The Electronics Behind a Haunting Attraction

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: June 21, 2022  |  Updated: November 26, 2023
The Electronics Behind a Haunting Attraction

In this episode, a returning guest Gabriel Goldstein shares the electronics behind the thrills in escape rooms. He also generously gives some valuable advice on finding your niche and starting your own electronics business.

Gabriel was the former owner of Anidea Engineering and Escape Room Tech. Listen to this episode and be inspired by how he married two industries together and become the master of this very unique niche.

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Show Highlights:

  • Gabriel’s background, he is the former owner of Anidea Engineering and Escape Room Tech
  • The business of producing low-volume products - his first big project is an ARM9 with 16 mb of RAM, a PDA style learning device
  • The fascinating technology in the escape room includes off-the-shelf surveillance cameras, keyboards, and maglocks. Gabriel describes the technology behind the “magic doors”
    • They use RFID and developed their RS45-based networking system
  • A successful escape room requires an extreme collaboration of multiple skill sets that include electronics guys, theater guys, and game theory team just to name the least
  • The escape room industry is a marriage of electronics and haunt industry
  • Creating a small, showpiece project could be a gateway to a PCB design career
  • Software engineers have GitHub, while PCB designers have Arduino and Raspberry Pi
  • Gabriel wrote blogs to educate his customers about the business of producing products that sell
    • He became Mr. Networker hanging out at the Angel Forum groups and the venture capital groups
    • For about 6 years he was out there in the community to help out, give back and help build a business
    • He recommends a book from Martin Gerber – Awakening the Entrepreneur Within
    • “If you're going to take off the engineering hat and try to turn this into a business, please learn how to run a business because it's a completely different skill set”
  • Ending the conversation with a little anecdote from Gabriel, an inspiration to be in the business mindset and going for the American Dream

Links and Resources

Connect with Gabriel Goldstein on LinkedIn
Visit Escape Room Techs website
Read Martin Gerber’s Awakening the Entrepreneur Within
Watch the previous episode with Gabriel Goldstein - How to Build a New Data Management System
Read Gabriel Goldstein’s Blog Articles on LinkedIn
Connect with Zach on LinkedIn
Full OnTrack Podcast Library
Altium Website


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Gabriel Goldstein:The biggest trade show that fosters the escape room industry is called TransWorld and it is a haunt industry. If you walk through the place at night, it's creepy because there are disemboweled bodies all over the place, all fake.

Zach Peterson:Okay. So, you were actually at, you said TransWorld. Essentially you're like, here's the cogs and the machine, we give you everything you need to build the machine?

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, we get all the guts, yeah.

Zach Peterson:Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Altium OnTrack podcast. I am Zach Peterson, your host, and today I am going to be talking with Gabriel Goldstein, former owner of Anidea Engineering and Escape Room Tech. We'll be talking about some of the work that he's done in those two areas and it should be a really fun discussion. I think some of the stuff that he's worked on is pretty interesting and I'm hoping some folks in the audience will also find it quite interesting. Gabriel, thanks so much for joining us and I guess I should say thanks for joining us again.

Gabriel Goldstein:Oh, yeah, yeah. Thanks, Zach. Thanks for having me. It's always fun to do this stuff. Yeah, so let's see. So, at about five years old and I knew I was going to be an engineer, there really wasn't a whole lot of other ways I was going to go at that point. And so, all through life, I was very much a tinker and built lots of things and experimented and then got a computer engineering degree from University of Central Florida in 2001. And yeah, from there, I had a really cool job doing stunk work stuff for a local laser company and then, eventually, went to school there, so wanted to leave town. A couple skips and a jump, I was at a startup that failed, not mine, but when I was part of. And because my parents were entrepreneurs and my grandparents were all entrepreneurs, I guess, it's time start my own company so I started Anidea Engineering.

Gabriel Goldstein:I started off working with mostly iMentor types and stuff like that so that's where an idea that came from and that was a lot of fun for a good, good bit. Really, from a technical standpoint, it was, brilliant. I had a blast doing the whole thing for nearly 20 years. Along that path, I guess about six years ago at this point, I had someone approached me and said, "I need you to build this thing for an escape room." And I said, "I have no idea what that is, but fine, I'll write your proposal." And she's like, "Yeah, this is way too much. I just need one." And by that time, I had what I'll credit as one of my true entrepreneurial epiphanies and said, "Escape rooms. This is a business that I can really get my mind around," learn how to spend a dollar and make $2 mentality because the engineering stuff was always up and down, it just depends on markets and where we were and what was hot at the moment.

Gabriel Goldstein:So, yeah, then slowly pivoted the company to a live escape room type of work and that was a nice, big boom for a good couple years and still doing engineering stuff, of course, alongside of all of it and then COVID hit and crashed that pretty quickly. And then, slowly afterwards, I decided to ramp down the engineering as well but that is a brief summary of the arc of those two companies.

Zach Peterson:Sure. So, with doing quantity one or a lot of low volume, it sounds like you may have been doing a lot of off the shelf modules or was it a lot of custom boards? Were you using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, one of those platforms?

Gabriel Goldstein:Sure. So, most of our customers, when we first started out and really for the majority of the time, were interested in small to low volume production. When I first started doing this, Arduino did not exist, that was completely off the table. We started off, if they certainly wanted just a proof of concept type design, it was Bare Metal, write code and spin a custom board. I never really wanted to be into the prototype world, I always wanted to make things that people planned on or reasonably had a plan to make more of. So, really, on one of our first designs we did, I could say first really big design we did, it was an ARM nine, 16 megs of RAM, that was a lot back then, running Linux. It was a PDA style learning device. I typically bit off a lot more than I could chew and figured it out and that was actually the blast of the entire experience.

Gabriel Goldstein:Later on, especially when we got into some of the escape room stuff, we leveraged the Arduino ecosystem immensely. There's a good 15 years in that gap in evolution of consumer electronics or hobby electronics, I should say, and that was definitely more the scene. In fact, the first product that we developed for Escape Room Techs was effectively here is a better way to use your Arduino, as Arduino compatible, but having proper electrical specifications to it as opposed to the hobby stuff which really wasn't meant to really be in production use.

Zach Peterson:Well, I guess what I'm wondering is, with escape room stuff, what is production use? Because I'm trying to wrap my head around what kind of stuff do you need to make for an escape room? I guess you imagine like, okay, there's security cameras but you're buying those off the shelf, maybe there's electronic locks or something, there's some sensor element there. I've never done an escape room, just confession here so I don't know what's going on in there.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah. So, at the very basics, when people started adding electronics to escape rooms, there certainly was a lot from the security sector that was being leveraged. Keypads, right? Very simple thing. Keypads and maglocks are the staple of escape rooms. You solve some puzzle, you get four numbers and they're correlated by color and some other thing in the room and you're like, "Okay, so it's 5923," and you run over the keypad and you see 5923, you type that in. And of course, most people can pick up the instruction on that and say, okay, I need a timer that's normally closed and, when you hit this button, it disengages the maglock for 10 seconds and then the magic door opens, you can go to the next room.

Gabriel Goldstein:That obviously doesn't involve me, people were doing that from day one. Reed switches, alarm contacts, that kind of stuff were very much in the mix. Where things were getting more complicated and where we really first stepped in, even on the first time, was with RFID. So, yeah, you can buy a lot of RFID stuff but it wasn't really accessible for most people. You had either sophisticated controllers you were integrating with, whether they were 915 megahertz stuff or the 433 type stuff, it was not as simple contact closure stuff that people were used to. So, when you wanted to have place ... The first thing I did was place nine dinner plates into a cabinet and make sure they're in the right location, that was not trivial.

Gabriel Goldstein:We've actually developed a networking system, RS45 based, instead of running 10-foot digital lines like someone who didn't know what the heck they were doing would do. We've built a little module that had a local processor on it, an RS45 bus, and it would run the RFID module independently and they get, obviously, scanned. And, when you've you matched the magic numbers of all the plates having the right RFIDs behind them that all came together at once, then the maglock could open. Far more sophisticated than you are with maglock, Reed switches and stuff like that.

Gabriel Goldstein:So, that was one of our really biggest claim to fame. Leveraging that same system, it is still out there now in many places doing RFID match games. And eventually, we did sequence games and things that you could actually tick blocks and spell out words like if you had letter blocks. So, you could actually detect those different sets of letters that were spelling things out and had different things solved. It was all sorts of fun stuff like that by the time we got into it.

Zach Peterson:It sounds like you can get really creative in that type of role. Because I hear you talking about how are we going to engineer this to actually produce some practical result but you're coming up with a game at the same time.

Gabriel Goldstein:Right. So, we really tried to stay out of the game business. Certainly, by the time we understood a lot of games, we were making suggestions and coming up with our own evolutions, we were pretty much king of, okay, well we don't have that feature now but we can add that feature for half cost and maybe we would charge them a couple hundred bucks and write a couple dozen lines of code, tweak some little thing out for them and make them their special game. So, we built up our library a lot based on demand like that. So, we didn't really try to create a lot of games.

Gabriel Goldstein:It's funny, escape rooms require so many different skill sets. You need electronics guys, you need theater guys, you need game theory people, it's a very wide range of discipline that's needed for a successful escape room. Artist, you want thing to look good. Storytelling, it's all in there. But yeah, digress, but our niche was electronics of course. Stayed there in our lane.

Zach Peterson:Sure. We talk a lot about collaboration across disciplines here at Altium but this is to the extreme.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, yeah. So, there were a number of props that we got into building. We built a lot of them for a, I don't want to say a demo, it was a training exercise expo for Autodesk. We were very competent in the woodworking realm of things but yeah. And the painting, we were trying to make things look like office furniture, it's supposed to work it in a very office environment so we were very comfortable with that theming. But the artists that get involved with doing some of the scare stuff, instantly, there's a big crossover. The haunt industry, had no idea there was a haunt industry, but it's huge. I'm not in this horror or anything but the haunt industry is absolutely huge and it actually fosters a lot of the escape room industry where a lot of that stuff came over from. But yeah, that was not our thing. We were not artists, we made electronics work reliably.

Zach Peterson:That's so interesting. I never would've used the words haunt and industry in the same sentence, I don't think, but apparently it's a thing.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, yeah. The biggest trade show that fosters the escape room industry is called TransWorld and it is a 90% haunt industry. If you walk through the place at night, it's creepy because there are disemboweled bodies all over the place, all fake, and there's giant animatronic things shaking kids. It is a creepy place but TransWorld is every year in St. Louis, Missouri and I think we expoed at three of them over the course of the whole thing.

Zach Peterson:Okay. So, you were actually at, you said TransWorld, with your company actually, exhibiting a library of designs that you had created. Essentially, you're like, "Here's the cogs in the machine, we give you everything you need to build the machine."

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, all the guts, yeah.

Zach Peterson:Okay, okay. That's interesting because I think a lot of people think we're going to build a product and they are thinking we're going to scale up to a thousand, 10,000, 100,000. Eventually, in an ideal world, millions of units and that's how we're going to be successful. I think that newer designers who may be wanting to get out into this industry may not realize that there is actually a lot of work there in the custom, low volume, even one off type of work and that's where it sounds like you guys really dominated especially with this particular industry.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, a lot of our, I don't want say competitors, but some of the people who were early on in the industry and some of the people who ended up adopting our technology and leveraging escape rooms, were those one off guys. They might say, dad had great line, it was in the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king. And so, if someone says, "Hey, I want to build am escape room," and they know someone who's good with tech, they go bring him in. Next thing you know, he's on SparkFun, Adafruit buying much little gizmos and put them together and writing stuff and that's probably great until he's gone. And that's fine but that was the impetus for how even we got in there.

Gabriel Goldstein:But of course, we wanted to provide something that was a more modular, irreplaceable, being a company, being there. And just for the record, when I got out of it, I sold it to someone who was going to be there for my customers down the road because that was a really important bit to me. But yeah, when you're speaking of breaking into this business, there's a ton of prototype work out there. People just have ideas or they want something built and experimented with and there are other places that need one-off electronics done or even just someone who knows how it worked with existing hardware out there, the existing technology out there and leveraging it. I would say, engineers suffer from the I just want to build something syndrome.

Gabriel Goldstein:So, we really identified in that market and we had, of course, we had the experience of what production was like and how to build a quality product. So, we really tried to help support those guys to go build better things so that the business guy who is scared of the ball of wire segment is like, "Here, your guy knows how to use the bass controller, we're here, by the way, if he leaves," thing. So, there was a lot of give and take in that so we really wanted to get people comfortable and take care of the hard electronics. Some of our biggest competition, at the end of the day, for the higher end things, were PLCs. And PLCs are great but ladder logic is as daunting as ...

Gabriel Goldstein:If you don't have a program, you don't have a program. It doesn't matter if it's a PLC or if it's anything, if you don't have that skill set, you can write bad code anything. So, it's a little anecdote there but, yeah. As far as building production, there is a ... I guess what I'm trying to get at is there's a lot of ways to get your customers started if you're trying to engage with them and trying to be engageable with your customers. When they ask for something and you say, "Hey, that's going to cost you $50,000," figure out a way to work with them at $500 or even $10,000 to earn that trust more slowly. And what I'm really trying to get to is, the idea with Escape Room Techs was that's actually how we ended up growing a lot of the other work.

Gabriel Goldstein:By having the product and always showing that we could produce something, actually, a lot of the people came to us and said, "Hey, well, can you do this? Well, can you do that?" Because as a peer service industry, it was actually very hit and miss. The website was out there, very word of mouth but, if the industry was good, then we were doing good. If the industry was not, then we weren't. The roots were very, as mentioned previously, South Florida was not a great place for this kind of business because there's just not a lot of that work around. But figuring out ways to do business with people and being flexible in that realm, I think it's very important and a great way to help people get started. Let someone do business with you for 100 bucks and say, "Oh, this guy followed through for 100 bucks, great," then you can do more afterwards.

Zach Peterson:I've recently mused to myself that a lot of engineers who maybe have never worked in the industry, they're coming out of college, they have to try and find a way to stand out, entrepreneurship maybe is the path to at least getting into that dream job and maybe you have to start out, like you alluded to, with the smaller projects, lower dollar amounts. But if you do things well and people like you and you're able to deliver which you say you can deliver and you can earn some loyalty, it seems to me like you can actually really start to grow and carve out a name for yourself and, maybe later on, parlay that into the dream job at Ford or General Electric or the big corporate engineering job or something like that.

Zach Peterson:It's interesting because I do get questions from designers who are in school and they're just really interested in it and they're saying, "Hey, I'm in engineering classes but I want to do PCB design, how do I get into this as a career?" And I think you brought up an interesting path which is that smaller project and then progressing in a larger way.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, yeah. Again, it's just, yeah, building that relationship and that trust with people. It's funny, in the software world, I've seen people where they'll create some little library and they will make a webpage about it and basically publish and promote themselves on this library and writing little ... This license maybe is open a source, whatever, but that becomes their calling card or their zero price for zero entry. Like, "Oh, here's what I can do," and they build this portfolio about what they do and stuff. Yeah, for hardware guys, build something, build something really cool and, whether you open source it, give it away, build a library, build a tool that provides some functionality for someone, even if it's just something cool that you build for yourself, have a show piece and be able to practice with it and say, "Hey, well, I did this and I can do this same thing for you, too, and here's something like this I've done."

Gabriel Goldstein:Five, 10 years in, it was like, okay ... I mean, designing was like a big cut and paste game of like, okay, I need some of this, bring that over here, okay, slap it together, okay, route it and be done. The modules and component libraries we've built up over time, of course, this is before Altium 365 had every part you wanted already done up, but having our libraries was actually a really big competitive advantage for us. I can toss together things much quicker than other people could. Of course, software still takes forever but the software people. Hardware gets done, hardware is done. When you build that board, hardware is done, software's never done.

Zach Peterson:Boy, ain't that the truth. Although, with some projects, I do feel like the hardware is never done also. It's funny too because, the software folks, they have GitHub and I'm sure there's something else out there that I'm not aware of because I'm not a hardcore software person. I mean, I can do some things in Python and I can do webpages and stuff like that but I'm not a software engineer, don't get me on React or any of those crazy things that they do on the web. But they've got GitHub, what do we have?

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, it's taking a long time. It's actually funny because, when I was going through all the escape room stuff, really, I'll say even 10 years ago, when I heard Arduino, I'm like, "Yeah, it's for kids, it's toys. I don't want to touch it, don't play with it." When someone would come to me with their Arduino projects like, "Hey, can you make this the next version?" I'm like, "Yeah, I'm not starting with that. That's great you got that done but we're not starting there." I was arrogant about it, I was a little snotty but it really did come into its own. The first stuff was really rough. The products that we built our stuff around was all Cortex-M0+ stuff and what we made that thing do was actually quite amazing. Pushing a little 32 bit micro for of flash was pretty crazy. the architecture of it, actually it was really cool, I was really happy with it.

Gabriel Goldstein:But yes, the evolution of the Arduino and Raspberry Pi world has been amazing. It has really commoditized and brought the U2 EE, albeit a double-edged sword, for sure, into the fold. A lot of people can build a lot of crazy stuff that is just like, well, heck crazy, that's insane. I see it all the time now, we just engineer with giant Lego blocks. It's like, I need one of these. I need one of these. And I did see a starter project one time and I was amazed that you could write a couple hundred lines of code and you're bringing Excel in, you're doing this, simulator. It's all these just giant Lego block modules, it was pretty crazy and hardware has become that way now, too.

Gabriel Goldstein:And like I said, SparkFun, massive libraries of open source stuff. I am glad that there is a great open source, not open source, but a freeware tool besides Eagle now. I can't stand Eagle, I think it's a terrible piece of software. Obviously, I was spoiled on Altium for 25 years. Yeah, about 22 years or so but I never had the patience for Eagle but all the open source stuff in the community, all the open source community stuff is all Eagle. Obviously, I've not used it because I don't need to but the Altium freeware stuff is pretty cool, I've got some people who like using that. And yeah, it makes it really easy to share stuff and Altium 365 stuff, this stuff around, it's pretty slick to share and integrate and collaborate people, for sure, now which is way different than what it was.

Zach Peterson:You brought up being snobby about Arduino. I will admit, felt the same way. I'm not going to lie. I felt like, "So, is this thing for high schoolers? Are people actually doing real stuff with this?" But had to do shield boards for Arduinos, for stuff that's actually being out there and sold as products so I had to stop knocking Arduino.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah. Arduino really is a ... I dug into it a bit. So, I do a lot of coding actually. I have done a lot of coding, I haven't done a lot lately but, if you've written any C, you know how much time you can spend trying to get all your headers to not be doubly included and types not to conflict and do all this other crazy stuff so that the compiler code takes it. And Arduino abstracted all that stuff, and I'm not going to pretend I know all the details of how it does it, but my understanding is it basically takes every piece of source code and puts it in one giant file and it says compile which seems so trivial and funny but that's all it took, apparently, and yeah, it is kind of cool.

Gabriel Goldstein:And like I said, we built our entire controller around ... Arduino Studio is pretty terrible although I heard they upgraded it recently but I don't use it anymore. But yeah, we used to use Visual Studio with Arduino plugin and it gave us a nice IDE with everything crosslinked and referenced and that's what we built our product on.

Zach Peterson:I'm a little surprised more companies haven't taken that approach, having a plugin for those really popular IDEs to bring all of their libraries into one place. I think, I'll just use TI as an example, they have code composer and so they've got all their stuff in TI's world and then, let's say, Xilinx, they've got, I think it's called Vivado. I'm not an FPGA developer but I do FPGA layouts and stuff.

Gabriel Goldstein:Oh, my gosh. Yes, yes.

Zach Peterson:So, yeah. So, they've got their own little world. And then, you go over to Microchip, at least you can do everything and you can do it all in visual studio code but then you're going through the MPLAB-

Gabriel Goldstein:Right, yeah.

Zach Peterson:>... and it just goes on and on.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, most of them, I don't want to say most. I would say many of them are Eclipse based under the hood and that one is ... You can download Eclipse open source and you can do all your Java, non-embedded world type stuff pretty effectively in Eclipse. But yes, I know a lot of free scale stuff was Eclipse based. But yeah, you're right, for a long time, everyone just completely doubled down on their own IDE. Remember RetroWorks, do you use them or Rally had a great compiler but they all had their own brand of IDE. It's like, what combo does this, what combo does that? And between Arm and Eclipse, it made everything. Microsoft finally got on the bandwagon and said, "Oh, let's give for free to make it nice," that's a pretty fun compiler now or UI I like using.

Zach Peterson:Yeah, there's so much out there with embedded and I think you're really showing something interesting here about the experience of, I think, younger designers, which is a lot of people are coming into this world through the route of coding and building software and embedded design. And it's such a great way to get kids to care about things like, well, electronics design but they go the route of robotics because there's so much development there. But at the end of the day, you've got a circuit board, you've got chips on here, you're actually putting that code onto that little piece of plastic and making the thing work.

Zach Peterson:Those Eureka moments where you get to see the device moving around and doing stuff, those are so powerful, that was powerful for me. But my first stuff that I built, I wasn't deploying code on it, it was just a little amplifier board and I was doing stuff in.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, exactly. Us, whatever, 50 years ago, we were doing hand radio stuff. When your project worked, you heard someone else's voice come across it. Or, you made a scanner or you did something that made the little red light blink. But now, the level of integration in chips is just mind blowing now. If you ever sat down and thought about what an M0+ processor does at 48 megahertz is just insane. Like I said, I was consistently amazed what we made this little guy do. The serving of fractional webpages, controlling the games, doing process, IO handling, tons of IO rights to different buses and we're a single threaded world. And it ran on ethernet controller and it just kept going. Our biggest problem we had is you ran out code space and the new operator-owner moved everything to ESPs. Again, they were a dumpster fire when they first came out but, now, they are pretty much main line. It's amazing.

Zach Peterson:Yeah, it is, it is. And that's funny you call them a dumpster fire but there's been so much effort put into these little platforms over the years and now it's almost like it really is a viable option for a lot of different platforms. Unless, for whatever reason, you absolutely need something custom because it's high reliability or you want to hit class three, IPC class three or something like this, it just doesn't have that one little thing that you need to add to it and so you go custom.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, the most of things that ... Well, okay, the things we did as an engineering company, 90% of it was there was some process control thing with some complicated IO structure. We did some consumer stuff, but for the most part, we were very industrial automation type things, whether it was doing customer controllers for lasers and production line type work or we helped a company do glass molding. They had all these crazy sensors and controls that they had to orchestrate altogether, yeah, it would've taken a lot. The other thing is, they need hundreds of them, they're in a production facility. The idea of maintaining Arduinos or even a BeagleBone or Rasberry Pi to now have all these different IO points would've been a giant, ugly mess.

Gabriel Goldstein:Most of the people we really got involved with always either were successful or at least had intentions, and I actually wrote a blog about this, this is what takes actually make a thousand and do you have a plan to actually be in business? I'll get to that in that second but, yeah, that was really the focus of what we're working towards. And with the escape room stuff, we were happy to always just build one and hope other people would buy it. And if someone needed one thing, then we would try to say, "Well, let's build it and see what happens." And maybe someone else will buy it, maybe they don't, just go from there. But yeah, the volume thing is definitely an interesting question there.

Zach Peterson:This is the problem when we go unscripted. No, no, no. You alluded to, as you scale or if you're going to scale to a higher level with a product, instead of just, let's say-

Gabriel Goldstein:Oh, right. Yeah, yeah.

Zach Peterson:>... you're an engineering company you want to transition out of just constantly doing custom work. And I have my own business and this is something I half plan for, half dream about to where you can have just a couple things that you sell consistently. And so, I wonder, how do you manage having, maybe it is a thousand units of inventory, maybe it's 10,000. I don't know the best number off the top of my head but what is the business plan around that look like? Because I think engineers that have a great idea and that want to produce a product and eventually get it out there to the masses and have it be used, consumed relatively consistently, they need to think about these things or they take these with them over to their corporate job.

Gabriel Goldstein:So, yeah, that was actually probably one of the biggest things that I had to really learn and then learn how to educate my customers. I'm trying to remember the timeline, I want to say probably 2000, coming out of the recession, housing crisis stuff, I started blogging a lot and I started writing blogs to educate my customers. And they are all still out there, the blogs are still live but a lot of it was things like here are the impacts of volume. If you tell me to design this thing to build a million or, let's say, even 10,000, that is a lot different of an engineering project than you telling me you want to build 20. And there's a blog out there I was just going through, it's, as far as steps for a customer, what engineers don't realize. Again, we like to build and I really had to really take off the engineering hat of saying, "Hey, that'd be really cool to build. I really want to build that thing," to like, "How are you going to make money with this? Tell me how you're going to make money with this."

Gabriel Goldstein:Because I could build things all day long but I'd rather put my time and effort into someone who can actually sell this thing and make money who then I can support and build by business as to, suppose, some guy who really has a hundred grand, this has happened, a hundred grand has this idea but I let him convince me that he had a plan and, at the end of the day, his plan completely fizzled and he just got $100,000 little device and I'm like, "Tell me the rest of your plan because this didn't work out well for really either one of us. I mean, I did all right but I was hoping to go build 50,000 of these things for you."

Gabriel Goldstein:So, you start off at engineering really just working by the hour. And, as you are well aware now, working by the hour is not a great way to make any money in this world. If you're just working by the hour, it's going to really hard to amass any sort of ... Wealth is not the word I'm really trying to get to but any sort of financial independence really. So, you've got to be smarter in the things you're putting together and that was actually a big growth part of me and my company and having to go learn the business side and watching customers only have a part of a plan. I think in one of my blogs, I'm like, "If you're going to spend a dollar with me, you're going to spend two or $3 launching your company. And if you only have the 50 grand for me, this doesn't go anywhere."

Gabriel Goldstein:So, I would say, "Okay, well, let's figure out to do a $20,000 job. Okay, what can this thing look like? Can you sell one? Can you get anyone to pay you money for this thing?" And yeah, so I went down all the paths of a lean startup, I became Mr. Networker, I was hanging out at the Angel Forum groups and the venture capital groups, really going on that side of things completely. We did a lot talks, startup weekends, all that kind of stuff just to really get out in the community, even helped found the Palm Beach Tech Association, just trying to bring all that stuff together. And so, yeah, for a good five, six years there, I was really very much out there in the community trying to, one, learn, two, help out, give back and, three, if I could help build a business out of it, that would be great too and some of it did happen, too.

Gabriel Goldstein:So, it was a very good phase but, yeah, if you ever go through ... It actually started out a score. They were giving me a lot of mentoring, they didn't know about engineering so the first five blogs I wrote were, I have an idea, now what? And it came across here's what your IP portfolio looks like, here's how you can protect it, here's how you can get to the first phase. Spend a little bit of money, make one, sell one, okay. Now, maybe someone will actually give you money to go build 10 in very much the lean startup canvas mentality. So, I'll tell you that that is actually critical for anyone who wants to actually build a business as engineer. And then the other giant recommendation I would say is Martin Gerber, I think it's called entrepreneur's dilemma. No, it's not that, I always get the name mixed up.

Gabriel Goldstein:But basically, the moral the story is that there is a baker and she's a great baker and everyone says you should open up a bakery shop. And the problem is, when you open a bakery shop, you're no longer a baker, you're a business owner, you're a manager. You're no longer doing the fun baking stuff and ... Anyway, it's not entrepreneur's dilemma. It kills me. E-Myth. E-Myth and E-Myth Revisited. If you're going to take off the engineering hat and try to turn this into a business, please learn how to run a business because it's a completely different skill set. And I don't know where your background or how you came up with this but I was an engineer and I just thought being an entrepreneur meant just doing engineering work and I was sorely mistaken.

Zach Peterson:Yeah, I think that people maybe lose sight of this idea that ... Okay, so I'll use Mark Zuckerberg as an example. He started Facebook from his dorm room, originally The Facebook but coded it and everything. So, he's the engineer, he's the guy coding this stuff. Do you think now that he's still sitting there coding stuff? No.

Gabriel Goldstein:I hope not, yeah. No-

Zach Peterson:So, there's this-

Gabriel Goldstein:>... definitely not, yeah.

Zach Peterson:Right. So, there's this big transition away from being the engineer to taking more and more and more of a business role. And then, eventually, if you really grow to that scale, you're not doing really any of the hands on engineering at all anymore. But in between there, it transitions from, okay, I'm actually building everything to, okay, now I'm going to hire someone to help with some of it, now I'm hiring someone to help with most of it and I'm doing QA. Now I'm doing the admin above the QA and you keep separating yourself and separating yourself. I guess the goal of the entrepreneurial engineer is to not do engineering anymore.

Gabriel Goldstein:So, I think that is a goal that looks attractive on the surface, but like I said at the very beginning, I was an engineer at five. I was always very annoyed, as a kid, annoyed I think the UCF business school shirts that says something like, "We buy the boats the engineers build." That was always one of these irky things because I always had a vision for being an entrepreneur, making money and those things but I did not realize at that point in time what different skill sets they were. If you like to build and create technical things, running a business is not that. Granted, there are, obviously, a few very talented engineers who have made millions or billions or whatever but it is very few and I think those people probably have a very ... They had enough people around them to support that business vision and get them propped up to and support around to do that.

Gabriel Goldstein:But as a solopreneur and even just running, like I said, a small team of people, without having that giant funding or whatever else, I think it is very hard to really run a big business and try technical with it unless you're just tired of doing the technical stuff and it's just was a phase. That's my take on it. I'm doing all the engineering work now again and I miss some of the business stuff, I miss some of the control and autonomy and authority and stuff but I like building things. So, maybe it's me, maybe it's, I don't know.

Zach Peterson:No, no, that's fair. I guess, in a way, you got into to doing some of this stuff to be the independent control over your own life but still doing fun techy stuff type of person. And young engineers who want to get into this business and who want to start their own company, I think they should probably realize that, if you want to just build stuff all the time, maybe your scale will be limited. There's going to be a cap on how big you can get and still be able to get in there and wire up stuff in schematics and do the layouts and plan for manufacturing and all that other stuff that goes into making an actual PCB and eventually a product.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, you will have to choose at some point in time but, yeah, it's a line to walk and I think I will always consider Anidea an Escape Room Techs successful because I did well. By definition, I did well, my own definition of success it was. But the real success part of the experience was that I did what I wanted. I built 10 more design cycles and a lot more experience than many other people would've had with 15, 20 years' experience. And I can see it when I'm up against other people, I think I turned out pretty well. Yeah, at least within my niche. Certainly, I got a lot into electro mechanical integration and packaging and how these whole things fit and work together, there's a lot more to it than just circuit board, this has to fit into something.

Gabriel Goldstein:And everything now is, okay, maybe it has to be wearable, maybe it has to be flex circuits and now it's like, okay, now you got to be in solid works and make this thing, how's this fit and to work and how's that motor going to work. And so, I'm pretty good mechanically and on the software side and then that was important to be able to take the customer's whole vision. Because, most the time, a customer doesn't just want a PC board, rarely, well, someone will say to you, "Hey, I really want this little green circuit I want to go sell to someone," that's not the way that conversation goes. I have this idea, I want to build this thing, it does this. Okay, is it handheld? Now you have ergonomics. Is it battery powered? Do you have battery life? You have low power levels?

Gabriel Goldstein:Arduino is not going to dot all this Is and cross these Ts for you and you may find yourself with giant batteries or power conservation issues or any other little nuanced things that don't fit the mass market. And then it's got to be small. Okay. Well, geez, how are you going to actuate this thing? How's that going to work if your entire supply chain is Adafruit and SparkFun.. These are real problems.

Zach Peterson:Yeah, absolutely. I think everything that you said is really ... You've got some great lessons here for newer engineers who are coming into the industry because there will be these newer engineers and it's needed so bad. So much of the industry is not in our age range and the folks that are younger than us, I'm dating myself a little bit, it's putting us in the same age range maybe, but the folks that are younger than us need to know all this stuff and I think there's these hopes and dreams of what they're going to do. But eventually, the reality sets in that you need to do a little bit of everything. You're not just going to do layouts and you might not be able to go totally hands off and do layouts all at the same time, there's scaling issues that you got to deal with. Manufacturing at 10,000 is not the same as manufacturing 10.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, if you're really going to try to put your, expression put your shingle out there, again, people aren't going to ask for a board. It might go into a simple box, fine, but it's going to writing software because, chances are, unless it's like a notch filter ghost detector, purely analog light EM detector, there's going to be some software in it and it's going to have to do something useful and interesting and to understand how that works is useful and required for that matter. But yeah, there are all sorts of challenges. The only anecdote I'd share is I was in industry for probably about three years after college and I had a couple encounters with a few people and most of my work came from, I don't want to say most, a similar portion over the years came from and they were large production type work.

Gabriel Goldstein:As those people I met there went off to other companies, one guy went to three different places and every time he's like, "So, can you build this for me? Can you build that?" And it just kept coming in. Another guy was another entrepreneur type and he did a bunch of special effects equipment and he's like, "I need a controller for this, I need controller for that," and we build them all the time. In this industry, the only thing I really found is that, if I had maybe stayed into a bigger company or any big company for that matter, I'm not really made for big companies, longer, I would've had a bigger network of people that would've precipitated out to maybe less fun but probably a little more financial rewarding side to have little stability throughout the thing because it was a very up and down depending with what's going on at the time.

Gabriel Goldstein:But of course, if you're staying too long and then you get comfortable with corporate salaries and then you're like, "Oh, I don't want to go take their risk." I had a pretty good runway and I was young enough to be naive enough with all of it. But yeah, it fed my family and drove nice cars and had a house so American dream, I guess. South Florida is not a cheap place to live, so did all right.

Zach Peterson:That's fair. I'm on the total opposite side of the country but often amused about moving to South Florida. So-

Gabriel Goldstein:Well.

Zach Peterson:I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed all of your time and found some success that you could appreciate.

Gabriel Goldstein:Yeah, absolutely.

Zach Peterson:Everything you've brought up has been such great advice for designers so I think we'll leave it at that. But if you're okay with it, we'd love to put your LinkedIn info in the show notes so that anyone who's young and impressionable can maybe get a hold of you and ask some questions.

Gabriel Goldstein:Sure, happy to, yeah. Yeah, and will definitely get the blog link out there. Like I said, it's all out there still. Anidea is not operating but I think the content's still valuable.

Zach Peterson:Yeah, definitely, definitely. We'll link to those posts as well. Well, thank you very much for being here. This has been such a great talk. Just for everyone who's listening, again, we're talking with Gabriel Goldstein, formerly of Anidea Engineering and Escape Room Techs. This has been a great talk with someone who has a lot of experience developing one-offs and also who understands how to get things into volume production and who understands the business side of electronics. Gabriel, thank you so much again and we hope to have you back again sometime in the future.

Gabriel Goldstein:Thanks, Zach. My pleasure. Take care.

Zach Peterson:Absolutely. And to everybody watching, make sure to like this video, hit that subscribe button to stay up to date on future episodes and, last but not least, don't stop learning, stay on track, we'll see you next time.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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