Tag Archives: work/life balance

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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My Idea of Fun on a Friday Night is Writing this Blog Post

I wrote the following on a Friday night in March of this year:

There is a live band playing in the ballroom.

The Beacon Hill Friend’s House is a Beacon Hill mansion that houses a diverse community of twenty adults. I eat, sleep, and commune here when I’m not working at Pavlok(which is, by the way, not often because these things are shipping in May!).

I’m actually a little bit wiped out from work. Writing is how I decompress from a day of writing software and talking to customers.

Introverted as I’m feeling tonight, I can hear the music from my room and it sounds wonderful.

Funny how a few notes scrawled before bed at night can tell you a lot about a person, especially in the context of other records.

According to my timesheets, I worked on Pavlok 175 hours in March. That’s a lot of if you consider full-time is 160 hours, I took off sick one day, and was home visiting family for two days as well. The next month, I worked a record high 272 hours. Then I fell back down to 171 last month. The first two weeks of June have been a light 40 hours weeks. There haven’t been any fires.

Why am I paying such close attention to my working hours? Why am I writing about it here?

I believe that doing excellent work requires good work/life balance.

In the last two weeks, I’ve picked up sailing and will be spending my Saturday on the Charles River. I’ve spent time in the sun, enjoyed Boston’s beautiful parks and public spaces. I’ve listened to 90% of Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s Antifragile and am burning through 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

On Tuesday, I go to Huatusco Mexico to teach sustainable agriculture with a mentor. While I’m there, I’ll contribute to the Pavlok product remotely. It’ll go smoothly because Pavlok’s software operations have been crafted with an eye for adaptable self-improvement (or as Taleb says: antifragility).

When I return, the team will have learned from my absence. We will have become more versatile, more adaptive to unpredictable changes.

Every now and then, an organism has to struggle to thrive. Some months we’ll crack a couple hundred hours. That’s ok, the job has to get done and 50 hours a week isn’t going to kill us.

Today, there was another concert at the Beacon Hill Friend’s House. I missed it because I was at the office, doing one-on-ones with my team and coding. That’s ok.

Pavlok’s mission is important and deserves at least 1/3 of my waking life. The non-profits I work for (B.H.F.H., Resilient Coders, fsharex, etc) also have important missions and should command the attention of another 1/3 of my waking life. Finally, my own health and wellbeing is important, and deserves the final third.

This is why I’ve resorted to such measures as giving up a cellphone or only checking email once per week.

I want balance for my team and I want it for my clients and hope to lead by example. Achieving that balance is very much within the reach of most young professionals. I would urge all my peers to join companies and organizations that help you advance your life purpose. Don’t waste a single moment on something insubstantial or impersonal.

I’m always looking for a good cause. For-profit or non-profit, if you think you bring great value to the world, email me.