Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bringing a Dream To Life

A little over three weeks ago, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Indy Star about a Kickstarter project that I had recently backed.  The project was for TwoDeep Brewing, a new microbrewery opening in the Indianapolis area.  The article originally ran on August 7, and is reprinted below both for my reference and for the guys at TwoDeep, should Indy Star only have it available on their site temporarily.  

The following article was originally printed in the Indy Star on August 7th and can be found in their archives here, for as long as they decide to host it:

Andy Meyer had a business name and logo but wasn't sure what to do next to realize his dream of opening a brewery. Until he found a website called Kickstarter.com.
It's where artists and entrepreneurs post their project ideas and turn to the masses for funding. Supporters pledge various sums of money in exchange for a product or just experience in this increasingly popular way of raising capital, known as crowdfunding.
For Meyer and his partner, Chris Hoyt, the site served as a launching pad to get the idea moving. After more than 100 contributors across the country pledged $21,328 by Aug. 31 -- surpassing Meyer's goal of $20,000 -- TwoDeep Brewing Co. hopes to open in Indianapolis by December.
"For a lack of better words, it was a kick to get us going," Meyer, 32, said of the site. "We've got all these supporters and all these backers now, and it really ignited us and charged us up to take the next step and get this thing going."
In the past few months, more and more people have turned to websites such as Kickstarter to fund their creative projects.
Kickstarter, the most prominent of several crowdfunding sites, has seen increasing success since its launch in April 2009, generating more than $75 million for thousands of projects.
Under the site's model, projects must reach their target amount of funding, or no money is exchanged. And 5 percent of the proceeds from successful campaigns goes to Kickstarter.
With a success rate of about 44 percent, the site has featured more than 26,000 projects, including a successfully funded Indianapolis-based workshop that coaches teachers in how to use author Kurt Vonnegut's work in their high school classrooms.
It has featured everything from artwork and albums to funky shorts made from fabric only found in Ghana -- a project dreamed up by Indiana University students.
The number of projects applying to the site is increasing each month, spokesman Justin Kazmark said.
Crowdfunding sites work by giving project leaders a set amount of time to raise a target amount of money. They give background information about their product or service on their Web page and set incentives for different levels of funding.
Meyer offered rewards that ranged from displaying in the brewery the names of those who pledged at least $1, to allowing those who pledged $2,000 or more to develop their own beer.
The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which led the Vonnegut workshop, offered rewards including mugs, T-shirts and passes to the library's parties.
Financial contributors have no true stake in the business: Unlike most forms of investments, they don't receive a cut of the profit beyond the promised incentive.
"It isn't a donation model, and it isn't an investment model. It's something in between," said Brian Meece, who co-founded another popular site, RocketHub.com.
The fact that it is not a loan and comes debt-free, Meece said, makes crowdfunding appealing to entrepreneurs.
"For a lot of entrepreneurs, they can crowdfund $5,000, $8,000 to start a food truck, a T-shirt company, a coffee or tea shop -- whatever it may be -- and not have to pay it back," Meece said. "They have to give rewards, but they don't have to worry about the debt, which is nice."
This means businesses that struggle to find more traditional means of capital could have a shot at finding the funding to get started and to build toward attracting investors, said John Talbott, assistant director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.
It likely would work best for those trying to raise $20,000 or less and who have a unique product or experience to offer, said Jean Wojtowicz, founder of Cambridge Capital Management, which has helped fund and develop more than 1,000 small Indiana companies.
Instead of trying to gain the attention of Wall Street investors, Talbott said, the site allows for funding that comes from people who believe in a product and would like to see it prosper.
"People are really investing in you and some love of your product," Talbott said.
It's appealing to backers because they have a chance to connect with the project's creators and to play a part in the creation of the project, Meece and Talbott said.
Bryan Sebeck, a Canton, Mich., engineer, contributed $25 to TwoDeep Brewing Co. because he wants to see more breweries open and to feel that he played a small part in making that happen.
Sebeck typically sets aside about $25 each month to contribute to Kickstarter projects and has helped fund about eight projects so far.
"I do not individually have enough money to go and say, 'Let me help you start a brewery.' But if 150 people pitch in, you very quickly get to making someone's dream come true. And for $250, I've helped make eight people's dreams come true," he said.
"And for me, that's a great bargain."
Meyer will use the funding from Sebeck and his 102 other backers to offset building, equipment and licensing costs.
He said that without Kickstarter, his dream of starting a brewery likely would not have come this far. Now, he has a goal of opening by the end of the year, with supporters across the country.
"You hope that these people who support you show up in Indianapolis and you're able to one day raise a glass with them," he said.
Call Star reporter Brittany Shammas at (317) 444-6087.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Myth of the "American" Automobile

"Made in America", "Take My Flag off of Your Foreign Car", and "My Other Car is American Too" are just a few of the many "American car" bumper stickers that I see on the highways and byways of Southeast Michigan and across the country.  Every one of these stickers carries roughly the same message: "Buy an "American" car or you're "Unamerican" and killing our jobs."  There is, however, one rather large problem with this idea.  There is no such thing as an "American" car.

Today, we live in a global economy.  There's nothing that can be done to get around that.  We have cars from companies based in Japan, Korea, Italy, Germany, ect. driving every mile of street, highway, and freeway of the country.  The MacBook that I type this post on was designed by a company in California and made in China.  The TV in my living room was made in Taiwan.  The jeans I'm wearing were made in Mexico.  The list goes on and on and on.  Cars are no different.

Take Chrysler for example.  This winter, the company debuted the new "Imported from Detroit" ad campaign that has been a huge success and become an anthem for the entire city of Detroit.  In the first commercial of the series, rapper Eminem is seen cruising the streets of Detroit in a Chrysler 200.  Have you ever given any thought into why a multi-millionaire, Grammy award winning rapper is cruising the streets in a mid-sized sedan with a base price of $19k?  He could surely afford a 300.  Heck, he could have a Chrysler 300 in every color and spend less than he makes in a week.  Yet, here's one of the most famous men in Detroit history driving around in a lightly refreshed Sebring like it's the coolest car around.  Here's the secret.  The Chrysler 200 is the only Chrysler badged vehicle that is assembled in America.  Shocking isn't it?  The campaign is called "Imported from Detroit" and two of the three vehicles are assembled in Canada.  Only the little 200 is made in Detroit and even that is outside of city limits.  The 200 rolls off the assembly line in Sterling Heights, at the corner of 16 Mile and VanDyke.

See, just as every other industry is a global event, so is the auto industry.  Of the named vehicles made by Chrysler in 2012 (excluding the Fiat 500), only 5 are made in the Detroit Metro Area.  Your "American muscle" Dodge Challenger is put together in Canada.  Your big "American" pickup, the RAM 2500 is built in Mexico.  Companies based in America aren't the only ones in on the deal.  Subaru has a major plant in Lafayette, IN.  Mitsubishi has a major plant in Normal, IL.  Honda has a major plant in Marysville, OH.

Of course, these are just the places where cars are assembled.  Here's a commonly known fact about the auto industry that people tend to forget.  Car companies don't really make cars, they assemble them.  Very few components in a modern car are actually manufactured by the company whose name is on the hood.  Components are sourced to suppliers.  Many times, they are responsible for the design of the component as well as the manufacturing of it.  These suppliers are themselves multi-national companies.  As a suspension engineer, I have components that are made by a German owned company that are made in Kentucky, from a Korean based company made in Alabama, from a Swedish company made in China, from an American company made in Mexico, and (kind of surprisingly) from an American company made in Michigan.  One of my suppliers alone is active in over thirty countries!

So this "American" car idea?  It's completely non-sense.  Your big "American" truck features parts made from companies based all over the world and manufactured over an even larger range of countries.  They're then all brought to a central location (or three) and assembled first into modules, then brought to a plant (which could be in any number of countries) and put together like a giant puzzle.  It's then shipped to you, where you put a "Made in America" bumper sticker on it and drive around completely oblivious to the reality of the situation.  In many respects, my wife's Subaru Outback is more "American" than your vehicle.

Of course, this brings up another interesting discussion.  How do we determine just how "American" a vehicle is?  We can't do it based on where the company that made it is based because, as I've just shown, they don't actually make cars and their plants are across the world.  We can't do it based on where the vehicle is assembled because the components that go into it are from across the globe.  Of course, where the companies that the components come from is based doesn't work either, since they're all multi-national organizations.

How about we look at it from this perspective: where the jobs are created.  I'm an engineer for Chrysler.  The vehicles I'm responsible for are all assembled in the US.  The guy who sits next to me, however, is responsible for a vehicle assembled in Mexico.  His job is in the US, so we'll add one to the "American" column.  If his supplier is based in America, we'll throw in a few more jobs to that column.  If his supplier's manufacturing plant is also in the US, even better.  Keeping track of all of this can get pretty daunting.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that nobody's ever bothered to calculate this because it's nearly impossible.

Using this calculation, it's still possible for my wife's Subaru to be more "American" than your "American" truck.  I suppose that doesn't matter to many people, though, since the Subaru plant is non-union.  Oh snap.  I think I just hit the nail on the head.  All of this boils down to unions.  If it's not built by union hands at a union shop, it can't really be "American" can it?  I'm not going to start to rally against unions here, but let me make a point quickly.  It's a very real possibility that a vehicle made in a non-union shop ultimately created more jobs in the US than a vehicle that was made in a union shop.  Which of these vehicles is more "American"?  If you answered the union made car, you're wrong.

Author's Note:  I am employed by Chrysler, but do not speak as a representative of the company in any way.  The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone.  The information expressed in this post is all publicly available through various sources.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The 30 Day Blog Challenge: Introduction

If you can't tell, it's been a while.  Between the wedding, work, and life, I've take a bit of an unintentional summer break.  Pictures from the wedding took much longer than expected to edit (300+ pictures aren't fast), and work has been quite busy. I'll post in the next day or so explaining why work has been busy for me and give a bit of insight into the auto industry as a whole.

While browsing around the web a few days ago, I came across the 30 Day Blog Challenge.  The basic premise is that for a period of 30 consecutive days, you must post.  It doesn't matter if you want to post or if you particularly like the topic, you've got to do it.  Here's the catch.  Every month, I donate $10 to Michigan Radio, my local NPR station.  This month (as a bit of motivation), for every day that I don't post, I donate an additional $10 to Michigan Radio.  For every day that I do post, that $10 goes to a personal goal, project, ect.  I don't know what that will be yet.  This could be partially funding a new TV, or get put aside to rent an even more awesome car for my and Katie's honeymoon, or anything else.  If you have suggestions for what I should do with it, please share them in the comments below.

Here's the list of the 30 topics which I'll be posting on:

Day 1: Introduce, recent picture of yourself, 15 interesting facts.
Day 2: Nicknames.
Day 3: Your first love.
Day 4: Your parents.
Day 5: What song inspires you.
Day 6: Pet peeves.
Day 7: What makes you happy.
Day 8: A place you’ve traveled to and where else you want to travel.
Day 9: A favorite picture of your best friend.
Day 10: Something you’re afraid of.
Day 11: A quote you love.
Day 12: Something you don’t leave the house without.
Day 13: Goals.
Day 14: A picture of you last year – how have you changed?
Day 15: Death row meal.
Day 16: Your opinion about your body and how comfortable you are with it.
Day 17: Put your iPod on shuffle, first 10 songs.
Day 18: Something you miss.
Day 19: Things you want to say to an ex.
Day 20: Something you wonder “What if…?” about.
Day 21: Something you’re proud of.
Day 22: What do you want your future to be like?
Day 23: Favorite Movies and TV Show.
Day 24: Something you’ve learned.
Day 25: Something you are looking forward to.
Day 26: Your Dream Wedding.
Day 27: Photo of your city .
Day 28: What stresses you out?
Day 29: Who is you hero?
Day 30: A picture of yourself this day and 5 good things that happened since you started the challenge.

The challenge will begin September 1st.  Why am I posting this nearly a month in advance?  I promise that it's not to cheat and write most of the posts ahead of time.  I won't be writing any post more than one day in advance.  I give myself this leeway in order to allow for any unforseen circumstances which may arise.  No, it's not cheating.  Realistically, bloggers may have a post sitting around for just such an occasion.  

The real reason that I post this early is to allow anybody reading this to get in on the deal.  There are two ways that I'd like your support.  

First, join me in this challenge.  Either participate in this challenge on your own blog, or share your thoughts on each topic in the comments for my post of that day.  Set a monetary challenge for yourself.  If you can't afford $10 a day, then do $5, or even $1.  Whatever day you don't post, you donate the money to the organization of your choice (I recommend Michigan Radio, but I'm a bit biased on that one), and for every day that you do post, put the money towards a goal. 

Second, I don't see any reason why this should only be a 30 day challenge.  If you have any suggestions for additional topics (I will turn down no suggestions), I will add them to the end of this challenge on a first come, first served basis.  However, the monetary portion of the challenge ends after the 30 day period.

A challenge has been issued.  I have accepted.  Will you?