Designing Success With Tracy Hazzard From Table Top Inventing Podcast With Steve Kurti
Starting a business with an innovative idea you have created is worth your time and effort, no matter how difficult it may be. If you are confident enough to achieve your goals and build your brand around your idea, you are destined to grow in your professional journey and success. Joining Steve Kurti for the Table Top Inventing Podcast, Tracy Hazzard discusses how she started her career path in 3D printing and explains how she has managed to design 250 products. Tracy believes that an introduction to 3D printing is required in every classroom. It’s not a technology we can ignore. She shares her personal and professional experiences that influenced how she made one decision after another. If something is hard to design, she moves forward to help others learn and get started because most people are going to quit. She also explains why education is so important and what it could do for you in the long term.
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I’m pretty jazzed about something that happened. We finished up our first Inventor Camp 2016 in Apple Valley, California. While we were in full swing, I have the coolest thing happen. One of the challenges this year involves binary numbers, bi-conversions and ASCII tables. If you are a techno-geek, you’ll get those references but if you’re not, those are terms for how the data moves around in your computer, cellphone and the internet.
I wanted the kids to see under the hood so to speak to see that things aren’t really as mysterious as they seem. I was talking to Lily and Trevor, who are task with programming up a little solution for encoding letters and numbers into binary. Lily was telling me about how her program worked. She was pretty excited that she could look at the 8-bit representation by the LED lights and look up the letter on a chart.
I turned to Trevor to ask him if he knew what they needed to do next and he answered, “Yup. I’ll do that in a minute but right now, my brain is on fire.” It was so awesome and so funny that I had a fit of laughter on the spot and that’s what I love to see. Kids with their imagination on fire. Our guest Tracy Hazzard also loves to see kids with their imagination on fire. She is the CEO of Hazz Design Consulting, a design company headquartered in Orange County, California. Let’s find out how Tracy is igniting the imagination.
My guest is Tracy Hazzard. She and her husband have a company that has designed over 250 products. They are experts at taking ideas and turning them into products and they have an 86% success rate, which I think is phenomenal. They are hooked on 3D printing, but it did not start out that way. Tracy, tell us how you got hooked on 3D printing.
I was pregnant with my third child and we had lost a client who stiffed us actually. I was in a crappy mood and Tom pulled out Make Magazine and said, “Have you seen this? This is the coolest thing. There are all these 3D printers in here.” I looked at him and I said, “You want to talk about spending $4,000 now,” just as we’re getting on an airplane to see his mom all the way across the country. I was like, “This is not a good time to talk to me.”
Over the next couple of months, he wore me down and convinced me that it was worth skill-building for our business and so I said, “Okay,” because we can build prototypes in Asia and we could do all of this. We didn’t need a 3D printer for that. We didn’t do products that were small enough in my mind, but I said, “If we’re going to understand the technology and we’re going to offer this up as a service to our clients, we better understand it.” I reluctantly agreed. The 3D printer arrived as my daughter did.
It sat in the box for a month. Once we got it out and realized how hard it was, that’s what convinced me that it was worth doing. I know that sounds crazy, but it did. It convinced me that if something is this hard to design for when we’ve been designing three-dimensionally for many years. It was something that I said we have to go forward with and we have to help others learn how to do this and get started because they’re going to quit. We’re tenacious, but most people are going to quit. That’s where we said, “This is our place in this to inspire what the future of it can be and inspire the design part of it,” which is critical because if you don’t know what to make, then there’s no point in using the printer, which was my original point. Along the way, we figured out the what.
I’m curious what was the first thing you printed? What direction have you taken your 3D printing in? Tell us a little about that.
It’s one of those things. When you first get a printer and I think this is a big mistake that most printer manufacturers make. They don’t have a lot of cool stock art in there. Sometimes, it comes to half a dozen things. Most of them are gears and gadgets. They’re cheap and cheesy. The MakerBot that we bought had come with this bracelet and you could print this bracelet. It was stock art and it had a cool texture to it. It was a little stretchy and it printed in a few hours. That was probably the first thing that my husband printed because we have three daughters. They wanted to see something cute come off the machine and pop pink. They didn’t want to see some dumb little robot come off of it. That was the thing that I think is missing.
If you’re going to buy a 3D printer, your mom, your wife or whoever is going to want to see something cool come off of it because you’re spending so much time in that 3D printer or in reverse, your dad and your husband. It’s got to be something that everybody wants and that’s what’s missing. Those were the first couple of things you print off because you got to make sure the machine works and you haven’t quite learned to it. Some of the first things that we print though were junk. They were terrible. It took us about six months before I would let Tom Instagram anything that we printed there.
The very first thing we Instagram looked like a badminton birdie. That’s what it looked like but it was the base of an angel we were building for the holidays. It was this thing with no real face, no head, no angel wings, but it still looked like a badminton birdie. Honestly, we printed it tons of times because it’s funky cool looking and the girls loved it. They got to play with it. That was the first thing then after that, it was our angel design, which is complex. It has many different interwoven parts.
Are you guys working with the 3D printer mostly as a prototype machine on the business side or using it as an evangelism device?
Both. We do use it for some of our clients on occasion. We’ve designed casters on it, hubcaps that go around casters as well. Even some end product 3D printing accessories go with products that already exist on the market for our clients. I think that’s such a minor part of our business. Yes, we’re using it as evangelism for what you can do, but our goal is to makes 3D printed end product at some point. Think about it. You would go to Target or a Walmart or a Staples and buy products that had no inventory on the shelf anywhere. You’re going to 3D print out what you want and maybe make it your way.If you really get passionate about something, you take it home with you and can't stop doing it. #TableTopInvestingPodcast #SteveKurti #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
You guys have probably been to the Inside 3D Printing Show because there are a lot of people in that industry that are very interested in what’s the killer app. How do we bring 3D printing into the marketplace because now it’s sitting on the fringes? It’s a cult thing. It’s making its way into education and I’m not going to talk about exactly what I think about that.
I’m happy to talk about that.
You guys are interested in bringing this into the mainstream. You would like to see 3D printers sitting at Walmart and Target, etc.
I don’t even care if they’re sitting there. I would love to have 3D printers in every home. I have daughters. I have a 21-year-old, a seven-year-old and a two-year-old. My seven-year-old is already starting to 3D print. I believe that an introduction to 3D printing is required in every classroom. It’s not a technology we can ignore. It should be introduced there. It’s an opportunity to learn something. Now, will every student love it? No, but I believe this is one of the technologies that girls will love. That’s one of the things that drives me because I have these daughters. I think then you have to support that because it is not something you’re going to learn in a couple of hours in a classroom.
You said something that I don’t hear very often. I need you to dive in a little further. You said you put your daughters in there. It’s not that I’m against the idea of girls in tech or against the idea of guys doing the design but by and large, the boys want to print robots and guns and projectiles. The girls want to print bracelets and earrings and things like that. Why do you want to see 3D printing in the classroom because of the girls?
There are three reasons I love 3D printing. One is, it’s a lesson in failure, in successful failure. It’s good for every single person, not just girls. It’s good to have that successful failure and to not feel like a failure from that. I can’t tell you how many fails we have on our prints all the time. It takes iterations. Sometimes some of our designs, including that angel I was referring to. It takes 200 hours to figure it out, design it and get it printing right. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s probably underestimating. That’s okay. It should take that amount of time to make something great. That failure along the process is an opportunity to learn and that’s one of the most important things.
The second thing that I think is so great about it is that we now have three-dimensional thinking that we’re continuing to encourage. I believe that kids come in with this mindset of three-dimensional thinking and we teach it out of them. If we can keep it in them by allowing them to continue to do this. I can’t even imagine the products and the technologies that these kids are going to invent and innovate because they have a different way their minds will be working and be conditioned to work. That excites me.
The third thing is that I support the idea that you should have a school component and an at-home component. If you get passionate about something, then you take it home with you and you can’t stop doing it. I couldn’t stop sketching. I couldn’t stop making clothes. This was part of who I was and I became a textile designer and I got dragged into it. I thought I was going to study Biogenetics at Brown. I didn’t get into the school and then didn’t get in and was devastated. I then said, “I applied early, so I can still apply anywhere else.” My mom said, “Why don’t we look at RISD down the street?” The Rhode Island School of Design and I was like, “Why would I want to go to art school?” Sure enough, two months later, I’m applying to art school because it seemed like the logical thing to do.
I’m curious now and went where I normally like to take the program because I’m curious how you guys got here. Tell us a little more about that journey and why Biogenetics?
It was the school system that was the problem for me. We didn’t have art in our classrooms in Orange County, California. We had it once a month if we were lucky. We didn’t have that constant exposure to art. My mom, though, is an artist, so I did have that. I was being, in a sense, pushed and driven by my engineer dad to be a working woman. Go into the workplace and manage these high-end projects and do what he was doing and I wanted that life. I didn’t think art could give it to me, but I did love art. It took my going to art school and seeing that this is a career path. It’s not something you end up doing at festivals. It was something that you could do as a career. I originally went into graphic design, then textile design and went out into the working world with it. That just fit me.
If I ask what you think about the idea that art isn’t taught in schools now.
It’s ridiculous. I think also in a 3D printed future, if we don’t teach art and design, what’s going to get made? This is a critical component. The design process is a thought process, design thinking. I have written an article of John Assaraf, the great neuro, neuro thought process, NeuroGym. He thinks about the way that you can’t take innovation and think about it. It’s a subconscious process. The idea is that you don’t have a process for thinking like you have a scientific process. If you have a scientific process, design has a process as well. It’s a problem-solving process.
When you go through that process and you’re able to access that subconscious innovation transfer between the subconscious and the conscious mind, you get these wild ideas that might become real. That excites me more than anything but if you don’t keep that pathway open by allowing this creative process throughout school and you don’t encourage design thinking like you’ve encouraged scientific processing then, those two things can’t occur.
I pried the lid open a little bit. I might blow the lid off with this next question. I don’t know how big your company is. I’m going to go out on a limb here. Have you guys tried to hire or work with students coming out of the current school system and what do you see from that?If we don't teach art and design, we’re not going to get things made. It's critical because the design process is a thought process. #TableTopInvestingPodcast #SteveKurti #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
I’m so glad you asked that. There’s a huge education gap now. We see this very large gap between ideological thinking about whatever it might be. It could be art, design and technology and actual doing. There is not a lot of doing going on there. The problem with that for me is we should be having successful failures as I mentioned before, but we shouldn’t have to repeat failures. Not everyone should have to go through and repeat these dumb failures again. We’ve got kids coming out of school starting businesses and falling flat on their faces for stupid things that could be fixed by having the right internship that would have taught them not to do that. Having the right apprenticeship could have gotten them into understanding how you get a product made or how you build a business.
These are things that I don’t understand why we still have such a gap and still such a separation between the business world and the educational world. It’s such a hard line in most schools. You can’t get entrepreneurs to give talks at schools. They’re not asked. You can’t get schools to get educators to come and talk to business. They don’t cross the lines and I don’t understand that.
I’m not sure if we’ll jump down that rabbit hole yet but I’m curious because you said, you came through and you’ve got the art and the design. How did you guys come to business? What was that path? How did you learn what you needed to learn?
All along, I was, in a way, being groomed for business by my dad. I think he was setting me up to be successful in business. He would come home and would give lessons. My dad was in the oil industry, built multi-billion-dollar oil refineries. He was the project manager for those. He always was pushing hard to have women be project managers. He had training programs and all things that he put into his company. When he retired, I can’t tell you the number of women who came up to me and said, “Your dad made such a difference in my career.”
All along, he was bringing those lessons home. I may not have realized it or thanked him for it or recognize it, but that’s what he was doing. I already had a propensity for that but my first job out of school was in the industry. I went to work for one of the largest textile companies in the world, Milliken. The first thing they do is send you off to leadership orientation training. You learn statistical process control and Dale Carnegie. You learn all things that we would never have got in an art school. It was such a gift for me because I found that I had a propensity for it. I loved it. It drove me.
It kept going through the idea of process and design. Process and business are very similar. They’re all about problem-solving. It fit who I was and turned us into a business. Tom and I, my partner and husband, went into business together because he’s more on the design, inventive and innovation side. His brain works that way and my brain is much more systematized and controlled. We needed to balance it out or we’d destroy our family and the process of having two inventors in the family or to designers in the family. It might have just destroyed it but luckily, we were able to build a nice balanced business around it.
I asked a question earlier or you mentioned something and I wanted to bring that back. You guys have a little story that is told in lots of business schools. Tell us a little bit about what that is and how you navigated that.
Back in the late ’90s, we started another form of our business called TT Tools, with two Ts for Tom and Tracy. It was accessories for handheld computers. It was stylus pens back in the PalmPilot days. It was a stylus pen, but it was an invented product. It had patents associated with it, but they hadn’t quite issued yet. Suddenly, one day, we’re in the midst of building an online business at a time at which it was coming on and we had an email list. What we wanted so badly was to be in the box that’s shipped with the PalmPilot. That was a catalog in there and we wanted to be the pen in the box. That was our ultimate goal. We met with PalmPilot at Palm Computing at that time numerous times.
One day, we get featured in Wired and we’re super excited. We opened up Wired Magazine and there’s our pen and right next to it is a pen that looks almost exactly like ours. It shifts with the PalmPilot. It is one of those things where you look at it and we were devastated. We were like, “This infringes on our patent. What are we going to do? We have this little business. We haven’t even been in business long enough to build up enough cashflow base. We can’t fight this. What are we going to do?” I go to bed and I cry. I wake up the next morning and we assemble our team of angel investors and all of the people who are involved in our business. We say, “What are we going to do about it?”
We decide to wage a PR war and file a lawsuit, but file. We only had $5,000. That’s all we spent. We sent a PR and filing and made a huge bluff and got lucky because IDEO had designed a pen. That’s the largest industrial design firm in the world, at that time. I don’t know if they still are. They indemnified Palm Computing with their design. Now you had a smaller guy in the middle paying all the legal bills and Palm computing was trying to go public. They didn’t want any of this riffraff stuff going on with their developers.
At that time, it was the very first what we call app developers now, but it was third-party solutions. That community support was critically important. Here we were saying, “You’re stealing from a third-party solution. This isn’t a good thing. This is not a way to treat your developers.” They didn’t want any of that going on. There’s all this pressure to settle, so they did settle. Then the end of the story, we got like two checks. Maybe we recouped our $5,000 and that was it and they killed the products. We never got any royalty or anything. That’s the story that is taught. It’s taught like a case study at Harvard Business Review. They take the students through this idea of what would do and they don’t tell them what we did until the end and a very small percentage do what we did. Almost all of them are like, “Quit and do something else.”
How have you guys grown since then? What have you learned from all those lessons?
We learned a different way of the way that we treat our intellectual property. The way that we treat our patents. There’s a reason we have an 86% commercialization rate, but we also have a 95% issuance rate. We’ve only had one patent that didn’t issue ever. It was written badly. That’s why it didn’t deserve to issue. It’s one of those things where we treat our intellectual property as a part of the design process, but not at the beginning. Many people are obsessed with their patents. Obsessed with the IP process and they do it first and they do it early. They don’t even know if there’s a market for what they want to sell yet. That’s where we differ.
We don’t patent it until mostly, almost all the way through the prototype process. We’ve already decided and proven there’s a market in some case, shape or form. We already have a complete plan for how it’s going to get commercialized. Maybe we even already have a client we’re working with an audit or a partner. We’re working on it before we even dive in to do the patents.Education never stops. You can learn something new every day. #TableTopInvestingPodcast #SteveKurti #podcastinterview Click To Tweet
You guys file a provisional at the beginning and run with it after that or you don’t even go that far?
No, we do. We will. If we think that there’s a seed of a concept, we’ll fire the provisional at the beginning, even if we have to file more later or file something different later. It gives you more time. We don’t believe in non-disclosure agreements. I’m sure there’s a bunch of lawyers out there going to write me letters. It happens all the time. We don’t believe in them because you’re small. What are you going to do? How are you going to fight that? It creates this adversarial relationship between you and the person you want to disclose to. Maybe even a lawyer gets involved and that’s never good. You want to deal with it on a much more friendly and open and honest basis, so the provisional patent allows you to do that.
For our audience who may not be familiar with provisional patents. How much does that cost to file a provisional?
If you’re small, independent, it’s like $130.
Is it not like $5,000?
Assuming you didn’t use a lawyer to file it, but I’m assuming you did the search yourself. I think even still, you could probably for $5,000, get it done with most attorneys.
I’m interested in how do I help our audience get the confidence that they can do what you guys have done. Tell a teenager, how can they do what you’ve done?
I think we’ve lost the world where we talk about mentors, coaches and things like that. A teenager’s great at understanding what a coach is. A coach is on the sideline at your soccer game or your lacrosse game or behind the dugout at the baseball game. You have a coach there and what are they doing there? They’re teaching you strategy. They’re teaching you about how to improve your skills, how to pay attention to yourself and what you are doing. They’re giving you tactics for how to play and how to play against different people, so how to play against competitors. We forget in business that we don’t have coaches all the time, especially if we’re going into entrepreneurship roles.
We go to college without coaches. Teachers are not coaches. It’s not the same thing. They’re teaching a curriculum. It’s not personally invested in connection with you and where you’re going and what you’re doing. We have to start seeking out coaches. We used to do that with internships, apprenticeships and things like that. We have to go for that and go seeking that nowadays. A lot of us who’ve been advanced in our careers are even saying, “I need a coach now. I got to go find someone to help me do this next stage of my business.” There’s always a stage at which you need to coach. I think that we forget that on the technology and design side of the business.
On the invention side, it’s required. It is not for the faint of heart to go into invention and innovation. Why would you do it alone? That’s where I see that we’re missing the point. There’s a place for mentorship and you’ll find someone in there. I consider my father a great mentor to me over the years. That’s great that he was free, but my dad hates what I do. He hates that I’m an inventor and entrepreneur. He wishes I would go to work for a company. He’s not the perfect mentor overall and not a great coach from that standpoint. I value his mentorship for what he does give me, but it’s a different thing. Mentors have a different role and they’re there to touch base when you don’t feel right about a decision you’re making or you don’t feel like, “Is this best for me and where I’m going?” Those are someone you tap into throughout your life. That’s a little bit different.
If I was a teenager and I was looking for a coach. How would I go about that?
You got to stop thinking and go out there and find a company and be willing to do a free internship. I think that that’s the mistake. In your teenage years, you can do that. You’re still living at home. It’s easier. Go and get a free internship because there are lots out there. I get applications all the time and they’re like, “We want to be your intern and we want to be paid $50,000 a year.” I’m like, “What? I don’t have time to teach you and pay you $50,000 a year. If you want to come to learn from me, come shadow me. I’m happy to have you here.”
I can’t tell you how many times I can’t get a student to show up here. They won’t show up. They don’t participate. They’re like, “It’s free. I don’t have the time,” but the value of what you can get out of coming into our design offices and learning from a process and learning on a project or even saying, “I have this skill like a videographer. Can I shadow you and live stream you while you do a trip or while you go on and give a 3D printing presentation. Can I do that and will you give me some coaching and exchange?” Absolutely.
Those things are out there. Those opportunities are there. There are so many startups and many good entrepreneurs out there who don’t necessarily have the time to teach you. If you want to sit there and provide them a value, they’ll pay you for that and then you’ll learn something in the process. Use your skill, social media. A great skill to be providing someone that teenagers have that a lot of us entrepreneurs don’t have time for it.
We’re running a little short on time. I’d like to hook into our last two questions. The first question we always ask is, in the digital age, we have Wikipedia, Google. We can look things up on YouTube if we want to know how to do something. What does it mean to be educated? Define that word for us.
I think that for me, education never stops. It’s always to learn something new, meet someone new and that’s some of what education in its formal sense doesn’t do well. They expose you to one teacher at a time or one course at a time. I’m of the opinion that a broader reach is it’s who you know and what you read that grows and expands you every day. I make it a very big point to get out there as much as possible and meet new people.
I make it a point to try to read and I try hard to get to this. I try to at least read a book a week and most years I’ve managed to get to it. I have had a couple of years where I managed to get it to almost 300. Normally, when I was home and pregnant a lot, but other than that, it is a goal of mine to try to read as much as possible and try to expand my thinking. I will read anything, classics included. Rereading classics is something my dad always gave me. We have a library of classics. I think that they start your brain thinking about what’s core, what’s basic and what is life about? You start thinking about those things then you start applying things that you’re seeing in your business and in your world. That is expensive. That to me is education.
The last question we ask is related to that. I have to say, I need to interject this. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say meeting people, but that is so educational to meet people. There are things that people know that books can’t teach you. Thank you for pointing that out. The last question we like to ask is, what is the purpose of education? That’s a little more philosophical.
I struggled with this because I have a daughter at San Diego State University. Every semester, she’d come to me and she wants to quit. I kept saying, “I am not paying for your wedding if you don’t get an education.” The thing is, for me, I have always seen my education as a door opener. If I didn’t have that degree from Rhode Island School of Design, I wouldn’t have got that first door opened for me, if you have an opportunity to get that type of education where it’s a door opener, either because of what you studied or because of where you studied it. That is valuable long-term and it is a connection base.
In Southern California, when someone says they went to San Diego State, there’s a whole network of people who went to San Diego State. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not she studied what she loved there, but she got a good base education and it is opening doors for her when she puts that on her resume and walks out there. I also think it’s a discipline. That, to me, is a good sign that someone’s a good employee. They followed through. They got a four-year degree or two years or whatever it is that they managed to get. It shows that they had the discipline to go and do that. Even if it’s a night school, it doesn’t matter to me. That shows a propensity for wanting to learn and a discipline to be able to execute it and complete it. I think that says a lot about someone. It is and of itself a reason to hire someone.
I think we’re going to wrap it right there. Tracy, thank you so much for talking to us about the design world. I’ve been meaning to find someone in the design world for quite some time. Thank you for being our first designer on the show.
If our audience wants to know more about you and what you guys do. What’s the best way for them to connect?
You can find us anywhere on social media or on our website. It’s @HazzDesign. I also have an Inc. column and you can read my thoughts on design and innovation all the time.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me, Steve.
Tracy said my favorite phrase, successful failure. We have a dozen different ways to say the same thing, failing forward, failure is the first step to success and a host of others. The basic idea is to stop being afraid of being wrong or making a mistake along the way. Anything big requires learning and true learning always starts by being bad at something before being really good at it. If you want your kids to experience successful failure, check out Inventor Camp at TTInvent.com. Let’s ignite more imagination.