I love collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs like Tim. Not only do they inspire, but there are always some golden nuggets of wisdom in their entrepreneurial journey. In Tim’s case we get two types of wisdom because in his side hustle he has created a website capturing stories of Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) and in his main job helps small companies succeed. Read on!
1) Thank you for your time and congratulations on launching FIRE Stories. Tell us a little about it.
Thank you! FIRE Stories (firestories.co) is a new project aimed at sharing the stories of people who’ve retired early or are well on their way.
Rather than focus on the tactical aspects of spending and investing, FIRE Stories is intended to be a single resource to read more about those who’ve retired early.
2) Where did you get the idea for this business?
This came from solving my own problem.
I had been following the FIRE Community for quite some time. While I find the more tactical advice very helpful, what I really enjoyed were the stories of those who’ve really embraced the concept of FIRE.
What are their mindsets, backgrounds, lifestyles, and philosophies? What were the challenges along the way? And how can I read these in one place?
However, it was time-consuming to find these people and quickly learn their stories and most of all, answer the questions I had for them.
So FIRE Stories has been born =)
3) Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Though I’ve been interested in my own side projects, I’ve been primarily focused on my career and other interests.
I currently work at Sumo.com. I help entrepreneurs and small business owners grow their their businesses. I really enjoyed the work and the team. I love our customers. Also, Sumo is a very fast moving company. So sometimes it feels entrepreneurial to even be here. We move fast.
4) What are some of the habits that have helped you become successful?
Frankly, any success I’ve had is not financial. firestories.co isn’t making any money. The ‘success’ I’ve had thus far is launching a project that (I think) creates great content and I’m excited to work on.
Here are some thing that have helped me:
1. Set milestones – Say, at the end of month you want to do X. Create three blog posts, get feedback on a project, get 1 sale, etc. Set your milestones and be very bullish on hitting these. Make sure they move you forward.
Then carve out the time & habit you need to hit these milestone. My first thought was to tell you to ‘ship something everyday’, but I think that’s wrong. It’s wrong because some days you’ll want to work 12 hours on a new thing. Other days you are sick and tired of it. So work when you have the energy. Rest when you don’t.
But with milestones, you know if you finish X, you’ll be moving forward. Then debrief on those milestones and how you can improve for next time. You’ll work smarter this way.
2. Generate Ideas – Keep thinking of new ideas. Make it a habit. Force yourself to do this every morning. Over time, you’ll begin to spot ideas more easily. It will be second nature. I think that’s why folks who start things tend to start multiple things. It takes time to get into this habit. But once you do, you’ll be spotting new ideas in things you see, what people say, etc.
3. Share! – Create, ship, and share often. If you are not sharing your thing, then nothing is happening. You are tinkering. It’s a hobby. Sharing gets you into the habit of creating new things, not being afraid of feedback and judgment, and will give you much faster feedback on the quality of your ideas and projects.
The business owners we work with at Sumo have given themselves permission to create. Over time, as you create, you will get through your fear by sharing more and more.
5) What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
I work with business owners everyday. They aren’t special unicorns. Here’s the biggest thing. And I hope your readers take this advice to heart.
If you’ve really not launched anything, started new projects, gotten that freelance gig – if your projects are at 0 – then your problem is shipping. Your problem is paralysis.
You need to get momentum. You need to practice creating and engaging with potential customers. I wrote a post on this here. I’ve made this mistake as well.
A great book is 7 Day Startup, by Dan Norris. Read this book. Then no more books. It’s great, because you get 7 days to create your idea, build the MVP, and ship it.
You need to take the fear out of engaging with people. Here’s a great way to start:
1. Answer quora questions
2. Join forums and niche communities and answer questions, like indiehackers.com
3. Write a blog post. Practicing creating content. Try youtube, medium, etc.
You’ll find it’s not scary. People want to hear from you. Once you get over this hurdle, you need to start _selling_ your thing. Find your product and validate it as quickly as possible. Sell your shirt to 3 friends. Try to get 10 users through FB ads. I don’t know what tactic will work for you – just remember to go as barebones and simple as possible to validate your idea.
Regarding ideas: A challenge I had is ‘where do I get my idea!?’ Well, as I said above, keep thinking of ideas. Find products and businesses you like and figure out why they are working. Is there a way to improve it? Is there a different angle you can approach it that differentiates it from others?
For firestories.co – I noticed lots of niche interviewing sites. I read lots of FIRE content. I couldn’t find interviews. So I took the niche concept and applied it to this area.
6) Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes, my biggest epiphany is this: If it’s really easy, it’s likely not worth it. What is hard is rewarding – both in your personal growth and financially. The obstacles you face are the purpose. It should be hard – otherwise why is it worth even doing!?
On the other hand – have fun. Work hard. Welcome the challenges and push through them. But overall, enjoy what you’re doing and have fun. That’s the real value for entrepreneurship for me – you get to pick your job!
So if your project isn’t fun. If you’re say, writing lots of code, and you find you don’t like code, then change it. If you’re not sure what you like, set milestones for projects to help you figure that out.
To summarize – don’t quit when it gets tough. But don’t be miserable either. Enjoy the journey.
7) Where can we learn more about FIRE Stories?
Head over to firestories.co! I try to get 2 new interviews per week. Also, send me a direct message on twitter. I’d love to hear your feedback on the site, answer other questions, and see what you’re building!
Click these links to see our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:
Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, writer of The Devil Dragon Pilot:
Many thanks to fellow entrepreneur Tim Pittman for the recent article about Traughber Design in FIRE Stories. Mrs Woodworker and I hope some of the wisdom we’ve gained in the past several years might be of use to you. If you have any questions, FIRE away in the comments section.
Today after 30 years of work I am declaring my freedom! Yesterday was my last duty day. Does that mean I’m not going to “work” any more? No, but we’ll be 100% focused on entrepreneurship at this point and seeing where that journey takes us. Are you still “working” if you are an entrepreneur? That’s a good question. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Here are 5 lessons we learned along the way that may help others achieve FIRE.Truth in advertising here, I was in the military and have a pension. The Retirement Police may quibble about whether that is RE or FI or both, but since we have freedom of action now, I’m calling it FIRE. That’s the beauty of FIRE, you get to frame the situation.
Lesson #1:Seek the wisdom of those smarter than you. Read books. Buy a cup of coffee for a guy 20 years older than you that has his act together and seek his advice. The Good Book says in Proverbs (Proverbs 11:14) that there is victory in an abundance of counselors. You don’t have to figure all of this out on your own. I was very lucky when I was first starting out because I ended up in a carpool with some investing savants. These guys were about 20 years older than I was and probably didn’t realize it, but were essentially giving me an advanced class in investing every morning and afternoon as we commuted. You’ve got something just about as good called Reddit where you can ask the crowd just about any question. If you’re wondering where to start, check out the subReddit on financial independence here.
Lesson #2:Save 10% of your gross starting with that first paycheck.When I started out as a second lieutenant, one of my co-workers kept bugging me to invest in this thing called an “IRA”.”I thought “why would I want to toss away $2000 towards something (retirement) that was so far away?”Luckily, those gurus I mentioned earlier convinced me of the errors of my ways.They gave me much wisdom then Mrs Woodworker and I started maxing out both our IRAs.
Lesson #3:You may think you can pick winning stocks, but you’re probably lying to yourself.Instead, invest in low cost index funds and watch dividend reinvestment work its magic.My personal favorite is the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index.If you’re wondering how much of your portfolio to invest in stocks, if you are in your 20s, I’d invest over 90% in stocks. That will give those early investments decades to power you to FIRE. Many people incorrectly say that when the market is down you are losing money. You are only losing money if you sell at that point. Over the long haul, the market has always recovered.
Lesson #4:Bloom where planted.No matter what job you are given, be excellent at it.People will notice and you will be given more responsibility.That will lead to promotions and more income. When I was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, the squadron gave the new guy (me) the SNACKO duty. For those not in the know, that means one of my additional duties was to keep the snack bar stocked and handle the money. I tried to be the best SNACKO the world had ever seen and created a schedule of fundraisers during times I knew the squadron would be hungry. The leadership noticed that revenues went up and that the snack bar was always fully stocked. That, along with keeping my nose to the grindstone in other areas led to more responsibility.
Lesson #5:Think carefully about WHAT you want to do and WHERE since this will determine your FIRE date.My wife and I kicked this around for about around 5 years until we settled on moving to a state (there are 19) that doesn’t tax military retirement.In addition, the state we are moving to has a much lower cost of living than our current state.It’s much easier to achieve FIRE in a low cost area. Think about your FIRE vision looks like and where you might need to move in order to achieve it.
I hope that helps you achieve your FIRE goals. Best of luck on your FIRE journey! I’d also like to give a shout out to Mr Money Mustache for his prolific guidance on how to live frugally and also Doug Nordman at The Military Guide for his military-specific advice. Thanks guys!
OK, off to the woodshop…I’ve got a commission to knock out…
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our clients, friends, and family! Traughber Design just delivered its final sale of 2017 last week, and we thought this was a good time to thank our community of supporters and reflect on the past year.
This was our third full year of operation and the business is now profitable! We invested quite a bit in tools the first year, and we continued to build our client base the second year. This year we delivered 17 commissions (plus one pro bono project) with a wide variety of projects and have 1 commission in progress in the shop.
Traffic continues to grow to the blog and we have had over 2,800 unique visitors and 5,900 page views. We’ve published almost 60 posts now and have many more ideas for posts in 2018.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over this 3 year journey is persistence. Most small businesses fail, and I wonder how many were on the cusp of success if their owners had just kept at it. Speaking of which, I’m grinding my way through David McCullough’s 1100 page biography (called “Truman“) of Harry S. Truman and the President’s persistence when everyone wrote him off is absolutely stunning. Check out this passage from the book which references a Newsweek poll of the biggest writers of the day: “Of the writers polled, not one thought Truman would win. The vote was unanimous, 50 for Dewey, 0 for Truman. “The landslide for Dewey will sweep the country,’ the magazine announced. Further, the Republicans would keep control in the Senate and increase their majority in the House. The election was as good as over.” As we all know from the history books, Truman won the election in 1948. He never gave up. The same goes for a small business; you have to believe you are going to win, just as Harry S. Truman did in 1948.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, please continue to support your local artisan ecosystem. Local small businesses are all tied together and a dollar spent with Traughber Design flows to other businesses, like hardwood dealers, tool vendors, glass manufacturers, etc.
Looking forward, soon the Air Force will be kicking me out after 30 years of service, and I’m excited to pursue Traughber Design full time. I will be on terminal leave at the end of 2018, and we will see what other exciting commissions come our way.
Congratulations on launching your first startup. Tell us a little bit about Impeesa.
Impeesa Coffee and Tea was a venture created by three other friends and myself. We are all Boy Scouts. The concept behind it was to create a market for a product that we enjoyed that we were passionate about and that had a purpose. That product being coffee and tea, two things that in the high velocity environment that we were raised in, this kind of area, coffee and tea for a lot of people are a relief and an energizer at the same time so that they cultivate a lot of productivity and efficiency. We are people that really like to get involved really heavily and really quickly. We decided to create a marketplace for something like that. The purpose we brought in, is related to the term Impeesa. Impeesa was how the Matabele in South Africa referred to Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting. The translation was the “Wolf that Never Sleeps,” so you can probably see the coffee reference there. Being Boy Scouts we’ve all gone through National Youth Leadership Training which is a spectacular opportunity for young men to go in and really understand what leadership really is. We decided that with this marketplace we had created with something we really enjoyed, that we could also create more opportunities for youth to pursue that National Youth Leadership Training. So, we decided to really round off Impeesa as an opportunity to raise money for scholarships for National Youth Leadership Training. That was the main goal and why we started Impeesa. Something we enjoyed. Something we were passionate about that we could make a purpose out of.
You talked about creating a market. How did it go?
All in all, this was probably our most successful failure, is how we refer to it (both laughing).
I’m sure you learned a lot in the process.
Exactly, that’s what it is. We got to the point in our journey of the red and black line where we were finally coming out of the red and we decided to reinvest back into coffee. That’s when things kind of went downhill because that’s when the startup hype died down. That’s something that we had known was going to happen. We tried to account for it and we to market for it. We just didn’t do it overtly successfully. Everything we learned was so much more valuable than any penny or dime that we could have made. That’s what we enjoy the most looking back on it. We said from the beginning, if we don’t make a dime out of this we will probably have had a more valuable experience than most people our age do.
It was a heck of an education. It was almost a mini-MBA.
It’s a mini-MBA. We threw ourselves into it and we didn’t do great, obviously, which is why we’re putting it on hiatus so we can focus on going to college.
My hats off to you, because a lot of people talk about starting a business. You’ll probably hear that a lot in college, but very few will have done it, especially in high school.
Definitely, when we started initially talking about it, we weren’t just talking about it. In our heads, the minute we brought this up, we knew we had to do it, because everybody talks about this, but never does it. That was probably our main motivation, not only creating the opportunity for scholarships, but also just doing it. What’s the point in talking about it if you’re not going to do anything about it.
You talked about when you started getting into the black. I think a lot of people don’t understand how hard entrepreneurship is. There’s the hype in the beginning, but then it’s just hard work. Can you talk a little about that. If you continued it, what would you do differently or what would you continue to do?
It is so much work getting out of that initial investment. It was all personal investment. We all contributed about $200 in each, so that put us down about $800 total. Just getting up from that number was such a challenge. Just paying off that overhead. We rode that startup hype really, really well. If we weren’t full time students in high school we probably could have had the capacity to ride that startup hype right out of the red. Being high school students we didn’t really have the capacity to focus full time on getting a quality marketing plan. About January or February we started thinking about when our next step should be after the startup hype was over. That was our frame of thinking. We tried to anticipate what we were going to be as a brand and how we were going to market as a brand. We had a really solid plan. It just didn’t work. I think that’s the most important thing that we learned. You can plan for whatever you want, but it might not work. Your plan might not be the best even if it’s eight pages long and you have your headers and your bullet points. Your plan might not work and you have to be ready for that. That’s something that as full time students we couldn’t necessarily do. And definitely to anybody reading this don’t discourage yourself by your circumstances. Don’t think because you’re a full time student you can’t have the capacity to plan effectively. We thought that our plan that we had put all this thought into would work and it didn’t, necessarily. Things that we could have done differently…definitely just anticipating the credibility of people and utilizing a lot of those quality resources. Everybody is going to say that they will buy your product.
How many actually buy it?
Probably 20-30% of people actually buy the product. Everybody wants to be part of this cool new thing. Nobody wants to spend money, though. I started getting into a lot of Facebook groups where people were like “this is what you’re doing wrong, this is what you’re doing right.” People with experience not only running tea businesses, but tea snobs. The tea snobs were probably the best resource. Your black tea is definitely not worth this much. Don’t sell it for that much. You might sell more. There are quality resources, things like Facebook groups. Tea Mavens, I think, was one of them. You jump into one of those and suddenly you have this wealth of knowledge that you as a high schooler definitely could not have. When it comes to our industry, food and beverage, tea and coffee, those experts, those snobs, were definitely great resources because we know when we were wrong. They liked to point that kind of thing out. You can put all this thought into a marketing plan and try to get around that startup hype, but at the end of the day your best resources aren’t going to be that plan or the points of that plan, they are going to be the people who know what they are talking about. And they want to help you out because you’re a young kid and they want to show off their knowledge.
It’s a win win. Where did you get the first idea for the business?
The four co-founders were Josh Rigby, Keenan Murphy, Hart Lukens and myself. Josh and Keenan…and we tell this story to everyone because this is how it actually happened…they had just gotten out of a movie at Potomac Mills. They were in the bathroom and Josh yells from one stall to Keenan “Hey, if we started a business, what would we sell?” And at the same time they both say “coffee!” They are coffee addicts without a doubt. For fun they wrote up a quick operating agreement. Why not do this just for fun? So, I’m sitting in AP Literature one day with Josh and I see this operating agreement. I’m like “Dude, what’s this?” Because I recognized Impeesa from the name of the National Capital Area Council for NYLT camp. “Impeesa Coffee? This seems really cool” I text Keenan. I asked him if there was a way to invest in this. He said “no, it’s an LLC.” “But, if you want in, you can buy in.” I’m like “OK, why not?” If we’re going to talk about this, we need to do it. We actually looked at the numbers for coffee and realized how expensive coffee was going to be. Josh and I said we need the money for coffee. How are we going to make the money for coffee? So, Keenan shoots us both a text with a tea wholesaler that has like a 12,000% turnaround. You could buy this stuff for almost nothing and sell it for any amount that you want. He said this is how we are going to make money for coffee. A few days later Hart Lukens and I were talking, and he wanted in, too. You’re part of our solid group of friends, of course you’re in.
How many founders were there?
There were four total founders, including me: Josh Rigby, Hart Lukens, Keenan Murphy, and me. After we brought Hart on board is when we really got into the swing of things. We really decided to buckle down and make sure this happened. We felt cool. You feel cool starting a business. We had this down. After a swim banquet, we all had the operating agreement, these crazy 17 page long contracts with each other because it was an LLC partnership. We had them in our hands ready to go. That was December 14th when we officially filed all our paperwork that we needed. We had our EINs (IRS Employee Identification Numbers) and all that. So that’s the weird wonky journey that led up to that. We didn’t really have a plan in place. We just had the idea of “Yes, we are partners in business. We’re not entirely sure how that works yet.”
Let’s talk about FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) a little bit. You were the President of FBLA. How did FBLA help you with the business, if at all?
It definitely did. What we were doing with coffee and tea…we’re sitting in Starbucks right now. People who want coffee don’t necessarily want coffee. They want Starbucks. They want Keurig. People want their tea from a particular place. Creating a market was kind of creating that market, creating demand for our product, was something that we really needed. Especially if we’re starting off with tea. So FBLA was more of a social experience than anything else. You’ve got a lot of skill building in there, but more than anything else when you walk into an FBLA conference you’re shaking hands, and you’re learning how to interact with people. That interaction with people who already have a heightened expectation of what is supposed to be going down was probably the best skill I learned in FBLA. Keenan was a member of FBLA, too. Josh was for a short spell. So learning how to interact with people and how to really sell yourself taught us how to sell our product. You definitely want some of this (product). This is something you want to be a part of. We’re a bunch of dumb young kids starting a business our product, come join us and tell everyone you love it. Definitely the social scene of FBLA helped teach Keenan and myself how to sell something in a setting that’s very fast-paced. And high school is especially fast-paced. If you want to sell something in a hallway, you don’t have much time: “we just started this business, check us out.” Sitting in a classroom you’ve got a five minute break between Powerpoints. I started a business, you should try it and check out our mission. I think in FBLA there were definitely skills that we learned when it came to business plans and marketing. The social scene behind FBLA helped us to sell ourselves.
What are some of the habits that you would say have helped you be successful?
Communication. A big theme at National Youth Leadership Training is communication. It’s kind of a running joke that NYLT is a camp for talking (laughs).
That’s a useful skill.
For sure. Communication is something that initially we were really great at. As we got further into running Impeesa, we started getting distant from each other and that’s when problems started arising. We started getting really stressed and upset with each other. That’s because we stopped communicating. Later in the game we started communicating again. That’s when we decided to chill for a bit. Let’s put Impeesa on hiatus. Communication was probably the best habit we had. Whenever there was a problem, immediately we were in a Google hangout. We were trying to plan a business meeting. We knew if we were all on the same page, we could do anything we wanted. Communication, definitely. And then we made it a habit to vote on everything. Nobody operated outside of the group. Every purchase, as annoying as it was, we had a poll in our Facebook group chat and voted “yea” or “nay.” If it’s “nay” then we deal with the consequences. Everything was a group effort. That’s what made us so successful was that we were all on the same page. Successful in our eyes as far as consistently learning and getting out of the red a little bit. Communication is everything in my opinion. That was our best habit. When we really started to get stressed with each other and not like each other so much it’s because we weren’t communicating. Communication, without a doubt, was our biggest strength.
What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
It depends if you are going into a parternship…always be on the same page. Expectations are everything. Going into management and having experience with management in my current job and Impeesa you learn that managing expectations is the only way to really accomplish a task. Because if everybody is not expecting the same thing, if somebody has a misunderstanding of what they are going to get out of this or what we are working towards, they are going to be operating in a completely different plane than us. Communicating with each other and being on the same page and respecting each other’s time and schedules. As high school students and Boy Scouts we all play sports. We all have jobs.
You guys are busy.
Super busy. It’s so hard to find time. There were times we just got frustrated with each other, and decided we cannot function like this. When you try to cut someone out of the picture it doesn’t work. We just stopped doing that. If you’re looking at a partnership, be a good person within your group. Respecting the fact that these other three guys who literally run our company just as much as I do are people, too. They have schedules. They have expectations. They have a way they want to operate, so let’s make sure we’re all operating the same way. Compromise. A lot of the time we didn’t need to compromise because we did communicate so well. But it really comes down to communication and expectations, I think.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Starting the business isn’t the hard part. So just do it, but be ready to fail. Be ready to be wrong because that’s the most important thing you’re going to do. Is fail and be wrong. That’s where you learn to be right.
And that’s OK. Failure is OK.
That’s the best thing. Succeeding is pretty great, too (laughing).
Where can we learn more about Impeesa?
You can visit our website which we’re kind of revamping for our hiatus so it’s information-based. www.impeesa.us is where you can learn a little more about us. Just bear with us as we reconfigure it so it carries more information.
This is the 10th installment in the series of our entrepreneur interviews (see links at the bottom for our other interviews). In this interview, we talked with successful inventor Deane Elliott who has already sold one business and was recently awarded another patent.
Thanks for your time and congratulations on getting your fifth patent. As we were talking about earlier, that’s quite an achievement. Not too many people get a patent in the first place. Tell us a little bit about your fifth patent.
So my fifth patent is hunting related. It’s called GutCheck and it’s an indicator for application to an arrow. Basically, to allow the hunter to determine if the arrow has been exposed to acid. More specifically, if the arrow has gone through the stomach portion of the deer.
How did you come up with that idea? That sounds pretty novel.
I was hunting with a friend of mine named Jeff. He had a super steep shot at a deer, maybe 8 yards away. He shot it and he thought that thing’s dead. The way that it ran around him he had no indication that it was not a fatal shot, but it ran quite a ways out of his sight. So we tracked and we were having a hard time finding a blood trail. Eventually we did find the deer and its stomach had been cut open by the broadhead. I thought there has got to be a way to tell if an arrow has passed through the stomach or through the entrails of a deer. Basically that got me thinking along the litmus paper lines…but chemistry is not my strong suit, so I went to a friend of mine who is a patent attorney whose brother is a PhD chemist. I proposed the concept to him. He identified the materials and found a way that we could prove the concept and make it work.
You’ve obviously been very successful in being awarded patents. What is the secret to getting a patent through the system?
I think the primary thing is having a search done. That’s what I do for a living. That’s been my main career for the past 30 years. A lot of people don’t know where to start, but I think the process starts with having a search done and having it done professionally. A lot of people go onto Google patents, or other sites and feel like they’ve done a comprehensive search. A searcher that does it for a living has a different way of doing a patent search. So having the search done professionally is really the foundation of getting a good patent, because then the patent attorney has what we call a prior art, the known prior that he has to weave around in order to craft the application so that he can file a good application.
How did you get started being an inventor? Would you call yourself an inventor?
(laughing) I think so. You know, the word entrepreneur is an interesting word. I think at some point when one crosses over from being an inventor to making money then they can legitimately call themselves an entrepreneur. I’m definitely an inventor. I’ve been reluctant to call myself an entrepreneur, but then my wife reminds me that I had a patent search business for a number of years that I was able to grow and sold it successfully so I think I can say I’m also an entrepreneur.
You’re definitely a successful entrepreneur if you were able to sell a business that was a going concern.
Right. Absolutely. Inventing with me starts like a lot of other people by identifying a need. My first two inventions were in the golf industry. I invented a system for confirming ball position relative to the golfer. That was a problem I struggled with and still struggle with today. I came up with the idea of painting lines in front of the golfer on the ground with lasers and then placing the ball at the intersection of the lines. The hunting ideas have been sort of the same thing. More or less have to do with identifying the problem then coming up with a fix.
Have you come up with an idea to make golfers hit the ball straight yet?
(both laughing) No.
Tell us a little about your creative process. You talked about how you invent to satisfy a need.
So the process is that I identify a need that affects me personally and then I start thinking how can I solve this need or make a better way of doing something. I start sketching. Often times I’ll go right away and put something on paper so I don’t forget. But sometimes I forget and then I come back to it. Being in the industry I have a search done. Usually I do some searching myself just to make sure there’s not some patent out there that someone is going to find in 10 or 15 minutes. So I do a cursory check, and then if I don’t find anything I’ll send it to one of my researchers to have a search done.
What are some of the habits that have helped you be successful?
That’s a good question. With regard to patenting, or in general?
Just in general. Tactics in your day, your week, or your month?
Prioritizing is important. I wear so many hats with regard to my current position. And then trying to fit in so many of the other aspects of inventing and being a husband and all those things. Identifying those things that are most important and allowing some of the things to wait to another time when I can dedicate some time to it.
What are your entrepreneur lessons learned so far? Either from when you had a business before or in doing the patents?
One thing I notice is that people tend to glamorize the term a lot.
For sure. Maybe it’s what they call survivor’s bias. You tend to only hear about the winners and not the losers.
I think it’s harder to own a business, for instance, than some people might understand. It takes discipline. A lot of people that I encounter tell me they could never work from home, because of the distractions and the discipline it takes. I can focus more and get a lot more done. Discipline is definitely an important part of success, I think. And then, being reasonable in expectations, and emotionally separating yourself from a particular idea. When I got the first golf patent I thought that the industry would knock on my door. They would come to me. They would want to license or buy the patents. That didn’t happen. They were obtained in 2008 right before the crash.
How long are the patents good for?
Give or take 20 years. You can keep renewing them by paying maintenance fees. I’m still keeping them alive. I’m not sure I’ll pursue them. It’s interesting to know you hold a piece of patent history.
What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
I would say be realistic in your expectations. It’s one thing to get a patent. It’s another thing to go into production, sourcing, and actually setting up a business around the patent. I wouldn’t suggest building a business based upon one invention or one device. Be well rounded and continue to create a portfolio of things. If that’s your niche. If it deals with a particular product.
So the patent is just the beginning, not the end.
It’s not the end. My preference would be to license. That’s always been my desire: to create a product, have someone see it and then be interested enough to offer a licensing deal. You don’t have to deal with manufacturing at that point, sourcing, getting it out on shelves or any of that. I’m told that many inventors make the mistake of over asking when it comes to licensing, basically wanting the potential licensee to put way too much out way to early without proving that there is a market. At least in my case, I haven’t really gotten down to negotiating a license yet. I am talking to some people with regard to GutCheck.
Speaking of which, what’s the next step for GutCheck?
So, I’m currently speaking with custom ink manufacturers. The material that changes color upon exposure to the acid is a body of materials that’s commercially available. It’s just a powdered dye that has to be mixed in a way so that the viscosity, dry time, cure time, all that is usable in different printers. If we go with an inkjet printer I need to make sure the ink is compatible with that particular print head. I would prefer to identify a source that would print it on the label or media and do the whole thing. I could pay them per label or per run, as opposed to setting up an actual print shop and printing these things myself.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I think on the whole I would say that inventing and entrepreneurship should be fun. It’s a journey. If you can’t enjoy the entire process, it may not be for you. So find a way to enjoy the process, and understand that it will have challenge all along the way. And try and enjoy the ride.
Where can we learn more about GutCheck and your other ideas?
Probably e-mailing me would be best. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alright, that was fantastic. Thanks.
That was fun. It will be interesting to see what it looks like in print.
Click these links to see our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:
Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, writer of The Devil Dragon Pilot:
As many of you know, my father recently passed away. Many of the principles that have driven the success of Traughber Design were learned from “The Old Man” and are applicable to any entrepreneurial venture. These lessons learned may help you on your entrepreneurial journey as well.
Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time
When I was a teenager, Dad said he wanted to insulate the house. You see, we lived on the Frozen Tundra (Wisconsin) where it was routinely 100 degrees below zero in the winter and a little insulation would go a long way. I figured he was talking about unrolling some bales of insulation in the attic. Oh no. He wanted to remove every board of siding (we had vertical cedar siding), nail on 4′ x 8′ sheets of insulation and replace all the siding. That was the easy part. He also wanted to dig a 3′ wide trench at least 6′ deep all the way around the house so we could also insulate the cinder block foundation. That’s where yours truly came in. This was during the summer, so every day I would go out and dig until my arms fell off. Then the next day, I would do the same thing. Eventually, we were able to cover the entire house in well-insulated foam boards to protect us from the elements. When Dad first proposed the project, I thought he was nuts. But one bite at a time, we ate that elephant and the house became extremely energy efficient.
That lesson is a great one for entrepreneurs. We recently delivered our largest commission to date for Traughber Design. 3 years ago, there wasn’t even a company. There was just an idea in a founder’s head. But one day at a time we worked on crafting commissions in the wood shop and built our customer base. Now we have more business than we can handle as a part time enterprise. Not to mention, the blog readership continues to build, one post at a time. You too can build your entrepreneurial vision the same way.
If you focus on consistently doing the work every day, you’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished in a year. Eat that elephant, one bite at a time.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
What is holding you back from achieving your entrepreneur dreams? Is it money? Time? Something else? There is a way, you just need to find it as Dad did with our first house. Dad was a middle school science teacher and didn’t make a lot of money. He augmented his income with painting houses in the summers and coaching, but he wanted a house for his young family and couldn’t afford it. No problem. In that situation, you just build it yourself. He drew up some designs, hired a general contractor to make sure everything was up to code, and every day after school went up to “The Hill” and worked on the house. Dad used what he did have, those few hours every day after school to convert into a house for his young family. It may be that you are not using what you do have to achieve your vision.
Another example of Dad finding a way was in ice fishing. When I was a kid, Dad would take me out on the ice during the winter to ice fish. Initially this consisted of drilling holes with a manual ice augur, then sitting on an upturned bucket and freezing my butt off as we waited for the fish to bite. We eventually bought a gas powered augur and Dad built a shanty on skis which kept us warm. One of the vexing problems, though, was finding a better way to check our tip-ups when fishing at night. Tip-ups are small wooden contraptions about a foot long that have fishing line that run down through the hole we drilled in the ice and had a lure at the bottom. When a fish bit and tugged on the line, it released a flourescent flag to let us know to come get the fish. Back in the day, there was no way to tell if you had a fish at night other than continually patrolling your tip-up sites or using a flashlight to see if your flags were up. Dad the entrepreneur came up with a better idea, though. What if there was a way for the tip-up to signal you when there was a fish on the line at night? He tinkered for hours on a device that would light up when a fish was on the line. The tip-up flag would pull a line connected to a small plastic insulator separating two contacts on a battery powered lamp. When the insulator was pulled out, the metal contacts would connect and the light would go on. Dad made a small wooden device with a drilled out center to hold the battery, lamp on top, and electrical connectors on the side. This device attached to the tip-up. He willed his way to a system that allowed us to ring our shanty with about a dozen tip-ups that would signal us with lights when fish were on the line. These kinds of devices are commonplace now, but Dad had to invent it from scratch back then. He even researched patenting his contraption, but couldn’t afford the fees to do the patent and market the product on his meager teacher’s salary. Nevertheless, we enjoyed using his invention for many years.
Dad taught middle school science and had the challenge of trying to explain quantum physics for the first time to a bunch of 8th graders. He started teaching us about electron clouds and valences and our minds started to explode. I just couldn’t get my mind around the concept of a “cloud” of electrons until much later. He knew from experience that kids our age were going to struggle with this concept and reframed the problem. He gave us other frameworks to try such as electrons falling into “buckets” at various levels in the atom. That idea I could latch on to until the cloud thing made sense.
Another person who is successfully reframing visions today is Elon Musk who is pushing forward in three primary areas: space launch (SpaceX), solar panels (SolarCity), and electric cars (Tesla). Musk has been very successful in dramatically reducing the cost of launches to space by building his own rockets and making them reusable. No one even thought that was possible to reuse a rocket; however, he’s done it multiple times now. My point, though, is that he didn’t build SpaceX to reduce the cost of getting to space. He says it is to colonize Mars to ensure man’s survival by being on multiple planets. He’s framed the problem as the survival of mankind. Getting a job at SpaceX is extremely difficult because he has rallied young technical talent to his cause. Would they be more enthused about saving money on launch costs or saving humankind? If you are running into a dilemma in your entrepreneurial venture, maybe you need to reframe the problem as Elon Musk has.
Here is another example of reframing. I’m currently reading a book called “Bold, How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler which provides some examples of successful and unsuccessful reframing. Diamandis founded the Ansari X Prize and 17 companies while Kotler is a best selling writer. One of the successful examples they explain in their book is how Kodak reframed itself from a company that “was somewhere between a chemical supply house and a dry goods purveyor” to a company that wanted to make photography an every day affair. The company grew to 140,000 employees with $28 annual revenue in 1996. Kodak also highlights an example of unsuccessful reframing. They were the inventor of the digital camera, but shelved it because they didn’t think it fit within their view of their business. As most of you know, Kodak went bankrupt as a result.
I hope you enjoyed those three lessons from Dad: Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time, Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Maybe you Need to Reframe the Problem
One of the things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is to keep innovating and experimenting. Some things work out and others, not so much. You just press on. One of the recent experiments I’ve tried was using epoxy resin to fill in voids in my work. Ever wonder how they get those really awesome thick “bar top” finishes on tables and bar tops? In many cases, those are epoxy resin finishes (click here if you’d like to do more research on epoxy resins). Resin is also very useful for dealing with knot holes, cracks, and other voids. I recently took the dive into experimenting with resin finishes and thought I’d share some lessons learned to help you get started. I’ll also provide specific product recommendations you can purchase directly from Amazon and have delivered right to your door.
The most important step is protect yourself before beginning. These finishes are very toxic so make sure you are in a well-ventilated area. When I applied my first resin finish it was in the basement shop, so I flung the outer door wide open to let the air in and applied the finish at a table that was very near the door. In addition, make sure you are wearing long sleeves and are wearing gloves. You definitely don’t want this stuff on your skin. I also recommend wearing safety glasses, just in case you splash some up toward your face. This is not likely with the resin since it’s so viscous, but might happen with the hardener or dye.
The materials you’ll need are the resin, a hardener, and dye. The particular resin I’ve been using (System Three’s MirrorCoat) is mixed two parts resin to one part hardener (also MirrorCoat). One of the advantages of MirrorCoat is that it’s clear, so you can add dye (I’m using TransTint’s product) to make it any color you like. I chose black because I was filling in some voids in the black walnut gun cabinet I’ve been telling you about. Clear resin without the dye might make for an interesting finish in the black walnut as well. Here is the list of materials with links to Amazon if you’d like to purchase them:
I also recommend a plastic cup, measuring spoon, and scrap stick to use as an applicator. If you wipe the measuring spoon carefully with a paper towel, you can reuse the measuring spoon indefinitely. I like to use a plastic cup because it’s disposable and doesn’t require clean up. I’ve tried a couple different applicators, and a long thin piece of scrap wood seems to work just about as well as anything else.
The procedure. This stuff is very expensive so you only want to use the bare minimum required. I recommend finding a piece of scrap wood with a small knot hole to practice on. A small knot will not require much resin to fill in. During my first experiment I used two 1/4 teaspoons of resin, one 1/4 teaspoon of hardener, and one drop of dye. Start by pouring the resin into the cup. Then add the hardener. Then add the dye until the color has the opacity you like. Mix with the scrap stick and let one drop fall from the scrap stick into your void. Then add another drop, then another until the void has been filled. You want to slowly add drops, rather than pouring the resin so the air has time to escape and the resin has time to slowly fill all the gaps in the void. Fill the void to the top then wait about 5 minutes to check it again. You’ll probably have some settling. Then add more resin to top off the void. The resin will take about 24 hours to set and 72 hours to cure completely.
This is very important: make sure you set aside a time period when you have a few days in a row to check on the settling of the resin. You’ll typically find that overnight the resin has settled, and you’ll need to add some more the next day to level it off with your wood surface. If you wait more than 24 hours to do this, your resin may not bond together and you could end up with air gaps in your resin which would create an issue during sanding.
The finish. You may have a slightly convex shape over the void, but not to worry. You can sand the resin just like you sand the surrounding wood. I like to use 80 grit, then 120, then 180 as discussed in the post about my go-to finish on the cherry coat rack. As you can see from the picture, the resin really added some pizzaz to what could have been a distracting knot hole.
One caveat: the directions recommend using a propane torch to heat the resin and pop any air bubbles at the surface, but I’ve found that in the proportions recommended, the air bubbles escape before the resin hardens.
If you haven’t tried resin, but have always wanted to, give it a shot. For less than $70 you can be up and running in no time. This is consistent with our entrepreneurial mantra of fail fast and fail cheap which we wrote about here. If you have any questions, post below. I look forward to hearing from you about your experience with resin finishes.
This is our interview with our fourth entrepreneur in our interview series, Haleigh Heard, owner of S’Cute Petite bakery.
Tell us a little bit about your company.
I am a home bakery which specializes in cupcakes.
What else do you make?
You make other things besides cupcakes.
You made a cake.
I made a cake for a birthday party.
You made a cake for us, too.
Yes, I did. I don’t normally do cakes.
What is your biggest seller?
My biggest seller is my chocolate chip cupcake with butter cream or cream cheese frosting.
Is that the triple chocolate one or is that a different one?
It’s a new one. I’ve improved on it. It’s pretty good, you should try it sometime.
I should. Valentines Day is coming up. Can I place an order?
Sure. If you buy twelve, you get one free.
I’ll buy twelve then. Can you make twelve for us?
Sure, no problem.
How did you get started in baking?
I think I found my passion for baking about 4 years ago. Every Saturday afternoon I would go on Pinterest and I’d find something to bake. I’d bake it and bring it to Sunday School. I’d give it to the people in Sunday school class and say “try this.”
That was probably a ready audience.
I’d say “Did you like it? Did you not like it? What can improve? Is it good?”
Tell us a little bit about your creative process.
My creative process is pretty much I go on Pinterest a lot. I look at things. That’s how I got my chocolate chip cupcake. I forgot a couple ingredients in the recipe, and I decided to throw a handful of chocolate chips in it. It was probably the best chocolate chip cupcake and everyone was talking about it.
What are some of your entrepreneur lessons learned so far?
I’d have to say, you can never ask too many questions. I’ve asked my Dad a million questions like how should I sell my cupcakes? How to price them? My delivery system? How I should deliver? And then I think, just have fun with your business. You started it for a reason. It’s not a chore you have to do. I think that’s what I thought in the beginning was I had to have the perfect cupcake when I deliver it. It has to be perfect, and when it’s not I had a meltdown. I threw the cupcake away and I started again. That’s just the way my mindset was, that it had to be perfect. Now I’m having fun with my business. I’m getting more opportunities to promote myself.
Just have fun.
Or else, why do it?
Why do it? You have fun, right?
Absolutely. My time in the wood shop is a lot of fun.
Really, have you ever stabbed a finger? Did you ever miss?
I stabbed myself with the jigsaw the other day. It wasn’t too bad. I rinsed it off, slapped a bandaid on it and kept going.
Shake it off, right?
What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
Have fun. You started your business for a reason. Don’t make it a chore.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I am planning on doing coupons and gift certificates, for things like Valentines Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day.
That will be a big seller, I think. Try it. If it doesn’t work, move on to something else. Where can we learn more about your company?
You can can go on Facebook and type in “S’Cute Petite” (click here to go to Haleigh’s business Facebook page). I’m trying to figure out more options.
Are you going to have a website besides Facebook or is Facebook going to be the primary?
Facebook is going to be the primary because you can go straight to Facebook Messenger and let me know what you’d like.
Thank you for your time, Haleigh. We love the cupcakes. Readers, go to Haleigh’s FB page and order some!
For our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:
Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, write of The Devil Dragon Pilot: Part 1 and Part 2
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.