The feeling is like climbing up a hill only to realize that the much bigger mountain is up ahead of the rise you just climbed. You thought that all was well. The engineering team has working prototypes. Sure, they were made in the lab with machined parts and tape and glue, but they work. Customers are anxious to get their hands on units. Investors want to see the numbers. There is pressure to show revenue and to talk through the path to profitability. Reality hits. The questions start to pour in:
- Who will build in volume? Do we start in China? Can we start locally and move later? Should we build in-house?
- How much will it cost? Really? That much? Why didn’t I know about those adders?
- How do they know what to build? Why isn’t our spreadsheet good enough?
- How do we get our mechanical parts for much less? Tooling cycle times are how long?
- What are the processes we should use to keep labor costs in check? Oh, we are not designed for automation?
- How do we ship this product? Will our box withstand global shipment? How do we know?
- Should we differentiate for different geographies? How many assemblies will that be? How do we structure? What about documentation?
- Who will service our customers? Can we handle the volume of calls in-house?
- Where do we hold our inventory? Who will fulfill? Who will export? What are the cost implications?
If these questions are coming up, you should have hired operations expertise already. If they haven’t yet come up, then act now. Ideally, the operations problems are solved in parallel with the design and both sides are influenced by the other. If done in serial there will be some rework. What are the options for a CEO?
- Hire a full time operations expert. In order to have the right breath of expertise the hire needs to be hands on and at a high enough level to have experienced all of the key elements of product launch. If this person is your first ops hire it will be a challenge to attract the right person who will remain the right person as you scale. This alternative might be the most expensive but the benefit is that you have a team player on board who is part of the company story and will provide continuity.
- Hire a consultant. Bring in someone(s) who has exactly what you need at exactly the right time. If you partner with the right consulting group you will be able to tap into a breadth of experiences and levels and can dial up and down the resources as needed. Ideally there should be a lead person who has the depth and breadth of experience. Bringing in experts will save you more money than you spend. Consider this an investment and an accelerator to volume.
- Hire a buyer and manufacturing engineer who have the experience and willingness to wear many hats. Supplement with your own operations leadership or with leadership from your VP of Finance or Engineering. The leadership can’t be taken lightly and you must honestly assess those skills. Don’t kid yourself. Launching a product into a supply chain is complicated and requires time and experience or costly mistakes can be made. You can delay hiring a VP or Director of Operations only if another senior leader has the time, experience and interest to lead. Or you can hire a consultant to act in this interim role.
Warning! Blatant promotion coming: You should hire me as an operations consultant. I’ve worked in and with many start-up companies. I’ve seen costly mistakes made because the operations tasks were overlooked. I know what to look for and avoid. I would much rather help you avoid than help you fix and clean-up. I am a doer. I like owning things and delivering to the bottom line. I am a firm believer in understanding enough about the problem to ask the right questions. And I can smell discontinuities. I know how to proceed with gnarly tasks because I’ve had the experiences and possess the intuition to make this work instinctual. I know others in the field and can bring in the right person at the right time to solve the problem most effectively. Yes, you should hire me or someone like me if you have started to notice that there is a mountain of work ahead and you don’t have on good hiking shoes!
I don’t spend my time pontificating about high-concept things; I spend my time solving engineering and manufacturing problems. Elon Musk
OpsTrak Consulting 925-437-4125