Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why do you do it? Why not for profit? How to build a Robot.

A great client came by today.  He was dumbfounded and amazed at the value he received... The Bang for The Buck as it were.. He ended up with a single 12" D4 SPLX rebuild, (HardTimes Pro), sub powered by his 900w Kenwood Class D amp.  He'd gone through a couple of upgrades, this was the final stage.  After hearing it I answered a few more of his questions, but his last question stuck with me.  "Why do you do it?  Why not for profit?"

I'm often asked this question but I tend to give a brief, superficial answer rather than any detail.  The subject is actually quite sacred to me and isn't usually for the masses.  

Most people just don't get it and I'm fine with it at that.  When others want to learn more, I can show them at that time, though the rabbit hole is quite deep.  

I was reminded this week by an interview on NPR as to the real reasons I do this project.  The answer is simply, "Happiness".

The Diane Rehm Show is one of my favorites.  This week, Sonja Lyumbomirsky was promoting her book, "The Myths of Happiness".

I encourage you to download the podcast and give it a listen.  To me, this information is the key to a prosperous future world.  Mastering this information / technology will bring a new, exponential, level of wealth and prosperity to the world.

Little did I know, through trial and error, I'd been privy to this technology for many years now.  Helping others is the key to happiness.  Lasting, satisfying happiness.

How to Build a Robot in 5 easy steps.

In school I was a solid C- student.  Teacher after teacher would say, "He has potential but he doesn't apply himself."  To me, public schools were a brainwash and a joke.  I wasn't interested in anything but skateboarding and girls, (In that order), until I discovered audio.

Once I was infected with the Audio Bug, I began reading everything I could get my hands on.  I actually used my knowledge learned in Car Audio magazines to get me through my Air Force technical school.  Once I could relate, I became one of the best students in the class.  I was happy to go to school and happy to showcase my talents of troubleshooting and network design.  I finally found my purpose!  Something I was good at and everyone else thought was hard to grasp.  I felt very empowered and excited about life's possibilities!

Not everyone was happy with my obsession of woofers though.  Especially my bosses.  I was always getting in trouble.  Even though I'd already finished my work I needed to look busy.  I hated looking busy.  I wanted to be 'real' busy.  So when I was off the clock, I did installs and designs for very cheap or for free.  I was just glad to help.

So then my wife was unhappy I was spending all my extra time with others.  I'm sure many of you can relate.  Many people end up with the answer being a different spouse and change over and over with the same results.  Many people just change obsessions, like MMA, Off Road, Guns, Wood Working, Cars, Food, Sex or just working out at the Gym.  All of these changes still end in the same answer when balance is not a priority.  Many still suffer in silence and are never genuinely happy.

For me the answer was obvious but I didn't get a real opportunity until the ADST bankruptcy in March of 2003.

ADST was the former parent company to brands like a/d/s, (Analog Digital Systems), Precision Power Inc., Apogee Home Audio and Orion Industries. 

The Phoenix Metro area was home to brands like MTX, Coustic, Xtant, Lightning Audio, Hafler, Rockford Fosgate, Diamond Audio as well as the ADST brands.  At the time, I was an avid dumpster diver / scavenger of the remnants of these big brands.  You could always find someone in the paper that would have a surplus of this or that in those days.  Like when Rockford bought out Carbnneau, there was a flood of great woofers that nobody ever heard of! It was great.

Step one: Get your foot in the door.

So I show up to ADST late on a Friday afternoon when usually everyone was already gone for the weekend.  Surprise!  The parking lot was filled.  Pat who worked in the warehouse and who now helps run Precision Powerdercoat, a former vendor of ADST, spotted me and asked what I needed.  I quickly just told him I was looking for, uh, uh, yeah, boxes.  He told me, "Come back tomorrow for all the boxes you can haul at the bankruptcy auction."  

Auction?!  Orion was out of business?!  I took action immediately but had no idea what was in store.  The next day I showed up with $5400 I borrowed. When I asked them for the loan, they asked me how often these companies filed bankruptcy.  I told them once in a lifetime for brands like these.  Funny how far a little trust and enthusiasm will get you.

This was my back porch.   Sinks galore, amp end plates for miles and I had no idea what I'd do with all those voice coils!

One of my favorite deals from the auction was a whole double pallet lot, 5' tall, of the XTR Pro cones for $5!  I thought everyone there was on crack for passing up such a deal.  I had no idea what I was going to do with all those cones but I didn't care.  I was excited just to be there.  Most of the guys there were either there as scrappers, (people that buy items for their scrap value), or retail guys there to snatch up a minty GS 500 for $10 or something.

Many of those guys used up their couple hundred bucks and left when their consumer ideals were bloated.  Not me, I knew this was what I was waiting for.  I had to run back and forth across the warehouse.  They were running two auctions at the same time.  One side for the parts and one side for finished goods.  I was so tired and sore the next day.  I didn't want to leave for a bathroom break or even lunch.  I finished out the auction flat broke and really tired.  Now I had to figure out how to haul all this back to the house I rented.  I never even told my wife about it.  I just showed up with loads and loads of boxes.

Well with the help of a couple of buddies and lots of trips back and forth we were able to stuff my house from top to bottom with just boxes and boxes of speakers, crossovers, wire, amps, parts, promotional items and just stuff that as a consumer, you'd never be able to get at a car audio shop.  While this was going on I was still looking for a job.  I'd been out of work for several months.  I got a call about a job in the Bay Area for AT&T.  So I packed my bags, told my wife not to open anything until I got back.  I was to teach new people about telecom and electronics but I basically helped AT&T call the bluff on the union strike.  The job lasted just 2 months but it was enough to pay off the money I borrowed and give me seed money to get started.  That was the last time I've worked for someone else and I had no plans to go back to that life.

Step Two: Make your presentation

I spent the next year blasting it out on eBay and buying up other stashes from people who either didn't know what they'd bought from the auction or just how to sell it.  I happened to be good at both.  With some help, I decided that formally organizing Robot Underground as a not for profit was the best fit.  My main focus was education, not sales.  I know I didn't want to be like a shop.  That's why I started doing all this in the first place.  I hated high pressure sales and misinformation.  I realized that was not the direction I wanted to go so, the choice as a not for profit seemed obvious to me.  

I was fascinated with projects like RTTI from Rockford.  Rockford would truck in people from their authorized dealers to educate them on being better installers, sellers and fanatics.  Education was the key to getting quality installs and better selling.

As a longtime consumer, I always wanted the sales guy to answer my technical questions, show me my options, make your recommendations but leave it open ended for me to make the choice.  I've always been a fan of  the movie, "Miracle On 34th Street".  The idea that a sales person would make the customer's best interest a priority is still a rarity and a delight when experienced.  Anyone that's ever shopped for a lawyer, car or television can tell you what they don't like about the process.  My Robot experiment was on it's way! "If it is to be, it's up to me".

Step Three:  Follow the rules, (Golden Rule)

Sometimes I'm a bit too optimistic.  Selling online looked easy and for some reason I thought that eBay would want to help me.

We no longer sell on ebay but you can review the feedback on our original RobotUnderground account, (Now Worldwide-Revolution, eBay wouldn't allow us to have the email and name the same, then we couldn't put our email address in ads, then we couldn't put the phone number, 602-312-6504). Then after a few uptight buttholes ruined it for everyone, I lost my PayPal account.  I started over with JuicyRobot, (The name is now Underground-Industries).  You can see over 9000 positive feedback combined.

My optimism got me into trouble on the forums as well.  I initially thought it'd be great just to peek in and get feedback on some of our products.  I answered a few questions and even put some questions out there to challenge some of the common audio myths.  BEWARE OF TROLLS!

I had no idea that the forums were little clubhouses where the rules could change at any moment, for any reason and are filled with unpublished agendas.  I quickly learned about cyber-bullying when a former client decided to post his complaint on the forums rather than deal with us directly.  I did my best let him know that I meant no harm and quickly gave a partial refund.  I quickly realized that a complaint can turn into terrorism when children don't get all they can get.  People started coming out of the woodwork and starting fights where I didn't even know there were any.  Everyone of them was out to get something for free and I didn't think it was right to do that.  Boy did I pay, so I thought at the time.

One guy even terrorized me for days, through email, craigslist and on the forums then followed it up by killing himself.  I quickly wanted to point out that this guy was nuts and this proved it.  The tone on the forums though was that somehow it was wrong for me to post in my defense because this guy was dead and could not defend himself against my accusations.  The biggest insult was when the moderators started censoring my posts.  People actually blamed me for this idiot killing himself.  Again, over things he wanted for free that I wouldn't give him and didn't owe him.

Later I found a great video about cyber-bullying that I think everyone should see.  Bob Parsons, founder of Go Daddy does a great job giving advice to anyone wanting to do business online.  View the whole series, they're great!

Some people think I ruined my online rep of Robot with those posts.  My view could not be more different.  For me this was a great thing.  The truth is in the posts and in my defense but it requires effort to view it.  For someone who's lazy and enjoys drama, it's a kick in the teeth to me and to Robot.  What I found out is that people who don't want to see the truth; who'd rather believe gossip and bad-mouthing than see the good in what I'm doing with this project.  These are indeed the same people I don't want to deal with anyway.  I know the truth and that's all that matters.  I know I have good dealings online and in person.  Good people see this.  Bad people see the drama and the dirt and go back to the macho driven hype and cliques.  I also didn't realize the threat I would bring to old distribution system and those that still use it; be it shops and the brands they support.

Again, I had to remind myself why I do this.  To help people.  The trick is to only help those who ask for it.  Unsolicited help is intrusive.  As good as my intentions are, many still see my actions as intrusive and it's vital that I acknowledge that.  It doesn't mean I'm going to quit.  It just means I need to be more creative in my efforts.

Step Four:  Let the wrecking ball fly 

.....More in my next posts.

Patrick Chandler
Co-Founder of Robot Underground