Dec 19, 2021

6 min read

Obvious in Hindsight Designs Update

Our flagship product, the MultiBoard, Full Size. I take some pride in the design.

For anyone interested or curious, my company, Obvious in Hindsight (OIH) Designs is on indefinite hiatus. I’ve been on “temporary” hiatus since this past summer, but really at this point it’s indefinite. Resuming operations at some point is a nice thought, but I have no idea if or when that will happen.

Another product I take some pride in, the Wind Resistant Clipboard.

OIH isn’t dead and buried, but there are nails in the coffin. The first nail was when I did some unpleasant math a little over year ago about how little money I was making (I was profitable, barely, but only because of a sweetheart deal from effectively an angel investor who provided access to space and some of the I needed equipment which kept my overhead near zero). On an hourly basis I was earning far below minimum wage. The second nail was getting a job, just under a year ago. While it didn’t pay a lot, it was a dramatic improvement to my finances. That job turned out going fairly well (I was promoted to a much more interesting role after a couple months), and pretty much convinced me that at least at this point in my life I’d rather be an employed person earning a regular paycheck than trying to make my own small business work.

The first version of the Multiboard that I sold (a half size one). I was apparently into low saturation that day.
The final design.

More recently, I just started a new job as a trainee machinist / CAD designer / CNC programmer at a small job shop. The skillset is very similar to a lot of the design and manufacturing aspects of OIH, and the place that hired me saw that experience as a huge plus. I’m pretty happy about this job, and it’s a great opportunity that I probably wouldn’t have been offered if not for my OIH experience. I see it as sort of a second best result from starting OIH. Even if the company I started didn’t reach the level of success I aspired to, getting a job where I’ll be using the skills I picked up and doing work I find interesting and rewarding is pretty great. It’s hard to say if this is the final nail in the coffin — it might actually a saving grace for OIH Designs. This job shop has the equipment to manufacture many of the key parts at scale, and eventually I will know how to run it all. It’s hard not to think there is the potential there for running my own parts, but I think any speculation beyond that right now is premature.

Biggest single order I had, for 15 full size aluminum geology kit MultiBoards this past spring.

The downside to a day job is of course that it takes up a lot of time, and the remaining time I just don’t have the interest in right now devoting to making orders or otherwise running a small company. The financial gains are trivial, and I’d just rather spend that time with my family, being outdoors when it’s nice, taking care of things that need to get done, etc. I feel bad explicitly rejecting orders, but it’s still the correct decision. Maybe there will be a time in the future where I’m able to devote the time, but right now it’s just not something I’m interested in prioritizing.

Marketing photo from a more optimistic time.

A few thoughts I’d like to share:

As this is my personal blog, I thought I’d write something about my experience and reflections on starting small company to make an sell a niche product in hopes of trying to earn a living from it.

  • I thought the hard part of niche manufacturing success was developing a product that cost less to make than people would pay for it, and if I could do that then the rest would work itself out. I am (or was) something of an economic idealist in that way. Nope. It turns out that marketing a product in a cost effective manner is hard, and you can’t count on customers to search you out or just word of mouth. Advertising is both expensive and important. I have a newfound appreciate of the difficultly for companies getting their products in front of the people who are interested in buying them. There are probably many niche products that could exist (that is, people would pay more for them than the cost to make them), but don’t because the expense of advertising them knocks them into the unprofitable territory.
  • Having a job can be pretty great. I spent a couple years constantly asking questions like “is this a good use of my time?” “should I be spending more/less on advertising?” “are all my inventory levels where they should be?” “should I spend my time on advertising, product development, building inventory, etc?” “am I doing things correctly and things are just slow to happen, or am I doing things wrong and I need to do things differently to see increased sales?” “how much money am burning on this?” etc. It’s draining, and every problem was literally my problem. The plus side was, I suppose, setting my own hours. When you have a job you have someone you report to and they just tell you what to do. Even if you have a wide range of latitude in how you do your job, you still have a person above you to ultimately provide feedback and direction about if you’re doing what they want. It’s really great in a way. Also not only does your job give you money, you get paid even if the project you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, there’s a miscommunication and you do the wrong thing, etc. Then on top of that, there are lots of problems that are not your problem. In the roles I’ve had over the past year now there have been countless times where there was a problem and my only responsibility was to report it up the chain and not come up with a solution. It’s really great. The only real downside is the whole 40 hours a week thing that generally isn’t very flexible (at least in manufacturing, where you both need to physically be there, and be there at the same time as everyone else).
  • The pandemic didn’t help. Obviously.
One of my personal wind resistant clipboards, probably my most used. Another advantage to a job: At my previous job I got to spend a lot of time in a certain factory.

Anyway, if you’re interested in wind-resistant clipboards or geology mapboards and you want to know if / when I’m accepting orders again, have questions about how to make your own, are thinking about starting your business making them and want to pick my brain, or otherwise just want to talk shop feel free to reach out. I can be reached at Nick@OIHDesigns.com