Consulting, anyone?

So, I’m pretty convinced that working for salary is for suckers and corporations that don’t care about their employees. Most other professionals (lawyers, accountants, psychologists, etc.) are compensated as non-exempt (hourly) workers. Consulting seems like the only alternatives for engineers looking for engineering work without the labor-as-a-commodity treatment from companies. I’d love to establish some sort of consulting firm, but my impression is that going at it alone is frustrating and lonely (James?).

Hey, wait a minute- I know a talented group of engineers (+Jake) I enjoy working with. And who doesn’t love teamwork?

As an alternative, I would consider buying this Titan Missile Base and turn it into a sustainable artist retreat. Anyone have $1.5 mil available? Pleeeeeease?

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6 Responses to Consulting, anyone?

  1. jkre says:

    Ben I couldn’t agree with you more on the “we should start a business” thing. One of our big barriers to entry before we graduated was the fact that we didn’t have a track record. Maybe one way to start would be to make a web page with work from all of us, one giant portfolio.

    Then we should figure out how to either work in different locations or all pick a place of mutual happiness and all move there at the same time.

  2. designgrizzly says:

    I would also be up for the “start a business” thing. Hell, we’ve been talking about it for years now.

    The only thing about the “start a business” thing is that it will easily own our lives – this is, if we want it to be a successful business. Building that track record as an entity will easily take a couple of years. It’s undoubtedly more fun than being a sucker and working for the man, but there’s a principle that I would want to adopt for everyone at this company – that is to stay healthy. That means different things to different people, and we would have to support each other in that regard. If it means running, skiing, surfing, flying, playing softball, ultimate frisbee, vegging out in front of the TV, or whatever – we have to make sure that we’re pursuing those things to stay healthy. That’s not to say there won’t be long hours and such, because there obviously will.
    We just have to train ourselves to not be workaholics 24 hours a day.

    I don’t think it will be that hard. The only reason I bring it up is because I work with a great group of late-30’s guys who would work 20 hours a day if their wives let them, because they’re chasing the “big job.” But then again, to each his own.

    Oh, and the Titan Missile Base looks pretty cool – I will warn you that it is out in rolling-hills farm country with NO trees – AT ALL. It has a certain charm, though.

  3. jkre says:

    That is a good distinction to make Bret, part of what makes us interesting is what we do when we are not working.

    Something else to consider, is what type of consulting we are talking about. There are three main types of work that we could do. The first two actually bring in revenue:

    1. Job Specific Contract work, this type of work is engineering development jobs for specific projects. Where we take on contracts to complete work that has already been defined. This work looks like basic engineering design work that uses our design skills and technical knowledge

    2. Large Scale Consulting jobs, work that is based on larger improvements and problem solving for the client/ client’s company. This type of work is similar to the work done by Management/Technical Consultants (Accenture, etc.) where we are hired to either fix large problems or kick start new projects. While including our engineering design talents, this work also will require a bit of business development savvy.

    3. Internal projects, these are the blue sky design projects that take the most time and have no guaranteed return. But because the projects are not client driven, we reap all of the rewards of success.

    Personally, I have experience in the first type and have dabbled in the second. My experience with the third has not been promising, the internal projects seem to take away from the core values and focus of the consulting companies. I am most interested in growing a company that tackles mostly the second type of job, but i realize that having success in the first type helps build credibility.

    titian missile consulting…hmm….

  4. Ben says:

    Ah yes- the all important scope.

    It seems like the second type you mentioned, James, is more interesting and also has a greater chance of making an impact. I imagine part of it comes down to what sort of client you want to target- big corporations are more likely to farm out #1 type jobs to a small firm whereas smaller companies might have a greater potential to land #2 types.

    Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is evolving the actual engineering development process. It’s something that can probably fit into any of the types identified above, but may act as a key distinguisher and have a greater impact in terms of changing the way engineering is done. Check this post about the software development process: http://blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/?p=1469

    Yeah, trees are important… although I’m partial to the desert/chapparal motif. Plus, it’s easier to fly planes without trees around 🙂

  5. jkre says:

    Doing it differently is the approach that has given IDEO great success. But their service is still design. So now there are two variables to the business model: a.) Method b.) Product/Service.

    Both variables merit some discussion, but the goal should be a narrow definition. If we can define the variables then it is easier to sell the business to investors or, more importantly, describe to the service/product to the prospective customers.

    The article you reference, Ben, does not talk about the profitability/cost of doing it better (“it” being engineering, programing, or any productive method). One of the first comments on the article even brings up the “consultants” who give “smarter not harder pep talks.” Having not read the Art of Innovation and generally be ignorant of the creation of IDEO, I am interested in how their method of design was “discovered.”

    That being said, this is also a good time to examine both our current methods of engineering/design/programing and the Olin methods to begin to define how we would want to do it. Working from my two variable comment above, these methods we have used in #1 type projects, do we have any way to extrapolate them to the #2 type jobs?

  6. Bret says:

    I agree with your three types of consulting. At this point, I have experience primarily with Types 1 and 3. Type 1 does bring in the revenue – it is often the “bread and butter”, and design groups often have a number of returning clients they they more or less depend on for these types of jobs. Seeking out new clients for diversification is always important, but you don’t have to depend on it so much with Type 1 jobs after you get rolling for a year or so.

    I think Type 2 jobs, while more interesting, probably require a good deal more overhead in sales and business development. This is a tough position to be in just starting out, unless we can sort of find our first customer as a Type 2 project. The reason is that pounding the pavement looking for these jobs requires a good deal of time, and may require an additional person, at least part time. This overhead is an investment, but there is an important balance to pay attention to there.

    I am currently involved in a Type 3 job. It is a ton of fun, and it’s working out for us right now, because mechanical engineering consulting in general product development is currently a bit slow in Seattle. If we were slammed with Type 1 and 2 jobs, there’s no way we could keep up – or, I would at least have to have a larger chunk of equity to be convinced to work 18 hours a day.

    With what I’ve seen here in town with a couple of the other design and engineering groups and what we’re doing here at Slipstream, Type 3 jobs might work best with small companies. In order for them to work, the overhead has to be kept to a minimum, which means small space and less people. Of course, you also have to have people still working on the bread and butter Type 1 or 2 jobs to keep the revenue coming in. It’s often a big gamble, but these jobs are inherently risky, and we love them because of the potential upside.

    Overall, I would say the type 2 jobs would be the most fun and rewarding. As Ben pointed out, they would more likely be from small companies, and they represent opportunities to work with medical device, alternative energy, and other such companies to help them develop their companies and products.

    I might comment on the extrapolation of our current methods and Olin methods to Type 2 jobs in a bit – I have to chew on that a bit.

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