[quote style=”boxed”]”If we want to become the best in something we need to learn from the best. So pick someone who has a proven track record in the areas you are interested in.”[/quote]
Adriaan Smit was born to be an engineer. Always very inquisitive and from a young age spent hours figuring out how every day things around him worked. Toys just seemed more interesting when they were taken apart. Adriaan was born in South Africa and grew up in a small academic town, Potchefstroom; just south of the better know Johannesburg. He grew up on a farm and took full advantage of the opportunity it provided to design and create; building tee houses, zip lines and even pitching in to help fix things around the farm. In high school Adriaan opted to take some science classes and discovered his interest in electronics and computers. The need for an automatic water pump controller to keep the water tank full on the farm spurred his high school senior project and even turned into a small business when the surrounding neighbors decided they need one as well.
After high school Adriaan embraced the opportunity to study abroad and hopped on a plane to Walla Walla, Washington where he did his Bachelors on Engineering. The onion fields of Walla Walla provided an ideal place to explore his engineering potential. Adriaan and friends built all kinds of DIY radio controlled planes and other crafts. Encouraged access to the university machine shop enabled Adriaan and a fellow class mate to build their own snowshoes and cover their costs by taking a dozen or so orders. Adriaan’s interest in improving on existing or designing new product continued to grow during his time in Corvallis. Oregon while doing his Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Adriaan is now a full time engineer at Intel but spends a lot of his free time on entrepreneurial projects. Adriaan also holds a managing position with Green Sky Ventures, a company based out of El Segundo, California that develops and takes creative ideas to market.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I am working on the WavyWand. It was the first product I designed after graduating from university. I sold them for a few years between 2005 and 2007 before I started working at Intel. People really loved them and came up with all kinds of interesting uses for them. I’ve maintained the website since 2007 in order to support all the users out there. The website gets a steady stream of visits and I still get frequent requests from people wanting to buy a WavyWand. So this year I decided it’s time to get the WavyWand back on the market.
Where did the idea for the WavyWand come from?
Just before graduating from Oregon State some friends and I got together and brainstormed a bunch of ideas we thought had market potential. We weren’t ready yet to work for a large company where we would likely just become another number sitting in a cubicle farm somewhere. We picked the idea that seemed the easiest to design. The idea was a gadget that would attach to a bicycle wheel and turn the wheel into an LED display as it was turning. The LEDs would turn on and off as the wheel rotated and thus draw the images. After some research we found several similar products already on the market. It didn’t take use long to realize a hand held wand like device had much more appeal and uses and that’s how the WavyWand came about.
How do you make money?
I work at Intel to pay the bills and manufacture and sell products for a little extra spending money. Each product has its basic development costs and then there are the manufacturing costs. Product is sold with a markup that covers development, manufacturing, and sweat equity.
What does your typical day look like?
I keep a regular schedule during the week. I am at Intel from 8 to 6 but I have the flexibility to run errands as they are needed. Most of the WavyWand magic happens in the evenings and weekends. Occasionally I would take a half or full day to work on the WavyWand if there is something urgent that needs to get done.
How do you bring ideas to life?
With lots of thinking and then trips to Home Depot. The ideas come from many places. There is very little of my time that I am not thinking about how things work and how they could be better. Many times it’s a matter of “I wish I had something that did this or that”. Friends will come to me with ideas or people just start talking to me about designing products because they know it’s one of my interests. After you have the idea the first thing that needs to be done is making a prototype. This is often times where Home Depot will come into the picture. The prototype is usually a functioning model that is used for testing or just to show people and get their opinions. The prototype for the WavyWand was actually done very quickly. I had some programmable electronics boards with LEDs from classes I’ve taken. I wrote a short little program to turn the LEDs on and off and then I strapped the board to a stick and started waving it around. People liked it so we moved ahead with the design.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love how electronics is becoming part of our everyday life and making the impossible possible. Technology is finding its way into places where we never could have dreamt it would be. Science fiction gadgets like the push to talk communicators on Star Trek are now a common device that we hardly even think about but absolutely can’t do without.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I don’t really think I ever had a worst job. I learned good work ethics from my parents. Even though there might have been things I didn’t like over the years I just took it for the time one has to put in in order to move forward in life.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Not much. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I did things differently. It would have been nice to get a head start by doing some things differently but then I wouldn’t have the experience that came with it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Keep at it! A quitter never gets anywhere.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There are many projects that never got off the ground due to various reasons but I never really viewed it as a failure. It’s all learning experiences and one simply moves on
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve always thought it would be very useful to have a gadget that helps you find your car in the parking garage or in large parking lots. Even at work some days I can’t remember where I parked and probably look very silly walking up and down the rows looking for my car. It is usually the practical ideas that have the biggest market appeal so I think this car finding device would do well.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I think it would be worthwhile to invest a lot more time and resources to developing more efficient solar energy sources for the world. I would start at the grass roots with our universities and schools with research projects and development competitions. Many of our big ideas, like Google, have grown out of projects started by students. There is so much solar energy available and we still don’t really have an efficient way to harness and use it.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
English is my second language. I was born and raised in South Africa were my family mainly speaks Afrikaans. At the time English and Afrikaans were the official languages of South Africa but I went to an Afrikaans speaking school and most of my friends were also Afrikaans. I took English as a subject in school but I only really became proficient in English when I came to the US to study engineering.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google, eLance and Mint. I love Google because they just seem to get it right. Everything they do is useful and just very intuitive. I love eLance because it enables the individual to accomplish their visions and dreams. You don’t have to know anything about engineering for example to build the car locator I mentioned above. On eLance people from all around the world will compete to do the design for you. I love Mint because it allows me to keep a close eye on all my finances in one convenient location. You can track spending trends, set up budgets and they even have an app to see all this from your phone.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Getting things Done” by David Allen. Everyone knows the saying “time is money” so it stands to reason that the more productive we are the more money we’ll be able to earn. David gives some good advice on how to sort through your “to-do” list and prioritize the tasks that need to get done. Even in a non business setting it is always good to learn a few tips and guidelines to being more productive.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
I’m not going to give three names here but rather relate something I heard someone say once that really made a lot of sense to me. If you want to succeed in life you need to surround yourself with other people who are successful. If you want to learn something you need to get advice from someone who knows what they are talking about and has a proven track record. You’re not going to get business advice from that family member who is broke and living out of his car. You’re also not going to take advice about productivity from that co-worker who is always taking a smoke break and just loves to stop by to chit-chat. If we want to become the best in something we need to learn from the best. So pick someone who has a proven track record in the areas you are interested in.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I think life is full of funnies but it is usually the things were you see someone doing something out of the ordinary that really gets me laughing. For instance coming home from a Home Depot trip the other day I saw a guy in a nice looking red BMW driving down the highway with a carpet rolled up and stuck through the two back windows. It was sticking out a good three or four feet on both sides. He was probably also on his way home from Home Depot. He made do with what he had and got the job done.
Who is your hero?
Sir Richard Branson. This is a guy who started an airline with one plane and is now soon to be the first to offer commercial flights to space.
What are you most looking forward to in the next few years as your business grows?
I am very much looking forward to my first product sighting. I think it would be amazing to just be going to town for the evening or running errands and totally unintentionally spot someone using a product that I designed and sold. That would be very cool.
How much spare time do you have and what kinds of things do you like to do during that time?
My week days usually end up pretty busy just because I work full time and still try to manage several business projects after hours. This makes my weekends quite valuable to me so I try to be as active as I can. I live in the North West so the weather can be a bit unpredictable and rainy quite often but I’ve found there are activities for all kinds of weather around here. Kayaking, mountain biking, hiking trails, snowboarding, surfing, and my favorite is kiteboarding.