Friday, May 31, 2013

3D Printing

Last year we welcomed a 3D Makerbot Printer into the office and since then we’ve printed a shoal of sharks and a scurry of squirrel figures. At around the same time, I had the opportunity to work on a few cool projects during my internship. One project in particular soon involved using the 3D printer for purposes other than creating figurines. As the company scaled, it was important to improve the efficiency of processing returned shoes so that the Customer Happiness team can focus on other tasks during the day. The idea of scanning shoes using a NFC reader came about and so I built an interface for this system which ran on a Raspberry Pi. For those unfamiliar to the Raspberry Pi, it is a mini-sized computer which can fit on the palm of your hand!

As you might have guessed, this system would require it to be housed in a sturdy but light container. It all sounds simple and straightforward from here - you press the button on the 3D printer and it would start printing, right? Not quite the case (pun intended!). With the help of Parn, our 3D artist, we took an existing Raspberry Pi 3D print design from Thingiverse, where you can share and access a vast collection of 3D designs online, and modified it with our new dimensions to house all the electronic components. Our resulting design consisted of three parts, each which would take approximately 3 hours to print.

If you’ve 3D printed before, you’ll know how difficult it can be to master a perfect print. There are many reasons why prints can go wrong or differ even with the same settings and print design:
  • convection current and drafts in the surrounding area
  • ambient air temperature (a very low ambient temperature usually affects the ability for the excreted plastic to meld with the rest of the print which may decrease the structural integrity of the print)
  • filament failure (sometimes plastic leftover from the last print may block the nozzle and can reduce the amount of plastic excretion)
  • nozzle height (when a print involves more than one colour, it’s important to calibrate the height of each nozzle to obtain a uniform print)
  • code error (yes, this can happen)
  • heater bed surface temperature too low/high
... and the unexplained!

From our experience we found that placing the 3D printer away from windows and shielding it from the air conditioner with cardboard boxes improved the quality of our prints significantly. We experimented with different print settings to finally achieve an optimum setting that worked well for us - these included increasing the base and extruder temperature, adding more raft support material around complicated overhangs, and adjusting the feedrate and object infill.

Albert Einstein once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different results" … it sounds like he knew about 3D printing even before it became possible!

Here is a time lapse video of one of our prints. Enjoy!

For those who are interested in what the final casing looked like:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Daily Huddle

In my 360 feedback 8 months ago the biggest area for development that came out of my feedback was that I needed to improve communication across the business. In the 3 months prior to the feedback process we'd doubled in size from roughly 12 people to 25 following our Series A funding round. With 12 people it was easy to overhear conversations in the office or catch up around the lunch table, but this process fell apart and stopped working once we doubled the number of people. Based on the feedback I spent some time researching how communication worked in other businesses and we settled on a 'Daily Huddle' process which has been working extremely well.

Our daily huddle is a short, sharp 7 minute meeting designed to get everyone up to date on what’s happening in the business and identify any roadblocks people are facing in their roles.

There are different formats that can be used depending on team size but the process we use is as follows.

At 9:15am music starts to let people know the huddle will start in exactly 2mins at 9:17am. We use the 9:17 start time to highlight to everyone that it's important to be on time, no running a couple of minutes late like meetings often do.

At 9:17 our 3 core teams based in Sydney (Operations, Marketing and Tech) gather around for their team huddle. Each person takes 15 seconds to share how they went against the key thing they said they'd achieve yesterday, and what their single most important thing is that they're planning to achieve today. The idea is that the single most important thing is something measurable that can be reported back on the following day.

4 minutes later the music starts playing again and the 3 teams convene in one large circle for the full team huddle. Here there are 4 agenda items:

1. Good News
Anyone can share a good news story for the previous day. This part of the huddle is designed to be uplifting, positive, make people happy and be a general update on good things happening across the business. Ideally it's high energy with cheering and clapping.

2. Numbers
Next up we share the key metrics for the previous day with the team. For us that's daily sales and traffic to our website.

3. What's Happening
A representative from each of our 3 teams gives an overview of the 2-3 most important things for the rest of the business to know that is happening in their team that day.

4. Challenges
Anyone can share/discuss a challenge they’re facing or an area they’re stuck. This is designed to help people verbalise their fears/concerns/problems. It also acts as an update. The idea is not to brainstorm a solution to the problem as a group, instead people can say, ‘come and speak to me, I can help with that’ then they catch up after the huddle.

Here's a video of our daily huddle in action:

Here's a slightly more professionally done video of the daily huddle in action from the Canadian business 1800GotJunk:

Thanks in particular to Cameron Herold and Dan Joyce who helped inspire and develop the daily huddle concept for us.

Monday, May 27, 2013

E-Commerce Articles - Andy Dunn - Bonobos

Two excellent articles on e-commerce by Andy Dunn, Co-Founder and CEO of Bonobos.

E-Commerce is a Bear. My take away from this article is the importance of brand building for a "Proprietary Merchandise" company. Shoes of Prey also falls into Andy's "Proprietary Experience" category but because what is being built is new, I think brand is important there too. We've been discussing internally the balance between ROI, transactional focused marketing and brand marketing and this is a good reminder that both are important.

Start-Up Drugs. My first take away from this article is to be wary of advertising channels that grow top line revenue but negatively impact the bottom line. It's hard but very important to do the analysis to understand the bottom line impact, and not fall into the trap of good news bias. We have a fantastic marketing team and I think we're doing a good job here as we start to find channels that are scaling our business, we should ensure we continue to focus hard on this.

My second take away is that the very skills that make an early stage founder successful - imagination coupled with the charisma and ability to drive that imagination into reality by inspiring a team and raising capital, can be the very skills that derail a larger, growing startup. A fascination with shiny new things, and the ability to inspire and direct a team to work on them can be disastrous for a growing startup that instead needs focus and a leader who can prioritise and say no. I definitely have some learning to do here.

Articles via @nikiscevak

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

David Jones store build - time-lapse video

When our David Jones store was being built Ritwik took a time lapse video of the store coming together. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Advertising on YouTube

Great article on why web video ads shouldn't look like TV ads with a brilliant example of a successful video by McDonalds.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You know you've made it when... find counterfeit product posted online! ;)

From a website in Vietnam. Check out the tag...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

8 Tips for Startups Raising Capital

Last Friday I gave a presentation at Fishburners sharing 8 lessons we learnt through our Series A fundraising process. Fishburners filmed the talk which I've embedded below. The sound improves dramatically just after the 6min mark. :)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Welcome to the Shoes of Prey team Ann, Helen and Sue!

I'm very excited to welcome Ann Chen and Sue Su to the Shoes of Prey team in China!

Ann joined Shoes of Prey a few months ago and has been working on managing our production schedule and sourcing. Ann hails from Henan Province and has a Bachelor of Engineering from Zhengzhou University. Before joining Shoes of Prey, Ann worked in various women's shoe trading companies as a developer, paper pattern maker and 3D scanner operator.

Helen hails from Hunan province and has been working with women's shoes her entire working life. She majored in Business English at technical college in Hunan and speaks and writes English fluently. Prior to joining Shoes of Prey, Helen worked as a developer at a women's shoe trading company, liaising with foreign clients to develop new shoe prototypes. Prior to this, Helen was a buyer for a shoe factory where she was responsible for coordinating and executing the purchasing of materials in accordance with clients' requests. Outside of work, Helen is a keen cook and also enjoys riding her bike.

Sue recently joined our team in China and is a local of Guangdong Province. She earned a Degree in English Education from Zhaoqing College and speaks fluent Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Sue previously spent six years at a shoe trading company primarily working with Nike to develop baseball and soccer shoes. Whilst there, Sue held the positions of developer, promotions team leader and purchasing team leader. Sue was also previously a part-time English teacher to local children.

It's great to have Ann, Helen and Sue on board!