On Launching An Online Solution To Create Custom Printed Circuit Boards

$0
revenue/mo
4
Founders
5
Employees
product
Gerber Labs
from Tustin, CA, USA
started November 2020
$0
revenue/mo
4
Founders
5
Employees
1.47M
alexa rank
24
followers
6
followers
market size
$8B
starting costs
$26.5K
gross margin
90%
time to build
9 months
growth channels
Organic social media
business model
E-Commerce
best tools
Verifigator, Twitter, Instagram
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
40 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Kyle reccommends to grow your business!
platform
social media
productivity
Discover what books Kyle reccommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Kyle Sheng, the Co-founder and Project Manager at Gerber Labs, which is an online solution helping make custom printed circuit boards (PCB’s) accessible to electrical engineering students, hobbyists, and small businesses.

Our goal is for our customers to bring their designs to life. Gerber labs currently service customers from collegiate student organizations to Series-funded startups, and much more.

Our company mission is to provide a direct-to-consumer (D2C) option for engineers. Many PCB manufacturers typically only work with other businesses with large quantity orders. Historically, the designs of a printed circuit board were considered high-level engineering. This made the design and ordering of PCBs only necessary for skilled engineering with buying power to work with PCB manufacturers.

on-launching-an-online-solution-to-create-custom-printed-circuit-boards

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Unlike other entrepreneurs, my entrepreneur story started unconventionally. Growing up in America, my household was filled with interesting electrical trinkets brought home from my parent’s profession as electrical engineers. This gave me a sense of curiosity for taking apart electronics and putting them back together.

Know your customers. Know your customers like they were family, be aware of what they like outside of your product. Be the ear that listens to their problem and natural marketing will come.

As I progressed into my professional career, I discovered my passion for entrepreneurship and building great products. This allowed me to take on different roles where I was allowed to scale small businesses with big ideas. Eventually, I recognized that this kind of innovation can bring value to the Electrical engineering industry, which was my first step towards the creation of Gerber Labs.

The idea to launch Gerber Labs started roughly two years ago while working for PalPilot. Upper management always wanted to dabble into selling printed circuit boards directly to the consumer, however, they never had the right people to go forward with it.

One day, before the pandemic hit the United States, upper management approached me and the other co-founders about this idea about getting this program started. They had faith in us starting this program due to our unique backgrounds and understanding of this new digital world.

This opportunity provided me an almost perfect opportunity to merge my tinkering engineering mind with my entrepreneurial mindset. And now we have Gerber Labs!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Because we already worked at PalPilot, we understood how the industry functioned. What we wanted to do differently with Gerber Labs is to provide a modernized solution to an outdated system. We wanted to provide fast and reliable manufacturing services that cover various types of custom printed circuit boards. Our simplified process makes having a high-quality custom printed circuit board as simple as designing the printed circuit board and sending the files over to get the board printed.

After design and testing using the appropriate software, the first step in ordering a printed circuit board is to export the files. This process involves extracting the printed circuit board files, known as Gerber files, in a format that can be forwarded to and viewed by the manufacturer. When exporting the Gerber files for a particular printed circuit board, the different layers that make up the printed circuit board are exported as individual files.

There is a finite amount of files that need to be exported for every printed circuit board. This amount depends on the number of layers that the printed circuit board has.

Four steps make up our order process. These are Upload, Verify, Customize, and Checkout. Once you’ve completed your order and your payment has been confirmed, you will be provided with a printable order confirmation containing all the details of your order, including order name, the total number of boards, shipping address, cost, and payment method.

All you have to do now is wait for your high-quality board(s) to be delivered to you. Typical turnaround times when you buy circuit boards are 7 – 10 days for 2-layer boards and 14 – 16 days for 4-layer boards.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Our launch was a little unorthodox, you can almost consider it intrapreneurship. My journey to launching the business was when I left my digital position at Buzzfeed and wanted to return to my engineering roots. I interviewed and got accepted at a company called PalPilot. The engineering company was real old school. They wanted my expertise in digital and to help modernize what they were doing.

So my 1st year at the company was just really trying to bring them up to speed digitally. The company was so refreshed to see some young and innovative blood that they came to me and told me that the company for a long time had thought about launching a different company that would focus more on D2C rather than the B2B customers currently had.

That’s when management floated the idea by me and wanted to see if I’d be interested in taking on this new company. And I jumped at it. With a couple of other guys from the company, we created a proposal and plan for our vision. The company was so impressed that they provided us funding and we were off on our own.

The launch was pretty intricate, with our investor being essentially a parent company, but we still as an independent entity had to work with global suppliers to try and figure out the launch. For them, it was all about having a product already and selling it, but really it was convincing the parent company and suppliers that we were going eCommerce and D2C, we need to get the technology right as well.

The one productivity tip I swear by is the “Do Not Disturb” on the phone!

So it really was slowing everyone down so that we could launch correctly but after a little less than a year, we figured it all out. We had the website developed, marketing in line, and outreach coordinated. And once everything was fine-tuned we got to launching!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Know your customers. Know your customers like they were family, be aware of what they like outside of your product. Be the ear that listens to their problem and natural marketing will come.

This has been so important for Gerber Labs especially with customers who are engineers. They demand technical competence, quality and they don’t like gimmicks and flashy sales. They want to be sure that ordering and processes are seamless while bringing great quality.

For us that constantly means working with customers and understanding the projects, expectations, and frustrations to date.

This has led us to constantly refine and iterate on our business and platform to ensure that we continue to nurture our growing customer base.

on-launching-an-online-solution-to-create-custom-printed-circuit-boards

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I am currently learning productivity techniques within the realm of cross-engineering. As an entrepreneur who constantly has to navigate amongst software and electrical engineers, I am always on my feet not only to understand each industry but understand it so I can bring fresh new ideas.

For example, because we work closely with software developers across the front and back end of our platform, I make sure to take time each day to brush up on coding fundamentals to allow myself for a deeper understanding of the bugs and errors we face.

Balance that with needing to be able to translate engineering needs so that we not only cater to our engineering customers but also our supply chain. Brushing up on one industry is great, but being able to translate technology, supply chain and complex customer needs are why productivity in cross engineering is so important to me.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Running a company is exhilarating, if you care about your business you will always be on your toes! When I initiated this business venture, I was filled to the brim with high hopes. I always knew that the journey would be strenuous, but I don’t think you ever really know how strenuous it's going to be.

So really it’s just experiencing the stress of the day-to-day, but I will say that the strain is also what has brought a sense of fulfillment. Knowing that there are so many challenges, the business becomes even more rewarding when you are constantly struggling, growing, and moving.

I’ve learned that business will constantly be moving around the clock; therefore, it is always a good idea to pace yourself. Especially when you are working with international customers it can feel like you are constantly on the clock. Remember it is a marathon, not a sprint!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Currently, I utilize Notion to organize my personal and professional life. I am an avid planner therefore I am always using Trello, and I utilize Slack for all my instant messaging needs with my team!

The one productivity tip I swear by is the “Do Not Disturb” on the phone! Technology is truly a double-edged sword. With the ability to connect with millions if not billions of users per day, we must also find the ability to focus on the task at hand. My routine is to set a timer to have my phone on a do-not-disturb to allow myself to truly be with what is in front of me.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. This book teaches an interesting perspective on how to maximize your time and outsource the boring stuff.

Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss. This book gives tips and strategies to be a successful negotiator.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Know your strengths and your weaknesses! Having genuine self-awareness will allow you to pick your battles and emphasize your strength. Many times we reckon that we can and should do everything as entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, that is not always feasible if you want to operate a successful business.

We have to be aware that not every skill is attainable in the scope and timeline driven to success. Therefore, we have to be humble and aware of when to ask for help. That being said, we also have to be aware of where we shine and where we can truly devote our energy.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for partnerships specifically with school organizations and hobbyists. Contact us at [email protected] to learn more.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Kyle Sheng,   Founder of Gerber Labs
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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