I gave the following presentation at the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire. It's uploaded here in hopes that you'll enjoy it too!
I would like to tell you the story of how I came to believe that failing is as important as succeeding. But first, let me give you some quick background information. My name is Nicolas Vansnick, and I am a cofounder of BotFactory.
At BotFactory, we believe that making mistakes should be allowed everywhere. This is why we are building a device sitting on your desk able to print and assemble circuit boards in a matter of minutes. This allows you to imagine, create, test and improve your electronic circuits very quickly.
I have been working on BotFactory for over a year now, and it’s been quite an adventure since. Let me share with you some of the things I have learned along the way.
The story starts two years during the Fall semester at NYU. My cofounder Carlos and I were in a class called Bioelectronics. For the final project, we had to design an EGG system. In other words, a device capable of reading brain waves.
It took everyone months of designing, and in the end only one team made it on time for the deadline. It wasn’t because the other teams didn’t know how to make an EEG device or because they were slow in making circuit boards. It was because it took so long to ask manufacturers to fabricate the boards that a single mistake meant you would have to re-order your circuits, and the waiting time meant you would not make it on time.
It was also a stark reminder that for every project, you need to start small and build on that afterwards. Focus. It is such a simple thing but it’s just as easy to forget. When we set out to create BotFactory, we were out to create the next Terminator..
At the end of the class, Carlos and I started thinking about those problems. Why is software so easy to work on, compared to electronics? Why isn’t there some sort of 3D printer, but to create circuits?
This is what gave us the idea of BotFactory.
From then on, we thought it was going to be smooth sailing. Think again.
The next challenge happened a couple of months after that, when we decided to enter a competition. That was the time for us to show the world how amazing our idea was! But guess what…
We got kicked out before even entering the first round!
From the feedback we got later, it was clear that we did not manage to make the judges share our vision. We knew WHAT we were going to do; we knew HOW we were going to do it; but we were missing the words to explain WHY we were doing this. WHY it mattered.
They also seemed to think we would not be able to pull it off. That’s when it got personal.
There was a way for us to get back in the competition by popular voting. So we sent out emails to all the groups of people I knew, and we got back in the competition.
And sure enough, after a couple of months of eating noodles and sleeping a whole lot less, we managed to win the second place in the hardware section.
There have been many ups and downs after that,
And who knows what the future holds for us. But after a while, we started seeing patterns and regrouped them around three important themes that we always try to keep in sight
First on our list is VISION: forget about the WHAT and the HOW you are doing things. What matters is WHY anyone should care, and WHO should care most.
It is the heart of your company, what gets people excited about you. It is in big part determining your company’s culture and image. To quote Brett Martin: “Think of culture as your co-founder that is present when you are not”.
For us at BotFactory, we are fighting to make electronics available to everyone, and to allow people to make mistakes.
Then there is FOCUS: it’s about getting to know your customers, about putting your limited resources where it matters most.
The problem is that the more you focus, the easier it is to lose track of your vision. As we were working in the basement for weeks on end, we sometimes forgot why we were working on that specific feature to begin with.
You sometimes need to take a step back, look at the big picture, and direct your efforts where it matters most.
Finally, AGILITY is what makes startups sometimes more powerful than slower, bigger companies. Your small team can go from building circuits one day, to selling ice-creams in the desert the next one, if you realize there is a market for it.
And if I had to summarize all this in a sentence:
Take risks, make mistakes, get hurt!
If you are successful, you win.
If you fail, you’ll only get wiser and do better next time.