As part of the management team for a start-up robotics company, I find myself at war with myself. A lot. On the one hand, I like the technical challenges of designing and building intelligent, autonomous robots. On the other hand, we are running a business that requires constant management. On the third hand, there is the drive to create a better life, doing what I love.
I was just reading Michael Gerber‘s “The E-Myth, revisited” (I know, I’m late. What have I been doing for the last 15 years?) He classifies this conflict as being between The Entrepreneur, The Manager, and The Technician. For the last four weeks, the Technician has been in charge. You see, we design and build robots, and in (let me check the dashboard) 177 days, we have our first product launch – a mobile security robot. There is a big difference between a ‘laboratory project’ and a product. In the lab, if the project works most of the time, but requires hours of painstaking set-up for a five minute demonstration, that is OK. For a product it has to work reliably, and for hour after hour after hour, with no adjustments. Our security robot needs to work eight to ten hours a day, on its own, with no helpful technician trailing along behind to take care of things.
So, for the last few weeks, we have been sitting in an indoor parking garage, watching a robot patrol up and down, and up and down, and… well you get the idea. One of the drawbacks of reliability testing is that it takes time to expose the failure modes that only show up after lots of time. If a product is going to work with out problems for eight hours a day, seven days a week, it takes lots of time to find the remaining problems.
This provides a lot of time for thought. So I have been thinking about the roles that I must play to be part of a small company. My Entrepreneur Aspect is already tired of this robot thing, heck we have been working on the same project for almost four years. My Technician Aspect is happy as a clam, tweaking the little fiddly bits to make a better robot, and My Manager Aspect, wants all product development frozen, so that everything becomes stable, and manageable. Boy, do I get into fights with myself. Worse, when the internal stresses get to the bursting point, I blow-up at someone. This is not good. I know that whatever the trigger was, it isn’t the other person’s fault; but the frustration can just explode, and I snap at someone, and that just makes things worse. Really not good.
So I have trying to balance the demands of the three aspects. For me, the Technician Aspect is the easiest to appease, I really like working of the technology, and I can justifiably devote a significant amount of time ‘making things work’. Of course the Technician still grumbles about every minute I take away from “the real work” and waste on useless business stuff.
I appease the manager (and take care of some of that business stuff) by tracking the development, measuring the progress, and laying out the next steps. Microsoft Project files, defect tracking software, weekly status meetings all help the Manager Aspect think we are on top of things, and (even if we have not reached perfect stasis) at least the tasks are manageable. We run a simple internal web based dashboard that tracks the to-do list, the upcoming events, and the historical progress of the many pieces that have to come together for our product launch.
Finally, there is the visionary Entrepreneur Aspect. Boy, is he a pain in the butt. Not only did he get us into this mess, but now it is like he couldn’t care less about making it work. All he wants to do is move on to the next big thing, “hey, we could use that cybernetic brain to make a desktop companion that would actually function like a real personal assistant. Let’s see, all we would have to do is…..” So I an attempting a new appeasement strategy. As we move towards our product launch, we will go through several stages, each one requiring a new (for us) undertaking. The marketing plans, the contract manufacturing set-up, the sales and distribution channels, the Trade shows. Each of these is, in many ways, a complete new entrepreneurial undertaking. So, we are envisioning each as its own entity, and turning the Entrepreneur Aspect loose on them in turn. This blog is part of that process, and it seems to be a successful appeasement strategy, that also furthers the cause.
Now we’ll just have to see how the other aspects react. Did I mention I love being an Entrepreneur?