Sam Feller | Product & Project management, Kickstarter, & DIY Product Launch

 In Being an Engineer Podcast

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Who is Sam Feller?

Sam Feller has hopped around quite a bit in his career, from structural to aerospace defense to medical as well as consumer, Kickstarter campaigns, Amazon, Tulip, consulting and even running his own business selling panic button light switches and writing about engineering best practices.

Sam holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Aaron Moncur, host


engineer, people, machinist, tools, part, design, run, product, kickstarter campaign, learn, sorts, pro tip, talking, question, called, peanut butter, kickstarter, awkward, thought, jobs
Presenter, Samuel Feller, Aaron Moncur

Presenter 00:00
Hi, everyone, we’ve set up this being an engineer podcast as an industry knowledge repository, if you will, we hope it’ll be a tool where engineers can learn about and connect with other companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. So make some connections and enjoy the show.

Samuel Feller 00:18
Knowing what’s important to you and what matters and that it was like the creative outlet that led to so many other things is ultimately like, I don’t know, sometimes learning is painful, but you learn something as a result.

Aaron Moncur 00:45
Hello, and welcome to the being an engineer Podcast. Today we’re speaking with Sam Feller. Sam is a mechanical engineer and has hopped around quite a bit in his career from structural to aerospace defense, to medical to consumer Kickstarter campaigns, Amazon tulip consulting, and even running his own business selling panic button light switches, and writing about engineering best practices. So Sam, thank you so much for being with us on the podcast today.

Samuel Feller 01:12
Thank you. And you, I mean, you called me an engineer, and I’m still an engineer on the inside. But I remember the day I became a manager and I was trying to help people, like put some stuff together and I didn’t know what to do. And I realized in that moment, I had come and become useless. So, I’m still an engineer at heart. It’s still in there. And I like

Aaron Moncur 01:35
Useless as an engineer. You mean?

Samuel Feller 01:38
Maybe? Well, I like I like to think that I’m still an engineer, and I run awkward But I’m now many shins product manager, program manager, consultants, like all sorts of stuff.

Aaron Moncur 01:53
So those those are all evolutions of the foundation of an engineer. That’s right. So when you peel back, engineer, always an engineer.

Samuel Feller 02:03
It’s true. When you peel back all the layers of the onion. There’s an engineering there, for sure.

Aaron Moncur 02:08
Awesome. All right. Well, even though you’re not technically doing engineering work, per se. Now I still would like to hear about how you decided to become an engineer.

Samuel Feller 02:18
Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people are influenced by their parents. So my, my dad was an electrical engineer. And my mom was a, she’s officially a mathematician, but if she’d been born like 10 years later, her job title probably would have been like software engineer. And, yeah, I think I knew from a young age that engineering was what I wanted to do. And I played with Legos a lot as a kid. I don’t know if that’s something you hear often,

Aaron Moncur 02:51
like, every single time, but yeah, yeah, playing, you’re pretty much guaranteed. You’re either destined or doomed to become a winner if you play with Legos as a child.

Samuel Feller 03:00
So Legos, I think was a big part of it. Lego Technic, I definitely enjoyed a lot. And my high school I went to a Science and Tech High School, and it was shop class, but they they had to give it a fancy name. So they called it prototyping. And so I had a prototyping class in high school. And I think that that enjoyment for like making physical tangible things definitely steered me towards Mechanical Engineering rather than other disciplines.

Aaron Moncur 03:30
Yeah, yeah. Well, tell us a little bit about awkward engineer. I mean, how did how did that idea come about? And where did the name come from? What do you do there?

Samuel Feller 03:41
Yeah, etc. Yeah, I actually published a blog post on it recently about called it the origin story. And I don’t remember all the details of starting the blog. But I started, started blogging for for whatever reason, I had a day job as a mechanical engineer at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. And I was looking for other things to do. And maybe I thought that like blogging was going to be my, my route to stardom, or, I don’t know if stardom is the right word for it. But but maybe blogging would be the, the way to change careers, perhaps. And I think the blog made all of like $0. So there gonna be a lot of swirling pieces in this story. And so like, I continued blogging, and I blogged for fun. The actual awkward engineer name came from a conversation with some friends. And this like group of friends, we had this like, little we call it like dinner club or food club or whatever it was, and someone had no joke picked up a pressure vessel and a co2 canister, like off the side of the road. So I live I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, which is next to Cambridge, which is where like MIT and Harvard are are so to think that like, you could just find one of these things on the side of the road. At least there may be like eyebrow raising, but not like out of the question. So she was, she was putting anything in everything she could into this pressure vessel, and like pressurizing it was co2. And so you can get that like tingly soda feeling. And she was doing that to everything. So like you can put, you can put melon in there, which has like watermelon has a lot of water contents, like strawberries will absorb co2 as well. But like marshmallows will absorb some of the co2. They’ll also like squish down real far when you apply the pressure and then like re expand when you release it, which was part of the fun. felt like she was just doing this to everything. And so I think another friend said something like, Oh, it’s just a phase it’ll pass. And, you know, at that moment of time, I was also like, as as young as dating, as I don’t know, going on all these, like Tinder didn’t exist then. But OKCupid was a thing. And like, I don’t know, I’m me, like, I’m weird. And I was like, this isn’t this isn’t a phase for me, this like awkward, nerdy, whatever I have thing going on is just who I am, I was like, I’m an awkward engineer. That’s just my nature. And so that’s how I picked the name of the blog. And that that’s I love the name. That’s where the name came from. quintessential description of most engineers, right? We’re all a little nerdy, a little awkward, don’t quite know how to talk to people. But we have fun. Yeah, and I, I own, I own the URL, like, I own awkward So that’s kind of a that’s kind of a win. I just like having it. For sure. So has that been a full time gig or a side hustle? It’s, it’s, it’s been all sorts of things over the years, like at at various points, it was my full time income. It some points. It has just been my income while also starting a company. I think throughout, it has always been a creative outlet for me. So the the blog has remained.

Absolutely, like write and publish and put pictures for like projects that I’m working on. It has not like, like doing full time product development and getting an income from product development can be can be challenging. And I think I had a couple of questions along the way of like, Am I an artist? Or is this a business? And you know, my my best product was the analog voltmeter clock, which I had a Kickstarter campaign for is this cute little thing that had like voltmeter dials, instead of like clock hands instead of like zero to 10 volts that went zero to 12 hours and another one for zero to 60 minutes. And my best segment by far was this like audio segments, like audio engineers. And I think if it was a business, I would have tried to sell more things to that, that audio engineer segment. But I wanted to do all sorts of other things. And so it’s like, you know what, I think that answers the question. This is really, this is really like a hobby and a creative outlet. It’s not a business. So my my day job at various points has been like I’ve been at Amazon as at a company called tulip. Right now I’m doing consulting work. So all sorts of stuff.

Aaron Moncur 08:32
Was that hard for you to come to the conclusion that this is an outlet? It’s your artistry and not a business?

Samuel Feller 08:43
I think I had initially hoped that it was going to be a business and I was willing to experiment and try things. And so realizing that like the ongoing like sales and operation of a consumer product was, like tougher than the Kickstarter campaign was maybe a painful realization. But I think it knowing what’s important to you and what matters and that it was like the creative outlet that led to so many other things is ultimately like, I don’t know, sometimes learning is painful, but you learn something as a result.

Aaron Moncur 09:26
Yeah, that’s great. Tell tell us a little bit more about the wholesales aspect. You mentioned it was even more difficult than the Kickstarter going out and selling to people. I imagine there are people listening to this thinking, I have an idea for a product. Maybe I’ve already developed my product. I have a prototype, it works. And it would be easy to assume that once the product is designed and manufactured, you’re done. Yeah, you’re saying that that’s not necessarily the case.

Samuel Feller 09:55
Yeah, so that’s one of the biggest things like also I’ve experienced as a product manager is being able to make the product is usually not the problem, like most companies at least get a product. It’s the distribution, can you continue to sell the product that becomes like the real challenge. And so the way I think of Kickstarter campaigns, and what I like how I explain them to people, is that Kickstarter campaigns are about unlocking the value of your audience. So I had an email list that I had built up of people who had seen like awkward engineer and other things that I’d made. Like I met them at maker fairs. I met them at like maker clubs, like, like, really, like niche targeted, people like those were, those were my people. And they, they read my blog. And so when I announced that I had this Kickstarter campaign, like I knew that it would be fine, like I knew it was going to succeed, because I had a rough guess as to what the value of my like immediate community and email list was. And so for the Kickstarter, it’s easy to have this like one big push and announcement with lots of like energy and momentum and attention. But then, once you’ve unlocked that immediate value of your network, and you’re trying to, like continue to sustain it with ongoing, like ongoing sales and stay relevant, like, that’s just, that’s just harder. Yeah. And that’s where the real grind came in for you. Yeah, yeah. And I think the nature of most consumer products, I think, I think I’ve heard like one and five ends up being commercially successful. And so you can, you can get various, I don’t want to say like, movie studios take a tentpole approach where they develop a whole bunch of things, but only one movie like makes all their revenue. You know, I had, I had a few more eggs in one basket, and I was doing it, man, this is what I mean, like, was it a hobby? Or was it a business? Like, I ran the Kickstarter campaign as an opportunity to learn a whole bunch of things. I learned the marketing for the campaign, but I also did electrical engineering work, I did firmware development work, I did mechanical work, I did vendor work, like I did, I did all sorts of stuff. And so it was, it is partly for me as a learning experience, not an opportunity for myself to like practice. Like I could have gone out and said, I’ve never designed a sheet metal part before. And I think I should learn how to do that at this point in my career or I can make this voltmeter clock, which is way cooler. And I’ll have to learn how to I’ll have to learn how to do sheet metal as part of it.

Aaron Moncur 12:33
Well, I applaud you for having the insight to determine that it was an outlet, not a business, because I think that can be an easy trap for people to fall into, especially engineers, we love to build things we love to create. Yeah. And once the engineering portion is done, you know that that’s probably fun for most of us, but then getting into the sales part and the marketing part. Maybe that might not be as fun for a lot of engineers. Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of like, like, personal analysis that the I mean, money pays for things for sure. But that’s not really what’s driving me to, to do these projects. Like I’m doing them because I enjoy them or I wanted to learn something from them.

Aaron Moncur 13:19
Yeah, right. You do mostly management now. Is that an accurate statement?

Yeah, so product management, project management. And right now I’m doing some consulting work. So typically, when a company gets to be like 20, to 30 people, is usually when things start to get really chaotic. So if you’ve had, if you have like a young founder, or a young CEO, and a rapidly growing company who’s never run anything of that size before I, I’ve learned the painful, hard way how to run things of that size, like very quickly, in intense environments at Amazon. And I would like to save you that trouble. So that’s the kind of consultant work that I do now.

Aaron Moncur 14:06
What kind of best practices can you share that might be useful to those listening?

Yeah, so there were two things that really clicked for me. So one person said something to me, like, like, Sam, you’re running around talking to all these engineers, and you’re really cross disciplinary, and you’re talking to them face to face, which is great, but it doesn’t scale. Well, you need to build a system. So that information flows to you. And I was like, Okay, I’ll think about that. That sounds sounds good. And then another program manager who is sort of mentoring me, I was asking him about, like, his process and what he did, and he’s like, I just want people to distill the information down. I just want to know, like, what do I get, and when do I get it? And those two things together sort of clicked for me. And I was like, I’m gonna build a system. So that information flows to me and the information that I want is what do I get? And when do I get it? And I think a lot of engineers, and and managers for that matter, because there are a lot of poorly worn run projects out there have never been trained to, like, think or communicate important pieces of information in that fashion. And so the what do I get? And when do I get it? Like, there’s some follow up questions, which is, like, if I’m not gonna get it when I was originally promised, why? What are you doing about it? Like, what are you doing next? And do you need any help from me or anybody else? And you can answer all those questions in about two tweets, like 280 characters is enough to provide all that information. And so if you need to collect a massive amount of information from a lot of people who are doing a lot of like, very rapid, quick moving things, just answering, like, what do I get? When do I get it and designing a system that makes it easy for them to, like, enter that information is kind of like core to my, my process.

Aaron Moncur 16:02
I like that a lot that does help simplify the communication. One of the challenges I have run into managing projects is sometimes engineers like to tell you about all the marvelous solutions that they’ve come up and you know, rightly so they’ve done great work, and they’re proud of it. So from their standpoint, totally understand that, from a management standpoint, you’re talking with a lot of people, like you said, you’re trying to distill it down into kind of bite size, quick conversations, have you found any tools to like, still help the engineers feel validated for the great work they’ve done, but also, you know, cut to the point, give me what I need, and then let’s move on.

Now. I mean, like, I still express personal interest, like, my, my status meetings are for like status, and they go really, really, really, really fast. I don’t know how your audience is with F bombs. I thought about putting putting a couple F bombs in there. But my, my status meetings go really, really fast. And then the details and like the actual work that you’re doing, like that comes up more like interpersonally? And just, I mean, I’m genuinely curious and interested in the technical work people do. Yeah. So. So there’s a separate, there’s a separate place for that. Well, I

Aaron Moncur 17:21
have my own philosophy on project management that I think aligned fairly well, aligns fairly well with yours.

In the pre show notes, let’s get into it. Because I have comments of awesome.

Aaron Moncur 17:35
Okay, great, great. I can’t wait to hear your comments. It comes down to basically three things for me, what are we doing? Who’s responsible for doing it? And when is it going to be finished? So what what are your comments there? What What can you add to that? Does that more or less aligned with how you run things?

So there’s, there’s one, like subtle difference? So if I ask like, what do I get? When do I get it? There’s sort of an implied who, because I’m asking someone in particular for that. And then the the When do I get it answers the when is all this finished? But there’s, there’s a question that you had, which is what are we doing? And sometimes, that can be tricky and misleading. And so the, the analogy that I use is like, say you’re making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, like, what do I get? When do I get it? Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? That’s, that’s great. And if you say what are you doing? Well, I’m spreading the peanut butter on the bread. Okay, like that’s according to plan. That makes sense. But the thing that I care about is, am I going to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich ready for snack time when the kids come home from school, it doesn’t matter that you’re spreading peanut butter and jelly on it. And then what happens is when you get caught up in the what are we doing? Like those those details of like spreading the peanut butter, invariably, something comes up that throws you off plan and the what are we doing can change dramatically. So like I dropped the jar of peanut butter on the floor, it shattered into a million pieces. Like what are you doing? I’m cleaning up the mess on the floor, and then I’m gonna go to the grocery store. Like that’s, that’s kind of the sidebar until like all these technical details of what happens that I think sometimes engineers can run away with Why are you exploring down this like tangent or this path? But the what do I get? And when do I get it? Like, will your peanut butter and jelly sandwich is now at risk for snack time? Because we dropped the jelly jar on the floor or

Aaron Moncur 19:37
you’re just saying so you’re kind of shortcutting the what are we doing part and just going straight to? You know, in your analogy, the peanut butter sandwich is the classic. I don’t want to drill but I want a quarter inch hole. That’s right. Yeah, yeah, that’s right.

And so as part of that status reporting, like what do I get? When do I get it? And then maybe like, prove it. Like what have you done recently? What are you doing next? So that that answers some of the, like, what are you doing now? What are you doing next, which is like, it’s interesting to me as a project manager to sort of like, put some of the pieces together and maybe do a little bit of a BS check. Like, if, if you were, I don’t know, getting plates out of the cabinet. And you didn’t know if there was bread yet, and you haven’t checked a whole bunch of other things that didn’t show up in your report. Maybe I’d be suspicious that like, I’m not sure I’m gonna get that peanut butter and jelly sandwich on time. So you need that information to like, verify. Yeah, but that’s why I’m less interested in what you’re doing and more interested in what I get.

Aaron Moncur 20:38
Yeah, otherwise might just turn into saltine crackers. And that’s it.

That that would be that’d be a sad snack. Although I like somebody

Aaron Moncur 20:46
who doesn’t like saltines. Yeah. All right. Well, any any other best practices or kind of pro tips that you’ve picked up? As far as management product or project?

Oh, man. That’s a big open ended question.

Aaron Moncur 21:02
Yeah, yeah. One or two, maybe if you’re your favorites,

let’s say so. So the project management was, what do I get? When do I get it for Product Management? I don’t know. I, I really like talking about the for for Product Management. It’s like when a situation happens, I want this feature. So I can do something. So a lot of this might be a little further away from mechanical engineering more towards software engineering. But I worked with a lot of back end software systems when I was at Amazon. And so like a traditional, like Software User Story, like there’s a very traditional format that says like, as a type of user, I want to blank so that I can blank. And so you end up with these back end software systems. And there’s no, there’s no like, as a user, I want to make sure that my database has passed a security compliance review, like, or that we make this upgrade to do, like no user would ever ask for that question. And so you end up writing these like torturous product management stories, which is really weird. And so my, my like, big tip is he kind of flip it a little is like, when, when a situation happens, which is often a technical situation. So like, when we get like an inbound request on a certain port, like, we want to implement a certain feature, which could be I don’t know, some sort of, we’ll say, a firewall or port forwarding rule, or I’m making up things now. So that we can maintain compliance for our user. And so what ends up happening is you start writing these, like plain English readable stories that say, like, when a certain situation happens, we need to take an action to maintain compliance, or to maintain security, and then action in the middle is very negotiable. Like there are a lot of ways to potentially solve the problem. But it makes it a lot easier as a product manager to say like, this is the situation, this is the outcome. And then in the middle is kind of like this is the approach that we’re taking. And I think it really helps for software engineers, and I think you can use it to a degree and in various, like hardware practices, to get them to. I kind of want to say like keep their eye on the prize and like communicate the the larger situation. And it leads to much better like story writing and user stories. And just because you have a back end system, doesn’t mean you can’t, like deliver a useful piece of working software.

Aaron Moncur 23:44
Yeah, yeah. All right. Great. Well, I’m gonna take a short break here and share with the listeners that Team is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize, inspect, assemble, manufacture and perform verification testing on your devices. And we’re speaking with Sam feller today, Sam, one of the things that I read that you wrote talks about learning tools versus learning first principles, and I have some thoughts on this as well. So I would love to hear you elaborate on that. Please,

not. Now, I don’t know what I wrote. But it sounds like that sounds like something I might say. I think it’s probably thinking back to like some some younger experiences of mine. And like I was trained as mechanical engineer. But being able to drive CAD was immensely valuable to me. And I found that understanding the tools at a deep level helped me think in other ways. So like learning how to use like mechanical CAD, at a deeper level, I’d start thinking more about like systems architecture, like interface boundaries, like stability of CAD models and how CAD models are designed. And none of that was ever covered in engineering class. But if you’re talking about like nuts and bolts, like practical nature of being able to deliver, like high quality work product, like learning the tools was just as important. And I encountered similar things maybe not identically. But like, getting into, like circuit board design and PCB layout, like I had some I took the same Digi column vaults for adults, the the E classes for

Aaron Moncur 25:47
I didn’t, but that’s a good, good title. Yeah.

I mean, I had a little more beyond what was in those classes. But when it came time to doing like actual electrical engineering, there were so many things that were built into the tool, which are part of the practice of electrical engineering, and part of the practice of making like a high quality circuit board had never been covered in class. And so there are things like trace widths, like manufacturing tolerances, like board impedances, like all sorts of stuff. And sometimes I think learning the tool is an overlooked, like portion of the education that you get in college. And one of the one of the stories that I remember that I think sometimes applies to engineering is, is an old story about like machinist apprentices and being like a journeyman machinist. So you started as an apprentice, and you had an empty toolbox. And as you took on more and more jobs, you need to buy tools to be able to, like, do those jobs. So like, maybe, maybe you need like, like a sine bar or a level or I don’t know, machinist parallels, those are some pretty basic tools. But maybe maybe you get like more and more complicated tools for fancier jobs. And for some of the jobs, you probably have to make your own tools like making weird sorts of like soft jaws and things like that. And so as your toolbox becomes full, that’s how we can tell that you’ve progressed from being an apprentice machinist to like a master machinist. And sometimes I think as an engineer, there’s a similar analogy, as you learn more and more of these tools, like simulation tools, design tools, analysis tools, like the more of those tools that are in your toolbox, like the closer you become to being senior engineer.

Aaron Moncur 27:45
That’s a great analogy. I thought you were going to take that in a little different direction. And so I’m going to, I want to share something that I think is helpful. Also, when I read this little bit that you wrote about learning tools versus first principles, I thought more about kind of like the engineering fundamentals, maybe that’s what you’re getting at anyway. Here at pipeline, we do something called guiding principles and supporting behaviors. And I think that’s analogous to the the the first principles and the learning tools. For example, this all came about when we got a new warehouse. And this is where we do all of our building, prototyping r&d type work, and someone had food in there. And our Director of Engineering says, Well, hey, you can’t have food in here. This is engineering workspace, and we don’t want to get the tools dirty. And there’s cross contamination, worry about no food in the warehouse. And pipeline has always been kind of a relaxed atmosphere. And so people kind of push back, it felt a little, a little at odds with our culture in a way. And so there was some pushback, and we thought, Alright, what are we really care about here? Do we really care if there’s food in the warehouse? Or do we care that we’re keeping the human safe, and we’re keeping the equipment safe, and that we have a presentable space that we’re proud to show our customers? We thought, yeah, those are the things we really care about. So that’s where this this idea of guiding principles and supporting behaviors came about. And so now in our in our warehouse, which we call the reef, the research engineering and education facility, going along with the whole sort of thing we have here at Pipeline. In our in the reef, we have this big mural on the wall which has our guiding principles, which are things like keep the human safe and have a presentable workspace and prevent damage to the equipment, things like that. And then underneath them, we’ve got the supporting behaviors. For example, don’t have open drink or open lid drink containers in in the reef and At the end of the day, we don’t really care about the supporting behaviors, all we care about is that the guiding principles are followed, and the supporting behaviors or whether they’re like their tools, you know, their tools to facilitate the end outcome that we really do care about. And that’s worked pretty well in it. And it feels like a much better fit for our our culture, you know, it’s not, here’s the rule, follow it all the time. Here’s what we’re trying to achieve. And here’s some practices that will support that outcome. All right, well, let’s see where we should go from here. How have you leveraged relationships with machinists and machine shops to improve your own design capabilities? I think this is something that I had read also in one of your posts.

Yeah, machinists are the best, I love going to talk to the shop. Like they just they they know things that you don’t, and they think about things that you don’t like, especially if you’re a junior engineer, there’s a lot of value in going to the shop. And I remember doing called some cost engineering, not sure what to call it. We had a quote back from a shop, and he’s trying to get the cost down on the part. And I don’t like, I don’t like you can’t bully the shop, although I suppose some people can take with that. Yeah. Like, I mean, he says he wants to charge you this much. And you say you want to pay this much like it’s very adversarial. But if you go to the shop, and you start talking about like, what, what is driving the cost? Why does it cost this much. And I think I learned at some point that they were getting raw stock in like 48 inch, like 48 inch wide segments or something like that. And if I made a change to the part, they could fit two pieces on that 48 inch wide stock. But the way I had it right now, I was just over 24 inches, and they’re generating, you know, 23 inches of scrap or something like that. Yeah. And so it’s, it’s hard to get that information when you’re looking at like just the designs itself. And I don’t know all the details of like, who their preferred stock suppliers are, whether they get 48 inch sheets, or if they get meat, like sheets and metric sizes. And so when you go down and talk to the machinist and show them the drawings, and they start, like talking through and thinking about like, well, here’s how we might fixture this, or here’s how we might hold it. Here’s like the work setup. And so when I can start to see like how they’re thinking, I can start making design changes, because I’m usually, like my first thought as a design engineer is usually the intended application of like the engineering problem that I’m trying to solve and making it is unfortunately secondary. But when you go to the machinist, like their job is making it that’s the first thing on their mind. And so when you can get to them early, and they weigh in on their concerns, like you can make changes and take advantage of their process and their process knowledge and just everything they provide. And I I really think that that holds across all sorts of disciplines, like certainly for software development, like the importance of getting the like front end UX designer, and the engineers to sit down in the room at the same time. Like, I remember an example, like UX designer put a couple things up there. And one of them was like an explorer is an exploding folder structure where you could like click on something, and it would open up and you know, the next thing would load. And so in the initial state, all the all the folders were open. And the engineer said something about like, the particular the particular back end setup we had, like the underlying tech stack really couldn’t handle, you know that many things open at once. But if we could start in a closed state and let people open them one at a time, then we could, I don’t want to say cache it or stream it. But we could we could load the appropriate amount of stuff without overwhelming the system. So when you get into like, the nitty gritty, and you talk to people who are actually going to be doing the work, they take a different point of view than you do as a design engineer. And it’s often incredibly valuable insight. And it’s, it’s like those casual little things. Like I remember talking to a machinist and I, I put a quarter inch radius on something. And he is like, you know, if we got a quarter inch radius cutter, like you should really throw an extra 20 1000s clearance on there for like chip clearance. And I was like, Oh, I didn’t think about that. That’s, that’s like can do that. And so it’s really cheap and easy to add the 20 1000s clearance to what was like an arbitrary quarter inch radius. And then he was like, Yeah, you’ll make your machinist happy. And, you know, maybe another shop would have handled it differently. But like talking to the machinist at the shop that I knew that I was going to use or the machinist that’s actually going to be making the part like incredible the insights that come provide.

Aaron Moncur 35:00
That’s a great pro tip, I love that one Make the Radius just a little bit larger than the cutter. Another one I’ve enjoyed is that if you’re using two dowel pins to locate another part, use one hole in one spot. Yeah, that’s another gem. All right, let’s see, you have made quite a few kind of career hops over the years, what were some of the highlights? And what were some of the reasons that that you’ve made these changes? Like what prompted you to move from from one position to another?

Yeah, I, I, I’ve, I’ve done like some some personality analysis and like, worked with some coaches and some people and they, they said that I have a novelty seeking behavior. I have a drive for novelty. So I think I think that’s part of it. I’ve, I’ve left a bunch of jobs for having not great bosses. Which unfortunately, I mean, I think that’s the top reason why most people leave jobs is I think 70% of jobs, people leave because they didn’t like their boss. I, I had, I had a bizarre experience. When I was earlier in my career, I was at a consulting firm. And I was unbuildable 85% of the time, for three years, which was wild. There were all sorts of other factors at play. Like that. There’s some economic stuff, they’re trying to spin up a new group, there was an acquisition in the middle of that which led to like a hiring, firing freeze. So there are a bunch of like weird extraneous circumstances, to wise, unbillable for 85% of the time, but eventually, like, I started doing so many other things, because I was just bored. That’s when I started doing some of the Kickstarters getting into some of the other things, and I left that job, I left that job because I couldn’t hide all the other things that I was doing. And also like, like, it’s just, it’s terrible for your career to be unbuildable 85% of the time, that’s rough. That’s part of what drove me to, like, do some of the projects. That’s why I was like, you know, I really should learn how to do sheetmetal. By this point in my career, I really do an injection molded part because I’ve had a couple interviews where people asked me about them. And I was like, I’ve never done one before. I’ve been unbillable for the last three years.

Aaron Moncur 37:38
So yeah, well, that’s fun that you bring them novelty. It makes me think of a book I read many years ago, it was about it’s about mental health, mostly. And they talked about depression as part of this. And and I’m like going into this dark place like how do we get from novelty to depression? Well, I will share with you, the author defined depression as the inability to see novelty, which I thought was such a great, really interesting definition of the word. Ever since then, I’ve thought because I think I also have kind of a novelty seeking personality, which is why being business owners is so great for me I can I can constantly go back and forth between different ideas and try new things for the business. But I’ve thought over the years that if if I was unable to experiment with all these different things, these different ideas in my mind, I don’t think that I would be nearly as happy as I am. In fact, when I was laid off i That’s how I started pipeline I got laid off because I wasn’t very engaged in the work. And I think that was a huge part of it. I just I didn’t find much novelty in what I was doing. It was uninteresting. And it showed

I mean, I I played a lot of pool when I was in the office, not filling hours. But there’s there’s a limit to that I had to seek out and learn things just

Aaron Moncur 39:01
going back to Kickstarter, just for a minute here. There are probably people who have ideas, and they’ve thought about using Kickstarter, any pro tips you can share about running a successful Kickstarter campaign.

So I think I mentioned earlier that it’s really about unlocking the value of your audience. So the the biggest pro tip is probably building, building the audience and building a community ahead of time before you launch. After that, I don’t know I had learned how to like ship and deliver and execute on projects. And that is that is often the downfall of many Kickstarters I know I don’t have an answer to that. That question like I don’t know how to say like, learn learn like all of manufacturing and engineering and product delivery to be able to like ship something that’s that’s a tough one. Maybe Maybe People don’t know what markups are versus verse cogs. People don’t know that injection molding tooling costs a lot of money. Like it’s John, if you don’t, if you look at like a, you know, a plastic, plastic fork, and you’re like, oh, it’s like 15 cents or whatever, for the fork, and then you’re like, Yeah, but do you know what the tool costs for that? Like, probably quarter million to half a million dollars, but they crank out like a billion forks a year, like, yeah, people don’t realize people don’t realize what the tools costs. So that might be that might be like, my, my Kickstarter heads up. Is, is find out, find out what injection molding tooling costs before you actually like launch your Kickstarter campaign. raise more

Aaron Moncur 40:41
money? Yeah. I’ve seen some Kickstarter campaigns, and they’re trying to raise, you know, whatever it was x x amount of dollars, and I look at the product. And I think to myself, there’s no way they’re going to make that for that much money. They need a lot more. But well, what? What, tell us a little bit more about what it’s like bootstrapping a project, because I know that there were several things that you just ended up doing yourself, because you didn’t have the money to pay for it. What are some things that engineers can do themselves for free? Or for very little money? That would be expensive if they paid someone else to do them, like any low hanging fruit that just makes sense to, to DIY instead of pay for it?

So I think I’ve heard advice that for consumer products up to your first 1000 items, you might as well ship yourself that it’s not worth getting like a logistics house. So that’s that’s definitely a DIY viable item. Like obviously, the the engineering time is something that adds up pretty quick. So being able to do some engineering work yourself counts for a lot. And then, uh, no, I designed all my Kickstarters or at least well, the the one successful Kickstarter, most of my products have designed to be successful in small batch, like, like locally made American produced, like small batch stuff, which is like something that I cared about just being like, like small and

Samuel Feller 42:16
I don’t know if that’s like a hacker pro tip. But it definitely like pushes you to learn a little more, if you’re trying to be successful from like, day one. And you’re also so that’s definitely like a big thing for for, like bootstrapping is in being knowledgeable of production processes and designing specifically to take advantage of them, which I think is sort of the core of industrial design, which is like understanding the products or understanding the process and then designing products to take advantage of those process. Cool. Well, I just have one more question for you. This has been one of my favorites lately. And I stole it from Tim Ferriss. So I’m going to reuse it here on the podcast, if you could put anything on a billboard that every engineer in the world was going to see. What would it say? Probably what do I get? When do I get it?

Aaron Moncur 43:14
Okay. That’s great. I love the consistency. All right. Well, Sam, what a pleasure. This has been thank you for sharing some time with me today. How can people get a hold of you?

Samuel Feller 43:26
If you go to awkward there’s contact information there or they can email questions@awkward And then that’s the the awkward engineer, not awkward engineering. Got it? I don’t know who does awkward engineering. Ours is top notch. I’m just the weird guy that doesn’t. So

Aaron Moncur 43:48

Samuel Feller 43:51
That’s right.

Aaron Moncur 43:51
Perfect. All right. Well, Sam, thank you so much again, I really appreciate it.

Samuel Feller 43:55
Yeah, this has been good.

Aaron Moncur 44:00
I’m Aaron Moncur, founder of pipeline design and engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team’s expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at Team Thanks for listening.

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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. We feature successful mechanical engineers and interview engineers who are passionate about their work.  Who made a great impact on the engineering community.

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