S2 Episode 1 - DIY with Rogue Engineer, Jamison Rantz
Colin Shaw: Hello everyone! Welcome to season two, our first show of season two, can you believe it, Jim? Unbelievable!
Jimmy Driscoll: Still standing. I’m sorry; still sitting. We can’t stand.
Colin Shaw: We gotta sit. We’re way too old to be standing after working all day.
Jimmy Driscoll: You just walk up.
Colin Shaw: We should get recliners. Or lazy-boys or something. That would be really nice.
Jimmy Driscoll: That would be the first podcast in a chaise lounge, right? With like a fruit drink with furniture in it.
Colin Shaw: Right. Or maybe in a hammock or something. That would be beautiful.
Jimmy Driscoll: With like a schematic piece of furniture.
Colin Shaw: Wow! That would be interesting.
Jimmy Driscoll: I’ll work it in now.
Colin Shaw: I wonder if we know anybody who could make something like that?
Jimmy Driscoll: Jeez, I wonder…who!
Colin Shaw: I bet we know somebody. So hey, listen, big show today guys. I’m glad you can join us. We have the one, the only, rogue engineer, Mr. Jamison. How are you, sir?
Rogue Engineer: Very well, nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
Colin Shaw: Absolutely, we really appreciate you joining us. I feel like this is like an episode of Wayne’s World, where like we’re the, you know.
Colin Shaw: If you haven’t checked out Jamison’s site, rogueengineer.com, you definitely got to check it out. We’re going to let him fill us in on what it is he does and what makes him so popular. A great guest to have on the show, especially for season two, so we really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us for a little while.
Jimmy? So, Jamison, how did you start this, my friend? How did you get this going? What made you think of this idea?
Rogue Engineer: I went to school for aerospace engineering and I started working for a company called Gulfstream Aerospace and I was in the flight test department and I was doing design work, mechanical designer, so I had that expertise down. And then we moved into a bigger house and we needed some furniture and I had always kind of liked working with my hands but was never really very good at it. I kind of enjoyed it but wasn’t good at it. I went online and started looking for plans for furniture and I came across a couple websites that had good plans, one of which was Anna White, and she’s kind of like the founder of this niche of DIY furniture. And I followed one of her plans and it turned out really, really good. And as I was following those plans, I thought to myself, this whole design thing, this is what I do. If I could design something, just like she did, I could build it myself. So, I started designing my own furniture and the products that I was putting out were pretty good. And people started asking me to build them something and I decided that, if I could just give those plans out for free, I wouldn’t have to build it for them. They could do it themselves. So that’s how it kind of spiraled and we developed the website and started publishing those plans on there and it kind of turned in to what it is today.
Colin Shaw: So, teach a man to fish, kind of thing?
Rogue Engineer: Exactly. Exactly.
Colin Shaw: I like that. I like that. And you know most people, if they move into a large house that doesn’t have any furniture, they go to Ikea.
Rogue Engineer: Yeah.
Colin Shaw: But you decided to go a different, route?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, we couldn’t afford Ikea.
Jimmy Driscoll: Ok, fair enough.
Rogue Engineer: We spent all that money on the house.
Colin Shaw: On the house, right!
Jimmy Driscoll: I was just working on a house now where the people were just moving in, and it was funny too, because when they moved in they had so much big furniture, and it didn’t fit in their living room and their great room. And I was like wow, something is going to go. Something is going to get out of the house.
Rogue Engineer: And that’s the thing is a lot of the furniture that people pick out are around, based on that space. And as soon as you move into a different space and a different layout. And maybe what you had before doesn’t go along with that. And this is just kind of an easy way to be able to make some furniture. Not like, the bigger pieces. Obviously, you’re not going to make a couch or a sofa or something like that. You know what I mean. A coffee table, end table here and there, some outdoor furniture, are excellent pieces for beginning woodworkers to start on.
Colin Shaw: Now, you said you didn’t really do any of this before, well until you started building furniture for yourself, so where did this creativity come from? Where did whole side of you come from? It must have been there somewhere, you know, when you were younger and, you know, you just never had a chance to explore it?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, so my father, my family business, or my father’s business is a trucking company, so I grew up in the shop with him, changing brakes, changing tires. And I’ve always just enjoyed getting my hands dirty. There’s just something about, as you guys know, at the end of the day, being able to step back and look at what you’ve accomplished that day, and there’s a good feeling there.
Colin Shaw: Sure, there is. Yeah.
Rogue Engineer: I was able to express some level of creativity in the engineering world and designing things, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t able to kind of produce my designs. So, this was the best of both worlds. I was able to design something and produce it and live with that piece so there’s a lot of, you know, it’s just a good feeling as you guys know.
Colin Shaw: Alright. So, just for instance, I want to build a stool. I’m going to build a stool and I’m going to build it to my specifications the way I like it and I’m going to try it and see if it works. And then I’m going to put it online with the schematic. That’s a simple for? That’s how you would do it, basically? I’m going to build a stool and go from there?
Rogue Engineer: Yes. I would design everything up ahead of time because like I said before, there’s artist. I never really classify myself as a woodworker because I feel like a lot of the woodworkers are more of an artist because they can kind of see a piece of wood and kind of visualize it and make it into something miraculous. Whereas I’m not that kind of person. I have to go design it first and make sure everything is perfect and then I can start to make my first cuts.
Colin Shaw: Interesting balance of engineer and creative. That’s what I find very interesting about you. A lot of people don’t use both sides of the brain. It’s usually one or the other. It’s pretty interesting you can utilize both sides and come up with something that people just absolutely love. They love your designs and love the finished product that they are able to produce. I know people who have done it and used your site and they are not woodworkers and they are not carpenters and its come out great.
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, and that was kind of like the jumping off point for me. We started in making that furniture, providing those plans, and a lot of people really enjoyed that. There were people that were new to the woodworking game and wanted to get started like you said and that is where they could get an idea or even just, you know, even if they built two of my plans to a tee and then there’s other guys that come along and they might modify it to meet their needs. Once that site kind of got to a point where I could do that full time and it was bringing in an income to support me and my family, we ended up selling that big house of ours that we had and moved up to Michigan in with my wife’s parents. So, they offered to give us a house and workshop. They moved into the basement and so we lived with them for about two years.
Colin Shaw: It was a long time no matter how long.
Rogue Engineer: It was. Luckily, I get along with my in-laws very well, so he had a heated workshop for me that he wasn’t using and he offered to let me use so it worked out really well. But in that time, we actually bought a house and completely gutted it and flipped it so we did everything from refinished all the floors, tore out walls in the kitchen, did some structural changes. We also built all the cabinets for the kitchen and redid the whole entire kitchen, as well as both of the bathrooms in the house. So that was like my first step into construction and luckily, I had my father in law who has been there and done that and he also owns an interior design studio. He has a lot of friends that are contractors so its nice to have his role in that around here. As you guys both know having the right contractors for the job is half the bottle.
Colin Shaw: That is key.
Jimmy Driscoll: So, I am thinking about what you do in your design. What has been the toughest design, what’s your biggest challenge? Is there a piece that you made that was really challenging?
Rogue Engineer: Well, the furniture and stuff like that, hasn’t been. I would say flipping that house was one of the bigger challenges but then after we flipped that house, we then started construction on our own house. Our dream house. We built that from the ground up and I was the general contractor on that and we did a lot of the finish work ourselves. That, as you can imagine, that was definitely the biggest challenge that we had faced. That was about a year. We just finished this past fall and that was about a year, a little over a year, a year and a quarter maybe of our life.
Colin Shaw: Yeah, that’s a lot of your time. But you did most of it yourself?
Rogue Engineer: We did, we did.
Colin Shaw: So, you’re trying to run this business and you’re trying to do that at the same time and there’s just so much time in the day. How old are your kids? You have young kids don’t you?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, we have a seven-year-old boy, he’s going to be eight in a couple days now, and a five-year-old girl.
Colin Shaw: Yeah, so you are right in the middle of it. Both of my kids are in college so I’m in a different stage right now. I remember those days. Five and seven, luckily it sounds like you have a good family support base with your in-laws being there to help with that, but still, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to ask of anyone. That’s a tough project to get through. So, now at this point, did you give the house back to your in-laws, or did you build them a new house, or what?
Rogue Engineer: So, they, as soon as we moved out of their house into this house we are in now, my wife’s brother and his family moved into their house in our spot and my in-laws…it gets complicated. My in-laws ended up buying the lot next to us and they have just started construction on a house so we’ve got five acres and they got ten acres next door and it should be pretty cool. We’ve got a bunch of trails and stuff for the kids. You guys will probably appreciate this. With their house, we ended up doing a raised center aisle barn, if you know what I’m talking about when I refer to a raised center aisle. Basically, the center of the barn has these rafters that come up. I don’t know how to explain it but a raised center aisle barn so you got windows down these walls that come out of the center of the barn and that is going to be their house so it should be…they’ve got side lights going all the way down the center of the house which is really neat.
Colin Shaw: Beautiful. That’s a nice story. It’s so funny, a lot of times I hear these stories and sometimes they always seem to end up with, so we were living with our in-laws. You know, I want to be successful but I’m not sure how successful I am. I love my in-laws, don’t get me wrong, but yeah….
Rogue Engineer: But it gives you motivation.
Colin Shaw: Yeah
Rogue Engineer: Well you know, it wasn’t supposed to supposed to be like this. When we moved up there the whole idea was that we finally became location independent and we can decide where we wanted to love and we were going to sell our house and free up some cash and figure out where we want to be and it just turned out that we ended up staying there. Which is good. We enjoy being near family.
Colin Shaw: Sitting where you are now looking back, it all made sense so that it the key.
Jimmy Driscoll: So where is here?
Colin Shaw: You’re in Michigan?
Rogue Engineer: Yes, just outside of Ann Harbor, Michigan.
Colin Shaw: OK.
Jimmy Driscoll: Nice, warm summers up there, huh?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah.
Jimmy Driscoll: For about two days.
Colin Shaw: It’s a different way of life, for sure. So, I would imagine there would have to be some long conversations between you and your wife when you were ready to make that leap from being an engineer to being the rogue engineer and starting online stuff. I can just imagine the conversation with my wide would have been like what? And where’s the insurance coming from?
Rogue Engineer: Yea, that’s the common question. It went something kind of like so you want to stop working somewhere else and start working here, in the house, where I’m going to be all day long?
Colin Shaw: That’s a very good answer. I like that one. Now, I see her in her videos. Did she just pick it up and learn or did she pick it up from her father?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, she’s the designer so she makes everything look pretty. And she’s got this vision that’s just incredible for selecting the right furniture for where and decorating and all that stuff. She makes it look good and I just make it happen.
Colin Shaw: That’s awesome. Seems like it is a great chemistry so that’s nice. And I did see the video on you doing a playhouse for your daughter and watching your son help you out.
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, we try to get the whole family involved whenever possible. Honestly, it’s hard not to at this stage, they are just there all the time.
Colin Shaw: What else are you going to do?
Rogue Engineer: Exactly. We just don’t fight it.
Colin Shaw: Yeah, it’s probably better that way.
Jimmy Driscoll: Do you have any advice for do it yourselfers that get involved in these projects?
Rogue Engineer: The advice I have it just not being afraid to jump right in. Obviously, safety first, but as far as just getting started, don’t be afraid to make mistakes because we all do. Even the professionals don’t know everything. Not being afraid to get started and not being afraid to reach out whenever to people with any questions you have because honestly a lot of these guys are way more friendlier that you could ever imagine and they want to help. When it came to construction, that was kind I am kind of out of my realm, you know, I didn’t know a lot of the different things that had to be done so being able to reach out to contractors and ask for their advice and bouncing back and forth from a couple different people and getting different opinions is always a great way to do it for sure.
Colin Shaw: Now, I know the answer to a lot if these questions, but do you, on your website, do you have different stages, different types of projects? Do you let people know that this is beginner project, this is intermediate, this is advanced?
Rogue Engineer: That was one thing that I wanted to do in the beginning but I never did end up doing that, however, I have all the projects broken out by room so basically, the whole idea was for me was when someone was coming to my site they have an idea in mind. They need a piece of furniture for this, whether it’s a coffee table, an end table, a chair, or a stool….so I’ve got it broken out into different rooms and categories based on types of furniture. It seems to have worked out for organizing all the plans. I got a couple hundred now.
Colin Shaw: Is that how many you are up to now?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, it might be more than that but that was the last time I checked.
Colin Shaw: Now do you get people that just request different types of pieces that you design for them and throw them on the site?
Rogue Engineer: Occasionally, but honestly, I have more work to do for myself than I care to so doing other plans for other people isn’t on the top of my priority list.
Colin Shaw: Understood.
Rogue Engineer: Or my wife’s priority list.
Colin Shaw: Yeah, build what we got and be happy.
Jimmy Driscoll: Any horror stories? Kind of passed upon them already but not really.
Rogue Engineer: Well I moved into my in laws, did I tell you about that?
Jimmy Driscoll: Well that’s it right there.
Colin Shaw: If you can sit and count with your kids. If you can count to ten without taking your shoes off, everything is good.
Rogue Engineer: I can.
Colin Shaw: Alright, that’s a good sign.
Colin Shaw: You know sometimes the horror stores we talk about – a lot of them are customer related. Anyone ever give you a hard time? They couldn’t figure it out.
Rogue Engineer: Honestly, that was one of the things that I shied away form at the very beginning because I don’t do any commission work, so I don’t have any customers. My customers are brands that sponsor me, which I have some of those horror stories, but I’ll pass.
Colin Shaw: Yeah, I’ll hit stop on the record, and we can talk about those.
Rogue Engineer: Like I said, I’ve done maybe two projects for other people that I’ve been paid for. Both of them took me twice as long as they should have and it’s just not enjoyable for me because I start to lose some of the creativity I have. It was never fun, so I’ve always turned all of that down.
Colin Shaw: Good for you. You know what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. It’s not like you have to go chase that work which is a great thing. Now when you first started to take this to the next level, I thought it was very interesting that one of the steps you took was to fly down to the home show and start marketing yourself, basically, is what it sounds like you did. You spent time emailing different suppliers and brands and different things. The way to get them to pay attention was to be face to face which I through that was a bold move.
Rogue Engineer: Absolutely. Yes, we went down to Orlando to the International Builders Show, which is massive which, if anyone ever gets a chance to do it, I recommend. It’s a really neat experience. There are so many different products there that that will blow your mind. It was spur of the moment, so I didn’t even realize it was happening when it was happening. One of the brands I dealt with asked if I was going to be there and I was like yeah, we probably need to be there. This seems like a prime position for us. Getting in front of those brands face to face was somewhat totally different than talking on the phone and especially through email, which most of exchanges happen through. So being able to go down there, we actually had brands that had turned us down and we went and met with them in person and they reversed that and ended up working with us for really big deals and was huge for us. So, being there opened up a lot of doors for us and our business and being able to work with those brands for sure.
Colin Shaw: So was there a time during the course of all that that you thought about it and thought that its not quick enough or it’s not going to take off. Were there any doubts in your head? Did you feel it was all moving in the right direction and you were seeing the progress every step of the way?
Rogue Engineer: You’re talking about right at the beginning before we went full time?
Colin Shaw: Yeah, just like before you made that decision to go full time. You know, there’s that little time when you got your foot in the water on one end and you got your foot that you’re trying to dabble on the other end. Similar to you, I have a corporate background and I had to either decide to be either in corporate American and be in suit and tie every day or go into this type of work, and I made the leap. I know a lot for people would kind of straddle it a little bit so I’m just wondering, they say it takes like three years in the industry before you start to see something come about so were there times in that three year period that you were like uh?
Rogue Engineer: It happens to everyone. Yeah, when I was first starting out, you know, when I got started, it was putting out maybe one project a month and that was just more and less a blog post. Back then I didn’t do a video or anything like that. It was just putting out a blog post with plans, like project plans. It seemed like every time that I started to get a little down on not getting enough traffic, there would be a little bump in traffic. Or I’d get an email from somebody that was like hey I really appreciate what you are doing or something uplifting. It was constantly and that would make me want to work harder and the harder I worked, the more effort I put in, the more I got in return. It was one of those things that came in spikes. Traffic would kind of spike and then it would go low. A couple months later, I’d have another spike and then it would taper off. It kind of went and spiked every so often and it was nice to see those and it was nice to know that eventually if you waited long enough, they were going to come.
Colin Shaw: Now do you get a lot of fellow carpenters that say I can do what you can do, and I should do this full time and make tons of money as well? Anyone ever gives you that kind of vibe back?
Rogue Engineer: Yeah, and I always encourage people. It’s not really a competition for me. The internet is a really big place. I always try to encourage people to do what I am doing because honestly, I feel like I’m on vacation every day because I’m getting to do what I want to do all the time. So, I always encourage everybody or people that are interest in it, to do it and give them tips and tricks and what I learned along the way. I also remember being that guy when looking back at Anna White’s and saying wow, she looks like she’s doing really good with the business and I know I can do this so why am I not. Obviously, there’s a lot of work involved. When I was in Georgia, working at Gulfstream, it was work, I would come home, have dinner with my family and then go back to work on the website all night. And all my weekends were gone. So basically, we just had no social life, so all my efforts were putting into this business and growing it. Especially when I got to the point where I could actually see that this could be a full-time gig. So, I told you I was putting out like one project in the beginning and right before my jum to full time, I was putting out like two projects a week. If you talk with anybody in my niche that is a lot.
Colin Shaw: Mostly being in meeting and stuff like that too.
Rogue Engineer: And having a full time job
Colin Shaw: Yea, people don’t realize, its probably the same thing with actors and actresses too. They’re like ah, they don’t really work that hard and I don’t think there’s anything in this world that comes all that easy. You gotta work for it.
Jimmy Driscoll: Even the latter is not easy.
Colin Shaw: So, I was on vacation last week down in the southern Caribbean and I passed a convenience store the tour guide was bringing us buy and I asked him, hey can I ask you a question? Why do you guys play the lottery here? You’re already in the Caribbean, where do you want to go? If you win where are you going, Connecticut? I’ll take your hut and you take my house. Let’s switch this out.
Jimmy Driscoll: What a deal!
Colin Shaw: Such a deal!
Colin Shaw: So, what trends do you see happening right now with the internet? D you see a shift with anything from your end?
Rogue Engineer: As far as what I do, I see that there’s more, there’s more people getting into what we do and there’s a shift towards video. Video is a big thing right now. But also, there’s more people doing what I do but there’s also a lot more money being invested into influencers, I guess, it what you would call myself. There’s a lot more brands investing into influencer marketing. That’s good for me.
Colin Shaw: Good for you, yes.
Rogue Engineer: I continue to be on that vacation every day.
Colin Shaw: There you go. Teach me how to be an influencer. I got to influence someone around here.
Jimmy Driscoll: So, that’s about it.
Colin Shaw: Oh, one question I got to ask you. Have you held any grudges against any advisors, suppliers, manufacturers? You don’t have to mention who.
Rogue Engineer: Not really. I really have a hard time with the whole corporate mentality.
Jimmy Driscoll: We do too.
Rogue Engineer: People constantly trying to have meetings and metrics and dates and stuff like that. I have kind of a little bit of a chip on my shoulders as far as that stuff goes. But overall, no I’m pretty easy-going guy. I try not to hold any grudges. The only other thing is cheap people or cheap advertisers. It’s like going to remodel a house and you ask them what their budget it and it’s a couple hundred bucks and it doesn’t really work.
Colin Shaw: We’ve had a couple people to advertise with us and we’re fortunate. And other people that don’t want to even talk with us. I’m like okay, someday. I’m the one who would hold the grudge. Jimmy would be the easy-going guy.
Jimmy Driscoll: We can dream, can’t we?
Rogue Engineer: Its always more expensive the second time around.
Colin Shaw: Absolutely it is. Could have gotten off the ground and look what happened. I tell you. Alright, so how does everyone find you, Jamison?
Rogue Engineer: You can check out my website at rogueengineer.com. You can find me on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube as well
Colin Shaw: Beautiful. And did you buy up the rouge engineer website, just in case?
Rogue Engineer: No, I didn’t.
Colin Shaw: Look into it, you never know.
Rogue Engineer: Not a bad idea.
Colin Shaw: Well Jamison, it was great having you on our show. Thank you so much. Wish continued success and anytime you want to reach out, we’d love to hear from you. Wishing you the best.
Rogue Engineer: Absolutely, take care guys.