First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alexey Dolgushin: We sit tight, working from home, ordering groceries via the internet, gaming, painting, playing music, reading books. And cooking, there’s a lot of cooking and baking.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined Woodenshark.
Alexey Dolgushin: I was always connected to technologies. At college, I’ve worked as a system administrator in a small logistics company. In the late 00’s I was working for Fischer Audio, making headphones and other audio equipment. Then in 2012, the dream team came together, and Woodenshark was born. I’ve been working here since then, creating stuff and doing things. Lots and lots of different things: smart wristbands, robots, 3D scanners, prostheses, vending machines… you know, stuff.
How does Woodenshark innovate?
Alexey Dolgushin: Innovations are being born out of necessity. Our team designs and builds things that have never existed before. We try to use existing tech and components where we can, but sometimes that’s not enough, and we have to make something different.
A hardware development process involves a lot of checks you need to fill to succeed. The checkpoints are heavily complex, interconnected, and not obvious for those who are not directly involved. The magic we do is moving products from any state into any deliverable needed. Do you need to make requirements from a vague idea? Or do you need to develop and test a final design for mass production out of the first PoC? We can make it.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Alexey Dolgushin: Hardware design is a long process. A few months at home don’t bother us that much: engineers draw models and route PCB at home, programmers write code, and designers draw. Our team is one of the early minority who moved to the home office format. The most notable change was that all face to face meetings became video calls. But, being the distributed worldwide team, we didn’t notice that as much.
The positive side is that the distance between Woodenshark and our customers is no more a concern. Since everyone is at home, it doesn’t matter where this home is placed.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Alexey Dolgushin: The coronavirus affected various services our work depends on, so we had to accommodate to stay efficient. First of all, quarantine restrictions almost ruined the logistics. As we still need to deliver our products to clients, we were bound to reallocate funds to cover the increased expenses. Moreover, it was a bit challenging to get used to the enormously increased delivery time.
We even had to suspend some projects because we could not start or continue development. For example, to kick off one of those projects, it was essential to explore customer’s working processes on their location to define UX and engineering requirements. It was impossible while the quarantine, so we had to abandon that project and focus on those we actually can carry out in these new realities.
Though most of our team is okay with staying home, some guys are troubled a bit – for example, circuit designers who use loads of technical equipment in their work. For the work that couldn’t be done outside the lab, we adapted our office into a one-by-one coworking format to ensure everyone is safe. Sometimes we have to take a bike ride to the office to assemble or test a prototype, though.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Woodenshark in the future?
Alexey Dolgushin: I have weekly sessions with my therapist, plus baking, music-making, painting, tomato growing, and sailing sea when possible. I hope that will help in the future, too. As for the company, the main secret is your point of view. The typical small hardware development project is 12+ months. So, if you are waiting for a final result – frustration will kill you on the EVT stage. But if you are breaking your great expectation into small, measurable bits of success, you can better understand the state of the project.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Alexey Dolgushin: Our competitors are hardware engineering companies around the world. Yet, we are among the few who can make a project from an idea to manufacturing and beyond. Given a wide variety of team expertise and backgrounds, that’s a great strength. The full digitalization of our workflow has started long before the quarantine, and it was just the reason to speed up the process.
Besides direct competition, we’re often dealing with an idea of in-house development. Our key to winning this competition is to concentrate on a quick development setup and our unique understanding of requirements. We are one of a one-digit number of teams who think about the client’s needs first to specify, organize, and prioritize requirements. Then, we find the critical path to fulfil the project and adjust our processes in a way needed to pass through. Such a flexible and customer-centric approach lets us deliver not only engineering but also business value. TL; DR: we think clearly and deliver fast.
Your final thoughts?
Alexey Dolgushin: I’d like to share the thought I got from one of my favorite political scientists Ekaterina Schulmann. She often says, the crisis doesn’t bring anything new; it just speeds up the processes that were on. What had been dying, dies faster, and what had been growing, grows greener.