Step 7: What to Work On

With more marketing and outreach to bring in new clients, the Squid Labs consulting practice could have been quite lucrative. However, as consultants, we were only making money/doing good for the world (hopefully!) when we were actively working -- I wanted this to happen while we were asleep, or even better, while kitesurfing. So, instead of developing more external-facing activities, we spent our free time working on our own projects.

The general theory for Squid Labs was that we'd take consulting and prototype-building projects, and funnel that money into a series of internal project ideas. If any of the internal projects met with success, we'd license the technology or spin the technology out into a separate company and find people to run that company while we stayed focused on early-stage innovations.

The consulting and prototyping projects initially came through our various contacts from the Media Lab. The Media Lab is unique among graduate programs at MIT, and probably even more generally unique, in that the lab is sponsored by various corporations and governmental agencies and the graduate students are expected to demonstrate and show off their group's work to the sponsors on a very regular basis. On average, I gave one half-hour demo per week to a wide variety of people ranging from Hallmark to DARPA. With that much practice, it's hard not to get really good at telling a compelling story and thinking on your feet. And, the sponsors aren't dumb: good students typically received a job offer of some sort at least every month. It was these opportunities and contacts that we converted into our initial consulting work.

Some how-to advice amidst a self-indulgent story: To successfully start a company or market yourself to attract clients, you'll need to practice telling your story. If you don't already have multiple opportunities to practice, create some by joining a local group that holds public events (like dorkbot or Maker Faire) or putting a sign on your door that says "come in for a tour of my really sweet projects." Local museums, colleges, and universities may have interesting clubs you can join or visit. Put projects up on Instructables. Practice telling your story to both experts and the general public -- these are two very different skills, and you should learn both.

In my experience, people who are good at making stuff (by machining, coding, CAD, designing circuit boards, etc...) are always in demand, because there are fewer of us than people who can't make stuff. Once others know you can make stuff and that you're looking for side-projects or consulting work, opportunities should follow -- even without a Media Lab network to leverage.

The internal Squid Labs projects came from various ideas we'd been thinking about and working on outside of our official graduate research projects. These included battery vending machines, electro-spinning of nanoparticle fibers, ThinkCycle (a precursor to Instructables), tons of carbon nanotube ideas, flexible membrane molding for eye-glasses, Howtoons, kites and kiteboards of all descriptions, modular bikes, and strain-sensing rope. To give credit where credit is due: Saul is a total master of taking the first steps on a project and getting people excited; most of the above list started with him. We use to joke that Saul would start projects, and I would finish them. (Keep this in mind when choosing partners, as complementary traits are a bonus.)

There were a few things we specifically choose not to work on, despite existing opportunities. Chief among them were any technology that MIT had rights to. Colin, Saul, and I had all been a part of licensing technology that we had developed within MIT to a company that Colin and some others from our lab were founding. MIT's technology licensing office and the Media Lab itself both did some things that were counterproductive to the success of the young company and the happiness of the people involved. They made the process so painful that we vowed to avoid licensing technology from MIT in the future.

As an engineer, I feel that my strength is "problem solving" rather than deep knowledge of a specific technique or technology. There are pluses and minuses, but this is definitely the right attitude for attacking problems I've never thought about, and it helps when projects that aren't gaining ground need to be dropped.
<p>This is such an inspiring story! I like step 15, in which you suggest attracting and going with other opportunities. Continual growth is vital. One thing I'd like to suggest is doing market research. Making sure there's a market for your business and then figuring out how to approach it can be so helpful and important. Best of luck to everyone in their future ventures!<br><br><a href="http://www.cfrinc.net" rel="nofollow">http://www.cfrinc.net </a></p>
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<p>Having prior knowledge related to the industry and the dynamics through which it operates are a mandatory feature through the help of which learning related to a business can easily be conducted and exercised. This can be extremely helpful if the person is well versed and has knowledge or a business management degree from an accredited university that can help them in initiating proper business in the long run. Here is one thing that can help you in doing it </p> <br> http://www.gulfhighered.com/business-school
<p>Eric; You heard it from other followers but you haven't heard it from me. </p><p>Thanks bro !!!!! For inspiring and sharing. Laura = ) </p>
hahaha.,.thank you great guys..I like your set up ..but my place is messy eer though, but i love it the way it is..use of all available space for that precious little useless part until you need them immediately like now..
Awesome story, Eric! Thanks for sharing!
What a great story. Thanks for sharing. Wish I read this 20 years ago...
Instructables is one of the best websites on the Internet... I hope it is around for 500 years. Wish I though of it.
I've wondered before, and still would like to know, <br>Who drew the Instructables Robot?
So far, really great read. I've been a huge fan of Instructables and the whole DIY movement for a few years. I don't have any kind of fancy degree, and some of the projects are way over my head, but I really like your point about if you want to succeed you need to find liek minded people. There is definitely a difference between &quot;founders&quot; and employees&quot;. <br> <br>I have been an &quot;employee&quot; my whole life, but I've always wanted to be part of something bigger, but you hit the nail on the head in &quot;why would anyone want to give me an important part in their new idea&quot; if I didn't have the initiative or the ability to do it myself. So last year, I bought some tools and started leather working, and actually have a pretty successful business at www.TheBrassWardrobe.com, and it feels SO much better to be a creator in this world, as opposed to a consumer. <br> <br>But sincE I am only part time, I am having a hard time moving forward and growing(which is not a big deal really..). All of my friends say I need to start hiring some employees to do the simple stuff, but I still feel that I am at the ground floor, and as you stated, I need to find &quot;founders&quot; if I'm going to be successful. Of course this makes me seem like an elitist perfectionist to my friends, but it was nice to see some confirmation on what I have been thinking. <br> <br>I'd like to post a 'Structable someday, unfortunately, most everything I've learned has been from here, so I don't think I have any wisdom to share that hasn't been covered...yet ;)
Fantastic story. Thank you very much for sharing it.
Can you please give me any hints as to start a business as I already have a webpage and an idea and a brand name and BTW, I'm only 13 ;)
i'm 15 and going to try to star my own rc car buisness. <br>what's your idea?
I was going to start an alarm company or a home automation company.BTW your idea sounds good :)
just need to find a good website to buy rc cars in bulk
inspiring story... thanks...<br>
Hi Eric, <br>This is a great story. Can't wait to meet you and Randy. <br>See you in february!<br><br>Sam
Thanks for your story Eric. My brother and I are <strike>talking about</strike> going to be starting a business sometime in the near future, and it's good to read someone else' experience.&nbsp; I'm sure our experience will be nothing like yours (it's going to be a restaurant of sorts), but it's helpful to read about someone who jumped into the pool and found out they could swim after all.<br>
Beautiful write up, thank you so much for posting it!<br><br>What you guys did with Squid Labs is what I always dreamt of doing and am finally trying to get off the ground.
&nbsp;Absolutely inspiring stuff. Thanks so much for sharing.&nbsp;&nbsp;
one of the best 'ibles i've read so far. <br /> <br /> there might not be a proven formula for success but this article lays down what is exactly needed and to watch out for when starting a business. <br /> <br /> thanks eric!<br />
Get a team to play that!
That would be a super conductive ring a half mile in diamerter with diode gates and towers&nbsp;to take incoming bolts cycle them around the ring and siphon off power as needed.
&nbsp;A very interesting and useful read. As &nbsp;someone coming from MIT myself, I always find it really refreshing when people admit that &quot;Well, the first contact we got really came from our insane connections at the Media Lab.&quot; The start-up community in general does the world a disservice in downplaying the importance of luck, an encouraging environment and meeting interesting and/or powerful people (in addition to,passion, enthusiasm, and all those other things you bring up, of course). I know it'll help me at least as I try to figure out how much of my talent is my environment and how much of it is my underlying personality (it's clear that you folks are blessed with both.)
Thank you for allowing the pubic to know how instructables was made.<br />
Updated of your &quot;Schematic for a balloon/kite based observation system designed for forest-firefighters.&quot; FYI The water hose would be massive so therefor remove it LOL Shooting stuff is just way cooler in the long run. LOL<br />
<style type="text/css"><![CDATA[p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0.0in; font-size: 12.0pt; font-family: Times New Roman; } div.Section1 { page: Section1; } ]]></style> <p class="MsoNormal">On a different note where did you start when looking for grant?</p>
<em>bolts of lightning to usable </em><em>energy easy I&nbsp;know how LOL. </em>
Nice Squid bus LOL<br />
From orange cars and head trauma, to collaborative brainstorming and direct worldly impact&hellip;What's not to like about this story?&nbsp; All you need is a catchy title for your book.&nbsp; Thanks for the reading suggestions too.<br />
sweet i wish i could be on the ibles team
Great story, 5 Stars. Do you think it's necessary to have studies before you start your company? I say before because I want to do my engineering studies after starting my business and, perhaps paying my studies with the money the company will bring in...
That's a tough call, and maybe something I should add to the Instructable. I personally know of several highly successful people that never finished college. I decided to do 9 years of college and graduate studies first because it was fun and was learning so much, and second because I wanted the benefits of being "vetted by society."
I think it really depends on what your company will do. I have a bachelors in Entrepreneurship (BA) and have been a senior in Mechanical Engineering for 3 years now. I've taught CATIA V5 for 3 years now and do CNC Programming as a career though I recently started a product concept development firm that provides Manufacturing and Design Support. I can do this because of my experience and my studies, though not complete, have given me a much better understanding of the real-world engineering requirements beyond a simple let's draw this widget and make mindset. My CNC Programming has developed mostly from experience and personal desire to learn, so I can do it without any formal education but without my existing proof of concept designs I have nothing to go on to validate my knowledge in design. I was surprised to hear that Tim started ZCorp. I used to run the 3D Prototyping Lab at the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University. We had a ZCorp 406 printer. Eric we need to stay in touch more... My personal email is brianjherr@yahoo.com.
Well I have plenty of time to think about it, maybe I'll do both at the same time, who knows.
I read this and I have Started My Business it is a Site Developed to Getting kids into electronics etc Making gadgets and Ideas for inventors Etc WIll post a link when domain is sorted
It hasnt been made yet still writing Scripts etc
ok please tell me when its finished
I will try i have alot to do at the mo Lol
i started a website a couple of weeks ago its all about ghosts<br/><br/>the link is <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.matandchloe.webs.com">http://www.matandchloe.webs.com</a> <br/>
How do you pronounce "MITERS"?
Well, what can anyone say? Thanks for the Sweat and Broken Bones! ...Oh, and for the fish. (book reference) We got plenty of help now!
Hats Off to Squids ! :)
Great tutorial! This overview definitely helped in my won experience. Recently I started my own business manufacturing various electronic kits and distributing them to science companies. I just received my first check and hopefully I can expand as I have the time!
Is that <em>really</em> what Instructables used to look like? Wow. IT CHANGED! I just can't believe how much it has changed.<br/>
Yeah, some dramatic difference...
Awesome!<br/>Probably one of the best -ibles on the site, what would be cool, is if you put this as the 'Forward' or something in the first few pages of the book. Just as inspiration.<br/><br/><sub>I would love to work in cubicles!</sub><br/>
You're nuts...

About This Instructable




Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
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