We were so excited when we inked the deal for our second gun cabinet (see our post Our First Commission of 2017! Black Walnut Gun Cabinet) for several reasons. First, I wanted to see how long it would take relative to the first version and whether some efficiencies had been gained since we built cabinet 1.0. Second, it was a quick start to our third year as a company and we are now profitable! The Motley Fool says half of all business fail by the fifth year, so maybe we can pat ourselves on the back. Third, I just like working with wood. So here are some lessons learned for other budding entrepreneurs out there:
Revelation #1: Good art takes time.
I was a little surprised the second cabinet took 102 hours to make which was about the same time as the first one! We added some complexity, however, such as solid walnut panels on the sides and front door, but I thought we would have been much faster in other areas. Some of the Festool tools I had used on version 1.0 were new to me then and I figured the second time around I would be faster. For example, it took 15.6 hours to select and cut all the pieces on 1.0 and 17.8 hours on version 2.0. Apparently, carefully selecting the pieces and cutting them with precision is something that can not be hurried.
Reflecting on how those hours remained the same made me recall an amazing commencement speech I saw on YouTube recently by the author, Neil Gaiman, who talked about making good art (check it out here: Neil Gaiman – Inspirational Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts 2012). One of the things Neil talked about, was the consistency of working on your craft, day in and day out. Those initial steps in crafting the wood for those gun cabinets was very much in that same vein: spending the time to carefully create. In Neil’s case, it was writing and editing, but his lessons apply to any craft or art.
Along similar lines, I was reading an article the other day by the entrepreneur, Jason Fried (owner of Basecamp, formerly called 37signals), in Inc Magazine about not concerning yourself with scale before perfecting your craft. Perhaps it was too early to start thinking about speed of production at this point with cabinet version 2.0. Jason’s article (Starbucks Wasn’t Built in a Day) tells the tale about a tea entrepreneur who starts a successful tea pop up store, who then asks Jason for advice about expansion. When the entrepreneur asks Jason for advice, the entrepreneur is already thinking about stores, 2, 3, 4, etc. Jason told the entrepreneur to perfect store #1 first before worrying about expansion. Going from a pop up store to a permanent location was going to be difficult enough.
Revelation #2: Document your processes
I could not have written this blog post or done the analysis of the hours for cabinet 2.0 versus 1.0 if I hadn’t documented my hours. When I was the commander of a recruiting squadron several years ago, we were facing a big inspection. My boss, Mark Ward (aka “Wardo”), had always trained his commanders that if something wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen. The inspectors wouldn’t care if we said we did something a certain way. They wanted to see the documentation that we had actually done things the right way. The same goes for entrepreneurs. I’m not real keen on excessive documentation when it comes to being an entrepreneur, but there are certain areas where it is crucial. For one, it’s important to document where you are spending your time so you can see whether there are opportunities to improve. As I mentioned in the post on How to Price Your Woodworking Projects: Advice for Entrepreneurs and Startups, documenting hours is critical if you are going to develop a pricing model. In the case of gun cabinet 2.0, I should have better documented lessons learned from 1.0. For example, I was happily cutting boards to match the cut list and didn’t realize until assembly, that a couple boards would be too short because they were supposed to be cut extra long, then cut down to size later. The situation was recoverable, though, since I had some extra walnut laying around. If I had documented my lessons learned better, that would not have happened.
It’s important for entrepreneurs to always document lessons learned and review them so we don’t commit the same errors. Time is short in entrepreneurship and there is little time for rework.
Revelation #3: Design in flexibility
As we say in the Air Force: “flexibility is the key to airpower” and this applies to woodworking as well. In the Air Force flexibility means our space, air and cyber forces can do tactical missions in one moment or rapidly perform more strategic missions, depending on what the needs of the commander are (if you really want to dive into the flexibility doctrine click here). In addition, they can adjust depending on the needs of the military campaign. In woodworking, where possible, it’s always important to design whatever it is that you are working on so that it can be adjusted later. For example, on gun cabinet 2.0 I built the door to the cabinet so it fit the case perfectly. Perfectly, that is, if the case is laying flat on its back. I hadn’t accounted for not only the weight of the glass in the door, but also the solid walnut panel toward the bottom which was an upgrade for this piece. When I hung the door, the weight caused it to sag slightly on the side away from the hinges where all the weight was. Luckly, I had placed the screw holes relative to the hinges so they could be adjusted a few millimeters up or down. I was able to raise the hinges to level things out. This would not have been possible if the flexibility hadn’t been designed in from the beginning.
Building this latest commission was great fun, and I hope my fellow entrepreneurs and regular readers can profit from these three revelations: good art takes time, document your processes, and design in flexibility.