In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



Founder, chief product officer, Owlet


Background:  

The Owlet is a little baby sock that alerts parents if their baby’s breathing or heart rate moves outside a safe range. The product uses the same technology as the devices that clip on fingers of patients at medical facilities. The Lehi, Utah-based firm started out at BYU about four years ago, and has grown from a garage to now operating at Thanksgiving Point with 60 employees.

The Mistake:

Some of the big mistakes we made early on were around not building in enough unknowns into our planning. The issue hit us mostly in budgeting. You think it’s going to cost this much money, but we learned we had to double it and it’s going to take twice as long, too

We work in a world where we deal with a lot of knowns. We’re used to having a known answer to this, or a known answer to that. You’re used to being in school and it’s either A, B, C, or D…

When it comes to timing and cost to bring something to market, you have to realize there’s a bunch of unknowns.

We started off thinking that with a $50,000 investment we could get the product to market. But $2.2 million later, we’re still looking at it and nearly getting it out. That was the final cost to get it out and into users’ hands, and it took us a year and a half longer.

We like to have firm beliefs held loosely.

The Lesson:

If it’s your first time doing this, build in some space for the fact that you just don’t know or the fact that you’ve never done it before.

There can be 10 elements to a project and if there’s three of them that we haven’t done before, you have to look at it and plan in some buffer. We like to have firm beliefs held loosely. We believe that we will hit this date, but we hold it loosely in case it doesn’t happen. You have backup plans.

Realize that if you’ve never done it before, you can’t 100 percent plan for it. Make sure you have plenty of buffer in case you don’t hit it.

We say, “OK, we’ve got this new variable in our new sock design and we’d like it to be done in time for this resale date, but we’re not going to order the components until as late as we can, until we have this element proven first.”

We kind of feel we have to prove it to ourselves before we make a financial decision around it. There’s certain parts you have to plan really well around. Once it gets to the assembly point, we hope things are pretty dialed in. But when we’re still in the prototyping stage, we’re making a decision to go with this retailer six months out, we say we can agree to this degree of confidence.

Owlet Baby Care is on Twitter at @owletbabycare.

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