Mike Reo | How to hire engineers, develop curiosity, and “fail fast”
Mike Reo has over 30 years of experience working as an engineer and in technical fields. He has held roles from technician to engineer to CEO and brings a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to share with us on the show. Among the insights he shares in this episode are how to build a successful engineering team, why attitude counts as much as anything else in product development, and the differences between a financially successful product vs a “human” successful product. Click here to learn more about Mike and how he can help your team.
EXPAND TO VIEW EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION
people, money, engineering team, nice, building, engineer, question, product, fail, success, invented, company, technology, team, develop, fast, ceos, work, hear, folks
Mike Reo, Aaron Moncur, Presenter
The Being an Engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.
Mike Reo 00:16
What could be done if I had no limits at all? So if you take the philosophy we’ve read about and you know, science fiction, with any amount of time and money we can, we can solve just about any problem. And I believe that to be true, but we have limited time and limited money so that scopes is a bit but when you’re inventing, if you open up your mind to if I had unlimited resources, how would I try to solve this problem, and that will lead you to something that fits inside of your time and money budget.
Aaron Moncur 00:58
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Being an Engineer podcast. Our guest today is Mike Reo, who has worked as an engineer and business leader for over 30 years. His strengths are predominantly the research, development and operations activities of medical device development. And he is a named inventor on 64 us patents and over 100 patent applications. Mike has held various C level roles as well as VP and director roles within engineering organizations and currently runs his own consultancy out of California. Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike Reo 01:34
No, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Aaron Moncur 01:36
Well, Mike, how did you decide to be an engineer?
Mike Reo 01:41
So I it’s one of those things, definitely where I always knew I wanted to be in engineering or in science. And in high school, when they did this, you know, did this survey to see what you’d be best at with your skills? I came out with mechanical engineer, physicist or oceanographer.
Aaron Moncur 01:57
So if you’re not interested,
Mike Reo 02:00
I think it’s because I like scuba diving. But yeah, anyway, it came out that way. So it was pretty clear. That’s what I wanted to do, yeah.
Aaron Moncur 02:07
nice. And it was a very clear, like the path that you were going to take? Did you understand what what an engineer was back then? Or did you have to do some research and kind of figure that out?
Mike Reo 02:18
I did know, I was pretty clear to me, you know, me. And the group of friends I had when I was young, we’re all pretty technical type of kids, you know, we, we program computers played with telescopes did that kind of stuff. So it’s pretty clear, it was a technical path. And I knew what engineers were having dabbled in software a little bit in junior high and high school. And so I knew, you know, I knew what the game was, but it seemed to lean more towards electrical and mechanical type of things rather than just pure software. Okay, and so yeah, it was it was pretty clear what it was and the path to get there. I did a little bit different path than when the military first and then went to college. And that was, you know, a variety of reasons why, but it all worked out.
Aaron Moncur 02:58
Okay, any reasons you care to share on the podcast?
Mike Reo 03:02
Uh, well, you know, I have a family history of serving in the military. That was part of it. Part of it was to make college just seamless from a financial standpoint. And then also, to get a very good technical background in the military was very nice as well.
Aaron Moncur 03:19
You know, I have a friend who is a dentist, and he kind of took the same route where he joined the army, and they paid for all of his schooling to become a dentist. And you know, he served whatever it was four or five years or something in the army. And it was a great option for him because he came out of school with zero debt. And like you said, some some military experience as well. That might be an option that not not everyone realizes is available to them. did. Did it work out? Well, for you? Did you in looking back? Are you glad that you went that route?
Mike Reo 03:50
Yeah, I am. It can actually kind of accelerated things for me because I had a very tactical job in the military. And so when I got out, I was able to immediately start working as a technician in the medical device community, doing a variety of things with electronics, and so on. Which there was no time wasted with my bosses and thank thanks to them. They got me quickly into the machine shop as well. Nice. Oh, yeah. mechanical skills. Yeah. You know, there was a, there was some nice things in there. You know, in high school, I had drafting classes. So I knew how to draft it was all paper at the time, of course. And so the first company I worked for, they were used, they were still using paper for drafting as well. So, you know, he said, Can you you know, do you know how to draw? And I said, Yeah, I do. And it’s a great draw your fixture. So I draw the fixture and said, here it is, and said, Great, I’ll go make it. I said, Oh, okay, great. And so, back in a machine shop, and I think you and I may have discussed this before, you know, go back there and talk to the machinist and make sure you don’t cut your fingers off. Yeah, exactly. You’ve got a couple of days, get it done. You know that there’s a way to learn, designed and taken apart things that are already existing and then making your own parts? Yes. Those two I think are just hugely important. Absolutely. It brings me back to a time in junior high, trying to enhance, you know, a walkie talkies and make them strong. Nice. And so we were successful doing that. The contraptions that we came up with to enhance them.
Aaron Moncur 05:20
So yeah. Cool. How did you enhance them just like amplifying the signal? And by the single increase the antenna size? Wow, how cool. That must have been so fun for you when you figured it out. Right? Like, here’s the thing that that really smart people, these engineers up in the cloud that they made, right, and you probably, it was like, I don’t know something so far beyond you. And here you are in high school, you figure it out, you figure out how to amplify the signal and make it stronger. That must have been a really cool experience early on.
Mike Reo 05:50
Oh, yeah, we were just messing around with junior high. And we were just we didn’t know what we were doing. And we just started copying things. What we did we figured out okay, what how does this what are the basic pieces to this and just figured it out? Awesome. So we just did, we just pursued things that were interesting to us. And so you know, out of that group of guys, one’s a physicist for the government. You know, one is a mathematician, me, an engineer, and so on. So we just kind of walk in the direction of things that interested us.
Aaron Moncur 06:16
So this brings up an interesting question, curiosity, right, you and your friends, you explore things that you were curious about that you thought were interesting? Do you think curiosity? is a talent that can be developed? Or is it just something that you’re innately born with, you either have it or you don’t?
Mike Reo 06:33
Um, I think you can most certainly be born with it. And you can teach your children having four children you can teach your children to be curious to it will have the same degree in effect, probably not just like, we can teach kids how to draw into paint, but they’re not going to be Picasso. You know, some of its innate talents, that’s really hard to get your hands around. What are your arms around? What is it that makes them Picasso? I don’t know. Obviously, it’s something that’s intangible. And it’s, it’s a gift. It’s a talent, it’s something like that. But yeah, you can go to a certain degree. Absolutely. It just a question of that really amazing ability. I think you’re, you’re given that talent.
Aaron Moncur 07:17
Yeah, I think I agree with that. Is there anything that you’ve done or even seen done to teach creativity?
Mike Reo 07:25
Gotcha. Um, what I try to do is stimulate, stimulate the thinking of how would you solve this problem? Or how would you How would you fix this and just leave it open to people, you know, create the vacuum and see what they fill it with? So the vacuum approach, you know, so I find that it’s the best way with my kids with my teams. That’s what we do. We do brainstorms, where there’s no condemnation of things that may be perceived as silly by you. But we’re going to present all the ideas and see what we come up with. And then we’ll pick three and move on to the next step. And that really solicits a lot of great stuff. things you’d never think of because people start building on each other. And if you make the bat the rule of Don’t make fun of anything, and don’t condemn anything, which people want to do, you know, some of the people who are operating at a little higher frequency tend to want to do that kind of thing. And, you know, I just wish that you know, no, no, no, no, don’t do that.
Aaron Moncur 08:21
So those are two huge points create the vacuum, and then no condemnation. I love that.
Mike Reo 08:27
Yeah, it’s really important because it’s squashes. So there’s, there’s extroverts, introverts, of course, and we get into the five, you know, things a personality, blah, blah, blah. But if you allow that to go on, it’ll really squash some of the more creative people. Yeah, the most some of the folks that are on the touchy feely side of things, and don’t have that robustness to hear the commendation. It’ll really squish them. So we don’t want that.
Aaron Moncur 08:51
I have weekly one on one meetings with my kids where we talk about, I know, it’s so nerdy, but we talked about like, what, what are your goals for the week? What are you trying to accomplish? And at the beginning, my kids, one in particular, was just not interested at all right? And talking about what are your goals? like kids are 1310 and six, so they’re still young ish. And they were just not my oldest was not at all interested in talking about goals. And I didn’t push them. No, I said, Okay, that’s fine. If you don’t have any goals, that’s okay. So be it. But we’re gonna talk next week, and maybe you’ll have something then and if not, that’s okay, too. But I left it really kind of open, you know, I didn’t try not to push them. And some of this is down to the individual, I think. But over time, you know, eventually, he started coming up with things that he wanted to work on, and they were not, you know, like life goals, or I want to, you know, study this or pursue that activity with the hope of, you know, entering this field eventually in a career. It’s nothing like that. It’s, I want to achieve this level of success on this video game that I love playing and Even though it’s like these silly little things I’m trying to I try to be really encouraging. That’s awesome. That’s a great idea. I love it, you know, let’s go for it. And then the next week he comes back. He says, Yeah, I did I, you know, I got to that level on the video game. Okay, what do you want to do this week? So it’s, it’s a progression, for sure. And the goals are still, I don’t know what you might call kid goals. But he’s kind of getting into it now. And I think that’s super important, right? Don’t don’t like force people into that area, give them create the vacuum, like you said, and then and then let them pursue the things that they are interested in. And eventually, you know, they’re going to get older and grow up, and they’re going to become interested in things that are, I don’t know, required to be a successful adult, however you want to phrase that? Sure, exactly. Yeah.
Mike Reo 10:45
And they do, you know, I always worried about them, hearing everything that we were teaching them, and they do they hear it. It’s remarkable. I’ve got one out of college now, and one in college and two more coming into college. Eventually, they’re in high school. And it’s remarkable, they actually do hear what you tell them and having something regular like that is a very strong reinforcement.
Aaron Moncur 11:08
Well, that’s great to hear. I’m still waiting for the day, when I realized that they were listening, I’m sure it’ll come and it’s nice to hear you say that eventually does come.
Mike Reo 11:16
It’s shocking. You’ll be shocked. Wow.
Aaron Moncur 11:24
All right. Well, let’s see, you have what you have so much different experience. And there’s so many different questions I want to ask, I think I’m going to kind of pop out of the direct engineering for just a little bit, and then we’ll come back to it. But starting off, you have a ton of experience working with equity and acquisition groups, whether they be like angel investors, or venture capital forms, or what you refer to as strategics. Which, which would be the the industry giants that are looking to acquire smaller companies and their technologies, can you share some of the pros and cons of working with each of these kinds of groups.
Mike Reo 12:01
So first off, I’ll say, you know, thank you for for that compliment. But I wouldn’t say I have a ton of experience because I always meet as soon as I hear one of those relative values, I can think of people who, you know, can beat me by, by, you know, a lion’s share. And working with those groups, my experience has been either in the, you know, the second seat and helping my CEO get through it, or in the first season talking directly with them, either completely technical capacity or in the capacity of a seat as a CEO. And, you know, in regard to medical devices, there’s a lot less early stage investment in general than there was, let’s say, 1015 years ago, 20 years ago. It’s it’s decreased significantly. So there’s not as many what people would say, is venture capital involved in that early stage seed stage and series A investment that there used to be…
Aaron Moncur 13:00
What do you think that is?
Mike Reo 13:02
I think there’s a couple of factors. And I’ve you know, I’ve I solicit this the same thing from others as what do you think it is in VCs directly private equity people that I’ve spoken to people that are in business development groups, at large medical device companies, which we call strategics, because they make strategic plays on companies, hence, the terminology strategic? And what do you think is going on one of the reasons and this usually goes something like this, this is the amalgam of what people say usually people say something like, well, we had our market collapse in 2008. Then we had ACA come in, which had some issues associated with it, not to wax political. Some people perceive it as good, some people perceive it as bad. But it did have an effect on funding. And then subsequent events in the market. That being the evolution of beyond the.com, boom of the early 2000s. And then the evolution of the latest software companies, they see the play as I can either go spend $35 million to get a 510 k done in five to seven years or $100 million to get a PMA device done in let’s just say for round numbers, you know, eight to 10 years. Or I can take my $5 million and put it into a software company and see a nice return in a few years maximum, which one should I do? And so it’s pretty straightforward math for them. So it’s really hard, you really hard to hit them across the knuckle that say what the heck, on one hand, because you make economic sense. That’s where the market is going. Okay, and then on the other hand, you got what about society and enhanced medical devices. And you know, what you often there’s a few folks out there that will say things really simple Like, well, all, you know, most of the good stuffs been invented, oh my gosh, we can talk about that for hours about that statement, but and how it’s been made before. But I think even the one of the early folks in the patent office said something silly like that, and the early 20th century, I don’t remember the person’s name or when they said it, but remember something like, anyway. So you know, those are that’s kind of the balance of things, you know, it’s more advantageous financially right now, to go towards technology, I’ll just put in a big bucket software and other versus pure medical device plays. Yes, there are lots of inbetweeners where there’s technology medical device that they’re still still gonna get funded. Sure, and late stage, things are still getting funded, but not still not the same volume. So what people would call and I know, somebody will say, Oh, that’s not actually that a C, or a D round and pre commercial round or a commercial round, those are still getting funded, not as big as they used to be. But you can still go find private equity out there for that, you can still find some VCs that will do that sort of thing for you. But your story has to be wired so tight to get that money.
Aaron Moncur 16:11
Has to be basically a guaranteed?
Mike Reo 16:14
You have to you’ve already have, you know, it kind of goes like this, you have to have demonstrated sales already, you’ve already passed your regulatory hurdles, you have worked through 90% of your reimbursement issues. And it’s basically served up on a silver platter of please inject $100 million here and outcomes, the other end of whatever your next is going to be. Yeah, you know, and it could be less it could be you know, 30 million, or whatever your whatever your market is to get your commercial round going. So, you know, having been a part of a company that had regulatory approval, had customers saying, Please give it to me, I will pay for it. And production all worked out and was unable to get to the next step. Because of reimbursement issues, or because of perception issues, or whatever. It’s a challenging market. Whereas if it was 20 years ago, would have been a no brainer, would have been a no brainer and I understand.
Aaron Moncur 17:11
This just come back to the phrase that we hear out there, sometimes hardware is hard.
Mike Reo 17:18
Oh, fair enough. I
Aaron Moncur 17:21
Can see you get fired up now.
Mike Reo 17:23
Fair enough. Okay, that’s a perception thing. Right? So hard for who?
Aaron Moncur 17:30
There you go hard for who exactly? The next natural question is, well, what’s going to change it?
Mike Reo 17:34
It will change eventually, regulation is obviously squeezing in areas where it does not need to squeeze, and not emphasizing areas where it should. So you know, that needs to change. And I think they’ll take a a government move with somebody with a lot of vision to understand what that means. And in order for them to get that vision, they need to experience some pain. And so that pain will come in the form of realization that we could have had a lot of technologies to solve a lot of problems already, but we’re not going to realize them for a long time now, because there’s nothing funding them. So, you know, there’s, there’s always going to be somebody, you know, I just reviewed the other day, what’s the latest and greatest out there? And I went through the list of things and don’t say what they are. And it was a little, it was a little like, Okay, so what was a lot of meaty stuff, stuff that’s already been done with a new whistle and bell on it to connect it to the cloud, or something like that. Does that provide value? Yeah, sure does at some level, but it’s not the big things that we should be seeing, like total hip, or, you know, disk replacements, or, you know, infusion pumps, or other things. I’m not even getting to innovations in the structural heart space, and so on. There’s lots of beautiful things to be done, that people have thought of or will think of, but there’s not the funding for it.
Aaron Moncur 19:01
We’re going from a horse and buggy to a faster horse and buggy, not to a car. Right? Not to a car. Yeah. Well, let me ask you something else you had, we spoke before and you had talked about the difference between a product that is financially successful versus one that is human successful? And you kind of alluded to that just previously, where you talked about the software versus the hardware and where’s the human benefit? Do you do consider a product that’s financially successful, but but not human successful to overall be a successful product?
Mike Reo 19:37
Wow. So you know, it’s I like to look at things objectively and not be ideological as often as I can force myself not to be. So yeah, there’s a degree of success in the financial success, right? So people do well, money is made by people who are going to go and reinvest it. And potentially one of those ideas would be a human success. So there’s that there’s that longer term benefit by by developing capital resources, right gates, like taking money out of strategics hands. Basically, people have a lot of capital and putting it into a lot of other hands. So new ideas can be developed, right? There’s a huge benefit to that. And that’s just as just a quick step back to our last question. That’s really what I’m getting at, from a philosophical standpoint is, let’s get as many people investing in as many ideas as possible so that we, out of that out of that labor will come fruit that will be beneficial for everybody. Right. So jumping back now, I think the best, you know, this is a really good idea logic, I think the best success is when it’s human success, right? If you get human success and financial wall, Hey, everybody wins this beautiful, the human success is a big deal. And often those human successes don’t become financial successes for a variety of not so great reasons. And having been a part of both, you know, the human successes are a big deal, in my opinion, from an engineering perspective, that you are able to provide benefit, the fact that the market and or the entity absorbing the technology doesn’t see it that way, is something to be considered. But it’s not an end all be all in the definition of success. So there’s more than one kind, is the tipping point. And the consideration for you achieve something that could benefit people is important.
Aaron Moncur 21:37
Tell me a little bit about this is along the same vein, or a similar vein, products that you have been involved with, that are acquired for, you know, ostensibly some amount of money that makes everyone happy. But then they don’t go anywhere. They’re acquired by a strategic perhaps one of these industry giants. And then the product just gets shelved. Some, some people might not even realize that that happens, but why in the world, what a strategic acquire a company and their technology, and then just shelf the product?
Mike Reo 22:08
So a couple of reasons. Some of them legitimate, some of them, people would argue and say, well, that’s not that’s not right. Or, you know, people can argue that perspective. But I’ll speak just more in general terms of one of the reasons. One reason is is that the strategic acquires the product, having not done diligence properly and learns that it’s actually not actually meeting its user needs and intended uses. That’s the biggest one of the biggest ones. That happens often. I should say, often, that happens a lot. And it happens enough, where I think some business development folks have said, we really need to sharpen our pencils on this whole thing on acquisitions and do it a little differently, which also, again, puts the squeeze on new funds, right? You start turning that faucet off, and all of a sudden, now, VCs get what become aware of that, and they start saying, Hey, you know, lots of problems with a lot of the new things that have been bought. And maybe we should be looking elsewhere. Because there’s just a lot of problems in this space. So you know, people say, well, it’s regulatory reasons, or it’s development reasons or tech, pure technology reasons, whatever, someone didn’t do their job somewhere along the way, and money got wasted on something, it shouldn’t have been wasted. So that’s one reason. Another reason is that the strategic may say, Hey, you know, this is actually going to put a pinch on another product line, we didn’t realize that until now. And we should probably Park this for a while. That’s, you know, we’re we’ve got a nice revenue stream here on this product, this product is going to infringe on that some way that you and I can, you know, discuss a lot about, or maybe it’s a doctor’s perception, maybe it’s going to harm the way things take place from a reimbursement standpoint. So don’t do that. And that harms the doc, the doctor’s practice, those kinds of factors come into the decision making. And then I’m sure there are cases where they simply kill a product because they don’t want to see it on the market. Now, I can’t point to anything like that. We’ve all you know, read books or articles about things like that. But I’m sure that’s a reason as well, I think the first two are more likely.
Aaron Moncur 24:10
Well, before you get to that point where you can, you know, even sell a product to a strategic where or be acquired, we have to have a product to sell, which means you have to have an engineering team to develop that product. And developing an engineering team is somewhat of an art and maybe some science in there as well. But it’s something that a lot of people have deep experience doing. But you are one of the people that has deep experience building engineering teams. Can you talk a little bit about that, you know, what, what is the mental checklist that you go through when you’re you’re building an engineering team? What are the some of the things that maybe people do wrong when building an engineering team what what are the things that we do? Right?
Mike Reo 24:53
Right. So building a team, you know, the first thing is is is understanding Well, how much how big of a team Because you can build a really big team. So how big of a team do I need to address the challenge at hand? And we can talk about how it would have done it, you know, 1015 years ago versus how I do it today, because conditions have changed. And so I now have to develop teams in a completely different way. Yeah, please. And more in the traditional brick and mortar model, you say, Okay, how much? What’s our budget? How fast do we need to go, which is extremely tied to which is intimately tied to? How much money do we have, you know, if you want us to go really fast, great, we’ll hire more people. And we’ll get some outside contract help. And we’ll burn red hot. And then you’re telling me when we hit this milestone, you’ll be able to raise more money and keep the people who are here the non contracted people employed? And so you’ve got to play that game of Okay, how many people can we keep employed and not make promises to people. And when I say promises, you employ them. And there’s the assumption that you’ll do the best effort you can to keep them employed, assuming that they’re performing the job functions, right? So there’s that there’s that tacit understanding, right, and you don’t want to violate that. So you know, you don’t go on hire 10 people when you really have the budget for five and cut the time in half. And that’s not cool. So you have to balance that. As well as balance the CEOs ability to go out and raise more money. So fortunately, I’ve, I’ve worked for I’ve worked in companies, and worked for CEOs that have been really good at doing that, with rare exception. So that’s been that’s been a privilege. So in building that team, the next question you ask, okay, knowledge, money, I know how big I get to build this group, I need to build 15 engine, I need to get 15 engineers in here, we need to have two groups working on two different two different areas, let’s say for example, an implant and an instrument group. And now let’s go find those people. And the next thing that you need to do is go look for people that are way better than you. Absolutely, absolutely, you don’t know, I mean, first thing I had to accept is, you know, you don’t know everything. And you need to find people that are smarter than you can do that better than you and just take advice from them. So it was it was a nice learning process over the years to go. After Step five, to remove myself from the however interesting, this is from an engineering perspective and allow other people to do it. And then just give me updates on things. So go find those eight plus people is the bottom line. That’s how I say find the eight plus people avoid the B and the C players. Those are for, you know, much larger organizations that can use them in an efficient manner to get regular tasking done. For a startup for when you’re building a team from scratch, you need those a plus players. And when you go find a plus people, you know, you’re going to have a big group of highly tuned people. So get ready. For what that means.
Aaron Moncur 27:49
Let me ask another question. If you’re hiring a plus people, as opposed to you know, the B’s and the C’s, you’re going to be playing paying a plus salaries as well. In your experience, it sounds like what you’re saying is paying the higher salaries for a plus people overall, is a better investment.
Mike Reo 28:08
Oh, absolutely. No question. And you’ll get pushback from your, you know, your GMA folks all the time, you know, your CEOs and CFOs will push back, can we find something cheaper? Sure, would you like to take twice as long and have half as happy efficiency shorter, we can do that. And you’re gonna end up with actually more money out of pocket long term.
Aaron Moncur 28:25
So you’re saying it’s not a linear relationship between the person and the salary that paid?
Mike Reo 28:31
Absolutely not, you find you find an exceptional person who knows how to focus, set a target and just drives towards that target like nobody’s business, they have a nonlinear response, that’s all I can say is they can do things that other people can’t do. And they can do it in a very efficient manner and produce other fruit that you had no idea you were going to get. So paying, you know, top dollar for people is worthwhile for people who deserve it. Because you’ll find the people who are you know, see players and they want top dollar or that they’ve been paid top dollar, some large organization, they expect to continue to get that and then work eight hours a day. That’s not going to happen in the start. So you want to find those people who are another thing I look for too is people who are jack of all trades. Unless I absolutely have to have the you know the specialist in a specific area which is rare in the start up. And you also want to find the people who wrench on their own things at home regardless of what that is. So if you’re, you know at me You’re wrenching on your cars, or your motorcycle, if you’re a web you’re building cool stuff and Arduino you are you know, whatever it is, you’re doing those things at home too, because it’s your passion just can’t stop yourself. And that’s the kind of people I look for. I don’t get too hung up on where you went to school or your GPA. I really don’t care about GPA I found I have found I can say through my experience zero correlation between GPA and performance. None zero I found a ton 100% correlation between people who wrench at home or program at home, and their ability to perform at work. Huge correlation. That’s awesome advice, assuming assuming some things, some basic things like you’re not living in your, in your parents basement and you’re you know, you’re 19 years old and you haven’t had a real job yet, I’m talking about people. You know, they’ve generally in general, have gone to school in general, they’ve been had a professional career, and they know how to how to present themselves and work in a professional environment. Assuming those basic things, yes.
Aaron Moncur 30:35
I agree 100% with what you’re saying, and it makes me how do I say this, it’s like, there, for eight plus people that I’ve come across, there isn’t really a distinction between work and personal, right? It’s all just life, it’s all just, this is what I love to do. Not okay, I’m going to, you know, I’m going to perform this way at work, because it’s my job, but then I’m going to go home, and I’m going to do something that’s, you know, on an entirely different level, as far as performance or quality or whatever, people tend to perform the same regardless of where they are. And it doesn’t have that much to do with with work life versus personal life, it’s just life is just who you are as a person.
Mike Reo 31:26
Absolutely, yeah, you can’t be a lazy slug at home, and then come to work and not be a lazy slug. It’ll show up some time, it’ll go right in time in your work life. So you know, the people who interview really great. And then after a month, they’re just, they’re awful, you can usually detect that in an interview. by picking up on some just some key things that folks say and that they have on their resume, you can pick up on it pretty quick. So it continuing on and building in building the team. Those are the basic things that I look for, and then running them through when you build your team, running them through the middle with at least at least three or four other folks. So you get perspective and don’t hire all one kind of personality type either. You know, that’s that’s another thing too. Which email? Well, it’s really hard to do with engineers, they’re all the same? Well, no, I don’t think so. I think there’s some folks that are more on the more on the creative side. And there’s some folks that are more on the structured organizational side of things. And you want a nice mix of those folks.
Aaron Moncur 32:29
One of one of your favorite phrases is fail fast.
Mike Reo 32:35
There’s a book and everything like that, yeah, talk a little bit. Yeah, so I’ve met some great people that say this, and I’m just oh, my gosh, you know, CEOs or colleagues that say this, you know, we need to fail fast. And the main thing is just psychology for me. If you, if you tell your team fail fast, their minds are going to be focused on failure, rather than on success. And so what I would propose is a shift of focus on succeeding at the task, of course, there’s going to be failures, we’ve all failed, I failed a lot, probably more than I’ve succeeded, and just had some great successes that kind of pave over the failures. But you have to have failures to fully color, your experience, not saying go out and fail, it’s going to come naturally when you’re trying to succeed. And don’t lament over the failure, pick yourself up and keep on going. You know, we can use sports analogies and running analogies as I would, as I often like to do, and I’ll bore you with them if you’d like. But anyway, so you know, when you fail, pulling yourself out of that pain cave, and pushing on up the hill and keep on going, is where you get to success. That’s how you succeed. And so framing the mind of, if I’m starting a race, and I just don’t want to fail, I just don’t want to fail, I just don’t want to fail, I guarantee you, you’re going to DNF, you’re going to fail, you’re not going to do well, you can now go into that race with that attitude. Same thing with product design, you cannot go into product design with a fail fast approach. everybody’s mind will be oriented on that. And there’ll be excuses made every time as affiliate rather than Hey, we failed with this didn’t work. Now we know that doesn’t work. Let’s move on and keep on going. So I I started hearing this, you know, when it came out, and people were chirping about it. And I would politely say to colleagues that were saying it in other departments, please stop saying that in front of my team. And CEOs I’d say you know, excuse me, please don’t please I know you I know you’re repeating what you’ve read or heard but please don’t say it to the team. And you know, I’ve given my without being too direct and getting too philosophical, but how it’s important to succeed just to focus on The goal, focus on the goal, because you know a lot of teams get tired of with the pep talks, especially engineering teams, everybody’s super smart. They’ve heard it and read it all. You know, just focus on the goal, guys. And let’s keep going.
Aaron Moncur 35:12
Yeah, when we say fail fast, we don’t really mean go out and fail a bunch, right? It’s semantics or psychology or whatever. So concentrate on, how do we succeed fast?
Mike Reo 35:22
How do we succeed fast? Exactly. Yeah. And I know, that’s the underlying philosophy. It’s just starting off with the word failure is not a good place to start.
Aaron Moncur 35:30
Sure. Yeah. Yeah, I liken that to, for example, if I wanted my kids to, to go to sleep at a reasonable time, instead of telling them don’t go to bed late, I would say, please go to bed on time, right?
Mike Reo 35:48
Aaron Moncur 35:49
The same thing, but you’re putting it in a positive spin. Right? Right.
Mike Reo 35:52
If you teach your child how to ride your how to ride a bike, you know, it’s saying, wait, you fall down, you know, you know, your knees gonna get skinned, and it’s gonna be okay. You know, you say no, you know, find your balance, balance yourself, put your feet down quickly, and you’ll find your balance and keep doing that. And eventually, your body will learn and you won’t have to put your feet down anymore. And you know, you keep it positive.
Aaron Moncur 36:15
But this is a perfect segue into my next question, which is artificial limitations. What what are the artificial limitations that engineers bring to the table that they need to learn to just discard?
Mike Reo 36:27
Right, It’s, it’s already been, it’s already all been invented, is one kind of limitation. There’s no way that that could be possible. There’s another type of limitation and having them blocking off your mind to what could be done if I had no limits at all. So if you take the philosophy we’ve read about and you know, science fiction, lab it with any amount of time and money we can, we can solve just about any problem. And I believe that to be true, but we have limited time and limited money. So that scopes is a bit but when you’re inventing, if you open up your mind to if I had unlimited resources, how would I try to solve this problem? And that will lead you to something that fits inside of your time and money budget? It always does. It always does. And so you know, people come up with some some wacky ideas sometimes, but those wacky ideas will cause someone else in the group to go No, wait a minute. What about if we did this? You know, that sounded that was cool. But you know, hey, maybe in the next century, let’s but we could do it, we could do this. And that would work. So it gets your mind going. And I think you know, science fiction is one of those things that does the same thing. You know, we we fantasize about what it could be like in the future. And that brings about a lot of invention in the present, because it stimulates the imagination. And so leaving your mind open to what would it take to solve this problem? How would I go about it, and not limiting yourself to that’s already been done? that’s already been invented. There’s always a workaround. There’s always a workaround, a way to innovate in a non obvious manner around something that’s already there, including patents, including patents, there’s always a way to legally and ethically invented around those things come up, I think it’s non obvious that no one ever thought of that beats it. And and approach all your projects, at least I do approach all my projects, that there’s some really smart people in a garage somewhere that are doing that to you. So get ready. Yeah, keep moving, and move quickly. Because they’re going to invent around you.
Aaron Moncur 38:49
You told me earlier that time, money and attitude really count for a lot of success. Can you expand on that just a little bit?
Mike Reo 38:59
Sure. So you know, the attitude of your team, a motivated team with the right mental perspective can achieve just about anything. And having the money there for you to do it, in appropriate amount of time, will enable you to do it. So you know, you have a CEO or a company that says we’re going to fund this project, and somebody else on the team, usually someone who was in one of my positions would say, okay, we think it’s going to take about this much money and about this much time to do it. And then that money gets appropriated to you, and you take off running and the attitude, you know, convincing the team, probably not the right word, showing the team why that’s about the right amount of money and about the right amount of time to achieve it. And that it’s a roadmap to get you to that goal, really enables them to achieve the goal. So sharing that kind of information and also in also working with your management. Your executive Management on Okay, you need to have discretionary funds. And we need to build in the buffer, we need to have a real schedule based on experience rather than a best case scenario schedule, which I know some my clients asked for, some CEOs have asked for. And then when you don’t meet the best case scenario, like why didn’t you meet the schedule? Well, remember nine months ago, you said, Give me a best case and life happened, you know, force majeure events, and you know, stuff like this happens, you can’t control it, the supplier dries up or supplier, one of their suppliers dries up and instead of eight weeks is 12 weeks to get your stuff, okay? You have to deal with that. So building in a buffer for those kinds of things, building a make sense experience based schedule is the best way to go strikes the balance. And then a budget with some contingency funds or discretionary funds strikes the balance. And having a team framed with this is what we have to work with. Let’s make it fit inside of here. Helps enable everybody. So they’re always fully informed. Because, you know, at least my mind, and a lot of engineers, I know their minds will go What about costs? What about this time? What about this, and let’s just take that off the table for you, we got it squared away What’s good, it’s and get their buy? Get them to buy into Yeah, I believe that too. Good. Right now, now that emotional state can come down the anxiety of what’s going to happen that comes down. And our minds are free to think about achieving the goal. So I think that all helps. So you know, the the old school stuff, just keep them in the dark and tell them to go in their office and engine, you know, come out something on a piece of paper on, you know, come out with something you cat, it doesn’t work as well. It returns a fancy, yeah. produces efficiency.
Aaron Moncur 41:39
Can you share any examples that you have about projects that were, you know, quote unquote, impossible that that your team ended up selling? And how they were able to do so, you know, how do you develop the tools to solve impossible projects?
Mike Reo 41:54
Yeah, that is 100% attitude, 100% attitude. So I won’t, I won’t say the name specifically. But for example, we had a project where we had to, we had to create a coating on a specific device. And the person who invented this device was a fairly well known individual. And that individual flat out said, you cannot create a coating on this such that you won’t affect the other parameters of functionality and achieve your direct specification can’t be done. Okay, fine. The other engineer I was working with, he and I both said on the plane back from that meeting, we’re gonna totally blow that off. And, and we think we can, here’s a couple of ideas that we think we could try that he is not nowhere in the intellectual property. Clearly, he doesn’t understand that stuff, even though he’s brilliant in his specific field. And there’s a good example of somebody limiting themselves. Man is far smarter than I am, brilliant engineer, and scientist. And just limited himself that can’t be done. Because he had never experienced anything outside of that one field, or cared to ask anybody. Outside of that one field, he knew very little about putting coatings on set object, and knew enough to be dangerous to give that opinion. So what we chose to do is, well, we don’t know much about it, either. So why don’t we go ask some people who are really smart, because we did talk to that one guy who said, try this or that. So let’s go talk to him again, a few others. And so we did. So we went and talked to some coding experts. And we went and talked to the guys that are, you know, the nitty gritty in it that are really in it, with their sleeves rolled up? Talk to them. And guess what, we came back with a process that achieved everything? Because we just went ask people, well, what could you do to solve this? Because we know there’s a lot smarter people out there than us. So let’s just go ask them the right questions and, and see we can put together and solve the problem and got some nice IP out of it. And then did you send
Aaron Moncur 44:07
it back to the guy originally? Because it just would have been insulting. So you said you can’t tell? What’s that? This is the part you said can’t be done. Right? Yeah, yeah, that’s some people you can’t come back to that, you know, and tell them Oh, by the way, we did it. Yeah. I’ll take that. Is that the mark of a great leader, or at least one of them to be able to see these artificial limitations and say, no, we’re not going to buy into that reality. We’re going to make our own reality that does not include this limitation.
Mike Reo 44:44
Well, if you look at some of the major some of the big companies around either historic or current today, you look at the people at the helm. And a lot of them think that way that we’re just not going to get limited by this. We’re going to find a way around it. We’re going to open up our mind to the past. ability that it can be done. We just haven’t figured it out yet. Yeah. And, you know, you look back in history at some further, some great breaking points or some great turning points in technology and so on, where it can bore the leadership was you’re gonna go do this, and you’re gonna figure it out. Lots of good examples of that.
Aaron Moncur 45:19
Steve Jobs. Yeah. Kind of cliche, right. He’s been talked about so many times. But yeah, was that phrase I can’t remember. It’s like this his his reality distortion field or something that that people would talk about? Right.
Mike Reo 45:35
Yeah, it’s all it’s all. It’s all, it is 100% starts in your mind with your attitude and your perspective on things.
Aaron Moncur 45:42
Yeah. Excellent. Well, let me ask you just one more question. And then I’ll let you go. Engineering, mentoring, I think it’s such an important thing. And some companies have really great programs for mentoring. I interviewed someone from gore recently, and they have a really strong mentorship program internally. And other companies don’t have much in the way of mentoring. How do you think engineering mentoring should work? And are there any specific I don’t know, guidelines or frameworks in which we should think about that?
Mike Reo 46:18
Yeah, the way the way it should work is that junior engineers should start coming into companies while they’re in college. And they should be put paired with or more than one engineer or just an engineer, whatever works for the company, to begin training them on how to look at things the right way, how to apply what they know, that should be done at the internship level. And then as soon as they join the company, join the company, it should be done as well. And yeah, it’s absolutely important. It will accelerate everything industry wide across the industries by having that sort of mentorship going. I mean, that’s how I was treated. When I came into a company, for the first time, and I appreciate I mean, that’s how that’s the military model, at least that was the Navy’s model for the particular group I was in that was the model you brought in, in your effective different terminology for it. But you’re effectively mentored and accelerates the learning curve, because you have that one on one. And it gets you along a lot faster, rather than just throw them in the deep end, see what happens. And, you know, the good ones will succeed, and the bad ones won’t. Okay, well, that speaks to your hiring practice. But assuming that everyone’s equal, you’re going to create a lot of inefficiency, doing it that way. So mentoring is very broken, how would I approach it, I would pair them with the right personality fit, you know, know, your group, you know, you’ve got to know your engineers and pair that pair, that junior engineer with the right with the right person to develop them. And you will get a lot of good things out of I can think of a couple of engineers that I’ve worked with. I wouldn’t say it was a direct mentorship relationship, but it was a boss, you know, Boss employee type of relationship. And so by virtue of that, they got mentored, that worked really well for them. And worked really well for me downstream later on being able to hire them again and then being this, you know, being great at what they do.
Aaron Moncur 48:22
Excellent, excellent. Thank you for sharing that. Well, I feel like maybe around two, if you would agree to it might be in order, because there are a lot of other things I want to talk to you about. And we’re getting close to time here. So the last thing maybe is is is there any? Is there anything I should have asked you that I haven’t yet that that you feel like really needs to be said before we end this this episode?
Mike Reo 48:50
No, I think you’ve covered some really, really good things that, you know, don’t get talked about very often. And I know you and I picked up on this on a preliminary conversation. So for now, you’ve really done a great job. Thank you for asking those questions. And I’d be happy to do a round two. This is fun.
Aaron Moncur 49:07
Awesome. This stuff. Yeah. And we’d love that as well. Yeah. Well, how can people get a hold of you like?
Mike Reo 49:14
Sure, sure. So you can get hold of me through my web page, which is mlreoconsulting.com or you can just email me at the same same addresses, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Moncur 49:30
Perfect. Awesome. Well, Mike, thank you so much. Very, very grateful that you’ve been willing to spend some time and share your knowledge. This has been excellent and I’m looking forward to round two.
Mike Reo 49:41
Yeah, it’s been good. Thank you very much. I’m glad you have this platform and that you’re doing this podcast. Thank you.
Aaron Moncur 49:50
I’m Aaron Moncur, founder of Pipeline Design and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please leave us a positive review. It really helps other people find the To learn how your engineering team can leverage our team’s expertise in developing turnkey custom test fixtures, automated equipment and product design, visit us at testfixturedesign.com Thanks for listening.
We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Being an Engineer Podcast.
Help us rank as the #1 engineering podcast on Apple and Spotify by leaving a review for us.
Find us under the category: mechanical engineering podcast on Apple Podcasts.
Being an Engineer podcast is a go-to resource and podcast for engineering students on Spotify, too.
Aaron Moncur and Rafael Testai love hearing from their listeners, so feel free to email us, connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe on Apple Podcast and Spotify!
About Being An Engineer
The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us.
You’ve read this far! Therefore, it’s time to turn your headphones up and listen now to this episode to learn all these. Don’t forget to tell your friends who might like this too!