In 2004, we began our journey offering mainly engineering services to customers in the automotive industry. Nearly 2 decades and hundreds of projects later, a lot has changed.
Creating industry-defining product innovations that create new and grow existing businesses is more than solving technical problems and delivering design, engineering, and manufacturing services. You need a truly holistic approach to product development to make sure you’re solving the right problems, in the right market, for the right customer, with the right product.
For us, this has meant evolving into more than just an engineering services company. We’ve become more than a rapid prototype shop, or an industrial design firm, or a manufacturing services company, or an innovation consultancy for that matter.
We’re all of these things. And what makes working with us different to virtually all of our competitors is that we deliver these services seamlessly, under one roof as a fully integrated product development experience.
Anyone can think of a new idea. But how many can actually bring innovation to life? At Inertia, we have the imagination, the unique skill set, and the heart to make great happen.
We believe extreme collaboration yields the most satisfying working relationships and end results. We respect your business needs and challenges. We believe that the cornerstone of collaboration is radical proactive transparency, which is why we have deliberately developed methods to help capture our thought process and the knowledge that is amassed as we navigate our work together through the innovation and execution process.
We believe that by fully immersing our clients in our collective learned knowledge, only then will they have a fully informed view of what it possible, what is not, and why – so that when it comes time to making difficult business decisions, you will be doing so with the most clear view of user, market, technical, and business needs.
We recognize the genius in inventive concepts. We treat our partners and their dreams with great respect. And we bring all of our experience and resources into play to make them even better and most importantly to make them a reality. Helping our clients deliver first-to-market innovations through a true partnership approach. Navigating the market terrain and engineering challenges to design and manufacture exceptional products…for you.
We like when our personality shines through. We bring energy, optimism, tenacity, and levity even in the face of complex, high-profile projects. We believe that the product journey can be an inspiring, exciting adventure. The entrepreneurs and established enterprises that work with us, appreciate our unique perspectives and personalities and above all our care in everything we do. We like to bring originality that goes beyond our solutions to who we are, how we work, and how we inspire each other every day.
In a 2005 commencement speech that the late great Steve Jobs gave, he said: “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Looking back, and connecting the dots for myself, I started Inertia, with a desire, belief, perhaps a feeling for something different. I wasn’t completely sure how to set a direction at that moment in time, but I honestly have to say that I never imagined Inertia would become anywhere near what it is today.
I only knew that I wanted to do my work somehow differently to what I had experienced during my first 10 years as an engineering professional. Not to say that my formative professional career was somehow bad or negative, I don’t have any regrets. I realized after the fact that it just wasn’t how I wanted to work. It was certainly challenging, trying, and downright exhausting at times but nothing great ever comes easy. After all, it made me into what I am today, an accomplished engineer, entrepreneur, leader, husband, and father.
People often look at present day results and have little insight or understanding of the million steps in the journey it took to get here, how can they possibly? So far, I’ve completely changed careers about 4 times in my life. Each time taking some risk and many times going backwards, in terms of pay, title, and pride. But each time I think I made the most of each opportunity to learn and grow – often signing myself up for highly challenging and uncomfortable assignments that really pushed me beyond my limits. As a shy-introvert, this made things all the more challenging. Even to this very day I am still uncomfortable at times in front of my team but I know that with that discomfort comes growth.
I was fortunate enough to attend university to study mechanical engineering as it seemed the most obvious path to reach my, at-the-time, child-hood dream of designing cars. Race cars. I barely made it past first and second year, and then really started to thrive in my third and fourth years once I saw the practical point of it all, to finally graduate into a rather unwelcoming economy.
I jumped at the first automotive-related job I could find which was in manufacturing. There I learned every tiny detail it takes to design, launch, and manufacture a product at scale, how to manage manufacturing processes like injection molding, stamping, painting, assembly. I was fortunate to work alongside some of the masters of just-in-time manufacturing, Toyota. Under the guidance of their operations management consulting team (yes, Toyota teaches their vendors for free), we converted a portion of our manufacturing facility to a true, just-in-time pull production manufacturing system. It was super low-tech, even no-tech. I’m talking home-made Kanban cards, coloured golf balls rolling through PVC pipe to signal production orders, stop-watches and paper sketches – and after all that it used only a fraction of the space it once did, saved a ton of money and virtually ran itself. No new technology used, just a different mindset.
My early success thrust me right into a managerial role which by all accounts “worked well” for my employer but looking back on it now, (and even at the time) it was not something I was proud of or closely equipped to do.
After three long years of working 50-80 hour weeks, learning by fire, and by all accounts fairly successful I gave up on my future which was heading towards upper management to move more towards my dream. So I did what any other logical person would do and left that job to become a racecar mechanic.
Starting at half the pay, and one quarter of the rank / status as my previous job, I quickly moved through the ranks in less than two years to take on a racecar engineering role where your job is essentially to work closely with the driver to figure out how to set up the car so he/she can drive it faster. Looking back on that experience, I’ve often lamented that I would have been better off to have majored in psychology and minored in engineering (and the same is true for my entire career). There I learned how to build trust quickly with a person who has to believe you know what you are doing, so they can be 100% confident to push themselves and their car more when you tell them they can, and should, and to push more when the risk of accident, injury, and potentially even death is a fraction of a millimeter away. I learned how to be prepared, not for just what was about to happen but what might or might not happen, to make decisions quickly in the face of limited information and to operate at a high level of performance under extreme pressure and expectation.
But I still yearned to design and create and so my next move was to take on a full-time design engineer position again in motorsports, starting pretty much entry level even though I already had some limited vehicle design experience. Again, I was able to quickly make in-roads in that field and eventually earned the opportunity and the responsibility to design and race engineer a number of different cars, a couple of which competed in, and won at, both the 24hrs of le Mans and the 24 hrs of Daytona endurance races. Child-hood dream accomplished – cross that off the list.
So what happens when you’ve achieved a life-long goal but once arriving there, you find out that for some reason, you feel unfulfilled. You think on it. A lot.
I probably spent a couple years trying to figure out my next move. Should I go work somewhere else? Although my work was by all accounts interesting, it turns out that the prospect of simply doing the same thing there or elsewhere was downright depressing. But why? After much soul searching, the conclusion I came to was that throughout my career, I liked WHAT I was doing, but not HOW I was going about doing it. I realized that I just didn’t share the values and mindset of any other company I had ever worked for and the prospect of going to a different company to experience the same philosophical friction was paralyzing . These companies were by all accounts “successful” and very desirable to work for – so what was wrong with me? This conundrum caused me a lot of internal struggle because I liked my work and I liked many of my co-workers, I realized I just didn’t agree with the company philosophies. And it was at that realization I decided to launch Inertia.
For the first few years of Inertia’s existence I was merely trying to survive as a sole proprietor offering my engineering services to my limited network. I had no idea of how to run or manage a business but I found that I really enjoyed learning these skills. I had a few contractors helping me here and there and eventually hired my first employee a couple years in.
There is apparently a Zen Buddhist quote that goes like this “How you do anything is how you do everything”. Whatever I did, I wanted to do it better. Better than I had done before. When you are forced to 100% fend for yourself, you really get laser focused on what counts, what adds value, and how to make happy clients. I also quickly learned how to set and manage expectations with clients – especially when the core of what I offered entailed high-risk, high-uncertainty innovation. What started out as developing what I would call “insurance policies” to protect myself from disappointing customers, I slowly learned to be the opposite side of the same coin – communication and collaboration. I realize these have come to be two very overused terms.
There is no clear path to create products that have never been done before – but there can be systematic processes and practices that will help guide you there quickly. So how do you instill comfort and confidence in clients? I told the truth. Not just the truth, but the very real and brutal facts. Inventing is not easy. Failure is part of the process. I don’t know and I won’t know until we try, and so on. I shared with them all of my rough work, the good, the bad, all of it. I wanted them to know why what they asked me to accomplish was so difficult. Why did it take so much time, why did it cost what it cost. Because it was neither easy nor straightforward.
Interestingly, even before I started working with clients, some of the common sales objections I came up against was the fear that by hiring an external consultant, customers felt they would not retain the knowledge or the IP. I thought that could easily be solved, and yes, they should retain all the knowledge and IP that went into the work, not only the results. So in an effort to combat that objection along with my need for building in expectation-managing “insurance policies” I started to document my work as though I was creating a personal journal or story book. What was my approach, what was my thinking, what were my concerns, what were the risks, what would happen if we did this, why did I recommend that? All of it. Then presenting that “story” to my clients weekly throughout the design and development process I was able to fully draw them into my head, into the design process, and only then could true collaboration occur. Sounds simple, right? Well duh, most people give customer reports, right? Well they don’t. They think they do, but they don’t. Most technically trained people report the facts. They don’t report the fears, the worries, the failures, nor the feelings. Just like most of my high-school teachers taught me the importance of showing your work.
What’s more, by creating collaboration through transparency and communication our clients felt like they were truly involved in the design process, they shared the responsibility in the design process. For me though, they had insights into the challenges, the risks, and were able to empathize with my situation and challenges. This completely changed the nature of our conversations – to one of collaboration versus potentially one of criticism. You see, what I learned was, if you show up and promise people you can do this or that, then go away for a while without communicating the process, the progress, your challenges and don’t offer them your personal insights into the boundaries of the solution space, they will naturally view your work from a point of criticism instead of collaboration. What I found was, if you present your work as “done” without context or the story of your journey, the recipient’s mind will immediately ask itself; is this the best solution? What about this? What about that? This is simply human nature. The mere act of having to ask these questions will turn the conversation to one of criticism and defense which almost always ends up poorly, rather than a conversation of collaboration. Even if you can explain yourself after the fact, the recipient has already lost trust and you are seen as simply back peddling to make excuses. Also, without priming the recipient with context from the outset, you are setting the recipient up so that you will essentially have to shoot down every alternate idea they have because they most certainly do not have the same context and insights as you – because you’ve just gone through the work. Shooting down your customers’ ideas is not a great position to be in and certainly does not facilitate collaboration.
If you asked me in the first few years into Inertia what business I was in, I would have responded “engineering services”. Fast forward a few years and many miles of experiences, we’ve expanded to other things like product strategy, manufacturing, etc. but what I have come to realize is that what we truly are, first and foremost, a customer service and customer experience company…we just happen to design, engineer, and manufacture things.
So where do we go from here? When I’m among other entrepreneurs and business owner colleagues, they always want to know – how far will you go? How big? What are your goals in terms of sales, people, market share, etc. When I started Inertia, I had no expectation or vision that it would become even what it has become today. I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. So to answer the question of where do we go from here; all I’ve ever answered with is this. I can only see as far as I can see at this moment in time. As long as we can find great people and great customers to join in what we do and what we believe, we’ll do what’s good for our team, our customers, and what feels right. Sure there are strategic intermediate and long term goals one needs to achieve to run a sustainable business and we certainly plan for that but as far as the “end-goal”, I don’t see a point where we’ll have “arrived”. We just want to continue getting better at what we do and how we do it – the relentless pursuit of excellence.
We’re ready to develop and manufacture industry-first innovations that can change the world. Are you?