In the “Meet a Dragon” blog series we’ll be introducing our team members who help guide your product through the New Product Introduction (NPI) process and ongoing manufacturing. These people act as an extension of your team and are on the front lines with you day in and day out. They have hundreds of years of collective experience helping to build millions of complex products.
Name: Nicolas Avril
Company Role: VP of Europe
What do you do at Dragon Innovation?
On the one hand, I liaise with contract manufacturers. This happens through our personal networks, the Avnet network, referrals, and trade shows. I often visit the factories, review their past projects, and talk to the team. The goal is to find out not only their capabilities, but also know their desires and ambitions. I often use the analogy of a farmer owning fields of olive trees. They will of course be able to produce olives, but they might have reached maximum capacity. However, they might be willing to plant tulips or strawberries in between the trees. And they have room for that. But you will never know just by looking at their brochure or website. There they would be listed in the "Olive tree farmer" section. Such intimate knowledge is what enables Dragon Innovation to find the most appropriate Contract Manufacturer for its hardware customers.
The other side of my activities consists of meeting (in fairs, accelerators, incubators, or office hours) hardware start-ups to find out if some aspects of scaling up, or manufacturing is keeping them up at night, or sometimes just worrying them. Thanks to our vast experience in helping teams ramp up from a few units to mass production, we can then propose solutions to the manufacturing (or pre-manufacturing) challenges. This involves knowing how to listen, but also knowing which questions to ask. And having spent the first 20 years of my professional career inside factories is an undeniable plus.
Is there something in the manufacturing and supply chain industry you have to deal with that you want to fix?
Yes, there is. I feel we have a very inefficient system of bringing innovative products to market. When we know that 90% of the start-ups fail after two years, this means that 9 out of 10 of the products never make it. Of course, the first reason for failure is lack of product market fit, but the second one is running out of money.
Most innovators are driven by the desire to make a difference and to create something useful and beautiful, not by cash. So I would like teams working on similar products to join their strength and energy to create these products and to bring them to market, and not to waste time raising funds, creating a brand, differentiating themselves. To say it differently, I would like us (humans) to focus more on building and selling a product to improve our condition (current and future), and less on creating value for a handful of people (a few elite customers, a couple of investors, a few partners).
I realize this might seem ironic since the fewer companies and start-ups there are, the fewer customers Dragon might have. However, fewer companies does not mean fewer teams working on the same product. In a global, connected world, with the teams being in different time zones, the complexity of the projects will increase. This in turn will make the involvement of manufacturing experts even more critical to success.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Answering that question would require me to rank too many exciting projects. But let me instead tell you what aspects make some projects greater to work on than others.
I enjoy most working on projects that aim at bringing an innovative and elegant solution to a problem faced by enough of us. And if the value is obvious to the customer, it is even better. Also, even though it is easy to work on, I tend to find catch-up projects less intellectually stimulating.
From a product development stage point of view, it is great to work with a team that has already built a prototype (or at least a proof of concept). Having an idea is great for discussion. But until you have made a looks like and works like unit, it sounds more like a dream than a project and the ability to leverage my expertise and network is limited.
From a people perspective, I enjoy working with a team that is ambitious and driven, but knows that no matter how smart one person is, there is never enough time to become an expert in all the fields involved in bringing a product to market. So ambitious but also realistic and humble, not afraid to accept or ask for help.
Last, it is always easier to not have to worry about money. So working with a team that has the financial means to achieve what it wants makes everything runs smoother. It is always discouraging to work together for months (or years) only to find out that the execution cannot take place because of a lack of funds.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Making my household as efficient as possible is a hobby of mine. I have tracked my house gas, electricity, and water consumption as well as solar panel production monthly for years (and yes, tools nowadays make it a lot easier). I privately compete with the "average comparable household" and usually win.
I also enjoy taking apart abandoned items (such as bicycles or household appliances), understanding what caused them to fail, and sometimes creating a custom solution to give them a new life. I believe I owned the only 1989 Yamaha Virago with a microswitch based kickstand sensor.
Last, learning new skills is almost the only way I can relax. Whether it is a new language (currently Mandarin), how to ride a unicycle (yes it can be done over age of 40), or visiting an interesting exhibition/museum.
I have a few, but here is one of my favorite quotes:
“Without data, you're just another person with an opinion” by W. Edwards Deming
I like it because it satisfies my "inner-nerd" who likes to rely on hard facts and wants everything to be predictable and repeatable.
In the context of helping bring hardware products through the manufacturing process, I might want to paraphrase it and say that "Without a prototype, you are just another person with an idea."
Life has taught me however that there are situations where data is irrelevant and where perceptions, opinions and feelings are what needs to be addressed, no matter what the data would say. So until we are able to model complex emotions and feelings with data, I would therefore take the quote with a grain of salt.
Want to learn more about working with great Dragons like Nicolas to get your product to market? Get in touch with us to talk about what Dragon can do for you.