January 10, 2017 Dalibor

2016: Year in review

Year 2017 is here, right time to review year 2016. Year 2016 was about transformation from one-man-show to small company. And because business is about numbers, I decided I will share them with you. Maybe business people among you will have some notes to my decisions 😉

One year ago, I set myself a goal to arrange things in the company so that I can hire an employee to help me with the manual routine works on nixie tubes. I was working alone, with Karel, a pensioner, for small ad-hoc jobs. My wife Eva was helping me with administrative tasks (accounting, all the bureaucracy, etc..). And I urgently needed a help. This new employee should have been someone  who would step by step learn all the processes of cleaning and assembly of inner tube parts and would become a regular employee in long term perspective. During first months of 2016, we had approximately $5.000 monthly stable turnover, IMHO right time to hire first employee.

 

After some time, we found a skillful lady (Monika) for half-time job, she had experience with soldering and similar jobs. I offered a bit higher salary than common for manual job of this character. She was first employee and the last thing I would need is to lose her after training because someone else offered 20% more (economy is growing fast here, unemployment very low). In two months, she learned lot of operations from the nixie tube manufacture. The beginnings were tough, I was learning how to train, prepare the work, check the results and what to do when you run out of parts for assembly 😉 After few months, Monika was eventually able to work almost independently on me. I finally found this whole process worth all the struggle, I could start with new project – Zen Nixie Clock.

Zen Nixie Clock

After couple of months of development, we revealed the Zen Nixie Clock – simple from the design point of view, easy to manufacture and as affordable as possible. Demand in the clock exceeded my expectations (over 50 orders until end of year), I soon found that I am not able to manage all the jobs myself (glassblowing, tube processing, programming, soldering, communicating with customers etc..), another help was needed.

I started to look for a fulltime glassblower. Czech republic is famous for its glass industry, we have plenty of big companies producing hand made top notch design glass objects (from small glasses to huge chandeliers etc..), but unfortunately in the opposite end of the country. I tried to advertise a glassblower position and got few tens of replies, but no glassblower. I invited some applicants, and one of them, Katerina, made really good impression. She had plently of experience with difficult hand making jobs and (most important!) – she had the balls to do this job! Others were a bit scared of the glassblowing lathe, burners, gas cylinders and all these bunches of hoses 😉 After another few months of training, Katerina is now able to do most of the glassblowing tasks (sealing stem-envelopes, tip-offs, etc..) and many other jobs in the workshop – freeing my hands a bit!

On the beginning of 2016, we were making around 30 tubes per month. In the middle of the year, when Monika was already trained, the production grew to 60 tubes per month. On the end of year, with Katerina trained, we were making around 100 tubes per month. Around 700 tubes in total in this year.

In 2016, we had $125.000 turnover , with estimated profit of $25.000. First year in profit since start of the nixie project in 2012.

Goals for 2017

In 2017, I want to polish our internal processes and focus on customer experience instead of development of new products.

  • I plan to eliminate the time customers need to wait for manufacture of pruchased tubes/clocks. Now it is close to two months for tubes and even more for Zen clock.
  • We were taking payments in advance for orders, since 2017, I want to charge customers just before shipping – or better ship immediately after order and payment.
  • I want to focus on software features of the Zen Nixie Clock, I hadnt much time for implementation of new things recently.
  • I must finish the colon tubes for Zen clock.
  • There are many interesting things going on here, I would like to share more with you. I plan to find more time to take photos, write posts and show more from “behind the scenes”.

 

Challenges

Also this year brought us a couple of serious problems to figure out. We got few months delayed with shipping of the first Zen clocks due to issues in production of anodized stands. I discovered a local company making good quality powder coating with fine texture, looking similar to anodizing – this will be nice and less expensive option of the Zen clock surface finish. And it finally seems we are getting first fine anodized batch.

Powder coating (left) vs. anodizing (right - rejected piece).

Powder coating (left) vs. anodizing (right – rejected piece).

Another problem I need to figure out is a failure of glow on the bottom part of digits few weeks after tube tube is shipped to customer. This happens to 1.5% of tubes (9 tubes in 2016), the goal is 0% fail rate. I am not sure if this problem has a definite solution as it appears randomly without changes in manufacture settings or material batches. It happens usually within few weeks after shipment, even though some tubes were at our lab for three months before shipping (without any visible or measurable difference). I already have some clues and want to prevent this from hapenning again as it always frustraing for both sides.

glow_issue

 

Thank you!

I want to thank all our customers for purchasing our nixie tubes, every order is important and enables us to keep the art of nixie tube manufacture alive. You showed so much patience waiting for manufacture of your orders! I also must thank all the supporters for their help, advices and positive feedback!

I cant wait to see what will  year 2017 bring!

 

Comments (15)

  1. Jeff Walton

    Dalibor, thank you for sharing such candid information. There are many of us that are nixie enthusiasts and we want nothing more than to see you succeed with the production of Nixie Tubes. It is gratifying to see that the art of making nixie tubes will not be lost!

    • Dalibor

      Hi Jeff, I am happy to work for you – nixie enthusiasts. I must say that this year was very important for keeping the manufacture alive!

  2. Holger

    Dalibor, thanks for this great post. I love your ZEN Nixie Clock and I would be happy to purchase one. Please let me know when you will take new orders.

    • Dalibor

      Hi Holger, I am glad to hear you like our Zen Clock – thank you for placing the order!

  3. Daniel Ward

    Dalibor,

    I am looking forward to your continued success in 2017 as well. My clock is truly a work of art and has an honored place in my living room. It is working great. One time the display froze as you mentioned has happened. I removed the power and restarted it and it has been fine ever since. I didn’t note the date but it was within the first few days after I assembled and turn it on. I look forward with interest to acquiring the colon tubes when they’re ready and I do want a case but think I’d like the silver base. Thanks to all of you (you, your family, Monika and Katerina) for all your hard work and dedication to bringing nixie tubes back to life.

    Dan

    • Dalibor

      Hi Daniel!

      Its wonderful to hear you like the clock! The colon tubes are in slow development, I will create a dedicated page on the web that will inform about the progress. Keep in touch.

  4. Eric Chang

    Continued best wishes to your endeavor (unique in the world)! Any plans for an end-view tube?

    • Dalibor

      Hello Eric,

      thank you for wishes!

      I like end-view tubes and would definitely like to make them one day as well. I first need to make our little team bigger to handle the challange of end-view tubes. Stay tuned!

  5. Roddy Scott

    Dalibor,

    after reading your review of the year past I am happy for you in that you have become a success in the business of reviving the Nixie tube.
    From an art project to the sole manufacturer of the finest Nixie tubes available today is a journey that very few people would even attempt to make, let alone consider.
    Your determination to provide the finest quality of product for your customers is to be admired and congratulated on.
    I am sure that 2017 will be even more successful for you as you continue and you have my best wishes for it to be so.

    • ka7gzr@comcast.net

      Dalibor,
      Thankyou for having the “balls” to produce these beautiful tubes again! Great post on the business and insight on good times and challenging times. You must be a very talented engineer and also have the ability to deal with the employees and customers is indeed a unique talent.
      The whole Nixie world is watching and pulling for you.
      Jim

    • Dalibor

      Hi Roddy!

      We will continue working hard this year to make our tubes even better and also improve our services – especially cut down the delivery time. I cant wait what this year brings to all of us! Thank you for wishes!

    • Dalibor

      Hello Andrew,

      yes, we are taking orders, please make yours via the “shop” link in the menu. Once we get to your clock, I will write you email. The payment is due just before shipping.

      Best regards,

      Dalibor

  6. Norman

    Hey Dalibor,

    i found this site in the End of 2016. I was flashed from the beginning how awesome your clocks are. In the next couple of months i will purchase one. And Im realy looking forward to unpack the box with the clock.

    all the best for 2017 keep the work flow so we will have many years with your amazing work.

    greetings Norman

    • Dalibor

      Hello Norman,

      nice to hear that, thank you! All orders are welcome as this is what helps us to keep the work going on 😉 You can place your order right away to “get a place” in the list – the payment itself is due just before shipping.

      Thank you, Dalibor

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