Cool Side Hustle

Will the guy I know who imports and sells sunglasses from China please stand up? Also, 7 other things worth reading today...

I know a guy who has a pretty cool side hustle, manufacturing sunglasses in China and importing them to the United States.

Let’s see if you can guess how we crossed paths. Would you imagine that he is:

  1. a friend from a company I used to work at?

  2. an entrepeneur I met as a result of my writing for Inc. and elsewhere?

  3. the barber who cuts my hair every three weeks or so?

  4. all of the above

Yep, you guessed it. All of the above. It’s a sign of the times, I think, that I could happen to know three unconnected people, who each built small companies manufacturing and importing the same thing from China.

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Innovation and manufacturing

Add them to the dozen or more other people I know running small companies or side hustles, who make or import other consumer goods from China—mostly toys, headphones, and electronic gadgets you had no idea you needed.

I started thinking about all these people after my dad and I were texting this weekend, and he mentioned an article he’d read in The Wall Street Journal:Innovation Should Be Made in the U.S.A.

It argues that letting so much of the U.S. manufacturing base go overseas during the past few decades has had an unintended consequence—it’s imperiled the next rounds of design and engineering innovation:

Innovation in manufacturing gravitates to where the factories are.

American manufacturers have learned that the applied research and engineering necessary to introduce new products, enhance existing designs and improve production processes are best done near the factories themselves.

As more engineering and design work has shifted to China, many U.S. companies have a diminished capability to perform those tasks here.

So, the same phenomenon that enabled my friends and colleagues to run their side hustle importing businesses might be unfortunate for the United States.

Actually, not just unfortunate; dangerous, in the authors’ words.

At some point this becomes a national security issue, they say, undermining “a core responsibility of government: providing for national defense.”

‘Redesign design’

If we agree this is a problem, I suppose can either just live with it, or we can do one of two things:

  1. Redesign the very concept of design, finding ways to make the 6,000 or 10,000 miles between innovation and execution less relevant.

  2. Or else, entice companies to come back and manufacture within the U.S., either with carrots (subsidies) or sticks (tariffs);

We’re doing both right now, to some degree.

Peter Thiel would tell you that whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve redefined innovation in the U.S., putting almost all our emphasis on information technology, which doesn’t have to be manufactured overseas.

And we do have carrots and sticks: tax credits for electric cars (although we’re phasing them out), for example, and President Trump has made tariffs a central part of his trade strategy.

The closer you are to the execution, the more your mind works on the problem. Sometimes, anyway.

A 45 degree angle

My favorite recent anecdote on this idea isn’t from manufacturing.

It comes instead from a group of Delta Air Lines gate agents who spent day after day watching airplanes back up straight from the gate, before turning 90 degrees to taxi to the runway.

Their proximity turned them into experts. Wouldn’t it be more efficient, they suggested, to back up at a 45 degree angle, avoid the sharp turn, and pull away faster?

Delta adopted the idea at most airports, shaving a minute or two off several thousands departures a day.

I imagine it’s the same thing with physically building products. Although I really can’t say that I know how to “redesign design,” or else entice U.S. companies to come home long term.

But, on the plus side, file it away: If you’re ever looking for someone who’s both an expert on cutting hair AND importing consumer goods from China, I’ve got a good lead for you.

Other things worth reading…

  1. The state of South Dakota adopted “Meth. We’re On It” as the slogan for an anti-drug campaign, and I can’t decide if it’s insane or brilliant. (South Dakota Department of Social Services)

  2. Chick-fil-A says it’s changing its charitable donation strategy. Kate Taylor has a theory why. (Business Insider)

  3. Here’s some pretty good news if you’ve been so busy working that you never get to exercise. (Me, on Inc.)

  4. What it’s like to work for 97 cents an hour, taking gigs on Mechanical Turk. (New York Times)

  5. This guy has been victim of an apparent brushing scam, where he keeps getting products he never ordered delivered from Amazon. What I love about this is that he didn’t write an article to tell the story; he built an entire (simple) website. (Amazon Please Stop)

  6. Two of the biggest coal plants in America closed this month. (Quartz)

  7. Ford announced the debut of its electric Mustang SUV. Elon Musk’s response on behalf of competitor Tesla was extraordinary (and gracious). (Twitter)

Story ideas and feedback actively solicited. Find me anytime at billmurphyjr@understandably.com, or on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter.

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