Tag Archives: design

Industrial Design, Manufacturing Barbells, and B2B Sales with Chris Michaud

Listen to this episode of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

Building products from scratch is hard. Building a business is at least as difficult. A lot of young founders and entrepreneurs lose their minds trying to grapple with the interwoven complexities of these disciplines.

Chris Michaud has figured them both out.

Chris is a rising phenom in the world of industrial design and manufacturing. In 2015 he left a full-time gig and started First Summit Design, a product consulting group with a focus on industrial design for cool products. He’s since become involved with a number of other design-focused companies that we discuss in some depth.

We had a great conversation about hardware design and manufacturing, serial entrepreneurship and work/life balance.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Hacker Practice with Chris Michaud


[01:30] Justus and Chris met when they came together to work on an IoT project for a somewhat obscure sport.

[04:30] What is industrial design?

[06:15] Why Chris focuses on the ideas behind design rather than influential design figures.

[07:30] How Chris designed his fiancee’s engagement ring.

  • Research first: materials then user
  • Sketching

[09:15] Is design easier for one person or for a group?

[11:00] How did Chris develop the skill of sketching products

  • Education helped

[12:30] Chris’s first big product and how he went about designing it

[14:00] Good barbells vs GREAT barbells

[16:40] Why kettlebells might be an easier place to start designing for fitness equipment than a barbell

[17:45] Where is materials research important?

[18:45] Discussion on steel quality and impacting variables

  • Tensile strength
  • Yield strength
    • The weight at which steel will permanently
  • Percent elongation

[23:12] Why it’s important to think about manufacturing and assembly concerns during the design phase of a product

  • Design for Manufacturing
  • Design for Assembly

[27:30] Domestic vs international manufacturing

  • It depends on the thing you’re manufacturing
  • Chris likes to design where he manufactures

[31:10] Chris goes to a wedding in China

[33:00] Different regions in China do different kinds of manufacturing

[35:00] How does Chris vet new manufacturing relationships

  • Start with ten vendors
  • Rate each vendor on various aspects (price, social responsibility, etc)

[36:00] How Chris got a local Chinese government to shut down a chrome plating facility for unsafe labor practices

[38:45] Chris is a partner in four businesses

[46:00] How does Chris get big clients

  • Know your stuff
  • Always be meeting people.
  • “Word of mouth should be good enough, if you’re good enough.”

[50:00] Chris describes his sales process

  • Get to know them, ask invasive questions
  • Never tell them what you’re gonna do for them, tell them what you’re about

[52:00] Chris tells a horror story from a pitch that went wrong

[57:30] The future of the cannabis industry in Massachusetts

  • Focus on auxilary market

[1:00:00] Chris reveals a cannabis product idea

[1:01:00] What does serial entrepreneurship mean to Chris

  • Chris has a financial interest in 14 companies
  • Diversity is fun and freeing
  • Learn something new every day

[1:02:00] How does Chris prioritize?

  • Stay organized
  • Have a strong support team.
  • What does that team look like?

[1:03:50] What does Chris’s next hire look like?

  • A controller
  • With culture fit
  • Humility

[1:07:30] What’s the biggest challenge Chris deals with on a daily basis

  • Working too long
  • How the fiancee deals with Chris working late

[1:09:00] Chris’s biggest lesson learned in the last two years building several companies

  • What he does in his free time

[1:11:00] Last requests and contact information

What Now?

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Art, Design, History and Life: 18 Days in Utrecht

I came to Utrecht from Munich because the weather in Germany was niet goed. Conversely, the weather in the Netherlands has been positively divine. For the first week it felt like the end of summer. Then it was Fall and it rained a day and then it felt like Indian Summer.

Fortunately, I have a dear friend living in Utrecht who agreed to put me up. Every day I would ask her: “Would you be sad if I left tomorrow?”

Every day she would tell me “Yes.”

But after a couple of weeks, I made plans to visit another dear friend in Bremen.

So I’m leaving Utrecht.

Here’s what I learned.

I dont like the right side of the piece

Art and Design (In het nederlands: “Kunst en Ontwerp”)

Ask anyone in Utrecht about important designers from Utrecht and Gerrit Rietveld will come up in short order.

The chair I'm sitting in is Gerrit Rietveld's most famous piece: The Red and Blue Chair.

The chair I’m sitting in is Gerrit Rietveld’s most famous piece: The Red and Blue Chair (1917).

Rietveld is Utrecht’s most famous designer. He was born here. He lived here most of his life. And he died here.

Rietveld was a principle contributor to the De Stijl (Dutch for The Style). De Stijl was an artistic movement among architects and artists from 1917 to 1931. It was principally characterized by an idea that I’m fascinated with: abstraction. In de stijl, color and form is reduced and abstracted to simple horizontal and vertical lines with primary colors.

You’ll probably recognize one of these Piet Mondrians:


Composition A (1923)

These guys were all about primary colors.

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow


Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red

The Rietveld-Schröderhuis, located near where I’ve been staying in Utrecht, is the architectural embodiment of De Stijl.

I visited the house multiple times but never got a good picture. It’s a shame because it’s interesting work (even if I, personally, am not a fan).

I like this graphic more than the actual house.

I like this graphic more than the actual house.

The Centraal Museum, across the street from where I’m sitting, first did an exhibition on Rietveld’s work in 1958.

From outside of Utrecht came a number of well known Dutch artists: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer (my personal favorite), and the aforementioned Mondrian.

More recently. I was struck by Alex ten Napel’s work hanging currently in Utrecht’s Foto Galerie.  The collection, called Portraits of Hens and Roosters is a stunning set of prints. Each depicts a hen or rooster in a studio. Apparently Napel spent a year preparing for the shoot. Here’s one of my favorite’s from his website.

Birds are so cool.

Birds are so cool.


Wandering the quaint architectural splendor that is Utrecht is a joy.

Everything is constructed to a scale that coincides perfectly with a pleasurable human existence. Cobblestones, trees, and shops nestle intimately with glistening canals. The fractal quality is immensely satisfying.

There are stunning architectural elements everywhere. Gothic and neo-renaissance spaces bump against modernist work.

The Dom Cathedral

The Dom Cathedral

19th Century Neo-renaissance

19th Century Neo-renaissance

A cafe and several houses on the Oudegracht

A cafe and several houses on the Oudegracht

Im not sure what this is.

I’m not sure what this is.

The Dom Toren

The most important landmark in the city is the Dom Toren:

That yellow awning? They sell weed and cappuccinos there.

The Dom Toren dominates the Utrecht skyline. It’s more than 100 meters tall.

I was lucky to be in Utrecht while the Centraal Museum ran it’s exhibition on the Dom. I learned about the history of the 700 year-old tower.


The view through the Dom Toren

The view through the Dom Toren

The tower was built from 1320-1382 and then renovated multiple times over the next several centuries. Initially the tower was commissioned because some clergymen wanted to display their power and wealth in competition with some other clergymen in what must have been the era’s biggest dick-measuring contest.

Here are some plaques from the Centraal Museum’s Dom Exhibit:

Dom Financing Dom as a Symbol of Power


The Netherlands Film Festival

The festival took over the city for most of my stay.

The festival took over the city for most of my stay.

The Netherlands Film Festival is taking place right now so I went to see a movie called The Red Turtle. It was an animated film about a man stranded on a deserted island. He attempts many escapes but is thwarted by a magical red turtle. He manages to kill the magnificent creature but regrets it almost immediately. Eventually he is redeemed.

It was a touching and beautifully imagined film. There is no dialogue, and the themes are universal. The team that made it was Dutch, British, French, Belgian, and Japanese which is a remarkably modern collaboration.

Last night, a friend of mine who works in the arts scene took me to the Utrecht Post Office. It is a grand old building that no longer functions as a post office (there are no post offices in the Netherlands) but serves the community as an event space.

I do not get it either...

That’s the ceiling of the Post Office in Utrecht. Except it’s not actually a post office.

We watched a number of short film pitches. They were not as impressive as the building.

Life in Utrecht

Everybody rides bikes on narrow cobblestone roads that overlook canals. When you order a koffie, they serve it to you with a cookie or small sweet thing. If a place is cozy and pleasant and nice it is gezelligheid.

You get coffee in cafès. You smoke weed in a coffeeshop.

Did I mention they always give you a cookie with your cappuccino?

Working from de koeke fabriek

Working from de koeke fabriek

I’ve consumed a ton of terrible calories the last ten days.

Actually, I’ve been experiencing a renaissance of the carb. It all started last month when I made cinnamon rolls in Boston with my friend Katie.

The experience was practically spiritual. Ever since I’ve been eating carbs like diabetes didn’t run in my family.

Check out these sweet buns:

Smells like God.

Delicious. Thanks Katie.

Ever since then, I’ve had carbs on my brain:

Tastes like a high gluten tolerance.

Tastes like a high gluten tolerance.

Fish shops

You can get a raw haring with onion and pickles for a euro. I wish they had these in the U.S. I wish they had more of them in the Netherlands!

Fish are a super healthy and delicious snack.

Speaking Dutch

In Dutch, “g” is pronounced with a throaty and guttural drawl. There is a rolling “r” that native-english speakers might try with their tongue only to be laughed at because it comes from the top of the throat.

In all, I speak 100x more Dutch then I did before I arrive. My conversations are mostly limited to:

Hallo! Hoe gaat het? (Hello how’s it going?)

Is goed, dankjewel. (It’s good, thank you.) 

Ik wil graag een cappuccino(I’ll have one cappuccino please.)

Waar is de wc? (Where is the bathroom?)


I was told by a local to tip 10% on meals. I do more than that at my regular places because I want those people to really like me. Plus I occasionally sit in certain establishments for hours at a time. Getting work done and whatnot.

Cafe de Zaak

Cafe de Zaak is this awesome pub in downtown Utrecht where you can play boardgames, get a haircut, or enjoy a huge patio overlooking a downtown cobblestoned square with many locals. Bring your own food.

BlackBird Vintage Cafe

Blackbird Cafe Exterior

It’s the first day that feels like Fall. Sitting in the BlackBird cafe, I look out at the Oudgracht and watch voetgangers and cyclists going by. A younger tree is already going gold.

Last night I met an actress at a Belgian pub. She had golden hair and admitted to being frightened at everything as a child.

I’m having my nth cappucino this week. They are so good here. The cafe itself is brightly decorated and lit like a sepia photograph of a green room.

The table I’m sitting at is for sale. 150 euros. There’s a half pint of raw sugar in a jar in front of me and a menu that looks like this today:

Blackbird Cafe Menu 2016

Blackbird Cafe Menu 2016

This cafè means a lot to me. I spent more time at this establishment than any other single place while in the Netherlands.

When the Dutch say something is gezelligheid, I think of Blackbird Cafe.

The view from the table at Blackbird

The view from the table at Blackbird