Check out the transcripts for the all the highlight clips from this past soldersesh with David Ray! Carrie spoke with David Ray of Cyber City Circuits (based in Georgia) and had some great conversations! David talked about running a subscription service and the fast-pace nature of monthly delivery cycle, fulfilling childhood dreams and growing a business just as the pandemic started (early 2020, here!). David also answers the chat's burning questions about PCB assembly and manufacturing and talks about his ideas for a traveling roadshow!
Cyber City Circuits is on Twitter and Instagram, and you can find more information about the company on their website!
(2:21 – 7:33) Subscription Kits
Carrie: I'm going to start soldering and I would love to chat with you, David, about the whole subscription club and how it got started. And if you don't mind sharing with us some of the challenges of it. I like to do small business talk at times and let people know some of the behind the scenes struggles, right?
David: Oh my God. Yeah, it's important that if someone can learn from my lessons, they don't have to make the same mistakes. They could choose to make the same mistakes, but they don't have to. At least give them the opportunity to see where I didn't. So, in late 2019, I cashed in my retirement account, I started a business, I bought a pick and place machine, and then we got a pandemic three months later.
David: So, Chris and I decided at that point, because we didn't know what to do, to make face shields. We started doing face shields for the local hospitals for the pandemic. We got the plastic from Coca-Cola. We had to pay for the shipping, but they literally gave us a ton of plastic, like bottle plastic. It came on a spool; it was like 2,200lbs of plastic. We got it all laser cut and we made a bunch of face shields, and we were sitting there. We had a lot of time just sitting there, making face shields, just looking at each other. First of all, if you can get a subscription product off the ground and make it really successful it will pay all your bills.
Carrie: It's nice because you know, you have some prediction of what kind of money is coming in every month. So, it makes cashflow and finances a lot smoother.
David: Right! So, we thought, we'll give it a try with a subscription box. So, we spun up the store so that we could do the subscription box. Then we also had the other stuff – we came out with the cyber digit, which is a really cool, neo-pixel kind of seven segment display. We came up with a lot of products and we're going to do subscription boxes. So, the first few were easy. Everyone has an idea for a decent soldering kit, right?
Carrie: Yeah, you started off with them once a month. Which is quite a lot.
David: Imagine walking into a month and having a deadline that's 28 days away that you have to ship a product and you don't even know what the product is yet. And you have 28 days to ship it. And you know, with China and you got to ship all the stuff from overseas, you got to get the boards made. And yeah, we did it monthly for like a year and it was rough! Man, you talk about getting really quick with development time.
Carrie: Yeah. I feel like it's super easy to have it sort of planned in your head. It's easy to have the best intentions at the beginning. You think, I'm going to spend one month just prepping all of these kits and doing all this work ahead of time, and then we'll just slow roll it month by month. Right? And then life happens. Other business stuff happens, and it turns out that you get the first thing done, then you need to take a break because you have a whole bunch of other stuff that needs immediate attention. Then you start getting in this cycle of always lagging and you're just a little bit later than you want to be and then it gets to be super stressful.
David: And it compounds. That’s another thing, if you think something's going to take you a couple days, it's really going to take you six days. Whatever you think it's going to take, it's going to take three times longer without exception.
(23:44 – 26:55) Growing Business
Carrie: So, the good part about deciding not to do the soldering kit anymore is that part of the reason that you were having so much trouble keeping up with it is also because you were busy with other stuff, right?
David: Yeah, we started it when we didn't have any business when we just started out and then we finally got business where we became successful at what we wanted to do, and there's just no more room for it, unfortunately. I really wanted to keep it going.
Carrie: So, tell us, for people who might not know, what that other side of the business is.
David: Oh my God. I'm the largest electronics manufacturer in August! We’ve got pick and place machines, we've got a reflow oven and we've got this big, fancy stencil printing machine that's had to meet a crane twice just to get into our building. We do a lot of design work; we also do a lot of fabrication and box builds. For example, right now we have like 50 waterproof enclosures that we're building these things into that go places. And so, we're going to be QC-ing them all, putting batteries in them, doing a 72 hour burn in over a weekend, and all that. So, we offer all these services and we're really good at it for the most part. And we're new, we really got going in 2020, and we're on fire. We're doing really, really, really good. And I'm happy that for people like Bob and Jason and Carrie, that really helped us along this journey, thank you.
Carrie: Yeah, no problem. It's been awesome getting to know you through Twitter and the internet and meetups and stuff like that. That's what it's all about.
David: [Question from Tom: “What is your main business that needs SMD line?”] Well, I do PCB assembly, Tom. I can do it for you, too! We do a lot of PCB work for Jason; we've done work for Carrie, and yeah. We’re looking to get a new line; well new to me – it's used, but a Manncorp line hopefully by the end of this quarter.
Carrie: What is that, is that like a pick and place and reflow, or is that inspection?
David: Oh, it’s fancy stuff, Carrie!
Carrie: Oh, tell me, I want to hear about fancy machines.
David: We're going to take the little garbage stuff we got and go put it in a dumpster and put in all the new stuff!
Carrie: Before you put it in the dumpster, give a girl a ring, haha.
David: I’m just kidding, we'll end up taking those machines and dedicating them to customers, but maybe at some point I can give a little tour.
(30:15 – 36:37) Stealing a Book/ Fulfilling Childhood Dreams
David: So, when I was 12 years old, I stole a book from the Lexington County public library.
Carrie: Wait, you weren't charged a million dollars in late fees.
David: I don't think they ever knew how to find me. This is the book that I stole when I was a kid. [Giant Handbook of 222 Weekend Electronics Projects] That's the same book, Giant Handbook of 222 Weekend Electronics Projects. And as a kid I never built any of these, but I read this book over and over and over and I wanted so hard to understand what the hell this meant. You know, please explain this to me. And I found some more books, I didn't steal those. I got some other books and I started learning and I started fooling around with it. Then I went to the Marine Corps, and I did radio repair for the Marines, and they trained me some. And now, here I am. This is like childhood dream kind of stuff. It's so cool and I'm sure Carrie’s in the same boat.
Carrie: Yeah, I am trying to also live my best 12-year-old life, although when I was 12, I didn't know anything about electronics. I didn't even know what I wanted to do when I was 12. I would have been in seventh grade. I think paleontologist was still what I wanted to be at that point in time. Maybe it was either that or astronaut. I'm not sure which.
David: What year was it? Do you know? Do you remember?
Carrie: I was 12 in 1989.
David: So, did you ever own a pair of parachute pants?
Carrie: I did not! However, some of my friends did and they looked super fly in them because they had the Hammer moves, too. So, I grew up in the Caribbean.
David: Where in the Caribbean? I didn't know that. Where are you from?
Carrie: So, I grew up on the island of St. John and the US Virgin Islands and I went to school on St. Thomas for most of my life from when I was 7 on through high school. I was taking a boat to a different island every day and back for school. I lived with my mom in the Caribbean and my dad was living in New Jersey; I would see him for summers. He was the engineer electronics person. Although, when I was little, he wasn't working in electronics, he was working at a family restaurant business, but he had a big love for it, and he also worked on the Apollo program. He was always into space stuff, and he was really into computers even before PCs were a thing that everybody had. So, I learned about computers early from him. I had some electronic toys early, but I also got a lot from my mom, and I've always loved reading and literature and writing and things like that. So, I kind of got different stuff from each of them, but there wasn't a lot of opportunity to tinker with electronics. We didn't have an electronics lab at all. It wasn't actually until, well, we didn't even have an electronics lab in college. I hated electronics in college because the intro class was terrible.
Carrie: It wasn't until my first job after college that I started getting into electronics because suddenly there were cool projects that we were trying to build. We were trying to build this small little 6.0” airplane in pre-2000. So that was a really hard task at that point in time, not a hard task today, but you know, back in the last century it was a tough, tough thing. Electronics were bigger and more power hungry. So, I have come by a love of electronics from doing it for jobs and working with them and just learning for the last 25 years. But that means that I have a lot of making up for lost time when I was a kid. So, now we're all about all of the toys and the lights and the blinkies and the baby Yodas and the unicorn plushies. Space stuff, everything, just bring it, all the fun stuff we want it.
(44:55 – 48:17) Traveling Roadshow
Carrie: Traveling Roadshow.
David: Oh my God. Traveling Roadshow.
Carrie: You should talk about that.
David: So, I got this idea for a travel show. I got a new truck and it's nice, it’s a 2022 4Runner, but I got it so I can go on the road with it. I'm going to hop in the truck with somebody and a bunch of cameras and a whole bunch of microphones, and we're going to go to a town near you. We're going to meet local small businesses that do electronics hardware like me, like Carrie, like everybody else that we know, and hang out with them for the day! Eat dinner with them, get to know what their family's like, and ask them all of the burning questions. If you could send a message back to yourself five years ago, what would you say?
Carrie: Five years ago, was 2017. It would be injection mold SkeinTwister knobs because we' will sell enough of them that injection molding makes sense.
David: I was going to say keep it because I'll show everybody on the show when we come and visit you.
Carrie: I'll come up with another one. It'll be all good.
David: All right. And I'm going to come and see Jason. Jason doesn’t know it yet. You still here Jason?
Carrie: Yeah, he usually hangs out while he does some of his Fibonacci assembling things.
David: The idea with the show is to not to promote products that they people sell, right? Say, I go see Jason; let's show off the Fibonacci boards. That's not what we're here for. Instead, it would be more about learning more about you and the person behind the product and what drives you and what makes you want to come to do this for a living. Maybe you're not in it for a living. Maybe you moonlight and you still have a day job. Well, why is that? What would make you want to quit your day job and do it full-time? All these different things. The idea is I would do it for an entire month. I go see 20 people and then I bring all the footage back and hire somebody to edit it all. Then we got a YouTube series and I sell it to the travel channel and make money.
(55:04 – 59:36) Assembly Questions
David: Does anybody have any burning PCBA questions they like to ask? It's a Cyber City after dark. We can get all your burning DFM questions out of the way!
Carrie: Oh, did you see responses about the favorite Cyber City Circuits kits?
David: Yeah, Bob said that he really liked the Theremin and what was the other one?
Carrie: Jason's Fibonacci got a mention and the alarm clock kit.
David: Yeah, Jason’s Fibonacci was great, and the alarm clock kit, man. That one was fun; it has a built-in MP3 player. The song it played on the alarm clock kit is a song that I played on guitar. It's a recording I made when I was in high school, and it was called “The Digital Alarm Clock Song” because it just seemed like the kind of song that would play to wake you up in the morning.
David: Tommy Marshall asks, “Is there an SMD size you recommend and why?” That's a good question, it’s application dependent. If you're going to be hand soldering stuff, I'd recommend 1206 and 0805. If you're going to be using tweezers for manufacturability, I'd recommend 0603 and 0805. We do 0402. We just did a whole bunch of 0201 yesterday. [Groans from the audience.] So, Chris is really good at that kind of stuff. I'm not, I'm just good looking, we can do 0402 and we can do 0201, but we charge more for that. Everyone does, it's not just us. Any PCB assembler worth their money is going to charge you through the nose for 0201 and 0402, so avoid those when you can. 0603 is the most common size and 0805 is really nice. When you're doing KiCad, there's an option for hand solder pads. There's R0603, and then there's R0603 hand solder. Use the hand solder stuff; you're just going to make your life a lot easier for rework, if you can get away with it. Now if it's a really tight constrained design, maybe not, but they're not that much bigger, they don't take up that much more space, and it makes everybody's life easier.
David: Bob asks, “Do we need to provide parts for assembly, or do you provide those for an additional fee?” So, we do whatever you want! We can do turnkey; when we buy parts, we just do markup – that's an industry standard. Everyone charges you markup. So, we just charge markup when we buy parts. Otherwise, we do consignment fees which is $5 per piece of cut tape. Now, the reason we charge a consignment fee per piece of cut tape is because we had a joker that sent us 10 pieces of cut tape for the same part. For each of those pieces you have to have a special machine to splice cut tape together and that machine takes time. That machine can be very frustrating to work with, but you have to splice the cut tape together. So, we charged $5 per. Then it has to be loaded into the machine; the fastest we can do is 3 to 5 minutes per line, that's the fastest we can do, and that's if nothing goes wrong. So, we charge a consignment fee per line, and we charge markup if we buy stuff, but we're happy to do whatever. If you want a quote, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to talk to you!
David: Always a salesman.