BWC Business

BWC NewCo session - Feb 7th

We are getting excited for another year of being involved in the Bay Area NewCo event!

We will be hosting a morning session on Feb. 7th at 9:30 AM -- at our main office in Oakland.
It will be a fun & engaging hour.
Jillian and Jeffrey will be giving a tour of the office & fabrication facility, as well as giving a presentation of the back end of Because We Can.
We'll talk about how we work together in house and with outside contractors, using the best tech we can get our hands on to coordinate our projects accurately and efficiently:
an ever moving target in the construction world.

See the full schedule of events and host companies here.
Get 25% off ticketsby using our promo code: BayHC

Hope to see you there & here!

Pirates raid Three Rings Design

Built it, and they will come:

The interior we did for Three Rings has drawn some attention in the past, but nothing like this. Our friend's interns at the Instructables got all made up as pirates, documenting it as they went in true DIY style, then crashed Three Rings and rampaged through. With Daniel's fancy swordplay, valiantly fighting them off, we can see why he's the CEO on that ship!

First Eat Food Talk Shop went great!

What do cities of the future, light fixtures, wearable computers, and 3D printed flutes have in common? They were all things shown off at our first Eat Food Talk Shop!

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We're in the middle of a job where we're making these 'city of the future' themed cubicle wall screens. That's something we'll be posting about soon, but we showed everyone that project, talked about the workflow to get them out quickly (there are many!) and then showed off the new vacuum hold-down system Frank has that helped us in production for them.

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Paul brought along drawings and pictures of the range of light fixtures he's currently working on. They are these neat Japanese-inspired lanterns.

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An Instructables intern dropped by and showed off the wearable display he's working on. It's a machine-washable LED grid!

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Colin showed off some 3D printing research he did while at MIT. It's a flute anyone can play programatically created and then printed in resin. Cool!

Several other folks dropped by, talked shop, ate BBQ, asked questions and threw around ideas. So the first Eat Food Talk Shop was small, but successful, and a lot of fun. We're going to move it to the second Thursday of every month (Lots of folks couldn't make it on Friday) and hold the next few here to get some critical mass going. You should come and show off what you're working on next time!

Eat Food Talk Shop

We're starting a new mini-event called "Eat Food Talk Shop".

It's kinda like a Dorkbot / Meetup / Mini-Maker Day / Pecha Kucha but with BBQ & beer and a little more fabrication-focused.

Bring something to share and something to show off (or at least some ideas or questions to talk about).

Bring your friends too!

We'll have some food and beer and cool stuff to show off and music to help get things started.

In time it's going to be a roving party, so that each month it's at someone else's shop.

We all get to see neat stuff and learn something new!

The first one is this Friday, August 8th, and starts at 6 PM at our shop: 1722 15th Street, Suite C, Oakland CA 94607. Walk through the gate with the big wooden robot-cutout, and we're down a bit and on the left. Huge roll-up door and '67 Dodge van. Can't miss us.

There's parking, a (new) grill (yay!), and old grill, a big fridge, a big robot, and plenty of room. We don't have a video projector or forklift (yet) so if you need one to show off what you brought then you'll need to bring your own.

We hope you can make it!

Scrum for a design firm - a year later

So a little over a year ago, I posted about how we'd adopted Scrum-style practices in our business.

And, one year later, we're still at it, however we've really changed our interpretation and flavor of it.

We found that some of the principals of Scrum are great and well-suited to a design firm. But we also found that some of the organizational means to practicing traditional Scrum weren't so well suited.

First off, we really struggled with the fact that we typically have several complex projects all going on at the same time in parallel. Much of the Scrum method is really focused on large teams working on a small number, or just a single project. We're opposite, in that we're a small team that's working on a ton of different projects. Our Backlog and Sprint Lists were very overwhelming and a bit out of control.

That's one of the other things we found. By being small, we couldn't deal with the overhead of someone being a Scrum Master and playing all the other various roles one plays in Scrum. We were spending too much time on Scrum, and not enough just getting things done. Organizational overhead was impacting real work, when the whole point of something like Scrum is to let one do more and better real work.

We also came to the conclusion that a lot of Scrum is about communication, and our problem to solve was more one of organization.

So we re-vamped what we do. And it's documented in our business plan. It's also posted below here, in a summarized version. We still do the stand-ups, except that we're eating lunch with our team when we do (it's the best time to gather everyone, and the shop is quiet). We still do Sprints, except that now they are only a week long and organized differently. And we added some larger goal and vision things that we've found help us a great deal.

This how we do what we do now:

  • Anything that needs to get done is a Task. Tasks are usually single things that have to happen.
  • Projects are collections of Tasks, along with files and wiki pages for collecting information along the way.
  • Tasks can live on the shared iCal Calendars as To-Do's or Events, within an Omniplan Project, or as just a reminder for the future on the Wiki.
  • Task titles typically start with the name of the project or person they are applied to, and then the task itself after a dash. For example, "BigWig Client - Cut parts" or "Toast - Clean Shop".
  • At the start of each week, the Weekly Planning meeting happens, or as it's known "The Coffee Talk". Tasks in Omniplan, the Wiki, e-mail, and notes, are all reviewed in conjunction with the Calendar. All current and upcoming Projects are reviewed and discussed. Priority and scheduling for Tasks is discussed and decided, existing Tasks from last week are updated, and then the new Tasks for the week are added to the Calendar as To-Do's (for general tasks) and Events (for date-specific tasks). Staffing is also decided upon at this time, with Tasks being given to specific people as seen fit in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, Omniplans are updated with any Tasks or Projects that have been 'pushed' to a different date, any future Tasks or Projects are added to the Wiki or iCal, and then a word for the week is decided upon to set the theme and tone of that week (such as “Be Big” or “Only Do One Thing at a Time” or “Laugh when things go wrong”).
  • At the end of each week, the Weekly Review happens, or as it's known "The Wrap Party". Everyone discusses what Tasks they did that week, shows off anything cool or great that happened, and brings up anything that didn't work so well or could be better. Everyone talks about how well (or not) the theme for that week fit for them. Ideas for future Tasks, as well as more immediate optimization Tasks, are added to the Wiki or Calendar as seen fit, while everyone enjoys a cocktail.
  • At the start of each Quarter, the Quarterly Review meeting happens, or as it's known "The Dinner for the Season". First, we do some housekeeping on the Wiki, Calendar, and file cabinets. We file our quarterly taxes. Then we make a big fancy dinner. We review the last quarter, how we did, how things worked, and what could have been better. We look at the Yearly Goals, and talk about how we're doing. New Personal Goals are decided upon, put on the Wiki, and then toasted to the table.
  • At the start of the year and halfway though it, the Yearly Planning and Review meeting happens, or as it's known "The Splitter". We go out to dinner at our favorite Oakland pizza restaurant with the notes from last year's yearly planning meeting and the list of Yearly Goals that were set then. We check off any that were accomplished with a big red pen, talk about the ones we still want to do that didn't get done, and laugh at the ones that now seem very silly indeed. Then we make a new list of Yearly Goals for the new year: we come up with great things to try to make happen, and write then all down. Then we celebrate the start of another year working the best jobs we've ever had.

Love-ability is a key to Sustainability

While embodied energy, material source, durability, and recyclability are all important factors in sustainable design, there is an often overlooked factor that we call 'Love-ability'.

That super-eco-friendly sustainable cradle-to-cradle product you're designing or producing is great. However if it winds up in the trash in the end because someone didn't love it enough to keep it around it sorts of defeats the whole idea. Even if it's recyclable, the energy that was used to produce it in the first place was now wasted. And most things don't recycle endlessly, and with each cycle break down into less useful materials. Even the so-called 'cradle-to-cradle' stuff.

When things are lovable, people take care of them well beyond their creator's or original maintainer's lifetime, and in the case of some buildings and gardens, across whole centuries. They are much less likely to wind up getting tossed or recycled, and more likely instead to be treasured and hopefully even handed down to others later.


As Mr. Jalopy says, cars without soul go to the junkyard. The original Volkswagen Bug is a fine example of this concept. Volkswagen stopped making them a long time ago, yet you still see them in a rather high number everywhere.

You might think that the Bug has lived this long only because it was originally cheap to buy and easy to fix. One can still completely assemble one just by ordering parts from the various cottage industries that have spring up to support this popular car. But we feel there is a lot more going on than just that. There were plenty of cars that were cheap to buy and easy to fix back in the 50's and 60's. Some even got the same or better gas milage, were just as much fun to drive, and ran for just as long. Yet the Bugs are still here, while the others aren't (well give or take a Dodge Dart or two). We think that has a lot to do with Love.

People loved both it's popular shape and it's quirky design. They loved the 'story' and culture that evolved up around them. Parts are available, there is so much information about them out there they are almost open source at this point, and they are easy to fix. That made owning one easy. Those things made folks love them, and in turn, to keep them well past the point one would normally keep a car.

A fine gothic cathedral is another great example. Without repairs, without use, it would fall to ruin. Just like your skin replaces itself every so many years, the roofs, gutters, and exteriors of old buildings is remade many times over, yet retains the same look and form. Indoor plumbing, HVAC, electrical wiring, and information networking weren't thought of when it was built, and all had to be added well after it's construction. Yet commonly those things are added in a way that's as least disruptive and visible as possible, instead of simply cheaply and quickly bolted to the wall.

That cathedral is surrounded by all sorts of social networks. Obvious religious and cultural, and some not so obvious local and political factors all contribute to making enough people care about it's welfare that this huge, expensive, old, and difficult to keep around building is taken care of and loved. Much more so than the significantly more efficient, comfortable, modern, and even useful buildings that surround it. That building is also woven into the stories and lives of so many people, and has a rich history of it's own, that people will continue to pay attention to it when those social networks fail. Because that gothic cathedral is loved, it will never be bulldozed.

So what makes something lovable? We feel it's these four things:

  1. It has a story. With a story, it has something for people to share with others. It has a reason to pay attention to it. It has a reason to be talked about, a reason to be passed onto others instead of thrown away. There are plenty of normal things in this world elevated to a higher status just due to what special person used it, or what special event it was used for. These stories change effermra into artifacts, objects into obsessions, and buildings into Architecture. People love stories, so giving them reasons to share a story, or having a thing become part of their own stories, is going to lead them towards loving that thing.

  2. It has identity. It's clearly recognizable for what it is and it's clear how it's different from other similar things. It doesn't have to be easy to understand, and can be terribly complex. But it has to be easy for people to see that contrast, so that it's much more likely to be noticed, singled out, and paid attention to. Just look at the 'slug bug' game for an example of this.

  3. It is worth the attention it requires. Just like in the love between people, the love of a thing has to have some payback, or at the very least not be so draining as to be unsustainable over the long term. If all something does is take from you, or takes so much time and money to keep around that it's disrupting other parts of your life, well, it's hard to love something like that.

  4. Finally, It speaks to people. The things we love help define us, inspire us, and help us find others who share our tastes. The things we love have a key social aspect in being a common bond between people who normally might not have so much in common. They also sometimes help remind us who we really are, or who we would rather be.

If the things you make are strong in these four ways, then it's our beilief that people will fall in love with them. And then, in turn, they will keep them, fix them, modify them, and pass them on to others instead of to the landfill.

Our Maker's Notebooks have arrived!

We just got our extra Maker's Notebooks! When the Make: Magazine folks contacted us (along with a wonderful small army of others) to give advice to make 'the best project notebook evar' we were both honored and totally jazzed to help out. While we bought some at Maker Faire, and Toast got one at Foo Camp, we just got two more for helping out. Which reminded us how much they rock!

More than just a sketchpad or notebook, it's innards are well organized, it's outers look great, it comes with stickers for customization, and a huge rubber band to hold it all together. A helpful reference section in the back and a screaming blue color rounds out one heck of a little notebook. The paper quality is awesome, and the hard bound cover and placeholder ribbon are great.

We've tried the moleskins, and found the paper to be too smeary for some of the pens we use and the covers actually too flexible for us. A long standby were square 5x5 spiral-bound sketchpads, but we could never find them in gridded/lined paper. And actually, that's the only change we'd make to the book, we wish it was spiral bound. Well, and we wish it had some info on the inside about the paper's origin and acid content. But hey, it's as close to perfect a notebook as we've found yet. You can find them over on the Make store.

Because We Can Business Plan!

So we've decided to post our business plan online for everyone to see. Click here to read it.

Why? Well, we thought a lot about it, and honestly it makes sense for us to do it.

This might not, at first, sound like a good idea. And honestly, it might not be. It's not like a lot of people do this. However, if you take a gander at the plan, and our explanation, we hope that it will make more sense.

Simply put, we honestly want to make the world a more interesting and better place. So first off, if others learn and are inspired by what we're doing, and in turn do something great, then we win.

So how does 'making the world a more interesting and better place' pay the bills? Well, that's the second thing. People hire us because of who we are, what our company is and stands for, and what we can do for them. People hire people. We believe that by going around and doing great things, other folks will want us to do great things for them, and in turn, that leads to more folks learning about what we can do and wanting to hire us, and... well that's how a business is grown. Posting how we do it will only interest people in what we do, which in turn might lead to them wanting us to do something for them.

So what about people stealing our ideas? Well, the 'how' of how we do it isn't as much of a competitive advantage honestly. And it's not like you're gonna be able to read our business plan, go buy a robot, and tomorrow do what we do. And it's not like using a CNC table, or something like Revit, is anything special really. I mean, you just go buy the tools, it's not like there is some special patent on using them. It's just technology, and eventually everyone gets the same stuff anyways. It's really about people and process. This plan is a snapshot of that process, true, but it's the people and the culture therein that holds the real value. "Plans are useless, Planning is essential". And heck, maybe someone will see something in the plan, and how we do stuff, and offer up some advice that will change our lives and let us do even more to meet our goals. So it's win-win, which we're very into.

So why no real money data at the end? Well, we're still working on the plan. And honestly we're posting everything we can right now, and when we find out more about the legal side of posting the more detailed data we'll be doing so. While we rock at what we do, it's not like we've got MBA's or are CPA's. We're designers who read Nolo books to learn how to make things go business-wise. So go easy on us, but we'd love to hear from y'all what you think about it!

Maker Faire Panel Video on couples working together

We were invited to be on a panel at this year's Maker Faire concerning 'Maker couples' or in other words couples that work together creatively in their own businesses. We were joined by our wonderful friends over at Instructables, Eric and Christy, and the panel was held by Heather Gold of the Heather Gold Show. Luckily for us it was live-streamed and captured to the interwebs!

Unluckily for those of you who feel like watching it, it's totally unedited and rather long (just giving fair warning). However, it was a great panel, and a great conversation with a lot of focus on how both the Instrucables folks and us work out problems, issues, and stresses of being a couple that not only is married, but running a business together as well!

Enjoy!

Live .TV show provided by Ustream

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