Episode 1

1 - Jem and the Robots

Jem and Justin chat about custom job shop work vs products, their Airtable ERPs, Justin's brain-dead YCM mill, and consider Profit Sharing and more in the first episode.

DISCUSSED:

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Please note: Show notes contains affiliate links.

  • Jem: Custom jobs
  • Grasshopper for quoting, now Airtable
  • Link Index 
  • Workflowy
  • Airtable - Overall view Technique Base
  • Single dump as records then filter with views
  • ERPs
  • PDXCNC Training courses
  • Job Shop Work and Challenges
  • Manufacturing Consulting / Product Development
  • Sales
  • Internal drive vs external input
  • Internal products are more predictable
  • External richness - Learn a process from a client's job
  • Time Tracking - Xero Projects
  • Quote vs Actual
  • Why are we time tracking? “How much time”
  • Open Book Management - open finances
  • Team Investment / Profit sharing?
  • Microphone Stand?
  • Jem's Quarterly Walk - “Review” 1 on 1
  • Jem Rebuilding Shopify Theme

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Show Info

Tiktok | Youtube

HOSTS

Jem Freeman

Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia

Like Butter

More Links

Justin Brouillette

Portland, Oregon, USA

PDX CNC

Nack

More Links

Transcript
Justin:

Good morning to you.

Justin:

I don't know if I told you this, but since the last time I tried to set the

Justin:

recurring reminder and then you'd had a daylight savings time kind of thing.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

Which has been really good actually.

Jem:

So when we chatted last week, that was kind of the first time in a long time that

Jem:

I'd managed to get up at 5:00 AM and then daylight savings changed over the weekend.

Jem:

Suddenly.

Jem:

An hour easier to get up at 5:00 AM.

Jem:

So I've been taking advantage of that and I've been doing it every

Jem:

day and coming in and like getting some proper play time and fantastic.

Jem:

That's been, it's been good.

Justin:

Oh, wait, we've chatted about that before.

Justin:

I love that time when there's nobody around.

Justin:

There's no questions.

Justin:

Just few in like a quiet room of machines ready to be used for some reason.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

That's kind of the dream.

Jem:

Oh, is my alter ego.

Justin:

I feel like you were in a band or

Jem:

are in a band.

Jem:

Yeah, well, this gem in the hologram, so you're familiar with it,

Justin:

but I need to see it now.

Jem:

Kids, kids got chain from the eighties.

Justin:

Oh, are you in the cartoon?

Justin:

No,

Jem:

before my time, but I've got the Jigsaw puzzle now.

Justin:

Interesting.

Justin:

I haven't heard of it.

Jem:

That's a good reason.

Justin:

91% of people like the show though.

Justin:

So it's not like you're alone.

Jem:

How are you

Justin:

going?

Justin:

Pretty good.

Justin:

We're I dunno, it just feels like we're in constant limbo.

Justin:

It's versus how things were the first few years of having this like job shop

Justin:

business, things were easy to get and source and prices were the same and

Justin:

it just kind of always a new thing.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

We've talked about plywood a little bit.

Justin:

The other day.

Justin:

You switched to material to try to have a better supply, you know, from

Justin:

the Baltic Birch is the issue lately.

Justin:

It seems.

Justin:

And so we tried to switch and now the new thing is everybody's gobbling

Justin:

that up and it's not available again.

Justin:

So just kind of always playing whack-a-mole with that.

Justin:

Other than that, I don't know.

Justin:

Trying to do too much usually.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

Now if I have a good week, Productions kind of quiet at the moment.

Jem:

We need a little bit more flowing through onto the floor.

Jem:

Kind of got a lot of being custom jobs in the wings, just waiting to drop.

Jem:

So I feel like the end of the month, it's going to be crazy.

Jem:

But at the moment, we're pretty crazy just getting through as much

Jem:

as we can to free up production.

Jem:

So, yeah, just trying to smash out everything that's in the system

Jem:

and get that capacity for later on when we're going to need it.

Jem:

I think we're good.

Jem:

The team team's going really well.

Jem:

Good vibe.

Jem:

I'm just, yeah.

Jem:

Quoting, quoting, quoted, quoting it's all Mike.

Jem:

I feel like that's all I do at not morning playtime.

Justin:

It's going to say is that one of your main

Justin:

responsibilities still is quoting.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

Share it between myself and Aaron and Sarah, there's kind of three of us.

Jem:

So we work on quotes, but Aaron and I are the main ones.

Jem:

They sort of sit down and crunch numbers on jobs and we do it in grasshopper.

Jem:

And I

Justin:

knew we were going to get into that.

Justin:

You've sent me screenshots before videos of your grasshopper, and I've

Justin:

used it some very functionally as well.

Justin:

I'm not very great with the design aspects of it, which is what a lot of

Justin:

my colleagues used it for in school.

Justin:

But you're like quoting systems through is fantastic.

Justin:

Like at least as an individual sentence.

Justin:

It's

Jem:

fantastic.

Jem:

One word.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

Out of control.

Jem:

Do you like it that way?

Jem:

I do.

Jem:

It's really good.

Jem:

We've actually tie-dyed it up.

Jem:

Papes we've um, kind of switched.

Jem:

Switched way, the calculations that happening previously, we had that crazy

Jem:

grasshopper patch, which you've probably seen screenshots, which was by wires

Jem:

everywhere and all the, it was basically just a complex spreadsheet, those

Jem:

running, all the calculations required.

Jem:

We've seen recently we've moved all of the sort of calculation

Jem:

side of that over to editor.

Jem:

And so now gossip is really just there as a geometry input tool.

Jem:

So it's like, here's a sheet of parts.

Jem:

How long are they?

Jem:

How many inches are they?

Jem:

And what's a square meterage, et cetera.

Jem:

And then we plugged that rotary to air table.

Jem:

So gossip is a smaller part of it.

Jem:

It's still there.

Jem:

Um, but that means that a table's doing all the calculations.

Jem:

Because we were running into issues with blank.

Jem:

Wow.

Jem:

You know, in the current climate with material processes, changing

Jem:

every day, just having to manually update, like all the true that'd been

Jem:

now with an inventory base in air table, which is kind of the master

Jem:

point and everything references that.

Jem:

So whether it's quoting a product pricing, everything, so it ties

Jem:

back to that infantry title.

Jem:

So it's been really good.

Jem:

Yeah.

Justin:

That's great.

Justin:

That's kind of the dream.

Justin:

We had a guy.

Justin:

Built up.

Justin:

A lot of arrows are doing the Nack Wall, like trying to get that into

Justin:

an air table, adding skews and things, just stuff we hadn't really

Justin:

done before and was tying quotes.

Justin:

We got from vendors and materials into all that.

Justin:

And it's, it's fairly challenging to do in a scheme of like, you know, different

Justin:

materials and different, different types of things that are, that aren't alike.

Justin:

Time, you know, labor, and then you've got like material and then there's like cost

Justin:

breaks in there and yeah, maybe I'm over maybe taking it too far in some cases.

Justin:

No, it

Jem:

gets, it gets deep.

Jem:

And like the stack gets really deep, very quickly wild, um, like a sort of diagram.

Jem:

I can't masturbate in an app in air table that we got.

Jem:

The graphic dive hour, like all the connections, it was kind of like if you

Jem:

could see a table as a grasshopper patch.

Jem:

Okay.

Jem:

There's

Justin:

like a I think it's called schematic or something

Justin:

like that little plugin.

Justin:

Those are really cool.

Justin:

That was actually one thing I was going to ask you about really irritable was

Justin:

the thing that I struggle with with it.

Justin:

I'm doing a lot of the, like, you know, architecting of how it

Justin:

potentially works for others to use.

Justin:

I find it challenging to have like an overall view of you have all these bases

Justin:

potentially, or even if you just have one base with a bunch of tables in it, how

Justin:

do you, how do you keep track of that?

Justin:

Or do you use a different system outside?

Justin:

Do you use a base to control the bases?

Jem:

Yeah, I've thought a bit about that.

Jem:

I do personally.

Jem:

My solution to that is to have a link index.

Jem:

So we came from using workforce.

Jem:

Yeah, everything.

Jem:

And I still use workflow is my sort of personal

Jem:

organizational note taking system.

Jem:

So I've got a tab open all the time, and it's basically a link, a link index, which

Jem:

is a shortcuts tool, the key documents.

Jem:

Cause I just get lost.

Jem:

Like they got a Google doc say a table, blah, blah, blah.

Jem:

So many different things.

Jem:

And I just.

Jem:

That quick draw sort of going jumping to where I want to go and not have to

Jem:

sort of navigate through these systems.

Jem:

Um, so that's been my sort of personal hack, but I am aware of that, like for

Jem:

our guys, like trying to remember where to go, to find the information about

Jem:

being as like they'd be down in a base.

Jem:

Yes.

Jem:

So one thing we've done recently to try and tackle that is like,

Jem:

we've got a technique base, which is supposed to be like out.

Jem:

No, I'd go to a document on how to do anything in the company.

Jem:

And when we first started using a table, we built out like heaps of tabs across the

Jem:

top, and everything was in a separate tab and it was starting to side scroll to find

Jem:

the right tab and search functionality is kind of a wacky and air table.

Jem:

And so our solution to that has been to just have like a big buffet single table.

Jem:

And you just like.

Jem:

Everything into that, but everything's just a separate,

Jem:

um, a flying item and then using views and filters to access that.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

I feel like VA's and filters like are so powerful.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

And by having that sort of single, you know, dumped spot with all that

Jem:

information, I mean, search functionality is quite good within that as well.

Jem:

So that's been our sort of, go-to more recently.

Justin:

It's kind of, one thing that's challenging I find is once

Justin:

you start making something, it's a little bit hard to back it out.

Justin:

And like, you can't really merge stuff from other ones unless

Justin:

you do the sink table, but then they don't really merge it.

Justin:

It's really brilliant.

Justin:

If you've sought out, it's the same as fusion, right?

Justin:

If you've thought everything out from the beginning perfectly, it works great.

Justin:

But if you need to change it, God help you.

Justin:

It it's you gotta know how to basically undo all of your challenges and I love it.

Justin:

I love it.

Justin:

It's it's I love the challenge of it.

Justin:

I love how it's air table is one of the only things that has worked, and

Justin:

we've always had a small team of people.

Justin:

Two people total and four at one point.

Justin:

But I mean, we tried other ones, other project management things, and they all,

Justin:

all sucked for one reason or another.

Justin:

And a lot of it was because it wasn't, we weren't able to do

Justin:

really what we needed to do with it.

Justin:

It was always like too much about the middle-management or like, you know, the,

Justin:

all the ERP is, are super driven off of like an old school machine shop mentality.

Justin:

It seems like.

Justin:

And.

Justin:

I like being able to like, make it what we want and I'll take that over, having

Justin:

too much stuff that nobody wants to touch or the process fails completely.

Justin:

Did he, did you

Jem:

research, did you think about getting something off the show?

Justin:

Yes.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I mean, I kind of especially coming into this, I think we both, maybe if I had

Justin:

to just speak for us, at least for my.

Justin:

I come into all of this.

Justin:

So not like naive to any type of, like, I didn't learn anything about project

Justin:

management in school or business.

Justin:

It was like, here's, here's how you design something theoretically.

Justin:

And then everything after that, you know, you kind of figure it out on your own.

Justin:

So, you know, I knew of these things basically from like listening

Justin:

bomb or like something else you find out, oh, there's these other

Justin:

software things that aren't Trello.

Justin:

And which I, you know, I, Trello is great for me at one point, but I just find them

Justin:

all to be a super expensive like job shop and B two or whatever the other ones are.

Justin:

And like I was saying before, it's super driven by, it seems like what the perfect

Justin:

old school machine shop was or is, or what they are supposed to be or something.

Justin:

And I just.

Justin:

Or like, they have to be installed on site as some kind of like local server thing.

Justin:

Like I don't even work on site half the time.

Justin:

Like that's going to suck.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

We sort of 18 months ago when we were like, right.

Jem:

Workflow is not going to call it anymore.

Jem:

Cause we've kind of built a little hacky ERP in WorkFlowy with

Jem:

hashtags and deep menus and stuff.

Jem:

So amazing.

Jem:

That was great fun.

Jem:

But.

Jem:

But we kind of like, okay, right.

Jem:

This isn't gonna work moving forward and we need them all.

Jem:

We need an IPI basically workload didn't think still

Jem:

doesn't have an API, like cool.

Jem:

We need something a bit smarter that we can connect to Shopify.

Jem:

And it gets some automation happening and we shopped around a bunch of

Jem:

things and we researched proper AIPs and everything was like, well,

Jem:

that's yeah, that's a lot of money.

Jem:

Don't know that we can justify that yet.

Jem:

I think fulcrum looked really good.

Jem:

It was at the time expensive.

Jem:

It seems out of that range, but I think you're right.

Jem:

Like it's everything that is kind of close to manufacturing fields,

Jem:

very traditional job shop focused.

Jem:

Anyway, we settled on building our own in our table.

Jem:

And in hindsight, I didn't want Slido.

Jem:

We've probably spent the equipment.

Jem:

In just people's wages building.

Justin:

absolutely.

Justin:

Oh my God.

Justin:

If not more.

Justin:

Yeah, no regrets, but what I love about that, and you hear like Saunders talking

Justin:

about this too, is with like their systems, two hunters in Grimsby is at

Justin:

the end of the day, we can still keep editing it ourselves and we don't have to

Justin:

pay somebody else to change their system.

Justin:

And so if.

Justin:

It's like, well, who wants to tackle that for the most part?

Justin:

Like, we don't have a lot of stuff.

Justin:

That's like custom scripted.

Justin:

It's got enough built in automation features.

Justin:

And like you're saying, the PIs used a decent amount of like Zapier Zapier's

Justin:

AP, or I don't know if I've said that out loud to anybody else I say as, yeah.

Justin:

So it's yeah, it's pretty good.

Justin:

I, I think that's one of the things we originally chatted

Justin:

about was CNC T routing.

Justin:

Eh, fusion air table is about the, our top three.

Justin:

How are you doing this?

Justin:

And I found it pretty hard to share.

Justin:

Like, I want to just share kind of more about air table, but it's

Justin:

pretty hard to share the process.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

I've tried to give people denies of hours before and then

Jem:

yeah, it doesn't quite work.

Jem:

It's hard.

Jem:

I mean, Probably because if I want a screen share and give a

Jem:

video demo, it's like it's full of client information, exactly.

Jem:

Financials and stuff, which, you know, it depends who it is.

Jem:

Might be fine, but I'm not going to do a YouTube video talking through

Jem:

our like ordering system because it's, everything would just be grayed out.

Jem:

So yeah, it's a tricky one.

Jem:

You almost have to let duplicate it and put in dummy data and then

Jem:

that's, that's just the thing job

Justin:

it is.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I've been trying to think through process.

Justin:

I've made a couple like online courses, basically in the beginning

Justin:

of the pandemic here, we lost a bunch of work in 2020, and we weren't

Justin:

getting prospect of Newark at all.

Justin:

It was just like nobody had wanted to do anything.

Justin:

The businesses all stopped.

Justin:

It seemed like, and I had, I had like probably in a week or two, a half

Justin:

dozen people ask about doing training.

Justin:

Of the type of machine that the CNC router we had.

Justin:

And I was just like, well, Hey, I'm not going to your shop and training

Justin:

you right now because I don't know what this thing is and nobody's working.

Justin:

So my solution was to try to make an online course that actually turned out

Justin:

to be better than I thought it would be in terms of wanting to take it.

Justin:

I can't speak to how good it is to bias for that, but it's

Justin:

like, it was pretty good.

Justin:

The process and it seems like it helps some people, but I've wanted

Justin:

to make more of those things because a, it spreads easily.

Justin:

Right?

Justin:

You don't have to come and go anywhere.

Justin:

You can take it from wherever.

Justin:

So one of the things I've thought about is trying to do an air table.

Justin:

Like I have people ask about it whenever I share a little bit, like how, how are

Justin:

you doing your table a year P thing?

Justin:

And I'm like, good.

Justin:

That's exactly what you're saying.

Justin:

It's like, I can't show you ours.

Justin:

Like, you know, I got to like redact half of it.

Justin:

And so that was my thought is to duplicate it as, you know, a blank

Justin:

basically, and build it kind of in steps and see how that goes, I guess.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I mean,

Jem:

sharing little bit.

Jem:

Yeah, I suppose it's not a cost then, but like you inspired us to look at

Jem:

the QR inventories, scanning stuff.

Jem:

For instance, I'm trying to go at that giant and I saw that on your Instagram

Jem:

or like, oh yeah, we need to fund, um,

Justin:

I, I find that I kind of get.

Justin:

I don't know, just friends and things that I've brought up.

Justin:

Like we using QR codes functionally too, or like, oh, you should try pitch.

Justin:

That's like big, give me this look of like, what is wrong with you?

Justin:

Because for the longest time they were like laughable.

Justin:

Right.

Justin:

You know, they didn't work half the time, but honestly, I even people

Justin:

here like Justin, what is wrong?

Justin:

Like nobody wants to scan a QR code, but I find them like infinitely, usable,

Justin:

like so useful to like quickly pull up something it straight to it, you know?

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

Okay, great.

Jem:

I'm interested in your, so the customs are to be able, but isn't this, like

Jem:

how much time are you spending quoting?

Jem:

Is there an appetite for custom work over there?

Justin:

As in we designed something or people are making things and then

Justin:

want us to make it like Prius for them.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

People

Jem:

bringing you either ready files or like kind of partially

Jem:

ready files for machining.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

That was kind of what we did largely from 2017, but I kind of

Justin:

accidentally started the Portland CNC.

Justin:

The reason I had some awareness that that would work was I couldn't get anybody

Justin:

to make things that were custom locally.

Justin:

It was especially if it had to use flavor of being a 3d model, 3d machining, it

Justin:

was like our machine can't do that.

Justin:

And I, that, you know what, what's your machine.

Justin:

Then we can do that.

Justin:

You just don't know how to set it up.

Justin:

You know, I was trying to make my own products at that time.

Justin:

And I was like, well, set up the side business.

Justin:

It kind of happened upon the name which worked out for SEO.

Justin:

And from that, it, it, you know, I wouldn't say it took off, it kept

Justin:

me busy until all of a sudden I was in a new shop and another shop

Justin:

and had hired one or two people.

Justin:

And honestly, I think a lot of our, if we call it success was that we were willing

Justin:

to try things and try to take on things.

Justin:

People didn't want to do, especially with routers.

Justin:

I think a lot of there's a lot of capability in the metal milling machining

Justin:

world, but yeah, nobody wants to do 3d things or didn't for the longest time.

Justin:

I think fusion helped to change a lot of that.

Justin:

Oh yeah.

Justin:

We kind of have started to move away from that.

Justin:

As we're trying to do our own products, there's still definitely a desire.

Justin:

We still have a handful of clients that want either repeat work or

Justin:

a lot of prototypes work was kind of where we hit our sweet spot is.

Justin:

We are not really set up to do like big production runs of anything

Justin:

we can't really do finishing, like we don't have the space for that.

Justin:

So it's, it ends up being, we used to get a lot more, but for a few reasons

Justin:

with focusing our inquiries a little bit more, so we get jobs that we will

Justin:

do well on rather than every spectrum of jobs, because there's a lot of the

Justin:

introductory people to CNC that just don't, it takes a lot of education

Justin:

time to bring them into the process of.

Justin:

Here's what you can make your project start.

Justin:

Right.

Justin:

And that whole process is basically free.

Justin:

It's tough when you're a small company to help people along.

Justin:

So, yeah.

Justin:

I've always been curious how much of that you do?

Justin:

I know I've seen a handful of projects and you also, it seems like most of your

Justin:

business comes from product related, things that you design and sell.

Justin:

Yeah, we do a fair bit of it.

Jem:

We certainly get a lot of quiet inquiries.

Jem:

The Stripe CNC, machining jobs.

Jem:

And it's a real mix.

Jem:

And I think, yeah, the education side of it's a really interesting challenge

Jem:

of like, how do you make it accessible, but not spend excessive amounts of time

Jem:

helping problem-solve someone's files.

Jem:

Yes.

Jem:

And so I think.

Jem:

Having good resources online, which I would say we dine, like we've always had

Jem:

just like the single plates, all the page.

Jem:

Like these are some considerations with file types and these of main

Jem:

sort of tool diameters we use and, you know, offsets and blah, blah, blah.

Jem:

Yeah, I think we could, if we wanted to sort of focus on that

Jem:

area, having better resources online, even like file templates.

Jem:

Black, you know, this is gold standard for how to set up a rhino file or

Jem:

a fusion file, the chaining, but they need, you're relying on people

Jem:

who have those skillsets and that's not always going to be the case.

Jem:

So, but to answer your question, we do a fair bit of it, sort of one-off unit

Jem:

parts, come off the machine and then go straight out unfinished unsanded or there

Jem:

might be a bit of post-processing around.

Jem:

Over's a bit of edge sanding, and then now.

Jem:

It's a really broad range.

Jem:

And I think, yeah, it often is sort of prototyping related, whether it's

Jem:

student work or commercial work, where they're just trying to get

Jem:

prototype off the ground or they're testing ideas for land for Iran.

Jem:

I guess we can then support larger runs up to a point.

Jem:

Like we're not very rarely doing anything in the thousands, but we're

Jem:

comfortable doing some of being on hundreds of units of something.

Justin:

I kind of similar, pretty similar.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I've always had a hard time just frankly, like both quoting and then

Justin:

like scaling a job from, oh, you know, some will say, oh, I want to,

Justin:

if I just did 10 of these or 500 or a thousand, what would be the pricing?

Justin:

And I'm like, I mean, I haven't run 10 of them yet.

Justin:

You know, like how do I know what a thousands is going to be

Justin:

like, like, are we really going to have any cost savings in this?

Justin:

And I think some of that stuff comes with maybe the more traditional experience

Justin:

with going through a shop, you know, education, or like coming up through it.

Justin:

And I'm just like, I don't wanna lose my shirt, you know?

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

That's a tricky one to balance.

Jem:

We'll often like quote the prototype and then put estimates on the.

Jem:

Same that they can get resolved once we've machined, you know,

Jem:

one, a little more, a few of them.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

But it's hard because people are often coming with an idea for a product

Jem:

and they, like, they came to kind of block in their product pricing and

Jem:

say, it's a strict drinking balance of giving them a price saving.

Jem:

If it's not fixed.

Jem:

Yes.

Jem:

Has to be informed by the reality of actually doing it.

Justin:

I feel like that's why we do it.

Justin:

Yeah, sure.

Jem:

I feel like we do quite a bit of work for people who are

Jem:

effectively doing product development.

Jem:

So people have become more and more aware of it slightly.

Jem:

It's like

Justin:

consultants, basically.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

As we've tried to sort of zero in on what our target

Jem:

market is or what we're good at.

Jem:

That's definitely something that's high on my list.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

Product development consulting within a very narrow window of

Jem:

sort of materials and processes, but people come to us with, yeah.

Jem:

I want to develop X and we then help them get that to a sort of a make-able

Justin:

thing.

Justin:

I definitely, you know, when we were in our, let's say, Hey, day of, I felt

Justin:

like we've kind of turned the page.

Justin:

Seeking that that's our top capability.

Justin:

Like w we're good at it.

Justin:

I think, you know, helping people make their products.

Justin:

I don't know that it's what I want for a longterm business.

Justin:

It's really challenging to make that stable and profitable and reliable.

Justin:

I think I joked before it feels like everybody wants

Justin:

their thing done between five.

Justin:

10 days.

Justin:

And that's impossible to plan for in terms of scheduling.

Justin:

And, and I had a early employee that was really great.

Justin:

He had a lot of experience and he would always tell me that we were missing the

Justin:

missing, being able to bill some of that early development process with clients

Justin:

of like, basically from the time you get their file to even the time when

Justin:

they agree to a quote, there's a lot of this back and forth that happens with.

Justin:

That's not producible.

Justin:

And, and I, I kinda went the side of always, like, I'm never

Justin:

gonna make somebody part without letting them know it doesn't work.

Justin:

There's like a, I don't want to waste the material.

Justin:

I think that's wrong to just make stuff that doesn't work.

Justin:

Part of being a service that helps people is it should have some ethics to it.

Justin:

And he would always say, we'd give that away.

Justin:

And I, I think he's right, you know, at a certain sense, but it's really

Justin:

hard to also say, pay me money before.

Justin:

Help you with your project, you know, like yeah.

Justin:

It's a challenging prospect for somebody to go.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Well, I don't know.

Justin:

Before we look at that, I need a little money here.

Justin:

You know, like it feels like the mob or something.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

I suppose if you can communicate your, you know, your offering and, you know,

Jem:

skills set, but before doing the work.

Jem:

So, yeah, what's that value proposition of what you're going to

Jem:

do for them then that could work.

Jem:

But yeah, that's a really tricky gray area and it's so variable job to job.

Jem:

Two was that, was that advice from your employee coming from

Jem:

sort of industry experience, wave I'd seen that that was different?

Jem:

Or was it more just like this doesn't feel right?

Justin:

I think maybe both in terms of.

Justin:

I don't know, I don't have much experience.

Justin:

I think maybe one of the reasons I was attracted to like you and

Justin:

what you were doing was it felt like we had a lot of that overlap.

Justin:

I don't know a lot of shops to do CNC routing as a job shop, especially locally.

Justin:

It's just not that common, I guess.

Justin:

So it feels like some of those conventional thoughts

Justin:

about them and how they work.

Justin:

Like I just, and some of that's completely being naive to coming into this.

Justin:

Not knowing that there probably are a lot more than I'm aware of, but

Justin:

he had no experience in that either he, he had done like without going

Justin:

too deep in his background, but he just had a lot of different types

Justin:

of experience in different types of manufacturing, custom making things.

Justin:

And, and then seeing also he'd helped a little bit with quoting what we were up

Justin:

against in like how, who who'd spend, you know, a decent amount of time.

Justin:

And then not when a project, you know, it's, it's kind of like sales

Justin:

in a certain sense in that way.

Justin:

I suppose that I'm also challenged at, so I don't know.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

It's, it's an interesting game.

Justin:

I don't know that I ever thought I would be doing and

Justin:

doing like a service business.

Justin:

It wasn't really what I was imagining.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

W what way are you imagining?

Jem:

Did you have a plan?

Justin:

The plane was like, I want to design and design and, or make things,

Justin:

you know, and probably selfishly in the way that I want to do it, rather than

Justin:

following something that felt wrong or maybe lesser in my view of quality or

Justin:

ethics or, you know, different things.

Justin:

And so, yeah, I went to architecture school.

Justin:

Didn't like architecture as a business at all, I've did about

Justin:

a year and just was not for me.

Justin:

So it was pretty easy.

Justin:

I'd already done some like product development with this

Justin:

Kickstarter and some other products under what is now next studio.

Justin:

That's how I basically fell into trying to make things for other people with

Justin:

Portland, CNC by trying to make my own products and having bottom machines.

Justin:

The CNC part was basically an accident like Portland CNC was like, I just

Justin:

need to make a little money so I can pay this machine every month.

Justin:

And there was enough people that kind of kept growing to a point

Justin:

where I was like, well, this is basically a full-time thing now.

Justin:

So I've always wanted and had the passion to like design and make things

Justin:

that people can use or find enjoyable.

Justin:

That's that's my.

Justin:

Driving passion of like making it good.

Justin:

And then also now I've found that I love to make those really efficient

Justin:

processes to make those things.

Justin:

That's kind of like my new saying, how can we make that faster?

Justin:

You know, it keeps the same quality.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I don't know if that was a long answer.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

That, that,

Jem:

to me, that speaks to one of mine sort of ongoing.

Jem:

Conundrums, which is, I love that sort of internal, you know, product

Jem:

design, making things for our end product range, with our own processes.

Jem:

And from a business perspective, that sort of work is much more predictable.

Jem:

We know what the margins are in a product and we can sell it.

Jem:

And you know, if we've priced it right, then we make money, but

Jem:

there's, I'm aware cause we've been so.

Jem:

Custom external work has always been by far the greater proportion of our revenue.

Jem:

Pretty much since the beginning.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

I'm aware that that external input brings a whole lot of richness as well.

Jem:

Yeah, true external ideas.

Jem:

A lot of our products have come from client problems.

Jem:

You know, I need a thing to do X and it's true.

Jem:

We can, we can come up with a thing that does that.

Jem:

And we design a thing and you know, maybe we completely undercharged for

Jem:

that design or we don't charge for the design at all, but we end up with

Jem:

that sort of a product out of it.

Jem:

And some of our best products have kind of come from those external inputs.

Jem:

When I've at times I've sort of fantasized about like, cool, ah,

Jem:

I'm done, let's turn off custom.

Jem:

I can't do this.

Jem:

Let's just go home.

Jem:

I then, you know, think about, you know, that external energy and, you

Jem:

know, problems are good thing, problems lead to new solutions or new ideas.

Jem:

And yeah, I think that's at the moment, my current thinking, I don't

Jem:

think we could ever turn that off.

Jem:

Um, if we go got to sort of an 80% product mix, I think there'd still be, you know,

Jem:

10 to 15%, uh, the SU customs, special projects, whatever you want to call

Jem:

it, event that problem-solving world.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

I'm not to say that there's not problem-solving and just making

Jem:

product, because as you said, like building those systems and

Jem:

efficiencies is really enjoyable.

Justin:

No, that's interesting.

Justin:

I've like, I hadn't thought of it in those phrases of like internal

Justin:

versus external drive or input.

Justin:

And that I was shaking my head vigorously as you were describing

Justin:

that, because there's so many things like, you know, a couple plays here.

Justin:

It said we've basically in, when we decided to start doing more

Justin:

product related things we had to discussion, it was like, well, we

Justin:

basically been tooting this factory.

Justin:

You know, our own little factory from my novice experience and making things,

Justin:

you know, like I'm always capable of thinking up crazy things that probably

Justin:

aren't producible or not profitable.

Justin:

And I've been slowly learning how to make that profitable by working through other

Justin:

people's problems for their projects.

Justin:

That's so true that like we've created all these new ways to do fixturing,

Justin:

as I think is a big tease towards how.

Justin:

Made a very cool little as you call it, the pencil sharpener.

Justin:

I'd love to talk about that at some point, too, right?

Justin:

Like all of those potential, like one of our first decently, and if you

Justin:

can see it behind me does iMac basis.

Justin:

You're kind of like sitting up there.

Justin:

So that was basically that manufacturing process came from.

Justin:

Projects of how to hold it.

Justin:

It's not complicated, but it's a tall ish chunk of wood that we

Justin:

wanted to come out really clean and pair with an apple product.

Justin:

So it's like, it can't be flawed and with a bunch of tooling marks on it, and we

Justin:

don't want to hand sand everyone to death.

Justin:

So, yeah, that's so true.

Justin:

How, I guess I had died of the virtues of it internally, as much as I've

Justin:

thought about how much it's painful.

Justin:

Right.

Justin:

Do all these things we just talked about with custom work that is challenging,

Justin:

but it's definitely valuable.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I feel

Jem:

like we have the conversation really regularly here in staff meetings.

Jem:

It's like, oh, well that job went terribly.

Jem:

We've definitely lost money on that.

Jem:

But then on the bright side, you know, we learned how to do, you

Jem:

know, this new 3d machining or, you know, we learn how to do this.

Jem:

And like, I think.

Jem:

Yeah, I'm a dangerously optimistic person, which is terrible when you're

Jem:

responsible for quieting all the projects.

Jem:

But it does mean that when you sort of cultural, culturally, I think we're always

Jem:

trying to sort of look on the bright side of experience and want to be land turfing.

Jem:

That's really important

Justin:

takeaway from.

Justin:

It's almost like, I don't know.

Justin:

Do you go as far as to have project debriefs of like that kind of thing,

Justin:

or is it mostly that status meeting?

Justin:

That's like just comes up how we're trying

Jem:

to get, trying to close the loop on that.

Jem:

Um, for, for a long time, there's been this disconnect

Jem:

between quoting and report data.

Jem:

We use zero projects to track time and get a sense of how.

Jem:

And the idea is that that data is, you know, it's not about whether someone,

Jem:

you know, did X number of hours per day or whatever it's about, you know,

Jem:

feeding profitability, profitability, whether that quote was good or not.

Jem:

But there's always been a bit of a disconnect because you know what

Jem:

we were quoting in grasshopper and then reporting zero, it was like,

Jem:

you'd have to sit down and write.

Jem:

And again, to draw

Justin:

all those.

Jem:

the plan with air table not requiring an anti-police dubbing.

Jem:

The next step is to build out the reporting functionality within a table.

Jem:

So it's like most loop you at the end of the job, you end up with

Jem:

two cells next to each other.

Jem:

And it's like, this is what I quoted.

Jem:

And this is what happened.

Jem:

And like really.

Jem:

Comparison, which can then directly inform the next quote or the

Jem:

next thing that was like that.

Justin:

I mean, theoretically, you get to this place.

Justin:

All right.

Justin:

I dunno if you've do you know, Zometry like, do you have that there?

Jem:

Uh,

Justin:

yeah, so they they've, you know, have some types of very algorithmic.

Justin:

Quoting system where you throw out a solid file at their web interface, and then

Justin:

it quotes the project for the client.

Justin:

And then it also sends it once they accept out to producers, which are

Justin:

largely not their company ID, you know, it, you would imagine it's constantly

Justin:

evolving to meet the price, you know, keeping the price low for the client, but

Justin:

then keep, you know, making the people that make the parts happy, which I've

Justin:

actually been on both sides a little bit.

Justin:

And it's very interesting to see.

Justin:

What goes in one side and comes out the other from the producer side and

Justin:

we've, we've done the same thing.

Justin:

I've always been really fascinated and found valuable to time track.

Justin:

And, you know, everybody that does the time-tracking is screw this, you

Justin:

know, like, what are we doing this for?

Justin:

How much time do you want me to spend on time tracking?

Justin:

This is the best question of that.

Justin:

And I'm always like as little as possible, but don't do it, you know?

Justin:

Since probably when we chose to do more product development stuff,

Justin:

we've kind of curtailed time-tracking and I feel weird about it.

Justin:

I feel really weird.

Justin:

Like, what are we missing here?

Justin:

Because I know it was helping me to make better quotes because we get

Justin:

to the end of the day and I go, oh my God, we went over by 30, 40, 50%.

Justin:

If we have a job like that again, if you can catch it.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Quoting it.

Justin:

We need to make sure and cover ourselves because otherwise, you

Justin:

know, I, I just imagined that's the one way you go out of business

Justin:

quick is, oh yeah, don't do those.

Justin:

They don't track time.

Justin:

And that way you track it for like, who's getting paid, what, you know,

Justin:

salary like hourly wages or something.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

The question of

Jem:

the sort of employee question of like, why are we doing this?

Jem:

So like, why are we spending so much time tracking out time?

Jem:

And it's an interesting one.

Jem:

And I think.

Jem:

Yeah, it's an ongoing conversation and we're trying to keep the system

Jem:

as lean as possible at the same time accurate and something that's helped

Jem:

us, I think is pretty, we pretty much run open book management now.

Jem:

So like the company's finances, uh, on the table and in discussion

Jem:

every week, I think that's helped to sort of communicate why.

Jem:

Yeah, for sure.

Jem:

Yeah.

Jem:

And it's a tricky balance because you don't want to scare scape people

Jem:

or make someone sort of feel this empowered by saying, oh, you know,

Jem:

we lost another 30 grand last month.

Jem:

And like someone who's just coming to work might be like, whoa, what,

Jem:

how, like, what can I do about that?

Jem:

You know, how can I feel any sense of responsibility or even just.

Jem:

Uh, feeling powered to make any difference.

Jem:

Um, but yeah, it's a tricky balance, but I think for the most part sort of

Jem:

running pretty much open book has meant that that conversation has gotten easier

Jem:

about like why we track times like wisely and what those reports are for.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I've always been pretty open about that stuff as well.

Justin:

Never to the point of like, here's something you can go dig this.

Justin:

And that's honestly not for the fact of like, I'm afraid for the,

Justin:

for people to see that it's mostly like, kind of challenging to

Justin:

present it that way, by the way.

Justin:

So the curiosity I have in saying that is it's like use

Justin:

zero accounting, like ex CRO.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

I've used that forever to it.

Justin:

And as far as I could tell, it's like, you basically have to give certain

Justin:

levels of, of user access then.

Justin:

Is that the way you keep it open or you just discuss it in meetings at a certain.

Jem:

Yeah, it's more that, you know, some people obviously have different

Jem:

levels of zero access depending on their role, but it's more across the team.

Jem:

It's more than an open discussion.

Jem:

And, you know, the monthly financials might go up on the whiteboard in terms

Jem:

of proper and basic profit and loss.

Jem:

So we look at, in our report to NCR project report data every week,

Jem:

and you know, where our billable percentages are as a team and sort

Jem:

of actively trying to improve that.

Justin:

Interesting.

Justin:

This is naturally leading into, I always have bigger aspirations

Justin:

than the company is currently because it's two people right now.

Justin:

This is hilarious.

Justin:

But I even at that point, I've always had this thought of getting some

Justin:

of this feeling of having worked.

Justin:

Other places I've always wanted to have something like profit sharing.

Justin:

I mean, that assumes prof profit in the first place.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

That'd be nice profit sharing because I think.

Justin:

I want to always do the best thing for, you know, people that work here and

Justin:

it's not like I'm, you know, getting rich on any of this situation anyway.

Justin:

And I just think it's a really great way to give incentive

Justin:

for people to be invested.

Justin:

I think a lot of the times people are here.

Justin:

I've a really good luck that people are very invested in

Justin:

wanting to do the best thing.

Justin:

And I'm pretty open about financials.

Justin:

But to me, that's like the last step is.

Justin:

I think a lot of people are in jobs are driven by money.

Justin:

So it's like, what's how do I make this business make more money

Justin:

so I can make money, you know?

Justin:

Yeah,

Jem:

yeah, yeah, totally.

Jem:

That's something I'd love to learn more about too.

Jem:

It's an idea of sort of toyed with, but I've never sort of gone deep

Jem:

on research about ways to do that.

Jem:

Effectively.

Jem:

Same sort of uninformed.

Jem:

Friction point that I rub up against pretty quickly.

Jem:

It's like, how do you do that?

Jem:

But not create a competitive workplace to be sort of a team attain wide push to be

Jem:

effective and efficient and profitable.

Jem:

Um, if you sort of break it down to a single operator level is like, I imagine,

Jem:

and maybe this is not a thing, but I imagine you could potentially create.

Justin:

Uh, competitive

Jem:

environment in sound competition can be good, but you know, there's addition

Jem:

as well, but yeah, in show it, I'd love to learn more about it and say, yeah,

Justin:

I know.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Oh, there are companies that do not personally, but that's

Justin:

part of, I think part of it is I think, I just think it'd be great.

Justin:

I think.

Justin:

And we create more unity.

Justin:

And I guess I hadn't thought about it in a competitive sense.

Justin:

My very novice look at it would be that from not having any understanding, really

Justin:

at this point, it would be like, it's the same, maybe across the board or in

Justin:

some level, or of like your seat, your, your time with the company or something.

Justin:

I'm not sure, but yeah, definitely interested if you

Justin:

have more thoughts at some point.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

Well, it sounds good.

Jem:

Afternoon.

Justin:

Afternoon is man.

Justin:

I think I was telling you before I've, we've got this new to us mill

Justin:

since last summer and we've used it.

Justin:

Okay.

Justin:

Amount.

Justin:

It's been mostly like prototypes and we've upgraded like our router with it,

Justin:

but it has this one major drawback to it.

Justin:

That's for my experience and the people are.

Justin:

It has 512 kilobytes of memory internally.

Justin:

And that is like one decent fusion file.

Justin:

And it is so challenging for me.

Justin:

And I know that people have been using these things for a long

Justin:

time and figuring this out, but the, I need to get that working.

Justin:

We have a job to do on it, and I found this system where

Justin:

you can use a compact flash.

Justin:

You put a bin file, which is like a windows kind of like storage volume on it.

Justin:

And that the fan of controller can look at that and then run it like internal

Justin:

memory rather than external, because otherwise you have to tape run it.

Justin:

And it's like this whole thing with you.

Justin:

Can't restart the files.

Justin:

So it has to start over and it's just, it's just cumbersome, honestly.

Justin:

No.

Justin:

Well, so I'm still that's high on my list to figure out how the heck that thing

Justin:

works better in how we make it profitable.

Justin:

And it looks, it looks like a new Ishmael, a contemporary machine it's 2015.

Justin:

Okay.

Justin:

But it was a local client of ours that basically bought it for one

Justin:

job to expedite some processes that they were trying to run.

Justin:

And then.

Justin:

They didn't run it for more than about six months or they just sat there.

Justin:

So it has, it had less than 300 hours on it when we got it.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Wow.

Justin:

So it's basically new.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Yeah.

Jem:

Very jealous.

Jem:

I can't believe you'd go to the mail.

Justin:

Cool.

Justin:

Well, I do.

Justin:

And no memory.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

It's kind of brain dead to some degree.

Justin:

It's mostly me not knowing how to, how to utilize it the best as we could.

Justin:

So what about you?

Justin:

Uh, what's on for

Jem:

today?

Jem:

I've got.

Jem:

Little prototypes, prototyping, design development jobs to finish

Jem:

our, or get drawings to people for.

Jem:

But for the most part, I've got sort of business development

Jem:

tasks on the list today.

Jem:

Got a dig through.

Jem:

Um, we do like a, a quarterly walk.

Jem:

One-on-one walk with everyone on the team.

Jem:

So we've got, I think, eight people on the team at the moment and every three months.

Jem:

We do it one-on-one together where we just go and walk around the block or go and

Jem:

sit in the park for now and have a chat.

Jem:

Um, and we did that probably a few weeks ago now, and I still

Jem:

haven't sort of gone through all my nights and written my action items.

Jem:

Ah, yeah, that's on my list of things to do today.

Jem:

And what's cool.

Jem:

If I have time, we're rebuilding our Shopify theme at the moment and I need to.

Jem:

Getting into that and just start populating the new build with some

Jem:

fresh photography and coffee and stuff.

Jem:

So that's fun.

Jem:

See how we go.

Jem:

Cool.

Justin:

Now.

Justin:

Yeah, it was good to chat.

Justin:

We'll have to catch up on your new microphone stand next time.

Justin:

And your pencil sharpener.

Jem:

It's currently typed completely typed up with electrical tape.

Justin:

The one that you made on the sharpener.

Justin:

That's all right.

Jem:

I'll send you a photo.

Jem:

Because the sound caught in this pace, so it's not actually

Jem:

working, then we'll get that.

Jem:

We'll get that.

Jem:

That's pretty good.

Jem:

MacBook pro and

Justin:

yes, then I'll be testing for next time.

Justin:

Mack, Mack, the pencil sharpener and something else.

Justin:

Anyway.

Justin:

That's good.

Justin:

It's good to chat, man.

Justin:

Yeah.

Justin:

Yeah.

About the Podcast

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Parts Department
Justin Brouillette (Portland CNC) and Jem Freeman (Like Butter) discuss CNC machines, their product design and manufacturing businesses, and every kind of tool that they fancy.

About your hosts

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Jem Freeman

Co-founder and director of Like Butter, a CNC focussed timber design and manufacturing business in their purpose-built solar-powered workshop. Castlemaine, VIC, Australia.
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Justin Brouillette

Founder of Portland CNC & Nack