Engineering management · Product Design

How to properly evaluate technical work you have no base of knowledge in?

Anonymous

August 10th, 2015

Hi all,
I have a JD, an MBA with a concentration in finance and an uncanny desire to ditch the white collar service industry to pursue some entrepreneurial endeavors. One of which involves a specialized type of headphone.

The problem I am running into is knowing whether or not the engineering drawings/ product design for these headphones would be quality work. I haven't used more than basic calculus is my professional life and aside from doing well in high school physics, my understanding of engineering is extremely limited. I would be willing to bring in a partner or adviser with more expertise in the area, but in the short term, while I shoot for getting an operable prototype, How do you evaluate the quality of such work? I'm concerned my conceptualization of the product wont be articulated correctly in the schematics and I won't be able to tell if what I am looking at is the equivalent of a DaVinci or a  Jackson Pollack until much more money and time are spent in the pursuit of bringing the concept to reality.

Any Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Robert Bent Founder - INVI Energy

August 10th, 2015

I have done this a few times.  It is difficult to educate yourself to the level required in a short period of time.  I would recommend the following:
  1. Research and identify Product Development Firms that have built similar products in the space (ie. end to end teams are best here - ID, EE, etc. and experience with concept design all the way to rapid prototyping).  You want to make sure the firm has all of these items in-house.  This will help you get an idea of timeline/cost to development.  I would ask for RFP/RFI from three separate firms.  During this phase you will provide your schematics + design idea and get a proposal for how to move forward.  This will provide you with a ton of free information on the process and pertinent questions on the design that you can take back to your partner.  Because these firms are trying to win your business, at this stage, most of the info is free.  Also, because you have multiple points of view, you learn quickly and can sanity check.  You won't get a design out of this, but it should provide you with a lot more information in "laymans" terms.
  2. I would avoid contract manufacturing/assembly at this stage.  It will be real tough to get their attention without initial volume commitments / working prototype etc.  You are not ready yet and this isn't really what CM's do, although some definitely provide design enhancements (mostly from a "Design for Manufacturing" standpoint - not really from a Customer Use standpoint - this is a key distinction).
  3. Once you have some RFP/RFI's and better knowledge of how the product works/risk points, I would look for experts that can help answer questions on an hourly basis (ie. you should be able to negotiate between $65 - $90 per hour here).  I would ask specific employees from the product design firms if they can recommend people to work with and I would also look to elance to hire experts that can provide guidance.
If you find the advice above valuable, feel free to PM me and I can walk you through other options for getting people to provide advice when you're on a budget and timelines are an issue.  

Emanuel Younanzadeh Business Development | Marketing | Founder

August 10th, 2015

Get two or three bids from manufacturing/assembly companies. They will be able to tell you if the design has problems. If they're ok with it, build a prototype using 3D printing and try the headphones; refine where needed. 

Brent Laminack Principal at OpenFace Systems, Inc.

August 10th, 2015

Andrew, I've got my BS in physics and have presented a paper to the Audio Engineering Society in times gone past. I'm also working on filing my first patent in acoustics. If you want to hire me for a sanity check, I'd be glad to talk. Brent Laminack

Patrina Mack Experts in global commercialization

August 10th, 2015

Another alternative or in addition to the recommendations above you might want to put together an advisory board not only for their technical expertise but also for their professional contacts in the category to help you win early customers.

Skip PhD Founder/President at Elegant Audio Solutions

August 10th, 2015

Andrew,  My recommendation is to find a reputable engineering team or person who has experience in the electrical circuit and acoustical design of audio solutions, and also has experience with the capabilities of the CM's that you might intend to use.  Regards,

Skip

Karl Kaiser System-on-Chip Expert

August 10th, 2015

Dear Andrew, I have faced similar issues and always used expert advisers. It is sometimes amazing how generous fellow experts are if you ask them politely for a favor. I always offer them to pay but several times I got very good advise pro-Bono. I then send them some gift cards as a way to thank them. If it is a key question you may even want multiple opinions. Remember experts don't always agree on engineering matters. That said, if you are convinced that your product has a market the engineering part is just execution. Not to say this is easy but with the right budget things can be fixed. Good luck!

Dan Hussain

August 10th, 2015

Educate yourself. self education is priceless and worth more than all the millions and billions in the world Education is the source of all wealth, and especially self education So start by taking an EE hands on course in a community college or read up online Education will set you free:) All the best in your journey! Dan Hussain, President American Pioneer Ventures | American Patent Agency PC www.apvusa.com | www.american-patent-agency.com | www.danhussain.com Office: (408) 620-4272 | Cell: (617) 899-9709 | Fax: (866) 755-5714 Conference Dial-in Number: (712) 432-0927 | Access Code: 909031#

Anonymous

August 10th, 2015

Thank you all for your input! a lot of useful advice!