Full Stack Leader – Episode 41 – Alex Gudilko – IoT
Welcome to another exciting episode of the Fullstack Leader Podcast, where we delve into the world of leadership and innovation. In this episode, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Gudilko, the CEO of AJProtech. Alex is a technology innovator, engineer, team leader, and entrepreneur with 12 years of experience in developing high-volume IoT devices and consumer electronics. Join us as Alex shares his expertise in product development for IoT gadgets, consumer electronics, and industrial systems.
Alex’s Top Leadership Tips:
- Thinking Globally: Alex emphasizes the importance of adopting a global mindset and leveraging the best talent available. Understanding cultural differences and harnessing diverse perspectives can drive innovation and success in the connected world.
- Embracing Efficiency: Efficiency is crucial for success, both in budget management and operational processes. Alex highlights the significance of optimizing resources, time, and operations to maximize outcomes, especially during challenging times.
- Customer Obsession: Building a successful business requires a deep focus on customers. Alex emphasizes the need for startups and companies to be customer-obsessed. By listening to customer needs, providing exceptional experiences, and being responsive to concerns, organizations can differentiate themselves and foster long-term loyalty.
- Starting with the End Goal: Setting clear goals and working backward to create a roadmap is a fundamental strategy shared by Alex. By visualizing the desired outcome, leaders can effectively allocate resources, anticipate challenges, and navigate the path towards success.
- Motivating and Inspiring Teams: Alex recognizes the importance of creating a positive work environment and motivating team members. By recognizing their efforts, providing guidance, and fostering growth opportunities, leaders can attract and retain top talent, contributing to the overall success of the organization.
In this enlightening episode of the Fullstack Leader Podcast, we had the privilege of gaining insights from Alex Gudilko, a trailblazer in the IoT industry. His expertise in hardware product development provided valuable perspectives on thinking globally, embracing efficiency, customer obsession, starting with the end goal, and team motivation. By incorporating these leadership tips into your own strategies, you can drive innovation, maximize efficiency, and create a thriving work environment. Tune in to explore the world of IoT while learning from the experiences of this accomplished industry leader on the Fullstack Leader Podcast. We hope you enjoy the episode. You can find even more Full Stack Leader episodes here: Full Stack Leader
Highlights: IoT, Electrical Engineering, Hardware Development, Kickstarter, Crowdfunding, Electronics, Bluetooth, Software, CES
Ryan: welcome to this week’s episode of the Full Stack Leader Podcast This week I’m here with Alex Gako. He’s the c e O of AJ ProTech. It’s great to have you here, Alex.
Alex: Pleasure to be here. Ryan. Thank you for
Ryan: having me. I am excited to talk to you about all IoT and hardware, product development. You have so much history working with a lot of different implementations of tech across a just a wide group of devices.
Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you became the c e o of the company and what led you there.
Alex: Yeah. Thank you Ryan. Uh, Hardware is an exciting world. I’ll start with saying that, you know, most people think that hardware is hard and that’s for a reason. When you develop physical products, it’s not like when you develop software, everything you do must be very efficient.
You must do things right at a first time because cost of doing and doing products is really high. So, I’m coming from engineering background. I’ve been an engineer myself since I was 18, and I’ve been. physical products, industrial electronics. So, it led me to understanding that I love what I’m doing, but I wanna move faster.
I want to do few products a year, not a one product every few years. That’s how we started. That’s what, that was, the idea behind AJ product. And I started it in 2014 and we’ve been growing since.
Ryan: that, that’s amazing. How many products do you think you’ve worked on over the course of time, if you were guessing?
Ryan: 50. Wow. \ , what are some of the areas that the the physical products have been in?
Alex: We’ve been fascinated by iot. IOT is internal things, so devices which connect to the cloud, which collect some data. In real world and connect to the cloud. That’s been our primary area of interest since then, and iot has been growing as an industry and it’s estimated that iot That the world will have anywhere like 20 to 50 billion iot interspective devices over the course of next few years.
So it’s a really big market and those device can be found anywhere from consumer, like, the trackers we use to track our sleep, to track our fitness, all the way to industrial applications where sensors allow industries and factories to see how their machines operate and to predict any maintenance
it seems like people are getting more and more used to having iot devices within their homes. I think manufacturing’s been doing it for a while, but are there any big growth areas in this particular sector that you see on the consumer market?
Alex: Definitely. I think we are still early in the adoption cycle of IOT devices.
Many companies start deploying those products even though they don’t have the full application for those. I’m gonna give you a few examples. Apple Watch is a great example, great product, which we use a lot as a society, but Apple is not fully implementing its uh, strategy for. Apple watch and once they collect enough data from those devices, they can offer new products or services.
For example I’m pretty sure Apple is gonna go with Apple Insurance at some point because they know so much about your health more than. Physician. So same with other brands who deploy those sensors to collect data, to analyze the data, and then to decide what to do with that later on. So we are very early in this cycle, but health and fitness is probably gonna be one of the biggest ones for consumers.
Ryan: That’s great. How did you get into this in the first place? Where did you mentioned that you started when you were about 18, were, was that at university or how, what was the way in which you.
Alex: Yeah, that’s funny. I’ve been excited about tech products, you know, since even early age I was doing, like my first radio I was doing like some devices.
So I was in a university deck in Russia. I was like a second year. Student when I decided I wanna have some practice. So my work career started when I was 18 or 19 and I started early with industrial electronics. I was working with a company based in the university and we’ve been doing industrial electronics.
So by the time I was 22, by the time I was finished in the university, I already had a few products which were selling millions every year. So, and that was a really, wow. Yeah, that was a really fun time. .
Ryan: That’s really amazing. So while you were in university, you were actually creating things that went to mass market?
Alex: Yes, I was lead designer. I was doing everything hard related, you know, from the start of the project specifications and taking them for prototyping to production. So by the time I was 22 we sold, I think it was two or 3 million worth of those. ,
Ryan: that is absolutely amazing. Was the training that you were coming out of at the, in that university really top level, or did you come in with a lot of insight?
Alex: You know, I think it all starts with knowing what you want to get there. So for me, I’m all about efficiency. You’re gonna hear this word from me a lot. Efficiency and moving fast. So it wasn’t enough for me just to get knowledge and and then to apply it. Few years later, I was about how can I learn something today and apply it tomorrow, or start doing something today and learn more about it.
That was my entire mindset, you know, just moving fast fast. That’s was the entire idea behind this working parallel with being in a university.
Ryan: Got it. So really iterating and moving quickly to get that going. Do you think that’s still a theme that applies to your current business?
Alex: Oh yeah, definitely.
You know, we we took that mindset of being very efficient and that is a motto of our. .
Ryan: And what does efficiency mean in your world, in the world of devices and iot?
Alex: Great question. I think it has two parts. First is budget, and second is time. So budget wise, it’s really easy to grow when you have unlimited resource, when it can raise capital.
And, you know, just focused on growth only. Efficiency when the capital is tight, when the market is in decline, is about getting the best for your for your investment. So when we work with companies, we help them to optimize their spend and still get the same results. I’m probably not the guy to talk about how to grow the fastest, but I’m definitely the guy who can advise you how to get the best for your money in any given circum.
That’s for budget. And in terms of time in hardware world any mistake, any redoing is really expensive. So you wanna do things right the first time, even though you might need to spend a few extra weeks on perfecting someone and something is totally okay because you’re gonna be saving months.
Of redoing it later on. It take you one hour to fix something in during design. The same mistake is gonna take you 10 hours to affix during the prototyping and at least a hundred hours if you are in production. So really, 1 10, 100 mindset is what we apply a lot. If we can spend one hour now, we’ll do it now to prevent us spending a hundred hours later.
Ryan: Yeah, I can imagine the testing process has to be pretty tight once you put things out into production because there’s really no going back once it’s out there. For the most part. You could do firmware updates, I’m sure, but like I could see it being very difficult.
Alex: Yes, it is still necessary to make adjustments sometimes, but you want to avoid it by all means.
Ryan: And how do you do that? How do you deploy those adjustments once they’re done? ,
Alex: Some things which are .
Right. So it starts with proper design process. So there are series of steps which we take for every project. Starting with the planning. A lot of companies underestimate the importance of planning, having a proper specification.
Having the proper requirement in place is a core foundation of any product. So even though we wanna move faster, you know, we really take some time at the start to. Think about the end goal, the cost for device, the target geography, the required certification, compliance, which you need to abide for.
So, spending at least one month there is is gonna save us a lot of trouble later on. Once that is set in place, we go into prototyping. So prototyping is really rapid development. So we do things really fast. We iterate on a daily basis. We get that to work. Once that is done, our focus shifts from prototyping.
Closer to manufacturing. And that process, you know, is just following the established route, what tests we need to do, what what compliance we need to meet, and then working with the factory. So we really spent a lot of time working with factories early on to control the process. So once, you know, it, it’s all done.
We assure we’ve done our best. .
Ryan: Yeah. I can see how like one slip up of communication at any of those points could cause a lot of problems in the final delivery.
Alex: That is very true.
Ryan: What is the most challenging sector that you just described to work with? Wh which one do you have to spend the most time around?
Alex: They, the most complex products are medical because of the reg regulations around that fda. Is really strict. So same product just defined differently. For example, if we do a wearable device, which is just for consumer applic. , it might take us, for example, 12 months to come from idea to production.
If it’s, if it has any sort of medical qualification, it’s going to be at least two or three times that because of the extra scrutiny on the compliance. So really engineering is relatively simple. Getting the certified and getting all the required endorsements is really what has taken the most.
Ryan: is leadership within the space really tied to how much you can forecast the potential issues that might happen in these different areas?
Alex: These days the world is going from globalization to, you know, like more separation. So every country having its own requirements. Now the supply chain is getting in a in a word shape. So, Possible to have some predictions, but you know, things might change even only on a weekly basis in this area.
Ryan: Yeah. Got it. And what do you think is a perspective on the cost of a mistake? Like how big would a mistake be within this chain if you don’t forecast it correctly?
Alex: Tens or hundreds of thousands, so most likely in hundreds of thousands in hard cost. But the opportunity cost is even higher because once you come up with a, with an idea, you have only a tiny video window of opportunity to design and launch a product.
If you show your intent to the world, if you announce it to the world competitors will arise, you know, the same day. So you have anywhere from 12 to 18 months to fully design and to launch your product. If you are. , if you have to spend another like six months on the on your manufacturing perfection, some factories might already launch it already before you, so you know, really the cost of opportunity is even higher for most of the companies you work with.
I can imagine.
Ryan: And have you seen IP and patent regulations start to shift in the way that they’re either with upheld or, or just forgotten over the course of time?
Alex: is an important area to focus on when you have resources for that, so . People ask me, should I pursue the patent?
I’m gonna tell, it depends. If you do have resources and time to actually, to enforce a patent, then it’s great if you just wanna apply for patent, you know, just for it to be, it might not be the best spent of your money. So patents really work. In in the us in some countries like Germany, Canada, if you’re doing things globally, patents won’t help you much.
They’re really expensive and really, you know, need to have substantial amount of money to enforce those patents. So if you do have some budget allocated for your protection, then yes, do apply for ip by all means. But if you are only doing it, you know, at your last few grand, this might not be the best.
Ryan: Do you think in exchange there’s value to a first market mover, then
Alex: first market mover trade secret and globalization? So one thing we do recommend to our clients a lot is to basically. is to only, is never show the entire picture to anyone. So you might be working with some factories who do only one portion for you.
Another factory is doing the second portion. . So none of them have the entire picture. So mechanical is done in China, for example, electrical is done somewhere else and final assembly is done on the third factory. This way only you can control the entire device. And if you want to make any change, you know, you just give those changes to the factory and they might not even have the full.
Ryan: does that apply to only simple or only complex devices, or can you do that even with simple
Alex: devices? Yeah, of course. You know, it’s it’s about you. You wanna share minimal amount of information with anyone outside your team. even with your factory. So one thing we do a lot with the physical products is their, the biggest failure is in the software.
So consumers, you know, love when the devices are up to date with latest features. So, updating that software on the device is one of the ways to keep you ahead of any competition that may.
Ryan: Right. It creates iterative growth. Correct. Once they have the device in their hands. Yeah. Correct.
Makes sense. Correct. Te tell me a little bit more about how as a leader in this space, the supply chain problems over the last year or two have affected things.
Alex: Supply chain has been a curse world in industry for the last few years. So before that, everyone was focused on how can I get my cost of product down?
No one cared too much about the lead time the time it takes from you place an order to the time when arrived because it was really fast when Covid started. And and the trade war of us, which China started. It just delayed, you know, a lot of products. So what we see right now is that once the covid.
Many companies post or canceled their production orders. They anticipated the covid to be longer, so they canceled all the orders. And once they realized that we are getting through pandemic pretty, pretty fast, they started placing orders again, especially in the automotive. So right now the world is probably in a worse shape in terms of supply chain in the last few decades.
Some components just non-existent. So there are a lot of cars. There are a lot of computers, a lot of consumer training devices, which are almost assembled, but they’re only missing a few critical components. And those companies have a lot of money in the inventory, which they cannot sell. That’s why you might see some cars go into market without some feature.
you might get a car, for example, without their partner assistant because the chip is not available. That puts a lot of pressure on the lower cost devices because when you compete your consumer electronic product might compete with a car in terms of for the same component, for the same chip.
So that’s why cost for some components might have grown, you know, like 10 times. the cheap that was $1 before pandemic right now might be 10 or $20. Easy. Wow. Or wow. Yeah. That’s crazy. Yes. And if you wanna have it at reasonable cost, you place an order and your lead time might be two years, 18 to 24 months.
So you place an order now and you get, and you’re gonna get it by the end of 2024, which is crazy. That’s why, you know, you really want to have a lot of margin on your product is to afford that spike price on the. Spot purchasing to deliver something now, not in a few years.
Ryan: Yeah. And then, And then you’re gonna expect your customer to have to really pay for that over the course of time.
And you see that across everything. Do you see this problem actually rectifying itself over the next little bit? Or are are we looking at something that’s gonna be around for a.
Alex: The consensus in the industry that is gonna be around for a while, at least for a year, maybe a bit longer.
Some you know, it creates opportunities when some industries see the shortage of some components. There are a lot of new factories. A lot of new suppliers appear. Unfortunately, semiconductor market is very slow by the, you know, building a factory to produce semiconductors is the one process might take anywhere from five to eight years, regardless how much money you wanna spent.
You know, it’s five to eight years from the time you put the first store in the ground. By the time you get the first batch of chips out, so is the solution is gonna come, you know, like, in. The next five to eight years. But right now we just deal with strategically replacing components which are hard to get.
US is doing some semiconductor factories. Intel is building the factory in in Texas, which is gonna be helpful definitely. But we have to deal with designing around those challenges. These. .
Ryan: Yeah, that sounds like a lot. And it kind of brings up the perspective that there’s just a lot to think about when you’re dealing with manufacturing in general, like a lot of rules in that business, right?
Right. You as a leader, what do you have to consider when you’re working within those?
Alex: If you build in anything physical, if you’re doing. electronic products you must visit China at least once a year because it’s a different world and us sitting in America, you know, might not even understand what.
but is driving the factories in China. So either someone on your team or you, yourself, have to go there and really try to understand the country you’re working with. China is not the only country who is producing stuff, but it is a good representation of uh, what you’re dealing with. So understanding the factory, understanding their their drivers, what they’re dealing with, and the limitations is really key to efficiently work with
Ryan: manufacturing partner.
what are some of the other manufacturing countries that are on the rise that you also look at?
Alex: There are quite a few. Taiwan is one of the countries which produce a lot of high end electronics and especially chips. I don’t remember the exact number, but I think it’s about 70% of all of world worldwide chips coming from Taiwan.
And we have factory where I mean we have the office and the factory. in Taiwan. So we are really strategically placed there. India is doing some assembly and some manufacturing, not as high end as China yet. Vietnam is doing some assembly. Mexico is probably the biggest beneficiary of this word.
Trade war between China and US is trying to get some some manufacturing. And I’m surprised to see that even some US manufacturers are getting more flexible to produce some things domestically.
Ryan: When you get something from let’s say Taiwan, right? If you’re receiving a prototype from Taiwan and you have to test it and see how it’s working, how long does that process take and what do you have to keep in mind in terms of the feedback you have to.
Alex: The best is to do early prototypes locally in a virtual weeks. So when Got it, certain new product, we do like, samples in a uh, in a few weeks. Getting something from China or from Taiwan is a couple months to to get a sample and to get something to production is anywhere from 12 to 18.
Ryan: So you just know that and you have to plan for it.
Alex: Yep. You know? Great. The biggest time of the year is, you know, people ask me, can we get something out on a shelf for Christmas? I say, yes, for next Christmas, not for this Christmas.
Ryan: That, that makes sense. Maybe even the Christmas after . Yes. GI given the supply chain issues right now? Correct. Well, I got an interesting question for you just to kind of break back to an earlier topic. You’re now doing a lot of manufacturing and iot and device work here in the United States, but you came originally from Russia.
Is Is it different there, like, is the experience of creating and building something Different than the one here?
Alex: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. I’m very fortunate to have very international background. I’ve been working in Russia when I was in my twenties, working in a Japanese company when I was in my mid twenties.
And working with a lot of American companies in my late twenties and my early thirties. So, different countries do things differently. So in America, for example, Well focused on growth on getting the market, doing things as fast as we can, regardless of the cost experience in Eastern Europe, in Russia and other countries nearby is, you know, you wanna be very efficient, cost-wise.
You wanna minimize your investment and get the most for your money. That is, that was the mindset I was growing up with and actually that helped us a lot to bring at least some efficiency from that world to our. With American companies and Japanese. I was very fortunate to work in a Amron, which is like a global Japanese company.
Japanese do things very differently. They all care about the process, about, you know, regardless of the time, regardless of the budget, they wanna do things right. So combining those three efficiency of Eastern Europe, process of Japan, and, you know, go fast American approach. Will help me a lot in uh, defining my leadership and my development style.
Ryan: Yeah, that, that’s pretty amazing. You’ve had that opportunity. How do you teach that information coming into the organization?
Alex: You know, it, it’s all about understanding the culture. So sometimes when you start working with the colleagues who are from different background, it’s a cultural shock.
When I just started in a Japanese company, you know, it was so surprising for me how, why they do things that they do. So it took us, you know, like a few cultural lessons to, you know, to understand those engineers better. So in my own company, we do some trainings, we share a lot of experience. It’s all coming, you know, if you just give a lecture, but there is no application for that, that might not be as efficient.
So what we do is when we deal, when we meet some situation, we give the session, we give the training at that time. So for example, we start working with the Indian manufacturer. We might, you. Invite someone to teach our guys how to work with Indians, what celebrations are important for them, what is allowed and what is not allowed to, when you teach when you speak with them.
That really helps a lot.
Ryan: Yeah. I that’s amazing because it, it really is such an international experience where you have to get to know, you have to get to know people all over the place. Yes. That’s amazing. Well, thank you. These have been some really insightful experiences that you’ve shared and I, I have learned a ton just by listening to this last question for you before, before we go into our top tips as what would you give up and coming leaders in, in the iot space, if you could just kind of synthesize the most important thing to consider.
Alex: It all starts with a proper problem. Us as an engineers love to create solutions before know the problem. So it really should be vice versa. First, we need to find the presenting need on the market for a product, and only after that start looking for solution. Don’t need to be tied up for specific, you know, way to solve that.
So me as a hardware. I love building stuff, but sometimes, you know, software, just the app on your phone might do as good as a physical product. So don’t try to be to solve everything with the same tool used before. Be open-minded and really find a problem first, and then research the best solution for that.
Ryan: Great advice. Awesome advice. All right, well thank you. I appreciate the rundown you just gave.
Alex: Thank you, Ryan. Sure.
Ryan: Alex discusses the importance of the partnership between software and physical devices. He effectively lays out how cultivating a healthy relationship between the two is vital to stay ahead of the competition. Additionally, I appreciated his perspective on how 2023 supply chain problems have affected the manufacturing.
And is leading to many companies canceling or postponing their production orders due to covid 19 and its related effects. The longer lead times and higher costs have been an ongoing challenge for manufacturers and leaders in the space. As he went into more detail, he also outlined how leaders in iot must have a global perspective and a deep understanding of the countries where the products are manufac.
This is part of being a true market leader and somebody who understands their space.
Ryan: all right. Welcome back to this week’s episode of the Full Stack Leader Podcast. Again, we’re here with Alex Gaco from AJ ProTech. Great to have you here, Alex, and and looking forward to hearing some of your top tips. In the meantime I’m interested, can you tell me a little bit about AJ ProTech and what you do and how you work with people?
Alex: Sure. Thank you, Ryan. In a nutshell, we are a product development studio for hardware products. IoT companies come to us from around the world. Some of them are startups, some of them. Some of them are global enterprises, and they have a simple goal in mind. They want to create the product, the physical electronics product, which they want to take from idea to production, and we work with them, helping them refine the vision.
Find the proper technologies, prototype their product, and then move it to contract manufacturing in a most cost and time efficient way. So we are headquartered in LA with a development center in Taiwan and some engineers globally. We’ve been on a market since 2014, done over 50 product of different scale and different application in areas like consumer electronics, iot, wearable devices, and some industrial automat.
Ryan: Wow. That sounds like, an amazing history of the company and you guys have really been engaged in a lot of different ideas and concepts that you brought to life over the course of time in IoT. I can imagine that takes a lot of leadership to pull all of that off, especially with that many locations in IoT.
So maybe you can give me some of your top tips on how you lead through that.
Ryan: Let’s start with tip number one.
Tip 1 – Think Globally
Alex: Think Globaly So different countries are strongest in different areas, so really using the best talent for the job is a key in IoT.
Ryan: Yeah, that sounds great. Um, How about tip number two?
Tip 2 – Be Efficient
Alex: Be efficient Budget-wise health count-wise and operation-wise is easy to grow with. Unlimited budget and unlimited time. But when economy is slowing down, being efficient might be a differentiator between being dead and being the market leader in IoT.
Ryan: What’s one or two ways you measure
Alex: efficiency? Uh, Time and budget. Hmm.
Ryan: Yep. All right. Tip number three. What do you have?
Tip 3 – Customer Obsession
Alex: Customer obsession. If you wanna be obsessed with the customer, you wanna take the calls any day of night, especially when you’re working with the startups, because it is, you know, the difference between being dead and between the market leader in IoT.
Ryan: Yeah, that makes sense. All right. How about tip number four? What do you have?
Tip 4 – Start with the end in mind
Alex: Start with the end in mind. If you have a goal, put that on a piece of paper and work backwards. So if you have that product launch scaled for next Christmas, you wanna count from that. When do you want to get to production? When do you want to get to prototypes?
When do you want to get started on the product? So thinking backwards from your end goal to now is really opening your eyes on their challenges and what time and budget you have for yourself. IoT
Ryan: That’s great. Yeah, I know, I know with my software product developers, I like them to start with a marketing page.
So they actually conceive how this would go to market and the different features that would be there. It helps frame everything that you’re gonna develop from that point on.
Alex: That is true, especially in a software IoT. You have a luxury of doing agile iterations. Yeah. You might, you know, spend few sprints on perfecting that in a hard.
It’s really more like a downfall process. Long process is full now. Wonderful. Yeah. Yeah.
Ryan: That’s great. All right, and how about tip number
Tip 5 – Motivate and impress your team
Alex: five? Motivate and impress your team. The role of the leader is not only to sell to clients, but also to sell to your own team members. You wanna attract the best talent, you wanna keep them engaged, you wanna keep them motivated.
So my role as the leader is to give my engineers proper guidance and proper motivation along the way. .
Ryan: Yeah, that makes sense. Sounds like some great leadership tips. We appreciate you taking the time today, Alex. I hope your business continues to take off as iot grows, and it’s been great talking to you.
Thank you, Ryan.
Alex: It’s a pleasure.
Ryan: Alex emphasizes the importance of thinking globally and using the best talent available. He drives home the importance of being efficient, obsessed, goal-oriented, and motivating at the core in his leader.
This approach has allowed AJ ProTech to work with companies in a wide array of regions and refine its vision by finding the proper technologies in a cost and time efficient way. He reiterates that when leading teams that are imagining products, it’s vital to be available to clients, especially when they’re startups, to ensure their success. I really appreciate his practical approach for leaders to build successful cross-platform teams, achieve goals, and drive innovation in their organiation.