FRSTEE: Making a business out of rapid prototyping

As part of RIG, I worked closely with Phil, Andy and Amanda (an absolute pleasure, you should hire them, seriously) to launch FRSTEE a few weeks ago. The most interesting thing about this project for me was the opportunity to work with rapid prototyping in a way that made economic sense. To build a micro-business in the heart of the Silicon Roundabout. That’s what Tech City is about no? I was told in 2000, while at my BA, that those technologies were the future of manufacturing. 11 years later, that’s still the message, but I’d like to think our little contribution gets us closer to that objective. Realistically though, rapid prototyping is still incredibly expensive when you want something that is beautiful, of variable size and made quickly. Qualities that DIY solutions don’t cope well with so far. I’m sure that’s only a matter of time mind you.

The design of businesses and the business of design
Building businesses is the kind of design work I find myself doing. It is a design activity in a strange way and my design background along with the experience of running Tinker has been invaluable. The most important skills I think I’ve developed are predicting future problems and handling money. 2 things I wish they would teach in design school to make young people a little more ready for industry. So here are some quick things I learnt in helping build FRSTEE.

Things you need to remember when building a micro-business

1. You need someone to do the boring work
There’s a ton of boring work in a business. In this one, it’s about collecting the orders once they’ve been rapid prototyped (round the corner on Curtain Road at Inition), checking them, tying a festive piece of string through them, looking at orders, putting the right one in bubble wrap, in a box, printing out the address and stamp ( if you are wondering: where can I buy stamps? we are using online stamps by Royal Mail) on a label and finally walking over to the post office to send them. Because each piece is unique, that pretty much prevents us from using smart fulfilment solutions like Amazon. All of this incredibly tedious work is done by Amanda. She is a star.

2. You need to worry about the smallest numbers.
Something to remember is that all of this costs money. Amanda’s time, packaging, stamps, boxes, bubble wrap, tape. Stuff you have to buy and cost out for every package you send out to make sure you’re still making some money somewhere down the line. Tricky when you can’t drive the cost of rapid prototyping much lower than it is, again because of how unique each is. Tricky also because charging too much for a bespoke product starts to feel like luxury and in these economically challenging times, that’s not a good idea. A glass ceiling in a way.

3. Never drop the ball
Not unlike launching a web service, you have to constantly be in touch with people. In our case that means our suppliers and customers. I live in a constant flow of emails, ordering supplies and keeping on top of everything. We send out orders every week so far and that feels good, a rhythm is setting in even if it’s a seasonal product.

4. Always work with awesome people who understand technology
Phil implemented a design that was initiated by Ben. He also built the connection between Andy’s ability to script designs in 3D and Paypal. Andy made the rendering easy and connecting it to Inition a breeze. Magic as far as I’m concerned. When you’re working with people who just understand the technologies they are working with and are willing to learn new things, things just get done much faster. After all these years I value a “yes maybe” much more than I value a “no but”. It’s an attitude that gets you through a lot in a business even a small one.

By designswarm

Blogging since 2005.