather we’re just going to have to suck it up. If I figured right, this will be the fourth time moving the shop and there are definitely some tricks to doing it wisely. When it comes to woodworking, we can’t let obstacles stand in the way as we wrote about in our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat.
Sequence Your Projects
I read a great book early in my Air Force career called Lean Thinking, Banish Waste and create Wealth in Your Corporation by Womack and Jones. One of the concepts in the book was to start from the end of the process and work backwards to pull resources through the production process. Lean thinking helps us in this case of moving the shop as well. One way to make the move as efficient as possible is to only move the tools, raw material, and project pieces that are required to the new house then only bring others as required. This keeps the production line going smoothly. However, this only works if you have some overlap while you are in both houses AND the houses are relatively close together.
In addition, the work should be planned so that large projects are completed and delivered to clients before the move, then other large projects started after the move is complete. For example, this week we received a commission for another large gun cabinet (we’ll be writing a post about that soon). I don’t want to move a cabinet with that much glass twice (from one shop to the other, then to the client), so I’ll press to deliver it before we move. Smaller projects like our cornhole sets can easily be moved while they are in progress to the new shop.
Adjust to the Environment
The new shop will be in a garage which does have its advantages. One advantage is that we can bring in lumber much easier through the large garage door or stage large or unwieldy pieces near the outside of the garage as they are being assembled so they can be easily loaded into the pickup for delivery. I recommend having some lumber racks immediately inside the large garage door to minimize the movement of lumber around the shop. As soon as you bring a load from the hardwood dealer, you can stack the lumber right on the rack.
A second advantage is that when the weather is nice, you can open that large shop door to let in the fresh air and see some grass and trees. On nice days I also like to move the Festool MFT/3 table (where I do much of my work) out onto the driveway to catch some of that great sunshine. If you are doing a finishing project this also helps greatly with ventilation.
A third advantage is when the shop door is open the neighbors can see you are working on something and stop by. I’ve had many conversations over the years that were started because I had the garage door open and a neighbor would yell “what are you working on?” It’s a great conversation starter and this is all about that great community we wrote about in an earlier post.
A fourth advantage is the symbiosis of having the shop in the same room as our favorite mountain bike. As we’ve written about earlier, that bike can be a real problem solver when it comes to woodworking. Having it at the ready will make it even more likely to be used.
One disadvantage of a garage shop is the temperature variability which adds some Clausewitzian friction. This is not such a big deal during the summer, but if you are doing finishing work in certain climates, cool weather may put the kibosh on adding varnish or paint to a project until the temperature warms up. I bought an inexpensive digital clock with thermometer so I can make sure the piece I am finishing is in the right temperature zone before I start applying finish. Be sure to read the required temperature ranges on the can so you know if it is warm enough to wipe on that oil and urethane mix.
Related to that are the human factors working in temperature extremes. Northern Virginia is pretty mild in the winters, but I still need to wear a light jacket and gloves in the winter while I’m working in the garage or my fingers will get numb. Try to find some gear to wear that you can sacrifice to the woodworking gods because it’s going to get a lot of finish, wood chips, and paint on it. Likewise, in the summer it can get to 100 degrees around here which is not conducive to long hours in a garage shop. On those days, I try to work early and late, but not in the middle of the day.
Use This Opportunity to Start With a Clean Slate
Moving a shop also creates a golden opportunity to rethink how to design the tool layout to optimize flow and increase efficiency. For example, think how the wood moves through the shop. It’s going to come in through the big door, so why not just stack it by the big door as mentioned earlier. What is the most likely next operation? For me, that would be the TrackSaw (Festool TS55) or Kapex (sliding compound mitre saw) so I should probably have those lined up next. I love the router, but that doesn’t usually get used until later in the process after the boards have been squared. That means the router can be shoehorned into a corner. Oh, and I forgot about the planer. That’s probably the first tool that’s going to touch the wood. So given the sequence the wood is going to go through, you can lay out the tools so the wood can flow from tool to tool to tool.
If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry about it. Remember when we wrote about failing fast and failing cheap? Try one iteration with the tool layout and if that’s not working for you, try another one. If you don’t have enough space, just tell your spouse their car is banished from the garage, too. After all, why would you have cars in your garage when it could be a wood shop???
I was messing around in the wood shop over the holidays and created the military challenge coin display shown in the picture with a piece of scrap black walnut. During the process, I was thinking how many people are necessary to pursue a creative endeavor like this (woodworking) and what a terrific community we have. Some people may have the mistaken impression that woodworking consists of toiling away solo in a wood shop, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a large network of people who are generous in sharing their wisdom and help make that woodworker or entrepreneur successful. One way to frame it is by considering three groups: artisans, enablers, and clients.
The Traughber Tribe recently went to Canaan Valley WV for our annual cross country ski vacation. This year we went over Christmas and planned to open some of our gifts there. As a gift, my daughter gave me an allowance to spend in the resort gift shop. Since we enjoy candlelight dinners, I thought I’d buy a locally made candle. But then I got to thinking…for the price I’d pay for the candle in the gift shop, I could get two or three times as much candle at a discount store back home. I tossed the idea out to our daughter and she said “Dad, is that even a question?” Her meaning was, how could I NOT buy the candle from the local artisan, which is what we did.
I receive so much inspiration from my fellow makers. On a recent business trip, after hours a colleague and I went on a photo shoot since he’s big into photography. We were in San Francisco and he knew a particular location where he wanted to take the perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. We spent hours taking photos in different locations, with different lighting, with different camera settings. I know nothing about photography, but it was inspirational to see another craftsman spending so much time to create something beautiful. We’ll have a post soon covering an interview with the photographer and you’ll see the results from the photo shoot.
Fellow artisans are also terrific mentors. They don’t necessarily even need to be skilled in your particular craft. For example, the author (Lawrence Colby author of The Devil Dragon Pilot) we interviewed recently and I chat often about blog ideas, writing and our craft. In almost every conversation he gives me some pearl of wisdom that helps me in Traughber Design. Fellow craftsmen are great for helping keep things in alignment with the business’ vision and goals as we wrote about in our post on glue technique.
Lastly, craftsmen provide fellowship. Recently we spent Christmas with my pal Steve’s family; Steve is also a Festool fanatic (see our post about Festool here). He gets it. He fully understands why someone would spend an exorbitant amount on a power tool and think of it as value. Hanging out with like-minded people is part of the great fun of being an entrepreneur and craftsman.
Woodworkers could not do what they do without hardwood dealers, specialty suppliers, and tool experts. I was up at Colonial Hardwoods recently to buy some wood for our windowsill commission, and the dealer pointed out some wonderful white oak they had recently received. We took a look and I ended up buying some and using it in a recent commission. Where else would a salesperson consider what you are making and make suggestions beyond what you said you came to buy? And where else would they let you wander around the warehouse and pick the pieces you like? Our community is so giving.
Another key enabler is the specialty supplier. In my case, one of these consists of glass suppliers. Del Ray Glass was a company I used for the black walnut gun cabinet (pictured). I don’t know much about glass (in addition to photography), but they walked me through thicknesses, types of glass, frostings available, etc. and delivered on time and at a fair price. They are on my short list the next time I need some glass.
Last there are the tool guys. It would have been very difficult to learn Festool so quickly without Brian Graham’s tutelage at the Festool Ubershop on Baltimore. He set up the equipment before I arrived, gave a demo, I played around with it, then we boxed it up to take home. It’s so much easier to learn a tool hands-on like that.
One of the great things I love about our clients is they reveal the art of the possible. When a client asks “can you build that?” I almost always say yes. I’ve usually got a general idea to begin with, but sometimes get to experiment in the shop with alternate ways of making something. For example, with the military challenge coin holder I could have cut the slots from the bottom with the router table. I also could have cut them from the top using a rail guide and the router. I could have also used a jig. That’s part of the fun in creating is experimenting and mulling over what works best.
Our client network continues to grow. A client may have a piece in their home, then other people see it and word gets around. Most of our business so far has been from referrals. For example, a kitchen cabinet panel commission came about from a Facebook conversation (see our post: How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction). I love the serendipity of where our projects come from.
Speaking of clients, I’m currently reading a book for my day job called The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. Ross is analyzing which industries will be replaced by robots. One of the beauties of the artisanal movement is our works are not likely to be outsourced. Sure, you can buy mass-produced furniture from overseas, but that’s not the market we’re in. We do custom woodworking which doesn’t lend itself to outsourcing. Our local clients are buying from us, not some company overseas.
We’re very fortunate to have such a great woodworking and entrepreneurial community and look forward to spending time with that community in the new year.
Want to learn some great tips from the richest man in the world? Being rich is not the be all and end all, but Rockefeller did build an amazing business empire. I’m wrapping up a terrific biography about John D. Rockefeller which is an absolute beast of a book by Ron Chernow called Titan, The Life of John D. Rockeffeler, Sr. It’s so long, it runs on 30 audio CDs, but is well worth the listen (or read). Rockefeller has many lessons for woodworkers and entrepreneurs as we’ll share below.
Power of Positive Thinking
One of the most famous stories about Rockefeller centers around his job search when he was a young man. When Rockefeller was 15 years old he spent 6 weeks looking for his first job as an assistant bookkeeper. He put on his suit every morning and walked the streets of Cleveland from one firm to another starting at 0800 every day until late afternoon. Once he exhausted his list of prospective firms he then started over again. Finally, after 6 weeks a commodities firm hired him. Rockefeller celebrated September 26th every year as “Job Day” because it was so important to him. He celebrated Job Day even more than his birthday. Rockefeller’s attitude was that he would not be denied. He was going to get up every day and get that job, no matter what.
Another positive thinker is a woodworker named Ben Riddering. Watch this video to see Riddering’s positive attitude about woodworking and his life:
There’s a man who knew what kind of life he wanted and built it. If you want even more of a Festool fix, check out our blog post here on tools.
When Rockefeller was a young man, he attended a Baptist mission church in Cleveland. He didn’t just attend, he did every odd job around the church such as sweeping the floors, doing maintenance, and teaching Sunday school. He was well known in that church for always being there and always doing whatever was needed. That work ethic carried over into his business career. He was tireless in building first his commodities business, then oil refining business, then adding railroads to his portfolio, then pipelines, etc. He continued to work hard to a very old age for that time (late 1800s, early 1900s)
Another great example of work ethic is a famous woodworker named Sam Maloof. The New York Times said he was “a central figure in the postwar American crafts movement”. In addition, Maloof won a MacArthur “Genius” grant for his excellent in craftsmanship. One of the things that makes Maloof stand out is his work ethic. He served in the Army during World War II, then set up his first shop shortly thereafter in California. He continued to turn out works of incredible beauty almost to his death in 2009, over 50 years of woodworking! What a great example for us all.
Rockefeller started out in the commodities business buying and selling goods in the Midwest and arranging shipments over the roads, railroads, and Great Lakes. When oil was discovered in Western Pennsylvania, people didn’t quite know what to make of it or how valuable it would be. Rockefeller took a gamble and bought a refinery nearby, when many of his contemporaries stayed in the commodities business. Rockefeller thought outside the box and started buying up more and more refinery capacity even though there was not a huge market for oil (yet) or oil-based products.
Going back to the Maloof example, look at that picture of the rocking chair above. For its time, it was revolutionary. The unusual curves set it apart from the furniture of its day. In addition, creating a piece of furniture like that that is manufacturable in quantity can be very difficult, but Maloof was able to design it such that it was a profitable enterprise. That is out of the box thinking.
Getting back to John D. and his accomplishment, a little positive thinking, work ethic, and thinking outside the box can take us a long way to achieving our goals.