Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I'm your host, it's Paul Kemp, and this is the show where we go around the world and try to identify the best people that can help us with our app entrepreneurial journeys. In this endeavor today I have a contributing writer to Inc. magazine. She is the founder of her own company; she and her partner run this company as well, and she also has a podcast, it's called WTFFF?!, about 3D printing, and we're going to have a good chat about what we can do to avoid risking everything. So let me introduce Tracy Hazzard - Tracy is the founder of Hazz Design - Tracy, welcome to The App Guy Podcast!
Tracy: Thank you so much for having me, Paul.
Paul: Now, your podcast, WTFFF?!, you have to remind me, what does the FFF stand for?
Tracy: Fused Filament Fabrication, which is 3D printing. It's really geeky.
Paul: We love geeky on this show, we're absolutely obsessed with anything geeky. Are we able to chat about 3D printing? What's your involvement?
Tracy: We're a product design and development firm, and we do product design and develop anything consumer retail, so hard products, things you buy at mass-market, Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, that kind of thing. So we started 3D printing as a part of our prototyping process, about 15 years ago. So we've used it for a long time, but the desktops just made it so accessible. But what we discovered was after 20 years of designing in CAD, that everything we knew just had to get thrown out the window and we had to learn how to design again, in a totally different medium.
Paul: Right, a lot of people listening to this show do actually design hardware that attaches to the phone, and I love the fact that you mentioned prototyping. We can use 3D printing for prototyping.
Tracy: Yes, and one of the most interesting things is that the app growth in 3D printing is huge, because right now one of the limitations is that it's difficult to drive your own printer, it's difficult to search for designs, it's difficult to do a lot of things, in a world in which we're so accustomed to our tablets and our phones. So that app growth in 3D printing has been huge.
Paul: Are you able to share with us the most futuristic thing we can do with our phones in one hand and a 3D printer in our home in the other?
Tracy: I think that really for your average consumer, the exciting part is that for once we don't have to buy everything in black, and we'll be able to just download and print out whatever we might want as a gift, or something for our home, or even kids just experimenting and downloading a whole different set of transformers, or something like that. So I think that's really exciting and fun - all of a sudden we are the producers, we are the manufacturers - and I think driving that off our phone is the logical solution. Or maybe even driving it off our tablets or something. So that's really fun, but from a technological standpoint, in terms of industry, I really think that the idea that we're going to be able to have zero inventory in manufacturing is actually the most futuristic, advanced idea, because it's going to blow all the different things we can do with it.
Paul: And I'm sure you'll be getting rid of all the sales as well, with the excess stock in that world.
Tracy: I mean, isn't that terrific? We'd have a much more sustainable environmental impact across all of our retail stores, and all sorts of things. I think that's going to be fabulous.
Paul: Well, it's definitely a really exciting area, but I digress. So you have an 8-step process called Prove It, and you are planning to chat about phase one. Can you elaborate a bit on your Prove It process?
Tracy: Yes, so over the years - in the last 12 we've developed about 250 products, and they generate about 750 million dollars for our clients, and we have what we call a 'commercialization rate', meaning the success rate of how commercially successful those designs are, and we have an 86% commercialization rate. We got that through refining our process by how we design and develop products. So it's really for a couple of designers, because my husband is my partner, and we are very analytical about how we approach it, and we've developed this - it's 7 + a bonus step, so it's 8 steps, and we do things in a very different order. The sequence is what makes it different. What we discovered was that most products fail because they're either the wrong product for the right market, or it's the wrong market for the right product. So when you get the majority of those and you can fix that, then you have a higher success rate, so that's why we do Prove It first. So we actually don't make anything before we get market or product proof on it.
Paul: This is actually reminding me of a chat I had very early on in this podcast, a few years ago now, where we were learning about... And it's in relation to apps, where you actually get almost customers for the app first, before you even built anything; you get the proof of concept first. Is that kind of where we're going?
Tracy: Yes, it's kind of where we're going, but also a little bit of exploration on your Why, like why are you making this app? What is your goal? Do you want to have a business? Do you just want to make a lot of money right now so you can do something else? You have to really think about that, because if you don't develop your criteria for how you're going to develop your app to fit those goals, then it's always going to be a mismatch, and you're always going to be trying to force-fit something, and that's a method to failure.
Paul: Yes, absolutely. I mean, how many app entrepreneurs approach me and say, "Hey, can you promote my app? Can you mention my app?" and it's almost like pushing something on the world, because they feel discovery is the challenge, which, you know, it is a challenge. But sometimes, if there's a real need, then the app does get discovered from organic means. You mentioned Why, as well. Apple is really famous about giving us why they do things, and it's obviously proved quite successful for them. How important is it to have a Why in the equation?
Tracy: It's actually essential. When I work with clients who don't have a Why, I have to work so much harder. Because there has to be a screening criteria. You have to decide, should this be included, shouldn't that be included? Should our mission - in the case of Apple - be this high level of high-touch design? Do I need that here? And if there isn't a Why, you don't really know whether or not that's critically important, so you don't have any way to determine a hierarchy, and it has to happen; there are always tradeoffs. Your Why can tell you where you can make those tradeoffs.
Paul: Do you have any guidance on how we get to a Why? Because a lot of people are obviously doing passion projects, they feel like it's something that the world needs, but is there a more scientific way to get to a Why?
Tracy: I think you just have to dig deep and think about your long-term dreams and where you want to go with things, and I do think it's great to dream. This is the step before you're going to turn it into action and reality, so this is the okay part, to sit back and dream. My Why, for actually why I do everything in my business is to save inventors and entrepreneurs on risking everything on flawed plans and wrong products and resources. That's my Why, and my Why comes out of the fact that we've done that. We've done that way too many times. My husband and I have started working together because he was such a great dreamer and such a great inventor, but he didn't have quite the focus to make it all happen, so he was risking our family and our livelihoods. So that Why, I know I can provide that structure, I know I can provide the process, so that's what I do best and that's what drives me, so anything that I do, I pull that into it.
Paul: Tracy, I want everyone to really pay attention now, because there are so many app entrepreneurs who have seen the big hits with WhatsApp and Instagram over the years, and they read the news articles and they feel like they can do the same, and they've invested sometimes hundreds of thousands of their own family money, friends money and lost everything, and this is why I do this show, because it's almost trying to unravel the truth. How many founders have you come into contact with that have almost lost everything?
Tracy: Way too many. I have to say it's probably on one or two a week lately, because I've been doing so many events and things where I'm talking about my process. So it's at least one or two horror stories a week, and in the consumer product world you get companies who are kind of preying on that. There are these marketing companies who get them all in and say, "Hey, we're going to market your invention, we'll get it licensed", I'm sure that's probably going on in the app world as well, and it's just a rabbit hole of spending money for no return.
Paul: So how can we try to prevent ourselves from maybe going down that rabbit hole of spending too much? Have you got any tips for us to try to really prevent ourselves from risking everything?
Tracy: Yes, so the number one way is that the wrong way to prove that you have something great is to ask your friends and family, your employees or your consultants. Do not ask them what they think, they are yes-men and women, and they will always say it's great, or they will do the opposite and say that it's not great - your friends and family who don't want you to be an entrepreneur will say no to you. So you can't get a truthful answer there, so you have to go outside of that. The second part of that is that too many entrepreneurs think that their app, their product is the answer to every problem in the world, and everyone should have one, it should be on every device, and that thinking doesn't work in this world market today. It's too broad, and it's too expensive, and Apple and all of those other guys can outspend you any day of the week. So what I've learned by working with all these big companies is that they make the same mistakes you do, they just have more money to cover it up. I call it 'launching without a lot of runway'. You have the ability to launch your app without a lot of runway, you have to do it with very little resources. We liken it to the Doolittle Raid in World War II, so you have a 467-foot runway and that's it, or it's death - you're out of money, you're out of business, so you can't go 468, but the big guys can add more runway.
Paul: I love that analogy of launching with a smaller runway. I guess the hardest thing for founders of app companies and other is the ability to actually know when to quit and say no. Do you find that to be a big challenge?
Tracy: Yes, and I like to be really analytical about it. You get a little caught up in that your inventions are your babies, but after as many designs as we've developed over the years we started to develop a detachment from them, and that's a good place to actually be. So if you can detach yourself from this thing that you've been working on day and night for weeks and weeks, maybe even months, if you can detach yourself enough or find a way to get some quantitative data that says "I should do this" or "I shouldn't do this", that's probably the easiest way for you to kind of have that objective view of whether or not you should go forward. Because I know a lot of people think "Oh, I'm three feet from gold, this is gonna happen, it's so great, and if I could just get this one more thing, and this one more thing, this five more thousand dollars" - I know how that ends, and it usually ends badly.
Paul: Yes, because actually a lot of people listening to this do go and listen to maybe my past episodes or others where we're talking about companies like Y Combinator, or 500 Startups - all these incubators and they encourage founders to dream big numbers, it's gonna be a billion-dollar company, and the reason they do that is because 90% of them fail and they need to go after the ones that don't and win big. But is it wise to have massive ambition at the start?
Tracy: I think it is wise to have massive ambition, but you have to have a qualifier. I have a review process at the end of the Prove It phase. So after we've gone out and we've gotten market proof in some way, shape or form - usually through both a combination of market research and product research, we actually do both at the same time, and we don't design anything at this stage. We have a concept, a big dream concept and a few things we want to test, but we haven't actually made anything, so we haven't really spent a lot of money. What we're doing is we're developing our criteria. So instead of going for a minimum viable product, we are going for "What does the market care about?" and "Is the market that might care about this feature or design I've dreamed up, will they really value that?" So when we look at those two areas of things, we really design a criteria list for the maximum valuable product we could possibly develop.
Paul: Tracy, there's two more things I wanted to cover before we say goodbye. One is that I'd love to know about you personally as well, because you are a contributing writer to the Inc. magazine, you're running your own company - for anyone listening who is thinking about maybe becoming an entrepreneur, starting their own company, we have had quite a few people who have done this - is it a lifestyle that you would recommend?
Tracy: It's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. Every day is a roller coaster. Even I still have, because our business is very seasonal, because it's driven on royalties for the mass market, so we have a really heavy Q4 every year. It's always got it's up and downs, and sometimes I wonder, "Why am I doing this?" I have my rent in a week and I'm still having trouble paying it. I know the money will come, but it's just not here today. So it's really frustrating, but at the same time it's really rewarding. I'm in charge, I'm completely responsible and accountable for how things grow in my business, and I'm not tempered by the corporate process in that, or things that are holding me back; I can change that, I can make that happen. So you have to just be that kind of personality. I feel really lucky in that I have a partner. A lot of partnerships don't work out really well. We've been married for 24 years...
Paul: Alright, so your partnership is both in marriage and in business.
Tracy: Right, which is actually really scary for a lot of people, and it goes really wrong for a lot of marriages, I heard. Everyone is always very shocked that we do this, but we have a balance in what we do, so it's not like we're tripping over each other's decision-making process, that's not how it works here. But when you have someone else to rely on, and someone else who's supporting you, it's great. What I found was that when we weren't working together, and he was an entrepreneur and I wasn't, there was actually a lot more dissension in our relationship and a lot more problems that happened, because I wasn't quite as supportive of the risks he was taking because I wasn't involved in them. We're involved in our risks today. So anyone who has an entrepreneur for a spouse or a better half, you end up in that business whether you like it or not. So if you can't embrace it, you'd better have that discussion early on.
Paul: I love that, because we have had quite a few couples on this show who run their own companies and have been successful. I've experienced this as well, where the support of the people around you - especially your wife or your husband - is essential. For me personally, it was a very hard switch going from expecting a monthly salary and having a nice, comfortable career to then, as you said, a rollercoaster of a ride, which is entrepreneurship. Okay, the final thing then - this is a show about apps, Tracy, so I can't let you go without asking what's on your phone, if you have one or two apps maybe... If your phone's handy, pick it up. Maybe you don't have a phone...?
Tracy: I do. You're gonna laugh... I have an Amazon phone.
Paul: Right, okay. I didn't even know they did phones.
Tracy: It is very unusual, because hardly anyone has one anymore, because it tanked terribly. But one of the interesting things I found out was that - so I'm a huge Amazon shopper, and I've been shopping in Amazon since 1998, so I've always been a fan - one of my friends actually developed this phone, and he said that - he couldn't tell me until afterwards - but the avatar they created, the name was Tracy, and every time he was designing he only thought of me, and every time he read the brief that they gave him for the avatar, it sounded like me, that they may have actually pulled my profile. So actually the phone is designed for me, so I think I'm the only person in the world who loves it.
Paul: You're in jeopardy of becoming the coolest guest on this show.
Tracy: Well, thank you. But anyway, my three favorite apps on here is OneCast, which is my podcast one. They don't really have your typical podcast player on here, but I have OneCast and I love it because I listen to podcasts just about everywhere I go. So that's absolutely my most-used app. I love my Easy Voice Recorder, too. Because I'm constantly in events and other places or doing interviews, I use that all the time. But the real kind of personal app that I use is honestly a weight tracker. It's crazy, but it's just like, I use it all the time, I'm always conscious of what I'm eating, and I record it in there. People have Fitbits and other things, but I just have a weight tracker.
Paul: Well, Tracy, a few episodes before you we had a guy who had two billion downloads for his app, it was the Talking Tom app, and he said one of the biggest needs in apps is for us to take care of ourselves with health, and weight, and food, so that doesn't surprise me, that the weight tracker is one of your top apps.
Tracy: He is absolutely right, that is such an important thing. Actually, the one app that I'm always searching for is a better shopping app, like a list app. I think they're not designed for the way most people shop. So we make lists for the different stores we shop at. We have a list specifically for Costco, a list for Trader Joe's, a list for a regular grocery store, maybe a list for the liquor store, or whatever. So we actually break them down into the places we're going, not a general list, and I have yet to find one that's really great at that.
Paul: Okay, well there's a challenge for anyone out there, if you can recommend...
Tracy: Yes, it's a simple idea, but it's so missed.
Paul: Finally I did want to ask you, you are a contributing writer for Inc. magazine - how easy is it to become a contributing writer for a publication like that, and is it worthwhile with the effort that goes into it?
Tracy: Paul, that's a great question, actually no one's ever asked me the question quite that way before, and I'm really glad you did. So I stumbled upon becoming an Inc. writer, it just happened to be one of those things. So I have a column, it's called By Design, and my goal is to write about entrepreneurs and innovation. They've put me into the Innovate section and I write exclusively about innovation and design, and my goal is to make sure that I write about Success by Design - things that will make you successful through the use of design, whether that's tips for entrepreneurs on bringing design in, or designers who want to be business owners and entrepreneurs, how to help them do those things as well. But what happened was I was giving a talk at an event about makers making profits, so the idea of turning from a maker into an entrepreneur and the things you have to think about that are very different from the making process. So in this case, you don't think about the What, you think about who you're going to sell it to, and how you're gonna price it. So I gave this talk, and it was such an unusual talk, and the L.A. bureau editor heard it and asked me if I would join this new section, Innovate. So that's how I ended up doing it. It certainly was a dream for me to be a contributing writer for a magazine, but it was not one of those things where I had gone out there to seek it. But what I've discovered is it's an entrepreneurial program in and of itself. I am responsible for making sure that I get out there and I get as many readers as possible, I am responsible for driving views through the way that I write my articles, and through the way that they get promoted in the social media. So I am really responsible for that, not Inc. Now, I'll get a boost from Inc., like I just got an article that was on the cover of this section, of the category, and it did tremendously well because of that. But it's my responsibility to boost my own column, and that's a really interesting thing that I hadn't thought of, so unless you really have the time for that and the inclination, it takes a lot of time to write this, and not a lot of return for that.
Paul: What I've learned from you Tracy is that it can be beneficial as well from a credibility standpoint, but also just getting yourself out there, speaking about really interesting topics. These opportunities come up, and that's how that opportunity to write for Inc. came up for you, so it's really interesting.
Tracy: Yes, absolutely.
Paul: Tracy, this has been a terrific chat, wonderful, I've really enjoyed it.
Tracy: Me too.
Paul: Full show notes will be on Episode 431, so for everyone who is listening, just go to theappguy.co and search for episode 431 with Tracy Hazzard. But in the meantime, Tracy, how can people reach out and connect with you? What is the best way of getting in touch?
Tracy: The best way is to find me on social media @hazzdesign, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, you can find me.
Paul: Okay, wonderful, Tracy. All the best with your partnership, and Hazz Design, and Inc., and WTFFF?! and great chatting with you.
Tracy: Thank you so much, Paul. [00:27:52.03]