The best – and worst – part of working in a startup is that there’s always something that needs to be done urgently, and it’s usually not something you’ve ever done before. When starting new projects, you sometimes benefit from what you’ve learned on previous ones, or from the experiences and best practices of your colleagues. Most of the time, however, you’re learning on the go, trying to figure out all the parameters of a problem while trying to solve it. Even when you find a solution, it will often still only be a prototype or the first iteration of many to come.
Tackling new problems that you’ve never faced before can lead to oversights or flaws. How can you fully predict something you have never tested before?
However, building things from scratch creates a powerful foundation for a business’ culture of learning. Knowing that things may not be 100% right the first time around instils a willingness – eagerness even – to review, redesign and re-engineer products and processes as they mature.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
While large businesses may benefit from the experience of having ‘done it all before’ and employing teams of highly skilled veterans to advise them, they may also find it hard to break with momentum to reassess whether their established systems need updating. ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’
In a smaller business, anticipating a future failure and mitigating against it is key. Maybe this comes from the nearness of knowing how the first system was built; the clarity of knowing its fundamental weaknesses; or the insecurities that come from believing there’s a ‘better’ or ‘right’ answer out there. Whatever the drive, starting from scratch creates a culture in an engineering startup where systems, structures, and products are under constant re-evaluation. When found wanting, they are thrown back to the drawing board to be tweaked, improved, or written off all-together.
In 2016, while evaluating our product portfolio, we saw the beginnings of one such project. Rather than in a precisely engineered product component, however, we spotted a flaw in an unexpected place.
While planning our upcoming product launches, we realised we were already managing the manufacture, assembly, and fulfilment of 8 different packaging typologies. It was obvious that we needed to redesign our packaging to create a solution that would work across our product lines, allowing us to produce new products within a shorter lead time.
The start of something bigger
What started as a packaging redesign project soon had us facing the challenge of reengineering of our entire supply chain. Instead of viewing this as ‘brief creep’ we jumped at the opportunity to change our processes. We looked at Bare Conductive as a whole, all the way from manufacture to fulfilment, in order to create a holistic and more efficient system.
Today, one month before we are scheduled to launch our new product lines, we have built a machine that is much more powerful and productive than anything we have had before. Despite not having been unveiled yet, our new structure is already making our workflow more efficient.
Even now, however, right before the excitement of a new launch, we are already anticipating the changes and improvements that will need to be made next time. As it turns out, running a business is just design at a bigger scale. Although you never have one final product!
Just like engineering itself, running a startup is a process of continuous iteration; experimenting, learning, testing, updating, tweaking, and crucially, knowing that the ‘final solution’ is only the latest prototype.