An Update from CEO Brian Degen

MindStream

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Dear MindStream Community,

We have decided to temporarily suspend web store sales of the MindStream Monitor in order to catch up on the extensive backlog of orders we've received over the past few months. This is not a decision we make lightly, as we know it will be a disappointment to many of you who are considering a purchase, and since we are a small start-up company, we can always benefit from the revenues. But nevertheless, our financial position remains strong, and we feel it’s important to focus on delivering the orders we have before we make additional commitments to new customers.

As we continue to invest in manufacturing systems to allow us to scale operations, we have experienced short-term capacity constraints that have made it difficult for us to keep up with the large number of orders we have received. We are working very hard to deliver on our anticipated shipping lead times and do not wish to cut any corners in manufacturing that might risk our ability to deliver the highest quality product and the best possible experience with the MindStream Monitor.

Existing customers will not be affected in any way, and the web app will continue to provide unparalleled insights into the health of your reef tanks. We will continue to fulfill our current backlog of orders in the coming weeks and will let you know in advance when we will be reopening the web store.

To be clear, this is only a temporary suspension of sales of new monitors in the web store while we continue to scale operations to meet demand. In the meantime, please sign up for our newsletter here so you can be sure to know when the store will open for business again.

All of our MindStream team members are sincerely grateful for your patience!

Gratefully yours,
Brian Degen, CEO
 

fcmatt

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It sounds like whoever they use for manufacturing of the parts is just too busy to service them on a "on demand basis". When you are small you basically just have to grin and bear it when it comes to scheduling. I suppose they are investigating other suppliers, getting quotes, and etc.. it all takes time.

Just guessing. I am waiting on major purchases to see how this all works out. So much advancement in the last few years.
 

robbyg

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Things have been very silent of late. I would have hoped that someone from MS would at least make a twice weekly post to let us know what is going on. I have made several calls and left messages and gotten no answer or reply. I assume that they are hard at work, but it would be nice if we could get some regular updates so that we don't have to call to find out what is happening.
 

robbyg

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I just wanted to let you folks know that I did get through to MS today and had a very nice talk with Jim, the co founder of MindStream.


I first want to thank him for listening and talking to me for so long on the phone. I cannot divulge many parts of the conversation but I can say that he is as committed and as honest a person as I have ever met. I don't think many of us will ever know or appreciate the hardships that he has been through on his seven year quest to make a perfect water testing machine.

I came away with the opinion that this has very little to do with him ever getting rich and more to do with a man on a quest to solve a major problem and help aquarium owners and environmentalists and to make his seven year quest mean something. During the conversation he let me know that he realized that many mistakes where made during the roll out and beyond and that they never expected that so many orders would hit them at once on the opening day.

Now one of the positive things that I can say is that they now have the ability to significantly scale up production and I mean really significantly. If it goes as planned I would expect that once they get things going it will clear off most of the back orders in just a few weeks.

The bad news is that we are all going to have to be very patient as the task in front of them to move production to the next scale is time consuming and involves a division of manpower to keep the old system going and getting out orders while creating the new system, all of which is very challenging.

So it's not like they are going broke or that they lack the equipment. It's about getting it properly setup and working the way they need it to work. The idea of finding more people to help them is not an option as the task is very unique and it would take more time for them to train people to do the job than it would for them to just use the people they have with the knowledge and let them get it done. They are seriously caught in a catch 22 of time not being on their side. He is also fully aware that the people who have ordered and have been waiting are not happy.

For those of you who lack patience or faith I can only say that I understand your desire to have your order filled right now. I feel the same way but now that I understand the actual level of the obstacles they are overcoming to make this transition happen I am personally just going to wait it out.
 
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SandJ

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@robbyg I have the same feelings you do about the company. I think they are overwhelmed by the amount of orders. However, I have issues with how the company is handling the situation.

If the issue was being overwhelmed by orders on the first day...when the company was selling me on their product at MACNA on August 31st they should have known the 8 weeks for shipping promised was not accurate.

I have never once been updated on a shipping time frame without contacting @MindStream first. The reply I received was they could not give me a shipping estimate for a few weeks (this was at the 5 week mark). That if there was a delay they would keep me informed. Yet the 8 week mark came and went without any communication on their part. I sent another email. Now they say there are a significant amount of orders ahead of mine with no shipping date in sight. They said anyone with a delay in shipping should expect an email by the end of this week.

Personally speaking, the biggest issue for me is not that there is a delay. It is the lack of communication. I understand it takes a huge amount of time to respond to everyone emailing asking where is my Mindstream. Yet if the company would take the time to compose one email weekly to send out and keep their customers informed they may drastically decrease the number of people contacting them.

The delay coupled with the lack of communication does bother me though. The company has my money for a product they promised me in 8 weeks, I paid for shipping on top of that, and now they can not tell me when I might receive it. And I do not get an update unless I ask.
 

robbyg

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It would be great if Jim, Brian, or any Mindstream employee would communicate these things directly.
I also wish that was the case but I now have a better understanding of what is happening.
A part of the problem is something that startups always go through. For most Startups it's a manageable problem, but in the case of MS it's not so straight forward.

As the Person with the idea you no clue if it will work. You want to flesh out the idea but don't want to go bankrupt in the process. In order to work out the design and eventually get a prototype in this case you need Chemists, Electronic Engineers and Computer Programmers. All of these are very expensive job postilions to fill. Most startups seek help from lower paid university students as they are typically very enthusiastic and open minded to completely new ideas. You work with them in a very relaxed manor around their schedule and their needs and hopefully you get a prototype that works and as time passes you get a final product.

The problem becomes the Transition. Most companies can just farm out the build to China or some other firm and just wait for the crates of finished product to arrive. They would then cut the engineering staff down and they could hire people who are versed in distribution, service and support.

In the case of MS the manufacturing of a key component of the product is unique and requires a constant group of highly skilled people to be working on it. Now I did say that in the case of many startups it can start out with students, The problem is that as time has passes they become graduates and are looking for high paying jobs and some have started working on their PhD etc. These guys will be loyal to you and try to work with you but they have new priorities that are rapidly becoming more important. So you have to prioritize the work they do to get you to a stage where you don't need as many design engineers to get the job done, you got to make it automated. The only people who can do that are the ones who designed the manual systems and procedures and have been building the product by hand. Every hour that you have them answering phones or forums puts you back days in terms of getting to where you need to be. Of course at the same time you realize you have to answer the phones, so you send one guy to do it but then you see time is slipping away and people are letting you know their clock is ticking away and they are asking do you want me to do this OR do this with the time I have left with you. As I said in the other post they are in a serious battle against time.
 
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rushbattle

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I also wish that was the case but I now have a better understanding of what is happening.
A part of the problem is something that startups always go through. For most Startups it's a manageable problem, but in the case of MS it's not so straight forward.

As the Person with the idea you no clue if it will work. You want to flesh out the idea but don't want to go bankrupt in the process. In order to work out the design and eventually get a prototype in this case you need Chemists, Electronic Engineers and Computer Programmers. All of these are very expensive job postilions to fill. Most startups seek help from lower paid university students as they are typically very enthusiastic and open minded to completely new ideas. You work with them in a very relaxed manor around their schedule and their needs and hopefully you get a prototype that works and as time passes you get a final product.

The problem becomes the Transition. Most companies can just farm out the build to China or some other firm and just wait for the crates of finished product to arrive. They would then cut the engineering staff down and they could hire people who are versed in distribution, service and support.

In the case of MS the manufacturing of a key component of the product is unique and requires a constant group of highly skilled people to be working on it. Now I did say that in the case of many startups it can start out with students, The problem is that as time has passes they become graduates and are looking for high paying jobs and some have started working on their PhD etc. These guys will be loyal to you and try to work with you but they have new priorities that are rapidly becoming more important. So you have to prioritize the work they do to get you to a stage where you don't need as many professionals to get the job done, you got to make it automated and the only people who can do that are the ones who designed the proceddures and have built the product by hand. Every hour that you have them answering phones or forums puts you back days in terms of getting to were you need to be. At the same time you realize you have to answer the phones, so you send one guy to do it but then you see time is slipping away and people are letting you know their clock is ticking away and they are asking do you want me to do this OR this with the time I have left with you. As I said in the other post they are in a serious battle against time.
How does any of what you just said address a single person at SAI taking a few minutes every week or two to give a small update?
 

Variant

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I have not personally purchased a unit from MS but I'd like to give my 2 cents on the matter, having founded a startup in the past.

Communication is very important in foster trusting among current and potential customers. However, communication can be difficult to do at scale if you haven't thought it through from an operational and data management perspective. Yes if your customer based is <200, maybe you can have a single person sift through inboxes and order management software to see who needs what type of update and when.

But when you have a small team juggling many different roles as is common in startups, plus you experience a huge unpredictable surge of demand, it is likely that they weren't prepared to handle communication with customers at scale. communication at scale requires customer segmentation, data collection, automated data management and an email campaign software, etc. Bottom line is that communication, just like manufacturing can only be scalable if you've planned for it. MS seems to have underestimated the demand for their product, which means they had to reconfigure their manufacturing plans as well as their customer service to meet the scale that they are facing.

No new company is perfect. If you're to judge a company, judge them based on how they learn from mistakes rather than a single point in time.
 

robbyg

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How does any of what you just said address a single person at SAI taking a few minutes every week or two to give a small update?
The update would be the same every week for the next several weeks. I can tell you exactly what it would say. "We are shipping out orders slowly while still working on mass production". Yes it would be great to hear it from them but then you get into the problem of how many times can you repeat the same thing before people get angry. Nothing is going to change week by week. It will only change when they get the new production line finished and tested and then there will be a big change within a single week.
Anyway I have said enough on this.
 

rushbattle

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The update would be the same every week for the next several weeks. I can tell you exactly what it would say. "We are shipping out orders slowly while still working on mass production". Yes it would be great to hear it from them but then you get into the problem of how many times can you repeat the same thing before people get angry. Nothing is going to change week by week. It will only change when they get the new production line finished and tested and then there will be a big change within a single week.
Anyway I have said enough on this.
So both you and SAI think that “still working on it” is worse than mass skepticism of the business and its practices due to rampant rumors resulting from a total lack of communication?

How about: ”We did zero to estimate demand, and deployed none of our ample capital to scale to a reasonable production rate, so we are having to start over again. Our investors are super happy that we are destroying the market for this product before mass release by taking everyone’s money and not even delivering orders for 4 months that were placed the first day they opened. Here is your money back, and this is your code to get back to your place in line once we figure out what we are doing.”
 

Silver14SS

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So both you and SAI think that “still working on it” is worse than mass skepticism of the business and its practices due to rampant rumors resulting from a total lack of communication?

How about: ”We did zero to estimate demand, and deployed none of our ample capital to scale to a reasonable production rate, so we are having to start over again. Our investors are super happy that we are destroying the market for this product before mass release by taking everyone’s money and not even delivering orders for 4 months that were placed the first day they opened. Here is your money back, and this is your code to get back to your place in line once we figure out what we are doing.”


Relying on forum members to post things like "I can't divulge details, but it'll be fine, just fine" adds fuel to the flames. Seems like it'd be best to just own it, address the issues honestly and openly instead of sharing only with select customers, and try to salvage whatever consumer goodwill or interest remains.

I'm assuming this means you haven't received yours?
 

rushbattle

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Relying on forum members to post things like "I can't divulge details, but it'll be fine, just fine" adds fuel to the flames. Seems like it'd be best to just own it, address the issues honestly and openly instead of sharing only with select customers, and try to salvage whatever consumer goodwill or interest remains.

I'm assuming this means you haven't received yours?
Good point, the “just trust me I know this/them/talked to them in code” posting by various people is just making it way worse. I started a small business last year, and I know a few things about starting an engineering and manufacturing business because that’s what we do. Should I call and talk to them because I have insider credentials? Why can’t they plainly discuss what they are doing? It’s all a giant mess of misleading and misguided communication or lack thereof.

No shipment, and I have no news or communication other than when I email to ask every month or so, and they say “we will communicate with you about this at some undetermined point in the future.”
 

rushbattle

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I have not personally purchased a unit from MS but I'd like to give my 2 cents on the matter, having founded a startup in the past.

Communication is very important in foster trusting among current and potential customers. However, communication can be difficult to do at scale if you haven't thought it through from an operational and data management perspective. Yes if your customer based is <200, maybe you can have a single person sift through inboxes and order management software to see who needs what type of update and when.

But when you have a small team juggling many different roles as is common in startups, plus you experience a huge unpredictable surge of demand, it is likely that they weren't prepared to handle communication with customers at scale. communication at scale requires customer segmentation, data collection, automated data management and an email campaign software, etc. Bottom line is that communication, just like manufacturing can only be scalable if you've planned for it. MS seems to have underestimated the demand for their product, which means they had to reconfigure their manufacturing plans as well as their customer service to meet the scale that they are facing.

No new company is perfect. If you're to judge a company, judge them based on how they learn from mistakes rather than a single point in time.
You have reasonable and good points. To address the other side of the viewpoint, they have been around for 7 years. They have had time and resources to "plan for it." My company, for example, is just over a year old. We handle things like you are discussing easily, and we raised far less than half of the money that SAI has announced they have raised. They have hired "experts" with loads of impressive looking experience, and with undoubtedly large salaries to advise them on manufacturing, engineering and ostensibly customer service. The only experts we have are the three founders, and only one of us has much experience in the industry. We manufacture everything in house, in the US, with almost entirely US made materials/components. How is it that such a credentialed and impressive list of employees and advisors cannot tackle basic business management functions when we have few of the resources they have and do just fine?

So I guess the TLDR is I agree with you, but they are stretching the limits of how incompetent a business can be without judging them purely on that incompetency, even at "startup" seven years in. However, I do wish them well and look forward to them hopefully ramping up production and calming swelling anger, as surely the experienced folks they have hired can help right the ship soon.
 

Evaaron

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I have already waited years for this new tool so whats a few more weeks. I understand everyone’s concerns but this is giving them more time to tweak and work more bugs out before you start paying a subscription fee.
I still have about 3 months worth of test kits so just hoping I get mine before then :p
 

robbyg

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USD 7m and using students as employees. Something doesn't add up...
Not all the employees just a select few that worked on one part of the system. Keep in mind he did not start out with a lot of cash. They only got investers after the beta unit was working and proven.
 

SuncrestReef

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I would never want to be a startup company. No matter what you do, people will complain. Can anyone name a company that gets zero complaints?

Full disclosure: I don't own a MindStream, have not placed an order for one, and don't intend to. I just stumbled across this thread and I'm saddened by all the criticism.
 

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