limited production :: hand crafted :: high performance :: rechargeable :: premium flashlights

This is my blog about creating a startup LED flashlight business. I'm a designer, fabricator, and strategist and I'm passionate about making ideas real. I believe that products are about people, that they should be built to last, deliver real value, and that we need to do a better job than we have in the recent past.

Most of my career has been contract or freelance work and I've crafted products and strategies for both big international companies and startups. I also used to work in the "industry" fabricating special effects for film and TV, along with the occasional hot rod. Bottom line, I love making things.

I'm starting this blog so you can follow along, from day one, and see what it's like to start a business, or fail in the process. Only time will tell, but I hope you find this interesting enough to stay tuned, comment, link, like, tweet, and (most importantly) participate in turning this idea into something tangible and valuable.

For a good place to get started with general info about who, what, why, etc., check out the "Stickies" on the left side of the page. Thanks for stopping by and please don't hesitate to ask questions and get involved!

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Business plan?

There is no plan, that’s my plan. Okay, there is no business plan, nor will there ever be. That's part of my new business model. I’m going to throw out decades of popular thinking on how you are “supposed” to start a business, and just do what makes sense (to me). I'm either going to look really foolish, or really smart. Doesn't that make for good TV?

Seriously though. Business plans serve two primary purposes: 1) they help you get funding. 2) they help you feel like you know what you are doing. I'm not going to be doing either of those things. Business plans are often glorified as the predecessor of any business, but they are just based on assumptions. In non-MBA English, we call those guesses.

I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't make guesses when you can actually test the hypothesis. Us design types do that through primary research and observation, and one of the main tools is prototyping. It's important to actually try different things instead of just guessing at what is best, following someone else's research, or basing judgment on past experience. All of those things are valid parts of design and business, but they are all still forms of guessing.

A prototype is anything that helps make the abstract tangible and can yield insights for use in decision making. It can be a mock up of a product or a spreadsheet of a business model. In reality, I won't be "starting a business" at all...ever. What I'm starting today is the first prototype of a business, along with the first prototype of a product. The word "first" implies an ongoing process of learning, refinement, and iteration.

The concept itself will constantly evolve and change in response to things like new technology, new market opportunities, or economic conditions. The difference is subtle, but traditional businesses do things like sticking to their "core competency." We don't live in that world anymore. I'm going to test a bunch of things, take the stuff that works and move forward and ditch the stuff that doesn't work...frequently.  

The first stage in my model is to get production prototypes into the hands of test users, fast. These units will be identical in material and construction to a production light but they serve a different purpose: research tools. I'll send them out to a variety of people for them to use for 30 days or so. Then I'll interview them about their experience with the light, looking for insights that might have been hidden without first hand user experience.

This will coincide with the sale of small batches of first generation production lights, identical to the prototypes. Over time, the insights gained from testing will be incorporated into design changes or business model changes in subsequent generations. The Porsche 911 has been around for decades in more or less the same form, but its design is overhauled every couple of years. The cool thing is, since I'll be micro-manufacturing, changes can be implemented almost immediately instead of having to wait until the fifty thousand pieces we have in stock are sold, or until we've recouped a multi-million dollar investment in design and engineering.

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