Scott Swaaley on his Entrepreneurial Journey at MakeSafe

Scott Swaaley of MakeSafe shares details of his entrepreneurial journey in two videos jointly produced with Altium.

Scott Swaaley on his Entrepreneurial Journey at MakeSafe

Scott Swaaley, founder and CEO of MakeSafe, Inc. was approached by Altium, who asked to do a video profile because he had started MakeSafe using their Schematics Capture and PCB Design tools. I thought his insights and perspectives were well articulated and on target for bootstrappers.

Edited Transcript of Scott’s MakeSafe Journey

My wife always jokes that the thing that I am worst at and all the world is leisure, I just can’t do it. As an engineer, I just look at the built world and I’m constantly finding things.

I think to myself, someone really thought about this. Sometimes it was the opposite and they hadn’t.

As much as that is a gift, it is also a curse.

I’ve been an educator.
I’ve been a consultant.
I’ve been an engineer.
I’ve built solar energy things.
I’ve been a lot of different things.

But I had this anxiety, which took me years to recognize as I was active in the Maker movement. I would go to Maker Faires–I loved that the Maker scene was growing–and see someone who had never used a power tool before. I started to seeing it more and more got a little terrified that as the scene developed something was going to happen.

I remember hearing about this incident at Yale a number of years ago.

[voiceover Excerpts from WGA TV report on Michele Dufault Lathe Accident]: ““Her name was Michele Dufault. And she died a month short of graduation from Yale, from what authorities have revealed she was working in the machine shop of Sterling Chemical laboratory in the middle of the night, when her hair got caught in a lathe.”

What’s interesting is that when I heard that, I assumed it was some huge industrial machine, but I learned that–from what’s been reported–it was actually a relatively small lathe.

I’ve read a lot of OSHA incident reports. The ones that break my heart the most are when the employee does everything they’re supposed to do, and they still get injured or die. This can happen when there is a large industrial machine, and someone gets caught. It’s a very slow-moving machine. So they press the emergency stop button, which is right where it should be. But that machine has inertia, and over a minute, it sucks them in and kills them.

For me, that’s just an engineering failure. If someone tried to do a safety thing, the worker responded in a good way; it’s just that they missed the mark.

I started looking at ways to make machines safer in my free time. And I started tinkering. I was poking around. I remember sitting on my bed, web surfing on my phone, and I found an old patent for DC injection. It’s basically a way to take an AC motor and make it resist rotation. And that was super interesting to me.
I always assumed at that time that the industry had this figured out. My focus was on schools and maker spaces for those who can’t afford stuff. You can go into a billion-dollar company’s shop, and it’s worse than a maker space.

If you take reported injuries–which are only a small fraction of the total–that result in people missing days from work and estimate how many could have been directly prevented by a simple DC injection brake like this one, it’s about 40,000 a year. But it’s been at roughly that level for the last 15 years. It’s a flat line: it’s not getting better each year. It should be our responsibility: OSHA says employers must mitigate a known hazard.

Very early in my journey, I realized that this was a much bigger problem than just schools. I wanted to reach the larger market in industry. However, it became clear that this capability had not been offered as an add-on before; we were in a niche that people were not looking for. To sell our products, we had to show people how it worked.

So we go to trade shows and work with distributors of other safety products to get the word out. It’s worked out well so far, we’ve transitioned from one guy to a four person team that is making and shipping product all over the world.

We are at a place where one person can actually start a technical company, we have access to materials like you never did before. When I started I worried the brake was too simple, I was going after low hanging fruit and not detecting faults or doing some fancy engineering. But simple works and prevents injuries.

SKMurphy Take

I first met Scott Swaaley on Dec-29-2017 when he stopped by a Bootstrapper Breakfast at Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View for our end-of-year lessons learned program: “What Have You Learned in 2017 That You Plan to Apply in 2018.” His focus, energy level, and commitment to making a difference immediately impressed me. He had a working prototype for his MakeSafe brake and was looking for help navigating the UL approval process. I made two introductions later that morning, and he had followed up with both by the end of the day.

He has been a member of one of our Mastermind Groups for several years, and I have had the privilege of watching him bootstrap MakeSafe into a going concern. Bootstrapping a hardware startup is more challenging than SaaS or consulting services, but Scott has proven himself equal to the challenge with MakeSafe.

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