A Start Up Trek – Resource Management

Geek Culture

Pencil sketch of MindGear Labs floor layout. Pencil sketch of MindGear Labs floor layout.

Proposed floor layout for MindGear Labs courtesy Rob Adams. Please don't mock my drafting skills.

I am starting a new public accessible prototyping lab in Huntsville, Alabama, called MindGear Labs based on the fab lab model. I’ve dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and have done a fair amount of research on the topic. But this is my first attempt at starting a business. Here is where I document weekly my mistakes and successes in creating a business from the ground up.

I have big news to announce today. The bank approved my loan request. So MindGear is going to happen. I’ll be honest: when the bank called me my first reaction was stunned silence. It was pretty overwhelming to get that news, and I spent that evening thinking “What do I do now?” The next morning I woke up ready to take on the challenge again. I wonder if other people who’ve started a business have felt the same way.

The bad news is that I don’t yet have all of what I was going to contribute. I was going to borrow the majority of my contribution from my retirement plan, but unfortunately they have an arbitrary cap on what they allow folks to borrow. I’m able to pull about half of my share. I have some options to raise the other half, but it will be tight. This situation drives me to look again at doing a crowdsourcing campaign, either with Kickstarter or RocketHub.

If I go the crowdsourcing route, which is looking more likely than not, then I need to have a few things in place first. I need my website to be informative, something that I can point people to after reading/watching the crowdsourcing page. Unfortunately my website is in a sad state right now. I used WordPress and had played with XHTML/CSS in the past so I thought I would be able to put together a functional website pretty quickly. Wrong. I’ve spent the better part of last week struggling mightily with WordPress … and losing.

On a side note, the editors at GeekDad can attest to my inability to handle WordPress. Jonathan in particular seems to have to fix several things every time I post. People like him, who can enforce the rules while remaining helpful, are the difference between an easy-to-read and professional-looking site and something that looks slapped together. Hopefully I’ll be able to get this post right and lower his workload a little. More likely I’ve just given him something to snicker about as he changes my weekly boo-boos.

Since my time working on the website has proven so unproductive I moved on to one of the many other critical, do-now tasks on my plate. Creating a store layout is one of them because I need to get quotes on the work to be done. It seems strange for me to hand draft the layout of a fab lab that will use computer equipment to design parts. But there is a method to my madness. One, I don’t have exact measurements on the space so I needed a sketch more than an exact drawing. Two, I was able to draw on 24×36″ paper which makes it easier to show others what I want. Three, every time I sketched in Google SketchUp or a CAD package I couldn’t see the entire floor space, even on a 24″ monitor. That last one makes it awfully tough to move things around and try different layouts. Now that I have a layout I could draw it in exacting detail on the computer, no problem. At the risk of sounding like a relic I think paper still has its uses, especially when you’re roughing out or sketching an initial concept.

The layout itself had a bunch of constraints that I had to manage. I’m trying to fit in as many places to work as possible, while leaving good lanes for walking and reaching the various exits. I’m rather proud of the gear-shaped area in the center of the room. It’s the checkout area, and where the vinyl cutter and 3D printer resides. Those of you that have read my earlier posts will see I made significant changes to the kids’ area, which right now we’re calling the Lightbulb Lab. I’ll have to get my son’s approval on the layout again. I’m considering swapping the sales and lounge areas, but otherwise this is what I’m going with for now. That is assuming I don’t have to economize to a smaller store. I’d appreciate any comments on the layout; I can go into more detail on the issues and restrictions if there is any interest.

Getting back to the website, I’m getting quotes from local PR firms on doing the design as part of a marketing effort. Also I am considering doing my initial hiring through a temp agency; contracting out hiring duties appeals to me for several reasons. If someone doesn’t work out, they can send me another person quicker than I could hire a replacement. They do the paperwork which is a load off of me. And I can establish a relationship with an agency so that I can use them when I need extra folks in a hurry, such as to support events I organize and if I see peaks in demand, like retailers see around Christmas.

These agencies cost a lot, however. They have a markup based on the employee pay rate. Let’s assume that I do a work to hire with a duration of 500 hours. In other words I pay the employee through the temp agency for the first 500 hours he works, and then I can hire that person directly. Let’s also assume that they have a 50% markup rate above and beyond payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare, Workman’s Comp., unemployment, etc.) Finally let’s say the employee makes $10/hour. Therefore I’ll pay $10*500*50%=$2500 to the employment agency for each employee. Is that worth the time I save? I think it might be.

To recap, I have enough funding to start MindGear, but not quite enough to do the full lab pictured here. I’ll look at my financial options and probably at doing a crowdsourcing campaign soon. My attempt to economize by doing work I could farm out to others (website design, hiring efforts) is taking too much of my time. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that I need to farm out whatever I can to people who are passionate about and highly skilled in what they do. That way I can concentrate on what I’m competent and excited about doing, making this business a success. But until I can hire someone I have to go back to dueling with WordPress. Sigh.

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