On January 16, M-Corps launched the first manufacturing workshop in a series that will stretch into 2020. On Wednesday at Urban Future Lab, we kicked off with Manufacturing 101: Talking to Manufacturers, a panel discussion spearheaded by local experts and moderated by SecondMuse Senior Director Katey Metzroth. As our partners at Dragon Innovation say, “Early mistakes cast a long shadow,” and our workshops help founders make more informed decisions early on to save money, and heartbreak, later in the process. If you missed Manufacturing 101, no worries! We’ve shared vital takeaways below as well as the livestream of the event. Also, on January 30, M-Corps hosts its next workshop at New Lab – Manufacturing 102: Designing Your Supply Chain. You’re invited, so RSVP here!

At Manufacturing 101, DogSpot Cofounder Todd Schechter, Doris Dev Founder Justin Seidenfeld and manufacturing consultant Tara Stand spoke about navigating the production process, vetting manufacturers and being ready to build long-term relationships. This trio shared strategies based on a wealth of experience. Stand spent ten years at ITAC before starting her own firm to jumpstart growth at small and medium-sized businesses. Seidenfeld’s team specializes in soup-to-nuts product development for integrated hardware like smart luggage, toothbrushes, air conditioners and more. Schechter built DogSpot from an idea into a growing national network of sidewalk sanctuaries for doggos of all breeds.  

M-Corps, funded by NYSERDA and sponsored by Dragon Innovation, launched in September 2018 to help cleantech startups get to market faster. We’re currently supporting a cohort of 11 companies that range from electric truck chassis to consumer solar products, smart ice-melt systems to soil remediation products. For our workshops, we take common needs from our startups and produce workshops to educate the greater manufacturing hardware ecosystem. Some lessons from this workshop include:

Key Manufacturing 101 Takeaways:

Before you walk through the door of a manufacturer

  • Do your homework – know what the manufacturer does by researching on Google, ThomasNet, talking to clients (of the manufacturer), consultants and peers.  
  • Have your prototype ready,detailed renderings, and a design package prepared.
  • Know what is must-have versus a nice-to-have.

You’re on the hunt for the perfect fit; do your research! Here’s how:

  • Google:
  • Ask your network for recommendations, especially other founders.
  • Come to M-Corps workshops
  • Reach out to your local MEP (FuzeHub for New York State, NextCorps for Upstate, ITAC for NYC). We’re happy to make intros, btw! Just email us at mcorps@secondmuse.com.
  • Go to tradeshows.
  • Think of similar products to yours and research who would manufacture it.

 

Once you’re through the door:

  • Be extremely humble and grateful. Manufacturers have massive overhead, low margins and need long-term clients to thrive. Show them that you’re serious and that you’re going to be able to take feedback on your product and budget.
  • Recognize, as a startup, you’re selling them on the bigger vision. You want them to be a partner who helps you scale from initial short runs to larger volumes in the future. Treat them as if they are an investor – present your product, team, process and vision in a clear, crisp way.
  • Help them see the opportunity and the landscape that you’re entering. Like we mentioned, manufacturers specialize in long-term relationships. They’re not necessarily going to be up to speed on the reason that, say, smart dog houses or solar backpacks are relevant. Lay out the market opportunity, especially in Asia. This helps them understand that you are serious about your business.

On confirming that a manufacturer is right for you

  • Talk to others who have worked with them, again.
  • Think through all the things that could go wrong and ask manufacturer if these things have happened in past and how they’ve handled it.
  • As Justin layed out, in Asia, your initial communication will likely be via email. Don’t just trust email! Go in-person to do a factory audit. Validate what they are saying with others, etc.
  • Make sure your manufacturer is a problem-solver. For example, someone who will say, “We don’t do that but we can figure it out, we can connect you with someone who can, etc.” (Thanks for the tip, Tara!)
  • Todd recommends you ask yourself these specific questions as well:
    • Who ultimately is the decision maker at the facility?
    • When things get weird or tricky, will they be able to accommodate your innovation?
    • Will they scale with you?
    • How client-oriented are they?
    • Do they have a way of nourishing the companies they work with?
    • Who will be available to answer your questions; do they have capacity to be responsive?
  • Do an audit. Sample things to look for are:
    • Is the factory floor clean and organized?
    • Do they have capacity?
    • Are they busy? Busy is good.
    • Are they not moving or producing anything? Not great.
    • Do they have regulatory certificates on the wall for ISO standard? Essential.
    • Ask to see examples of products they’ve made. Are they relevant to yours?
    • Does everyone know what’s going on? If not, huge red flag.
    • Are they working with a direct competitor with an exclusivity clause?
    • Are lines overflowing with product to the point where they won’t answer phone calls?
    • How many staff? How much is seasonal? What other types of expertise do they have on staff (engineering, logistics, operations, etc.)?

On building the relationship:

  • Tara says: ‘Know thyself’ – understand how you work and what you need to feel good in the relationship.
  • Understand if this manufacturer wants to just make your product or grow with you.
  • Be honest! It’s ok to admit what you don’t know.
  • Be clear on who is owning and doing what. Is their onsite design team communicating with you directly, or is the sales team the only liaison? Are there components or design specifications that you will not budge on? Communicate that clearly.
  • Review the agreement in full. If you don’t understand something or some terms don’t work for you, just ask!
  • Communicate your timeline to be sure their lead time is in line with yours.

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