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September 05, 2006

Starting a new company and installing a car computer

No, I'm not starting a new company, much less one that installs car computers.  But as I was installing my new computer in the FJ this weekend I couldn't help but think about how it was a lot like starting a new company.  With this post, I'll give an update on the FJ Car Computer project and hopefully shed some light on what it is like to be an entrepreneur in the early stages of an idea for a company.

It all begins with a vision.  For the FJ project it was something like, it would be fun to install a computer in my car.  There might even be benefits to my company because someday all cars are going to have computers, they will play a big role in how we communicate, and I need to understand how that all might play out.

For my company, it was something like, It would be fun to work at a company that doesn't treat developers like cogs in a wheel - one that understands how important customers and new technologies are to the success of a company.  There might be benefits like financial security, flexible hours and a freedom from bureaucracy.

In both cases it started with a dream, and then I began justifying acting on the dream by figuring out what the benefits would be if I could achieve the dream.  I figured out if I could handle the worst case scenario.

Once the dream takes hold, the research and feedback phase begins.  For the FJ project, I looked for sources of information from people who had done it before.  There were a few books available on installing car computers and there are many hobbyists who share their knowledge publicly and offer help to the newbies.

It is easy to get information on starting a business, especially now that we have the web.  There must be thousands of books written a year on the subject and entrepreneurs are generally helpful to newbie entrepreneurs, if approached correctly.  And because entrepreneurship is seen as an economic driver (we create jobs), there are a lot of organizations such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that provide support to anyone wanting to start a business.

The feedback phase is different.  For the FJ project, the near universal reaction from people I talked to early on in the project was Cool, can't wait to see it.  The Person Who Prefers Not To Be Blogged About said Why would you want a computer in your car?  And a few others just politely changed the subject, but generally I got a lot of support from people who thought it would be interesting to watch me hack a brand new car - that wasn't their car - to see if something interesting would come of it.

The feedback phase for starting a new company though is much less supportive, in my experience, especially for first-time entrepreneurs.  Family, friends and total strangers will tell you that 90% of all new companies fail.  (Not true) They will tell you about their cousin on their ex-wife's side of the family who started a company, lost everything and ended up killing himself.  Occasionally you will hear a positive story about someone who got a company going and was happy in the end, but it is usually told with the same tone as you would tell a story about a person on the edge who wins the lottery and lives happily ever after.  It happens, but it ain't likely is what you hear in their voice.

As a first-time entrepreneur, you are probably not connected to the community of entrepreneurs who have been through the fire and can tell you that it can be done.  Better yet, they can and will share their experiences.  Most entrepreneurs that I know are good people who are happy to give a hand, so seek them out.

So . . . the big day comes.  You order the car computer/quit your job.  (I'm still trying to tie these stories together)  It feels great!  After months/years of planning and dreaming, you are on your way.  That feeling lasts a couple of days and then the reality of what you've committed to sinks in.  In the case of the car computer, the box arrived and I excitedly opened it.  Whoa, no installation guide and no one available at the moment to tell me what to do next.  What have I done, and what am I going to do to keep this from being a big mess?  Send it back?  No, the vision is still strong and besides I've told too many people that I'm going to do it. 

It was the same when Jim and I started the company.  Once we realized what we'd got ourselves into, we were too proud and stubborn to quit.

So you keep the vision in mind, do some more research and then charge ahead. And now back to the car computer project update.  I snapped some photos during the install, mostly so I could figure out how to put it all back together again.

I can remove the dash in 2 minutes flat now.

The Pioneer is going on eBay . . .

Now just unplug the old wires . . .

Make a minor adjustment to the mounting bracket . . .

And then figure out where all these wires go.

Everything's wired up, hopefully correctly.  I had to guess on a couple of the wires.

Ready to test.  Having a backup plan is always good.

Test early and often . . .

Button everything up, and then put the power to it one more time . . .

Success!  The FJ is now running Vista!  Like starting a company, this project will be a roller coaster.  You've got to have the attitude that roller coasters are fun, and that ups almost always follow downs.  I've got a lot more to do (at my company and with the FJ Car Computer Project) but I'm making progress and enjoying the roller coaster.

September 5, 2006 in Car Computer, Entrepreneurship | Permalink


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Great post Terry.

I like the way you interwove the entrepreneur start-up with the FJ project. Gold Systems sounds like a great place to work and the FJ sounds like it would be fun to driver (off road of course).

Posted by: Marshall Harrison "the gotspeech guy" | Sep 6, 2006 5:50:30 AM

Terry this is really cool! I hope you don't mind (ummm, tho it may be too late if you do...) but I linked this over on Toyota FJ Cruiser Forum. Right, so your traffic-o-meter might redline. Hmmm... oops!

I'm a happy new owner of a FJ and this has given me some really cool ideas, thanks for sharing!

BTW, Gold Systems looks really cool, too =) I dabble with SAPI on some hobby projects when I'm not doing the mundane stuff (C#/.NET/ASP/SQL/Oracle... pays the bills!)

Posted by: BoulderSean | Feb 27, 2007 8:56:42 AM