We’re unabashed cheerleaders when it comes to Skillery members, but thankfully, they tend to give us easy bragging ammo. Like, say, Jesse Rhew of RudeTech, who left a career as a rocket scientist to build a business that makes musicians sound better.
Next to spy-turned-distillery owner or Mother of Dragons-turned-bespoke suit designer, we can’t think of too many cooler career trajectories.
As the head of RudeTech, Rhew designs and builds effects pedals here in Nashville — his current specialty is an analog chorus with momentary expression footswitch, and soon, a DIY chorus pedal kit will join the RudeTech shop (with more kits to come).
It’s a little distance from tinkering with rocket engines, but that stratosphere-focused background is part of what makes Rhew’s current work unique. You don’t spend all that time maintaining a design and workmanship quality that could withstand the rigors of space to then make haphazard products for your own brand, so RudeTech pedals are built with rocket science-grade approaches (like highly detailed aerospace soldering). The thought is to make you feel as confident taking your pedalboard on tour as, say, an astronaut should feel about hurling her or himself into the stars.
As it happens, RudeTech pedals sound awesome, too.
We think Rhew and RudeTech are profoundly inspirational on many levels, and we thought many of you would, too. So we reached out to our resident rocket wrangler to talk about entrepreneurship, unfair advantages and stars of the rock and literal variety.
A chat with Jesse Rhew of RudeTech
The Skillery: You’re among the many entrepreneurs who left a more “traditional” job to launch your own thing. Did you grapple with the prospect of ditching stability for uncertainty, or did the entrepreneurial plunge feel natural to you?
Jesse Rhew: “I made it feel more natural by setting a revenue goal to hit before I quit my job. Once I knew I was making money with the limited time I was spending on the business (and that doing more of the same activities I was already doing could scale it up), it was a thousand times easier to leave my paycheck.
“So I guess I never really liked the ‘uncertainty’ and actually found ways to be certain I'd still have money coming in. I was never uncertain that I'd still be making money, I was just uncertain how far I could grow the business. I was, however, positive that income from my aerospace scientist paycheck wasn't going to suddenly double any time soon.
“I was pulling long nights and didn't have much time for fun... but the aerospace testing facility was back in the woods, so it's not like I had a lot of distractions from my friends in Nashville.”
On the other side of it, what would you say to aspiring entrepreneurs whose passion project is still a side hustle? How can they move toward making it a main hustle?
“I actually manage an online course taught by Noah Kagan and the AppSumo team. Since I had started a business, Noah approached me about checking his student's emails for about 30 mins every morning and answering any questions they had about first starting out. (Having an extra income stream — although extremely small — helped to alleviate some fears as well. I used to be an electrical engineer at French-owned Schneider Electric until I was laid off when the European Financial crisis hit. From now on, I'll never rely on just a single source of income.)
“Things I always tell people in the course:
- No one cares about your idea, don't worry about asking customers for feedback. No one is going to steal your idea from you.
- Don't start with the idea. Start with the community of people you want to help, then find a problem they all share.
- Once you've found a problem to solve, figure out where your unique skills intersect with a solution to that problem.
- Solve that problem for free for the people who helped you find your problem to solve. The first hit is for free, but the next time you see me you'd better have $20, G.
“I also had a lot of awesome insights from the CO.STARTERS group taught at The Skillery: Go out and actually talk to people in your customer niche. Stop just hammering away at your idea in your basement. Go out and get real feedback from people.
“Craigslist posts or getting the perfect website are useless because they don't tell you what people thought about your product/service. You don't know if they hate the product, the pitch was just wrong, or if they never even saw it in the first place. Instead, go out and get a face-to-face conversation (over coffee 🙃) so you can get some live feedback on your idea.
“Quick story from that online course: A guy pitched me an idea for designer swimsuits. I didn't like that he was starting with the idea first, but I do think there's a lot of potential if he can make high-quality and good-looking pair of swim trunks to show off. Then I found out he was straight up talking about a swimming suit, as in with a coat, tie, and special swimming wingtips. He was dead serious too and thought the reason people didn't wear suits on the beach was just because the wool got heavy in the water. It was probably my biggest WTF moment from that email job.”
To an extent, you’re an entrepreneur serving other entrepreneurs — your pedals are used by professional musicians to do their jobs. Do you find that being an entrepreneur makes you particularly driven to do right by those other entrepreneurs?
“In Nashville, I have the unique experience where people really are using my products for their jobs, but that's not the case for the vast majority of people who buy my gear in other cities.
“It is super cool when bands I've sponsored give me a copy of their new LP and I can hear my pedals all over the recordings. I sort of feel like a guy who makes really high-quality paintbrushes, and then sends a few free ones to Picasso.
“Plus, people from other states think, ‘Wow, you know so-and-so from Band XYZ? Your gear must be awesome for him/her to give you the time of day.’ When really, in Nashville, everyone in music already knows each other before anyone gets famous anyway. If I have a friend recording a new album, I can call them up and just say, ‘Hey, the studio you are recording at has a bunch of my products. Give them a shot, and if you use anything on the record just let me know and I'll send you one for your touring rig.’
“A lot of people aren't making money from music though, and it's just about the art they are creating — whether they play it live, or it's just a bedroom jam. If they buy my gizmos, they've essentially asked me to participate in the art they want to make, so I take that very seriously.”
Your aerospace background brought a unique assembly aspect to your pedals — how important do you think it is to find/develop/nurture that something special that sets your work apart?
“I think it's incredibly important to know how you are different from people in your industry. Especially with guitar pedals, everyone with a soldering iron thinks they have a company.
“When I was just trying to put anything out and be cheaper than the competition, no one wanted anything to do with me. Once I realized that no one has my unique experience — a scientist who quit his job to make music gear? wtf! — I was able to re-position so that I was marketing to a smaller niche of musicians, set my products at a premium price, and somehow ended up actually making money!
“Figure out what your ‘unfair advantage’ is, even if you have a lot of competitors.”
What’s more challenging: running your own business or being a rocket scientist?
“Running a business, hands down.
“There have been countless times at an electrical engineering job or the aerospace scientist job where I was just sitting at my desk dicking around on the Internet because I was waiting for some deliverable from a colleague, or meetings interrupted my workflow for the day and I had too little time to start a new task, but too much time to just get a coffee and have that be that.
“Even if I'd try to seek out a new project to take up some downtime, I remember it would always start off a chain reaction of managers talking to managers to decide if it was a good idea, how much time it would take me, if I needed any support or interns assigned to me... meanwhile I was still sitting at my desk dicking around on the Internet.
“After starting a business, I've never learned so much so fast and had to wear so many different hats.”
Know a Nashville entrepreneur we should talk to? Say hi.