John Teel is an Electronics design engineer and the founder of PredictableDesigns.com. He helps entrepreneurs, startups, makers, inventors, and small companies develop new electronic hardware products through his Hardware Academy.
John also hosts The Predictable Designs Podcast, which is for hardware startups and entrepreneurs planning to bring a new electronic hardware product to market. He discusses things related to developing, manufacturing, marketing, and selling successful new hardware products.
He’s also a contributing writer for Makezine.com (Make: Magazine), Entrepreneur.com, and Hackster.io John was a senior microchip design engineer for Texas Instruments (TI) for 15 years, and has nearly 30 years experience designing electronics. He started designing electronics, building robots, and programming computers about the age of 14 and shortly.
While working for TI, he designed many successful microchips which are now in various popular electronic devices including several Apple products.
John is also founded a hardware startup based on a consumer lighting product which sold in hundreds of retail locations in three countries. He fully developed the product and setup manufacturing in Asia. He oversaw marketing, sales, tradeshows, logistics, and managed a team of over 20 sales reps.
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John Teel LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnteel/
Rafael Testai (Co-host) LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/testai/
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The Being An Engineer Podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.John Teel:
So it's really a mix. And say it's where entrepreneurship and engineering intersect is sort of my slogan.Rafael Testai:
Hello, everyone, welcome to the Being An Engineer Podcast with your co-host, Rafael Testai. Today we have another very special guest, John Teel. John Teel is an electronics design engineer and the founder of predictabledesigns.com. Don't worry about the links, they'll always, they'll be in the show notes. He helps entrepreneurs, startups, makers, inventors and small companies develop new electronic hardware products. He's contributing writer in mckenzie.com. He's the makemagazineentrepreneur.com and hackster.io. John was a senior microchip design engineer for Texas Instruments (TI) for 15 years, and has nearly 30 years of experience designing electronics. He started designing electronics, building robots and programming computers since about the age of 14, and surely thereafter began studying entrepreneurship. He has an MSE degree specializing in micro electronics and graduated with honors, congratulations. While working for TI he designed many successful microchips, which are now in various popular electronic devices, including several Apple products. He also founded a hardware startup based on consumer lighting product, which sold in hundreds of retail locations in three countries, and fully developed the product and set up manufacturing in Asia. He oversaw marketing, sales, tradeshows, logistics, and manage a team of over 20 sale reps. So John, welcome to the show.John Teel:
Well, thank you. That was quite the introduction. I think you covered everything. I'm not sure there's much left for me to say.Rafael Testai:
Amazing. So I wanted to tell our audience, this is going to be a shorter interview than usual, maybe about 18-20 minutes. But it's all about quality and not quantity. I want to introduce you. There's a specific reason why I have John in the show. He has some really good resources for over hardware inventors out there and small companies. I actually first heard about him on his podcast, the Predictable Designs Podcast, link in the show notes, and I listen to over 30 of his episodes. In the podcast, I'm going to ask him in today's podcast, I'm going to ask him some follow up questions for some info that are learning his podcast. So we're gonna discuss something that's a little more advanced than what has already probably been discussed on his podcast, because he's already covered the basics, like product simplification, crowdfunding, marketing, all that stuff you can listen to on his podcast. But before we talk about the podcast, I wanted to discuss the Hardware Academy. So John has a Hardware Academy, and I'm going to ask him two things. Could you define what the Hardware Academy is? Actually three, what the Hardware Academy is, who is it for and with him, what's in it for me if I were to join the academy?John Teel:
Yeah, sure. So the the Hardware Academy is specifically for hardware entrepreneurs that are developing an electronic product specifically, although I do have members that are doing more of a mechanical product, but mainly it's for electronic products. And although a large percentage of the members are engineers are also non engineers, software people, a variety of different data scientists and things like that that are in there. So it's generally for anyone that's developing a product I'd cover being an engineer, I obviously cover a lot of the electronics design and answer a lot of questions about that. But I also do a lot of the other side of the equation, which is marketing, sales, fundraising, all the other things that go into building a successful company. So it's not entirely just about the product development side. That's a big emphasis, but I also do a where I do a lot of courses and teaching and also on my blog, I write a lot about marketing in addition to just the engineering side and if you if I was gonna say as far as what's inside or what you get, you get access to myself and my experience is not only a microchip designer and working also as freelance designer, where I worked on lots of different products. But you also get access to a lot of other experts that I've brought into the academy, either engineers or marketing experts. So that's a big aspect of it. And then there are lots of courses, where I cover everything from building an online audience and marketing to how to design a custom printed circuit board out a introduction of power supply management, a different technical topic. So it's really a mix. And I say it's where entrepreneurship and engineering intersect, is sort of my slogan,Rafael Testai:
Love that slogan. Okay. And I was gonna ask you, where can people find out about the academy? And how much does it cost?John Teel:
I'm sure, yeah, you can go to the hardwareacademy.com, my main website, where my blog and on my content is predictabledesigns.com. But I have the academy set up on a different, a different domain. And the cost varies, there's several plans, the starter plan cost $49 a month. And for that, you get access to all the courses, you get access to the community, you can ask questions. But what you don't get is, you don't get any private consulting or communication with me beyond just a typical customer service type of things. And then there's a like a pro plan, that's 99 a month. And with that, you get a private area where you can just discuss your, your project, and we can discuss strategy. And everything in that is confidential. And then there's a third tier, which is a premium tier, which is 199 a month, although that's increasing, actually tomorrow to 249 a month.Rafael Testai:
Better hurry up!John Teel:
Yeah, in that, you get, you get everything in the other plans, plus you get a private engineering area. So you can communicate with several engineers that work for me to discuss your project and get technical assistance.Rafael Testai:
So many follow up questions from this. So if I understand correctly, this is a, the Hardware Academy, maybe optimal for a solopreneur or a small company, somebody that's trying to build the product themselves, maybe develop their first prototype, and you have resources to help them get there, right?John Teel:
Yes, absolutely. There, it's generally entrepreneurs, small startups, there are startups with that have a small team of two to three co-founders. And then also I do help small companies that are maybe more established, but they've never brought their own product to market, maybe they've had an E-commerce site or something like that. So it's sort of a combination, but it's very much focused on entrepreneurs and startups, typically developing their first product I do, quite a few members that have developed prior products. But in general, it's it's targeted, those that are developing the first product. And I've just from my own experience of developing our product and bringing it to market I, I did a lot of things wrong, I did quite a bit right. And my goal is to share what I've learned with other people and prevent them from making some of the really common mistakes that I see new entrepreneurs makeRafael Testai:
They sure did sound like you did quite a bit right from reading your bio here. So I think you're more than qualified to give people advice. Always pay attention to that, like who's given me the advice, what have they done? So you certainly you're qualified to give advice?John Teel:
Yeah, I'm kind of, most engineers tend to not like marketing and have a, don't have a lot of positive things to say about marketing. But I, early on even working at TI, I learned pretty quickly that marketing without marketing, I don't have a job as an engineer. And then once I moved to the online world and my own product, especially, I realized that you don't if you want to get away from working for someone else or just doing client work, then you really need to, to learn and embrace marketing as well.Rafael Testai:
So more about the Wiffen what's in it for me. So if I were to join the academy, I want to make the value proposition crystal clear. I do not only get classes as to how to develop different things for my product, maybe could you mention some of your most popular classes, maybe four or five?John Teel:
Yeah, I have several courses on designing a custom microcontroller PCB that would maybe be a suit, there's not really super, if you're like an engineer that's been developing electronics for 30 years, then you probably, the technical courses may be a little bit on the more basic side for you. Then you could learn from all the other topics, which is the marketing, selling fundraising, there's a course that's like a, I call it a roadmap course where I sort of walk you from idea all the way through prototype scaling, manufacturing, and actually having the part the product mass manufactured. So that's, the the two sides of the coin that they're really focused on is the the technical side and the more entrepreneurial side.Rafael Testai:
So I've actually done instructional design for Arizona State University, I helped in that aspect. So I made that means making classes online. What kind of content to use it primarily video for your courses, texts?John Teel:
Yes, yes, it's all video.Rafael Testai:
Okay, wonderful.John Teel:
And one of the latest course that we have is, I'm really proud of this course, although I didn't teach it. I have another engineer that two engineers and electrical engineering mechanical engineer that taught this course but it's a, it's a multi series course, where we go through the entire product development for one specific product. So we start with development boards, then it migrates to designing the schematic circuit diagram and designing a custom PCB layout. And then it the last part of it covers the mechanical, the enclosure design for the product.Rafael Testai:
So you have the entrepreneurial bug, and I wanted to ask you, I can almost answer this question myself. But I want to know what more there is to it. I want to understand what made you want to start the Hardware Academy? And I think the answer is going to be you just saw nobody else did it. And that's where you went for, right?John Teel:
Yeah, pretty much. I just had so many people coming to me either out through my blog asking me questions, and it just didn't have the bandwidth to answer them all. And and then I've had so many people come to me and tell me that they've never been able to find any other content, there really merges the, there's engineering websites, and there's entrepreneurial websites, but no one really merges the two together. And so that's, that's one of my, I guess, the, the what makes my platform special compared to what else is offered out there.Rafael Testai:
The next one is about specialization. I've had another guest on the show, Philippe Villita, if I pronounced that correctly, maybe many episodes ago, a couple of months ago. And he mentioned that he was a little disappointed in his career when he came to the realization that we can't be the best at everything, we have to pick a specialization, otherwise, we become average or not even good enough to be average. And you mentioned that you do all these things, not only engineering, we also do electrical, marketing, sales, crowdfunding, how do you manage to be good at everything?John Teel:
Yeah. Well, I started off going very specialized, I was specifically an analog IC designer. So that was, that was my focus at TI for 10 years. But I've always been, like, when I'd have job performance reviews, that one of the main feedback, I was always gifted, I'm very adaptable. And I can pretty much jump on any new topic and find some interest in it and become really passionate about that topic. So I'm interested in so many things, from wildlife biology, to theoretical physics, to product design, engineering, so I, you know, I may not be the necessarily the best in any of those, because there is a lot to know, but I kind of like the getting to, to do different things and not just be hyper focused in one specific area, which is what I did for 10 to 15 years of my career.Rafael Testai:
I can really relate to what you're saying, because I think I'm the same way I like, I like the sales. I like the marketing, I make videos on YouTube, as many of you already may know. So what advice could you have someone for me in my career, if I like to do the cat, the SolidWorks and all that you mentioned?John Teel:
Well, you could become an entrepreneur, which I know you have some background in that. So you and I are are similar in that regard that I guess that would be you could be an entrepreneur or even if you do freelance work, then you get to see a wide variety of types of projects. And you have to be a little more of a generalist instead of a specialist, which is where I started after I left he I was also doing some freelance client based work, which is also where I learned quite a bit from during that process for a few years.Rafael Testai:
I've heard about the term intrapreneur, which is like being an entrepreneur inside a company. Have you heard of that term?John Teel:
Yes, I have. Uh huh.Rafael Testai:
I'm thinking about leaning towards in that direction. But anyways, switching back to you. How did you decide to focus on helping entrepreneurs develop new and new electronic products?John Teel:
Well, it just made sense for me because I've had a passion for entrepreneurship and electronics ever since I was really young, although the passion for electronics came earlier. But you know, I remember being young and going to the library and getting books on you know, corporate structure and how to start a corporation I had a name picked out I didn't know what I was gonna do, but so I kind of it was just a natural progression for me to merge those two and then by going through the process of developing my own product, getting it in mass manufactured sold in hundreds of retail stores, there is so much that I learned from that process. So after I was beyond that and doing other things, it just made the most sense to me, to help other people with based on what I learned, and it just was a perfect combination that I like engineering, but I also like entrepreneurship. So I went that route of focusing on those two. So it's just sort of my background led me to that. But also, I saw that there is a need for that, because usually you don't see engineering and marketing. They don't use a lot of times they don't mix very well.Rafael Testai:
Well, so I'm gonna take a quick break to remind our listeners that the Being An Engineer Podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners who have medical devices and other engineering teams who need turnkey equipment, such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation, equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations, and more. You can find more us on the web on teampipeline.us. So back to speaking with John here, he also has a very big podcast and I want to ask him if he could give us here, the Being An Engineer Show some advice. We have over 100 episodes, so we can see our listenership is growing. But we only have 27 reviews so far on Apple podcasts, any advice so that we can incentivize, maybe some of our listeners to leave us some reviews?John Teel:
Well, for starters, you have more episodes than I do. So I think you have more experience with the podcast world than I do. But ultimately, it's about building an audience. I think that's about the most important thing you can do from an online business perspective. So I've, well, before years before I started my podcast I've been creating, I've been writing a blog, where every single week I put out really in depth posts. Some of those are purely technical, some of them are purely entrepreneurial. And then there's a combination. So by the time I had my podcast and started that I already had a pretty good sized following, I think I had already started the academy at that point. And the beauty of the academy that I have found is it gives me long term relationships with hundreds of people that I get to communicate with. So it's not just a one way where they read my blog, and I never hear from them. So I've gotten a really know a lot of the people really close, developed really good relationships. And I think that's probably been the most helpful for me getting any traction that I that I have with the podcast. But like I said, you've got about three times more episodes than I do so.Rafael Testai:
So where can our listeners find your blogs?John Teel:
At predictabledesigns.com. And then just slash blog or slash podcast.Rafael Testai:
I see.John Teel:
Or slash attack is where I've kind of split off my technical articles away from more entrepreneurial articles. So the blog tends to be more general and focusing on the bigger picture of product development and entrepreneurship, whereas the technical section is more how to design with an STM 32 microcontroller, that type of those types of articles. Perfect. Well, I think that we covered the main things that I wanted to discuss with our listeners. I wanted to make them aware that there's a wonderful resource that you created. And we have a lot of inventors and solopreneurs and small companies listen to this podcast. Is there anything that we haven't discussed that I should ask you? Now, I think I think we, in 20 minutes, I think we covered quite a bit and hit on a lot of the big topics that I would like to talk about. And I guess the main final piece of advice that I would offer that I see engineers, especially more than other people do that are wanting to go the entrepreneur route, especially as a product is they tend to hyper focus on the product itself. They'll spend years developing a product inventors also are notoriously this way as well, where they focus years on the product, getting a prototype getting a patent, spend 10s of you know, $10,000 or more on a patent. And then once they get through all that, then they start worrying about trying to market it and sell it they've never talked to a potential customer up to that point. And I think that's overall the probably the biggest mistake that I see engineers specifically make that that try to go the entrepreneur route in regards to a hardware product.Rafael Testai:
I feel like that's golden advice, which I've heard you say in your podcast many times before. That's almost like entrepreneurship one on one. Talk to your customers. Before you develop the product to see if there's a real need in the market, right?John Teel:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think from my experience working at big companies, they don't just typically I mean, there are exceptions, but they they get, you know, they have people that are out talking to customers, and they know what the market wants. And it's easy to make a lot of assumptions, what you think people want, but from my experience, usually those assumptions are wrong. And there's a lot of them are right, but about half of them are wrong, and you need to test those assumptions as soon as possible.Rafael Testai:
Well said. Well, John, thank you so much for being on the podcast.John Teel:
Oh, no problem at all. Happy to do it.Rafael Testai:
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