OddEngineer.com + Free Giveaway with Consultation and Bose Noise Canceling Headphones!
While some got prison swole or Hot Cheetos swole in 2020, I got nerd entrepreneurship swole. I built a new thing for us freelance physical product engineers: OddEngineer.com. There, you can immediately book and pay for appointments with niche, hard-to-find engineering pros.
Got questions on things like thermal management, camera optics, illumination, electronics design for wearables, wireless power, IoT integration, plastics design for injection molding, medical device development, or the SBIR grant process? On Odd Engineer, there are engineers highly experienced in all those things and more, ready to speak to you personally. Plus, there’s no obligation of a longer contract. You don’t even have to create an account!
Check out the video explanation for Odd Engineer below, or scroll to the bottom to find out about the Fabulous Prize Giveaway and how you can register for a chance to win 1 free appointment with any Odd Engineer, nerd swag, and Bose noise-canceling headphones (or similar depending on your country’s availability):
Why Build a Totally New Freelancing Platform?
Last year, normal operations for my optical engineering consultancy, SpireStarter.com, went full SNAFU. Once lockdowns began, it was tough to bring in new clients. Normally, I travel full-time to meet my fellow nerds who need help with optics. I rub shoulders with them at conferences, clink beers with them at MeetUps, and most importantly, I examine their problems in-person in their labs and factories.
The in-person bit is essential because the components involved in my engineering work – lenses, LEDs, reflectors, IR sensors, etc. – are real-life things! Those of us who design parts where millimeters matter, know how true this is. When a physical system has a problem, there’s no true substitute for seeing it in person. Moreover, meeting people in-person expedites the building of trust between us. That, in turn, helps push along the signing of contracts.
So, between lockdowns and some other problems that happened last year, I decided I needed to do business in a totally new way.
Alternative Freelancing Sites for HW Engineers
It had been many years since I perused a freelancing website (think: UpWork or Freelancer.com), so I checked out what they look like today. To my dismay, they still didn’t look to be structured in a way that would make it easier for me to strike up new engineering contracts fast. In fact, it looked like they made it a lot harder.
After polling a bunch of other hardware engineers, I concluded that there were no good platforms out there for us. There are good platforms in existence! But they are good for the clients. That’s how these platforms need to be built to have the highest chance of viability. Almost all “open talent” platforms cater first to the client-side (“demand-side”). I wondered if, instead, there was a way to build a platform in a new way that did put our interests first.
Also, I wanted to build something that catered specifically to hardware (physical product) engineers. Many engineers I polled gave me the same feedback about how tricky hardware engineering contracts are to structure and work through, especially on these platforms.
For one thing, clients usually don’t know what they need. They can’t create a sensible SoW (statement of work). Instead, that should always come from the freelance engineer. Yet, platforms often put it on the client to first state what they need and how much they should pay. Then, an engineer might have to agree to those baseless terms before finding out what’s actually needed!
Second, our costs to do business – our tools, software, even business insurance, are way higher than for other types of engineers. For these, and many other reasons, us HW engineers have a more complicated time of getting these platforms to work for us.
I knew figuring out a new platform idea capable of avoiding these landmines would require dedication and concentration.
Going Full Recluse Mode to Design the Thing
For several months, I shut down engineering work for my business. Instead, I focused on studying platforms and interviewing people. I learned about what other physical product development freelancers need. I also joined an amazing group of leaders creating these open talent platforms, called Open Assembly. The members were incredibly kind and generous in sharing what tactics and structures worked for their platforms, and which didn’t.
As a result, once I came up with a platform MVP (minimum viable product) to experiment with, it was at least 3 iterations beyond what I would have otherwise tried first. That experiment is OddEngineer.com. The offering is simplistic. It’s held together with WordPress duct tape and chewing gum. Yet, it’s somehow doing a great job as a temporary prototype to test with!
Also, as with all prototypes, it’s not meant to last forever. This experiment runs for 4 months: through May 26th, 2021. If it proves successful, meaning if it connects the engineers with new, paying clients, then I’ll build a new, bigger and better platform immediately afterward.
Finding Your Engineering Superpower – Specialization FTW
On the site, you can find profiles for me plus 12 other niche physical product development pros. Instead of an hourly rate in gigantic font, printed bigger than their names, you’ll see a “superpower” engineering expertise. I tried to pull out of each one of us the thing we are “the guy” for.
So, for example, if someone who was the same discipline of engineer as you, referred a client to you because of some particular experience you have, what would it be?
Many of these engineers I featured wanted to push back with, “but I have broad experience.” To which I replied, “yeah, we all do, but what is your thing?”
Why Superhero Powers are Important in Branding
If you think of your engineering superpower as a superhero power, it becomes a little clearer why I did this. For example, imagine you were getting jumped in an alley and needed someone’s help to fistfight your attackers. Which X-Men character would you choose?
Well, Storm is capable of hand-to-hand combat.
Sure, but is she really your first choice when you’re getting sucker-punched by a very large, muscular person? Probably not.
Now, let’s say you were entrenched in some other disaster. Maybe it’s something that full command of the forces of nature could remedy. Pretend, instead, that the town you’re in is about to be plastered with molten lava. Now who would you call?
Oh, now, NOW you’ll take Storm. I see how it is.
All the X-Men can throw down. Any of them would be better to have watch your back if a fight was erupting than your typical passerby. But they each have unique gifts that make them the perfect person to help you in certain situations. That thing, your superpower, is what you need to figure out if you’re going to communicate your value to a client.
Think about if your little nephew were asking you why a certain X-Men character was your favorite. Would you say for any of them, “well, he/she has good general hand-to-hand combat abilities”? Yawn. Are you trying to bore your young relative to death? Of course, you wouldn’t say that!
You would say,
Wolverine because he has freaking KNIVES in his FREAKING hands that shoot out of his FISTS.”
And that’s how we need to highlight our engineering skills!
Easiest Access Out There to HW Engineering Guidance
Another big difference between this platform and others is — you can only get 1 hour with these engineers. Each nerd’s profile comes with a button to book a 1-hour appointment with them. You don’t need their permission. You don’t need to ask their availability, either. Just – book!
This part is so simple it actually perplexes some clients. I get emails asking if a client can book with me or another engineer. “No, it’s cool, you don’t need to ask, just book it. Really.”
Why don’t I involve larger contract work on the platform? Well, I’d like to! It’s just that it was way too complicated to include for this simple, short-term pilot experiment. If this Odd Engineer prototype succeeds, I may build a bigger platform that does include larger contracts. However, in the meantime, the simplicity of the site makes transactions less painful for all parties involved — not just me!
What Types of People Might Need to Book with an Odd Engineer?
Odd Engineer primarily brings guidance to those trying to figure out a part of physical product development that they’re not familiar with. However, there are other possible uses…
Physical Product Development Teams Missing Key Talent
This might be a hardware startup founder with some or no engineering knowledge. Or, it might be a full engineering team that’s stuck on how some piece of their system needs to work because they don’t have the right specialist on staff. Many hardware specialists, like those featured on Odd Engineer, are too scarce for every company to hire all of those they need full-time.
Packages Worth Multiple Appointments Available
If teams need more than an hour’s worth of help or help from several engineers, they can purchase a package. Packages have a value worth multiple appointments and the associated code can be used for any engineer. So, an engineering manager could make a one-time purchase to provide help for their engineers whenever they need it!
Peer Troubleshooting for Those in the Same Engineering Niche
There are other ways you can use this site, too! Even if you already “know the thing” it helps when you hit a wall to be able to talk through technical problems with other specialists in your field. So, if you’re another illumination designer, for example, and you don’t have any other optical engineers to talk to where you work, you can book an appointment with me. Then, we can talk through things like: different design possibilities or testing methods or troubleshoot what went wrong in the manufacturing of your optical system. Or, if that’s not your niche, you can book with whoever does speak your dialect of nerd.
Students and Junior Engineers
We’re also available to speak with university classes/groups/students or junior engineers interested in jumping into a track of engineering or industry. Want to learn what it’s like to design sexy race car bodies? They can have a Zoom call with Adam Kenney. Or do they want to know about developing instruments for NASA to send into outer space? They could schedule a Zoom call with Pablo Sobron. Do they want to learn about developing medical devices? In that case, Randal Chinnock is the guy to talk to.
Engineers Interested in Escaping their Cubicle and Going Freelance
Want to learn about what it took for some of the other successful business owner enginerds on Odd Engineer to get where they are? It’s not easy! But the thing that can help most is learning from those who’ve already done it. On Odd Engineer, there are all sizes of companies represented – from individual freelancers to those who built large R&D companies from zero with dozens of employees. Check out each engineers’ profile to see which is capable of giving you the guidance you’re looking for.
Guidebook for Freelancers and Students – How to Attract Paying Clients to You by Building Brand
Another offering for my fellow freelancers or aspiring engineers is this eBook, “Freelancer’s Framework, Guidebook 1: Building Brand.”
The most important step of surviving as a freelancer is figuring out how to find paying clients. This book goes over in detail the most efficient ways to instead, attract them to you – by building a name for yourself. The coolest part is: you can start doing these things before you start freelancing. You can even start to do them before you graduate from college!
Other freelancers of other disciplines can get something out of this book, too, but it’s filled with specific examples related to hardware engineering services.
Enter the giveaway on https://www.oddengineer.com/giveaway-for-companies/ for your chance to win 1 free appointment with any listed engineer, Nerd Swag, plus one Grand Prize Winner will receive 1 pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones (or similar depending on your country’s availability)!
Submit your entry before March 23, 2021. See giveaway registration for more details.
Join the Waitlist!
Want to become an Odd Engineer and have a profile featured? Join the waiting list here, and remember to pick a super-specialized niche when you do. Pro tip: check out the existing profiles to make sure you’re not duplicating a skill already on there.
Add Your Input on What You Want to See in V2
Got a freelancing platform wish list? Tell us what you want most from a service like this with the survey here. Help us make this thing meant just for us physical product engineers even better!