I wrote up this review of MouseDriver Chronicles. I heard about it reading about Automoblox (however that is spelled) here on the Core Blog. Anyways, I really suggest it for design students and designers who dream of starting up their own manufacturing biz.
I’ve always had an interest in start-ups. Unlike the dot-coms or software companies,
which can be started in your parent’s basement with nothing more than a five year old
desktop, manufacturing a physical product is a huge undertaking: tooling, production,
assembly, packaging, warehousing, distribution. It’s a huge exercise in capital and
logistics. Even with my seven years of experience working for three different
manufacturers in three different industries, there are still steps in the process that remain
black holes for me. That’s why The Mouse Driver Chronicles is an important read.
The Mouse Driver Chronicles follows the start-up of a niche computer mouse
manufacturer in 1999. Their product: a computer mouse that looks similar to the head,
or driver, of a golf club. The initially over-confident heroes and authors, Kyle Harrison
and John Lusk, are two wet-behind-the-ears Wharton MBAs. Instead of dropping into a
dot-com or chasing a desk job on Wall Street, they decide to strike out on their own as
Half as a marketing exercise and half as social-networking before Facebook, the duo
decide to document their project in a regular e-mail newsletter, which forms the basis of
their book. This explains the highly readable nature of their writing. They avoid theory
and lengthy explanation in favour of entertaining anecdotes and relatable insights. This is
the first business book I’ve encountered that can be read over a weekend (it’s that short)
and without taking notes!
As an industrial designer, the initial entertainment is provided by the typical naïve
marketing-boy mistakes. The first is their over-optimistic development cycle (hey, it’s
just a mouse, right?). They find out, the hard way, that a rough drawing provides a lot of
space for errors as their initial tooling results in a distorted hall-of-mirrors form of their
vision. The laughs continue when it takes months for the supplier to translate “make it
silver” into an acceptable colour. Who knew? Lastly, is their bold claim that, “this is a
high-end luxury product”. Uh…a product without the 3000 prototypes of the Dyson
vacuum or the million dollar Apple modeling budget is going to bang out a high-end
product using an off-shore supplier that they never even bother to visit? Are these guys
However, after that distasteful turn, comes the real education for designers. How to find
financing: credit cards and personal lines of credit (with a healthy dose of love-money).
How to sell: network, tradeshows and a variety of distributors. Where to keep your
stock: the kitchen, distributors and printing shops (they also market their mouse as a
customizable promotional item, like pens and baseball caps). How to advertise cheap:
tell a good story.
That’s the real value of this book, demystifying all these steps to bringing a product to
market. And in these times where jobs are scarce and the option of freelancing is equally
difficult, I hope some designers will be inspired by this story to strike out on their own.