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Driven: How Did I Get Here Ep.7 – When Taking a Chance on a Passion Pays Off

Dean Heckler, founder and lead designer at Heckler Design, joins host Justin Gray in this episode of Driven: How Did I Get Here? Dean explains what drove him to shutter his software development company to pursue a passion in industrial design.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
From the earliest I can remember my dad always brought computers home. We had some of the earliest computers. So I was just spoiled with computers early on and I think that influenced my decision to stick close to technology. At some point in high school I thought architecture would be a good career path, but I heard a lot of horror stories from folks a few years ahead of me. So majored in business and graduated with a couple business degrees right in the middle of the dot-com boom so I was thrust right back into technology.

I worked for a software company out of college doing early virtual reality.

How did you get that position?
I knew someone there, and that person knew that I was savvy in technology and graduating with a management degree, and thought I could manage a growing team of developers. So I did that for a year and a half while doing some work on the side – digital documentation and consulting. Ultimately I ended up starting my own software company and ran that for eight years, helping out industrial facilities digitize their documentation.

What led to Heckler Design? Was it a major pivot or just other interests that inspired you to launch it?
Over the course of the 8-year software business, in my spare time, I would sketch designs for furniture…I just had my own ideas for furniture. A lot of furniture in my home I drew up and when I had extra money, had somebody make it.

When did you find success with it?
I remember thinking if it’s going to cost that much to make one [desk], how much is it going to cost to make 10? If I want one of these things maybe the better idea is to make 10 or 20 of them and try to sell the other ones off to get the unit cost down, and to maybe make some money. That’s essentially what happened. I made a prototype, it was bad. Made another prototype, it was better. That was late 2007 and in January 2008, I put up a website and I notified a couple design blogs. That was the night before Mac World, in which Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air for the first time. It might have been a little bit of intention to get the news out about the desk before Mac World.

Where is Heckler Design now?

Heckler Design is up to 12 employees, and we have a network of vendors throughout Phoenix. How we got from a desk to where we are today was again heavily impacted by Apple. Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and I remember watching the introduction thinking this is going to be a powerful business tool. I knew every accessory maker in the world was going to bring out a plastic iPad stand. I make products out of heavy steel, and I think this iPad thing is going to be used in business, so let’s see if I can make a commercial grade iPad stand.

That turned out to be our @Rest product, and since it was commercial grade it got picked up by a few of the early companies that made commercial applications for the iPad. We sold @Rest to small business owners who were just starting to use iPads in their business. The feedback was ‘This is great, but could you do a secure version?’

That’s when we designed the WindFall Stand, which is now our main product line.

I think one of the key takeaways here is know what you want to do. Which is so important, yet so difficult to find these days.
It’s a great theme of this entire podcast, which is I did run a software company. It was fun, but something was missing. When I finally got to do physical product I realized that was what I loved to do. So it’s really about maintaining my ability to have a creative platform. To come up with new ideas. To make other physical products, and put them out there in the world. Weather we create and ship a million units or five hundred units, I don’t really care. As long as it is still a very functional, profitable business, and still a platform to put out good things.

Take Away Quote:
Find something that you love, such as a hobby, and figure out a way to make it into a business.

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