by Jerry Korten
As an entrepreneur or inventor, it is likely you are a capable person. You probably have a good skill set across the board and, as you well know, you do it better than anybody else. Well, at least you think that most of the time. So why let anybody else do this task you are contemplating and get it wrong?
We all learn more and more as we gain experience. In fact it appears to be the cruel joke of nature that by the time we die, we’re experts at most things in life. We know the potential mis-steps and the preferred direction. If only that physical body of ours hadn’t aged out of the game. Oh well – nature is cruel. But along the journey there are many times where we end up putting our knowledge to work in areas that could have been better served by others. What am I talking about? I’m talking about staying focused and sticking to your area of expertise. One of the most difficult things to let go of for a self-starter is the thought that you should be doing all the things that need to get done because you know how to do it the best. In fact, this character trait isn’t limited to individuals; it can be a corporate problem too. To make sure you are deploying your strengths where they matter, you should always ask yourself “why am I doing this?”
Do it yourself, or hire it done?
For both the startup company and a large corporation, the issue of cost in this question of “do it myself or hire it done” is real. However, you need to be careful to weigh three things against monetary cost: The value of your time, the value of the time it takes to get something done, and the value of having it done by an expert. If you have the expertise needed to manage engineering development in the area of your core competency, and you also happen to be OK with laying out a printed circuit board, does it pay to save money by doing it yourself? You will probably need to revise your PCB a couple of times, given your track record on getting it right the first time… but you MUST get your project done by a certain milestone date — is it worth it to take the chance of trying to save money by doing this project yourself? Probably not.
I once worked for a medical device company that had a specialized product which required a fairly sophisticated display with computational capability. The engineering group were experts at the algorithms and engineering requirements that were relevant to the specialized product they designed and sold, but they were not experts in display technology. Yet the desire was very strong on the part of the engineering management to pursue development of the display in house. I said it should be shopped out to a group who specialize in this kind of technology such as HP or Dell, but they didn’t listen to me. This company chose to develop the display in house and it came out more than a year late and about one generation old in display technology. What was the point of their insistence on doing it on the inside? They had engineering resources in house, and they thought they’d save the money. What was lost? It cost more than $3 million a year to support the sales and marketing effort for the device they manufactured that wouldn’t sell because of the old display. And the sales team were really just waiting for the new technology, they weren’t selling. A year’s delay cost $3 million and lost market share. Once you lose market share to a competitor,you have lost a lot more than lost income —you now have an uphill battle to regain the mind share of your customer base.
Another consideration is liability. A lot of times, folks who are trained as engineers just like to fix things themselves. Being one of those myself, I always have to remind myself that what I am doing could be putting myself and my investor’s money at risk. Suppose there is a situation where we are going to test my DoodadTM according to the research protocol we have filed with the hospital Institutional Review Board (IRB), and in that IRB filing we said we’d have a defibrillator standing by in the operating room during the procedure. Suppose I knew of a defibrillator that was in the anesthesia department, but the battery was out of date and needed replacement… and I said to myself “well heck, I’m an engineer – I’ll just replace the battery!” rather than spend the money to send the defibrillator in for service. This would be one natural impulse for a self starter, but it would be the wrong one. If something does go wrong and the defibrillator didn’t work (for any reason actually, because once you work on it, it is very difficult to prove you didn’t cause some other fault) you and your company would be sued heavily by the aggrieved parties (and happily by their lawyers) and you could lose the entire value of your company. If ever there is a situation where a professional opinion, test or service is required because of any potential liability that could arise as a result of failure of advice received or a device serviced, you should make sure it is done by a relevant professional and not by yourself in order to save money.
All of the above being said, I am sorry to say that if you are the founder of your company, it will be beneath the educational level and the pay grade of all who work for you to empty the garbage from their waste baskets at the end of each day. Now you will need to put that natural habit of jumping in and getting involved to work – even if garbage hauling is not your formal training. Before you leave the office and make sure all the lights are off (because you are paying for that electricity), you will have to make sure all the garbage is taken out to the dumpster – in the hallway or in the back of the building – before locking the door and calling it a night. At which point you may also ask yourself “why am I doing this?”
photo credit: Dano