Danielle Applestone, Bantam Tools

We talk with Danielle Applestone, CEO of Bantam Tools, about the state of desktop manufacturing, the gender gap in engineering, and doing business with DARPA.

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 Danielle and a Bantam CNC, as seen in  a recent profile in Make .

Danielle and a Bantam CNC, as seen in a recent profile in Make.

Notes:

Show Transcript

Spencer Wright - 00:00 - So yeah, move that. Yeah, you're the master of the microphone.

Danielle Applestone - 00:03 - Hello. I’m the master of the microphone.

Spencer Wright - 00:10 - This is The Prepared.

Spencer Wright - 00:23 - Today, my guest is Danielle Applestone. Danielle is CEO of Bantam Tools which makes desktop CNC milling machines for PCB and mechanical prototyping. Danielle, thanks for coming on the podcast.

Danielle Applestone - 00:33 - Thanks for having me. This is great.

Spencer Wright - 00:35 - So, I have a moderately hard-hitting prompt. I don't know, maybe not.

Danielle Applestone - 00:35 - Great. Right out of the gate.

Spencer Wright - 00:46 - I want to talk about the state of desktop manufacturing in general. Obviously, maybe, your market's a little bit distinct from the 3D printing market obviously, but it also is part of it in some ways and the desktop 3D printing market has gone through a crazy couple of years. How do you evaluate desktop manufacturing in general right now? And where do you see that going in your role now?

Danielle Applestone - 01:13 - Yeah, desktop manufacturing. We are still in the phase, I think, of like early computers or like my grandpa building his own television. There was an era where you were building your own television and it was possible and people could do it, but it took a lot of time and it was mostly not fruitful for a lot of people, a lot of effort, and I feel like that's kind of where desktop manufacturing is now. You can do it. There's a lot of tools out there, but we are a ways from the point where I think it's a viable career option for people to say like, “Hey, I'm an engineer. I have an idea about something that I could make and turn it into a company. I'm going to get some tools and I'm gonna make this—like desktop manufacturing is going to be my future.” I do think that there will be a time when that is totally possible, but right now it's hard because there's so many different tools, whether it's hardware tools, software tools—

There is sort of the software design layer tools, the software manufacturing layer tools, the assembly instructions tools, the PLM and MRP system tools. And it's just like, “okay, it’s just a job to get the whole operation set up.” I think that if there was a solution that was more like, “okay, this is a platform for the small batch manufacturer, this is the suite of tools, hardware, this is one software platform that does roughly what you need.” It would be much easier for people to fulfill the dream of the suburban manufacturing center.

Spencer Wright - 03:01 - Okay. So now to bring the audience back up to speed, what does Bantam do and how do you fit into that?

Danielle Applestone - 03:08 - Yeah. So at Bantam Tools we make, basically, professional reliability that you can afford. So we've got these machines that “just work,” you know, in quotes, that's what people say. And right now they are doing PCB milling. So if you want to test out some ideas, maybe you have a board with an antenna design, you want to test it out really quickly to see if it's gonna work before you send it off to a board manufacturer. That's what our products are for. People also use them for really small, precise aluminum parts or microfluidics research, that kind of stuff. But primarily it's the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB milling machine is for PCP milling.

Spencer Wright - 03:55 - Okay. So you were not always called Bantam. You launched as Othermill and there's a weird story? Actually, the other day I happened to walk past the Otherlab building, which I'd never been in and I've heard this legendary organ factory, whatever that… Tell me a little bit about that.

Danielle Applestone - 04:14 - Yeah. Our company was Other Machine Company and it started as part of Otherlab. We were a team inside Otherlab working on a government grant, so we didn't really have a name at that point in time and then we made up a name which was Other Fab and ran a kickstarter campaign and they were like, “that doesn't make any sense.

And so we were like, let's beat Other Machine Company and it's going to be the Othermill. And it was just was one of those painful, painful decisions that haunted me for five years, almost.

Spencer Wright - 04:49 - Why?

Danielle Applestone - 04:50 - Yeah. Well, because it's like, oh, well what other machines are you interested in? And they're like, well, I'm interested in your machine, Other Machine Company, what other machines are you consider it, you want to buy the Othermill. Yeah. So it was not only difficult for me to sell, but it was difficult for people to talk about when I wasn't around. Like you want to teach people about what your product is. They use it, they feel inspired by it and they want to share with their friends, but if they don't know what to call it and they feel nervous, like is this The Other Machine or is this the Othermill? Especially really precise people like engineers. It just put friction into the whole communication and building of community and stuff around this product that we had to eliminate basically when we went through the acquisition.

Spencer Wright - 05:36 - So yeah, the acquisition. So, give me a little bit more of a scope for the past two years.

Danielle Applestone - 05:43 - Yeah. So we were doing really well, we had gotten the company to the point where it was stable but it wasn't growing enough and so we decided to pursue acquisition so we could find a partner who wanted to invest in the company and take it to the next level. And so I found a partner in Bre Pettis who was the former CEO of Makerbot and he bought the company. Now he owns it. And I've been operating as CEO ever since. And the very first thing that we did together, besides putting together a product development roadmap, was brand the company, choose a name that we felt really represented the spirit of what we were doing, and was something that was easy to identify, easy to talk about. And so we changed the name of the company to Bantam Tools.

Spencer Wright - 06:39 - And is that just an external messaging thing? Did it also change the people inside the company? Like what they think of what you're doing? Like does help you cohere around something new, I guess?

Danielle Applestone - 06:56 - Yes. And in a weird way that I thought was going to be much more difficult. It's kind of like you name your baby, they grow up to be five, and then someone comes in and says “that is such a hard name to have in life. So we're going to change your baby's name and then it's like all your relatives—that's kind of like the employees—and in our case, it felt like finally, like this name, Bantam Rooster in case you don't know. It’s a chicken but people usually identify it with a rooster because they are very ferocious and they are very small. So, bantam roosters can defend against very large roosters because they punch above its weight class, which is what we wanted to—

Spencer Wright - 07:48 - Bantam weight.

Danielle Applestone - 07:49 - Yes. Bantam weight. Yes, exactly. It's also part of, I think maybe hockey also. So bantam-weight fighters. It's small but powerful and we thought that, you know, I'm from Arkansas and so I very much relate more to the middle of the country than the coasts and I felt like Bantam is a thing that brings me home in a way. And it’s what we do. We build small machines that allow people to compete against large companies. It's on your desk. You can build everything that you want. And so we felt like it’s small and powerful. So are we. And then we just went bold because I felt pretty triumphant having sold the company and it’s kind of like graduating from being a CEO in a way. It’s one of those rites of passages. And so I felt like it was time for me to fully harness my potential and I don't know—I just really resonated with the very masculine red rooster imagery also, which I didn’t know how it was going to go over, because most of our company is women.

Spencer Wright - 09:07 - Really? More than half?

Danielle Applestone - 09:07 - Yeah. Yeah, and almost always has been through our expansion and contraction and stuff as a startup. But it was just like, “yeah, this is us, we are the underdog. We have gotten stuff done.” And so I have bantam roosters tattooed on the backs of my legs now. I am all in on this rooster imagery.

Spencer Wright - 09:38 - This is maybe a little bit of a tangent, but I'm curious what you said, something about identifying with center of the country as opposed to the coasts. What do you mean by that? You live in Oakland?

Danielle Applestone - 09:51 - I live in Berkeley. And I've lived all over. I've lived in Texas and Arkansas and Kentucky and Massachusetts and D.C. and California. I think those are all. Oh, and South Dakota, Iowa. All as an adult.

And so I feel like there's two parts for me personally. This is kind of a personal question. It’s the connection to the earth and nature. I was an only child living on 20 acres, 15 miles from the nearest town that was only 6,000 people. And so I just hung out—me and the woods and whatever for a long time. And I think that I share this connection with a lot of people. When I go to Indianapolis to give a talk, I fit right in. I consider myself a feminist and I’m pretty liberal most of the time and I'm very good at shooting guns also.

I'm sort of like a mismatch I think. And there’s part of the middle of the country that feels more like a backbone to me. There's this connection with nature as well. And there's also much more of a focus on manufacturing and building things and farming. And I am such a tactile person and I wanna help. I wanna build CNC machines so that kids who are living in those areas can have the same kind of mobility that I had. To learn how to build things designed on a computer and have a robot make it for you. The Bantam Tools suite of machines is really going to connect people with that in a way that maybe they haven't ever had access to.

Spencer Wright - 11:45 - So how did you have access to that? Or how did you make access for that?

Danielle Applestone - 11:50 - Yeah, yeah. I had a couple people that really big advocates for me that identified that I was a little bit strange compared to the average kid. Around my house, my dad was in a wheelchair, so we built a lot of stuff to be custom and I had a lot of responsibility. You know, I'm the one who's climbing up on the ladder on the roof. I'm the one who's getting done and measuring things. I'm the one who goes into the hardware store and has to stare at the bolts and the PVC pipe for half an hour until somebody comes over and helps me. That was my background so I was just sort of thrust into access of hardware and building for accessibility.

And then I had a teacher who identified me as like, “you know what, you should try these free STEM camps.” And I went to some free camps and then I went to a free public magnet school at the Arkansas School for math and science. Now it's math and science and the arts that the Clintons setup in Arkansas. And so for me, it was like there's free science stuff I can do. And so building things and science is my ticket to anywhere.

Spencer Wright - 13:01 - So I wonder what is your, maybe not ideal in the moral sense if that exists, but what is the epitome of a customer for Bantam? Is it that person? Is it someone like yourself then?

Danielle Applestone - 13:24 - I think eventually it will be, yeah. It's not ubiquitous enough. Just like desktop manufacturing isn't ubiquitous enough in general yet. Our customer is someone who is on a team who's building a hardware product and their team is usually three to five people and that can be at a startup or they can be at a Microsoft or a really large company, but their motivation is the same. They have an idea, they need to prove to their boss or their investor or whatever, that their thing is possible and they don't have a lot of money or time. And so what we do is we compress that time and it doesn't cost a lot of money to use our tools. So I think that is, right now, that's people who their life depends on it honestly. It's their job security, the ability for them to enact change in the world with a product that is related to their ability to do it quickly, convincingly. It needs to look polished and professional and that’s who we're aiming at.

Spencer Wright - 14:28 - Right. Okay, Gotcha. And that person probably lives on one of the coasts, right? Is that accurate, do you think? I should ask that question a little bit more neutrally I guess.

Danielle Applestone - 14:45 - Yes. I know what you're going to ask.

Spencer Wright - 14:47 - What am I going to ask?

Danielle Applestone - 14:49 - Okay, so, I think you're saying like, where is that innovation happening? It’s probably happening on the coasts.

Spencer Wright - 14:58 - Well, I guess I actually wouldn’t. I think of innovation as being somewhat—it moralizes it a little bit too much for me. In a way, I would rather just say, there is something about the language that how like a tech startup press uses to describe, not just manufacturing specifically, but just innovation in general that bothers me in general. I want to recognize the less sexy things that are happening in, you know, not in New York and San Francisco and Seattle and so on and so forth. That doesn’t really put you up for a question, I guess. When you think about those teams, those three to five per person teams, I guess how do you as a person from Arkansas relate to that? To that customer? To that user?

Danielle Applestone - 15:59 - Well, it's interesting because so many of our customers are not on the coasts. And the reason is that that there's a lot of manufacturing resources that are quick turn manufacturing resources that are on the coast. So if you want to make 3D parts, we use Fictive a lot with our company to get quick-turn CNC parts made. So if I'm in Texas, I don't have a Fictive. So I am more reliant on my own ability to make parts and our machines resonate with those people. And so we have John Deere, right? That’s a good customer of ours. They’re working on embedded systems for their tractors. And this is totally public, but they're working on embedded systems for their tractor and there's electronics, crazy sensing, and everything—

Spencer Wright - 16:55 - And there just isn't a quick turn PCB in Moline or whatever?

Danielle Applestone - 17:02 - Yeah. Totally. Yeah, so I super relate to them and I think about what if you weren't in shop class, learning how to use hand tools and welding? I think that's a part of it, of course, and important. But what if you were also learning how to do digital design and use robots to fabricate your parts? Because then, you’re a skip away from going into production. If you’re already using a CNC to make things, it’s so much easier to productize a thing and work with a larger manufacturer if you ever need. And to me, that seems like power.

I can’t imagine being someone who's building everything by hand in the middle of the country. Or you're able to have a small scale manufacturing facility in the middle of the country. And you’re at a huge advantage because your cost of living is so low. There's some labor around you that's also inexpensive.

I feel like there’s going to be a growth of hardware companies. It’s going to happen not on the coasts. We already see that in Silicon Valley. A lot of hardware companies are failing. There’s not a lot of investment available just for hardware. And I think it’s because the costs are high. So, in my mind, I’m like, “well, go to someplace where the costs are low.”

Austin is still pretty expensive. I think we could probably do a little bit better than that. But still—go somewhere else. If the access to the tools is the same, then all you need is three to five people who are really passionate about the thing and you can actually last much longer on some cash, building hardware in the middle of the country, than anywhere else.

Spencer Wright - 18:53 - So what is a typical workflow using the Bantam desktop PCB milling machine?

Danielle Applestone - 18:59 - Oh, you got it. People will design their circuits in Eagle or Altium or something like that and they'll save it as a board file, a dot BRD file. Or they’ll export a series of Gerbers. Gerbers is just like a board file, but everything’s separated into layers. And then you would open up our software and you would click to open that file.You would open the BRD or you would open the Gerber, and then our software actually does cam behind the scenes.

So Cam is you have this design, and then I'm going to translate that into paths that the machine is going to follow. So our software does cam for those boards behind the scenes. What you see when you load up the file is choices about what size cutting tool you're going to use.

So you select the tool and then you look at it and you say, “all right, that one's not quite small enough to get these little areas, I'm going to add a smaller tool.” Then you get an estimate of how long it's gonna take and then you go through the process of just loading your blank PCB, which is copper-coated on either fiberglass, which is FR4, or resin, which is FR1. And you just load that. You basically tape it down to the machine and then load the software. It tells you which tool to load and then you press go.

Spencer Wright - 20:34 - I'm curious. I've exported Gerbers a handful of times and always found it to be the most painful process ever. Why? What's the purpose of those file formats? For someone who’s building software around either a BRD file or a set of Gerbers, is it easier to develop your tool chain based on Gerbers than it is to just interpret the BRD file from the start?

Danielle Applestone - 21:04 - Oh no, we went BRD day one. I think the reason why Gerbers were needed is because those Gerbers were going to a lot of different places. All around the world, wherever you’re getting your PCBs made, the Gerber is the standard, but not all Gerbers are created equal which is the problem.

So if they were, if it was a true standard and you could really depend upon what you’re doing and your design was going to be translated accurately into the Gerber files, that’d be totally fine. But actually, depending on where they're going, you're going to choose 16 different settings on your Gerbers and you never get it quite right. So I advocate for people to use Eagle, mostly because what we've found is that, although a little tough to get started, over time, it’s a totally adequate tool.

Spencer Wright - 22:06 - It seems to be getting better since the autodesk acquisition as well. I felt like it had stagnated a little bit maybe before that.

Danielle Applestone - 22:13 - Oh yeah. I don't think that it had changed in a substantive in many years.

Spencer Wright - 22:22 - Yeah. But now it seems like they’re making updates and they’re updates that I actually do appreciate. In fact, I think, they even had a built-in Gerber preview or something like that.

I had a experience recently where we ordered some boards and accidentally didn’t include the bottom silkscreen layer. It wasn’t a big deal, but we were missing the battery direction indicators and so then we had to print out like 10,000 little stickers and apply them to these boards. It seemed like a totally preventable issue. It’s like a neglected tool chain.

Danielle Applestone - 22:58 - Previews are important. Software preview and then our machine provides a hardware preview in a way before you invest in getting your boards mass manufactured.

Spencer Wright - 23:10 - So typically people are making one or five or something like that? What's the kind of scale?

Danielle Applestone - 23:15 - Yeah. Any more than that, you're pretty much certain of what you're doing already. And once you're certain for PCBs, unless you're on a really tight deadline, you might as well just use the service.

Spencer Wright - 23:25 - So I had this impression that a couple of years ago, your purview was maybe a little bit broader than just PCBs and now it does seem like it's focused mostly on that. What's the rationale behind that?

Danielle Applestone - 23:45 - Well, there's two things. One was the name, so it was hard for people to know what this product was for. It's so new. Most people haven't experienced a CNC machine of the small size before.

And the other thing was you couldn't choose. Like you made a product that could do mechanical parts, could do PCBs, but you couldn't really specialize so you couldn't provide the quality of experience for either one. It's kind of like a Swiss Army knife, you know. The scissors on a Swiss Army knife will work, but they’re general purpose.

So what we wanted to do was just was pick one. Most of the people, probably 75 percent of our people, were using the machine to make PCBs. And so we thought, “okay, if we just say this is for PCBs, then even internally we're going to focus on features that are for PCB users.”

And so in September. when we did the name change, we released a bunch of features and hardware add-ons and software changes that made it really great. We did material probing. So sometimes with PCBs, it's hard to get the thickness exactly right. And so now you can just put your material in there, you put a little clip over it, and then you probe it with the tool to know exactly how tall your PCB is. That's huge.

We also added a fine dust collection system so that the kind of powdery dust from the board. Well, people are using the dust collection system with FR1. It's like a powdery dust. For the FR4, people are using our FR4 milling system. It’s a tub that you fill with oil. That is the safest way. You’re really trapping those particles. They don’t get out into the air because we know that this machine is used in education environments as well, so rather than just say, “well, this dust collection system is pretty good,” we wanted to make sure that if you’re using FR4, there is a really safe way to do it.

And it was awesome because we could just say, “this machine is for PCB milling, here's these features that make it really great for PCB milling.” And those features benefit mechanical parts makers. And so now we're thinking about, “well, what would a mechanical engineer want? What is their ideal desktop tool?” It's probably not something that mills an area that’s four by five by one and a half inches. That’s not what a mechanical engineer wants typically. It is something that someone who’s in biotech who’s making small fixtures and devices and things would want. But we’re now exploring. We don’t want to leave those folks behind, of course, because they also want rapid manufacturing to happen on their desktop. So we’re thinking about how to serve those people as well.

Spencer Wright - 26:54 - I'm curious—more broadly, how has the transition been from having a single government customer to addressing, I mean, you’re still focused on one user type, right? And it is primarily B2B, right? There’s a little bit more constraint that way, but how has that transition been?

Danielle Applestone - 27:19 - Well, I am so glad that we didn't end up building what the government wanted because they have a whole different idea of what they need from a product or what they want in a product. It's just a difference in target user. It's so important to focus on who is your target user. The government wanted us to build small-scale robots for education to put shop class back into schools and that is so different from the engineer who is prototyping PCBs at a small startup somewhere. Their motivations are different, the government being much more long term focused, much less focused on aesthetics and performance, whereas that engineer’s like “I have to depend upon this performance.” Reliability was a thing that they shared in common, but this has to work for me right now. It has to have the performance that is going to allow me to convince my boss to make this product.

And just that shift in mindset really affects the product. So now I feel like we are able to focus squarely on the people who need this. And it is really hard to have the discipline to say, “you guys and gals and not the rest of you.” We’re like an 80% solution for one group of people right now and the rest of folks will figure out how to get it done.

Spencer Wright - 28:53 - Wait, so sorry, the government wanted you to make educational tools? What was that?

Danielle Applestone - 28:57 - Oh yeah. We built two different products. We built one that was the PCB milling machine, which we eventually ran a Kickstarter campaign and raised money for. And what we sell now is a version of that.

But we also developed a small scale CNC x-acto knife. So we wanted to put like a laser—it’s like a laser cutter in that it cuts 2D things but without the safety hazard and without the expense. It was going to sit on about three feet wide. You feed cardboard into it, a computer controls an x-acto knife that cuts out a shape. And the reason why we went with that is we thought, “well, if you can draw a 2D shape on a piece of cardboard or on your computer, then the robot can cut it out for you.” And that is the minimum viable design to CNC process that we could imagine.

Spencer Wright - 30:03 - Wait, so you're literally taking a sharpie and drawing on a piece of cardboard or is this a digital blueprint?

Danielle Applestone - 30:09 - In the thing that we built for the government, you drew it on your computer and then it would cut out that shape.

Spencer Wright - 30:15 - Okay, got it.

Danielle Applestone - 30:16 - And we thought, well, what's, what's really cheap for schools? Cardboards cheap. You just get that from the cafeteria if you need to. X-acto knife blades are cheap, like five cents each. And so we could teach people: draw on a computer, the robot cuts it out for you. And that is, in essence, the whole process of modern advanced manufacturing. You're using a computer to design a thing and then you're not physically carving it out or cutting it out yourself. A robot is doing it for you.

And so that was a product that we developed for DARPA and we had to make a choice. We had the PCB mill, we have the CNC x-acto knife, which was called the other cutter, big surprise. And we thought, “okay, which one of these is the closest to having an actual need?”

We didn't want to do a solution in search of a problem. We wanted to actually have a problem and then meet that need. And we felt that the x-acto knife machine was just farther away from that. It is pretty awesome. And the Cricket is a company that's come out with something that can do, I think maybe thin versions of cardboard now and can cut it out. And they have done a fantastic job of productizing that function. But it's for craft and it’s sold at Michael's. And I have one, I have their final cutter, which is amazing.

Spencer Wright - 32:06 - What is Michael’s?

Danielle Applestone - 32:10 - Michael’s? Oh, well, Michael's a craft store. It's kind of like a Joanne.

Spencer Wright - 32:06 - This is all over my head. Our daughter is only a year old, you know, we haven't really quite gotten there yet. I guess.

Danielle Applestone - 32:10 - Well, they're selling CNC machines to the mass market.

Spencer Wright - 32:16 - That’s remarkable. How much?

Danielle Applestone - 32:17 - Like $299 or something. Yeah, super cheap. If you really want to get people into CNC without them even knowing it, go get a Cricket because it’s a couple hundred dollars, you draw on your computer, or you import a JPEG and it finds the outline for you. Now I’m plugging, but it is fantastic. It was one of the easiest onboarding to a CNC process that I have experienced. And they’re selling them to the mass market. CNC.

Spencer Wright - 32:57 - So when I think of DARPA, I think of some stealth coding on a plane or something like that. We’re talking about the same DARPA here, right?

Danielle Applestone - 33:10 - Yeah, totally. Well, if you really want to think about national security, you have to pay attention to how many people you need to operate your domestic military infrastructure. And what they realized is when we started to phase out shop class from high schools, we started to deemphasize vocational education. We stopped having as many people who knew how to build things, make things. We stopped having the folks who are going to power the military infrastructure. And so they thought, “okay, well, that was a mistake.”

They actually did a study and determined that the biggest threat to national security in the next 20 years was not having enough people. And we see that in manufacturing as well. I think it was in 2015, we crossed the mark of 600,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing and it's supposed to climb to $2 million by 2025. According to Deloitte, you can google that. Their study.

Spencer Wright - 34:13 - We’ll put it in the show notes.

Danielle Applestone - 34:14 - It'll be a great thing to link to it. I have read every page. It is so long, but it is so fascinating about how, you know, automation—we do hear about how automation is replacing people with scripts and robots and AI and whatever. But also baby boomers are retiring and it's not keeping up with the advancement. Especially because vocational education like career technical education and stuff and shop class were deemphasized.

So all of these things are conflating and places like South Carolina now, where there's tons of manufacturers, their unemployment rate is like just above three percent and there is a ton of open jobs there and nobody with the skills to fill them. And that was the thing that DARPA identified, but for their own purposes, for military purposes.

Spencer Wright - 35:08 - And for somebody who's never considered—I mean, I’ve looked at open RFPs or something like that, but what’s that process like?

Danielle Applestone - 35:21 - Well, most of it had happened by the time I got there. It seemed to me like the government wants you to promise way more than you could ever deliver in order to get those proposals to be accepted. So when I came on, the promises that Other Bab had made were vast. And so my first task was scoping that and breaking them down until deliverables and basically negotiating like, “okay, you say this, but what do you exactly mean by this? Like what exactly features does the software need to have?” And trying to distill that down. It was essentially product management. Breaking it down, figuring out what can we deliver by those timelines, what actually meets their requirements and a lot of, I think three months of expectation setting, honestly.

I think that was the hard part, but setting the cadence also was important. This is sort of like once you've already got your grant, but like weekly updates. Like legit, “this is what we did this week” and so that there was no surprises by the time we actually had our reviews. I think was really, really important because you set the expectations and then you're consistently meeting those expectations every single week. And then people feel like, “okay, maybe they didn't give me that really lofty goal that they said, but they worked really hard and I can point to that work.”

Spencer Wright - 37:02 - And what are those check ins like? Who are you meeting with?

Danielle Applestone - 37:08 - Oh yeah. Well, you got the program manager and in our case, there was sort of like the handler, the organization that was in between you and DARPA and there were people associated with that. And then there’s always just extra people. There’s like three people that you don’t really know. They’re ancillary folks that are related and I think those people, their goal is to review what you’re doing and then communicate to secret projects that are going on, what is happening, but they can't really tell you what they do. They’re there to learn from you and then communicate possibilities throughout the organization. We would usually be meeting with like five or six outside folks and then we would be presenting all of our work.

Spencer Wright - 38:05 - And are these people with uniforms, with stars on them?

Danielle Applestone - 38:10 - About half of them were.

Spencer Wright - 38:11 - Wow. Yeah. That must be such an interesting experience. Like you're making an educational tool.

Danielle Applestone - 38:21 - Yeah. Well, maybe it didn't surprise me at all because my family is a military family. Both my parents were in the Navy and it was just... I don't know. In Arkansas there's a lot of people who joined the military. Like tons of kids from my school joined the military. So it seemed to me, “well, this is just... we're in partnership with these folks.” We have really similar goals. I know that the people that they want to teach these skills are the kids from my hometown and so their empowerment is my empowerment in a way. And so to me, it didn't feel weird. And I know that’s glossing over the fact that it's defense money and military spending, you know, and military money does lead to people dying, sometimes.

Spencer Wright - 39:12 - That's interesting. So I was going to say it, oftentimes is a zero sum game against education spending or something like that, right? But in this case you're bridging that in an interesting way?

Danielle Applestone - 39:26 - Oh, man. I think that the burn that manufacturers are feeling and that the military is feeling on not having enough people is going to allow us to meet personally. I just talk about this all the time, but it's going to allow us to achieve some of the longstanding goals that we have. One of those is empowerment of women and closing the wage gap that's based on gender because if you've already asked all of the men and they don't have the skills, you're going to have to educate the men or the women and women are super underrepresented in manufacturing for no reason. And so I feel like whether it's getting women to get these skills and they joined the military or they joined a manufacturer or whatever, I feel like... for every dollar that you're not investing in manufacturing, you're losing like eighty nine cents or something every day.

And so I feel like now, finally, the bottom line for the country and the bottom line for manufacturers is aligned with something that I want for women. And so wherever, wherever we can find an opportunity to be on the same side of the table, I think, is incredible. And so that's what I saw that DARPA education project as—it's like this is an opportunity to be on the same side.

Spencer Wright - 40:56 - Before we started recording, you were talking a little bit about a project in South Carolina that you're working with somehow?

Danielle Applestone - 41:03 - I'm trying to get it started.

Spencer Wright - 41:05 - Oh, cool. Tell me about it.

Danielle Applestone - 41:07 - It's called Daughters of Rosie and it really allows me to do the second half of what I set out to do for the DARPA project. So, one half of the DARPA project was building the machines and the software to make it easy. And then the other half was getting it out to people—increasing access and increasing the number of people who could use CNC machines and learn the principles of advanced manufacturing.

So Daughters of Rosie is… it’s so funny, it’s so much of like a connector organization. So you partner with a manufacturer, you partner with a local technical college, you partner with a statewide training organization and you partner with a staffing organization. So staffing organizations and the one that we're close to partnering with serves women, primarily women ages 25 to 45 who are in for food service or retail.

These are folks that want to go from two jobs to one and it's mostly women and traditionally manufacturers have not been able to attract that group of people, but that's who they really need, that's their future. And so all you do is you create a women-only training program at the local technical college that sponsored by the manufacturer. And so women move through this training program as groups and you really need that group support in order to move into an industry where you're underrepresented because just one woman going into a room of 100 guys is not the same as 10 women going to a group of 100 guys. It means something to have that group. There’s only two women-only manufacturing related programs in the whole country. One's in Chicago, one's in Oregon. And they're not advanced manufacturing programs either.

And so it is an experiment that hasn't really been tried, which I think is so funny. So you create the women on the training program and then you put together a retention program for the company. You survey the women in the area, you find out what their critical needs are, and lo and behold, it's always the same thing. It's onsite childcare, flexible shifts and a culture where harassment isn’t tolerated.

Daughters of Rosie is basically the connector and the inspirer and we say, “if you sponsor this women-only training facility, we're going to fill it with women and that is how you're going to fill these 600,000 to 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs”. It's also true in I.T. as well. That's another big area, That’s what I'm fired up to do. It's like my side hustle. It’s a social venture.

I’m in this fellowship called the Henry Crown Leadership Fellowship through the Aspen Institute and part of our commitment is a social venture and this one is just so... I tried a bunch of ventures and failed at all of them and I feel like it's because my core wasn't totally aligned with them. With this one, I feel a super strong pull and identified a South Carolina as a potential place where this would be a good idea to try it. I was approached by some folks in the government in Saudi Arabia because they have similar goals. They have Vision, I don't know if you know of Vision 2030.

Spencer Wright - 44:40 - No.

Danielle Applestone - 44:42 - It's basically a plan from their government to transform—and I definitely don’t want to act like I know what I’m talking about here—but read about it. The blurb on the website.

Spencer Wright - 44:53 - It will be in the show notes.

Danielle Applestone - 44:56 - It’s about changing their country and focusing on things that maybe they haven't focused on before. One of them is making sure that their government spending and military spending is actually going into Saudi Arabia. I think that the stat is, and we'll have to verify, is half of military spending now needs to be in Saudi Arabia, which means Lockheed Martin or whoever is doing military contracts with Saudi Arabia has to build facilities there now and they don't have a workforce. So their goal is 800,000 women trained in advanced manufacturing by 2030 and boy, it’s like a whole... I'm just digging into it but it's another point of like, “holy cow, we can be on the same side of the table here.” Women are the future and that's why we call it Daughters of Rosie. It’s an homage to Rosie the Riveter. Between 1942 and 1945, we put $6 million women into the workforce.

And then, they got right back out whenever they were needed. But now it's like these are permanent jobs. This is definitely a thing we need to invest in. My challenge is figuring out how. And I’m at the beginning of that journey.

Spencer Wright - 46:17 - How have you dealt with things like onsite childcare at Bantam? Or, even more broadly, how have you dealt with supporting people’s lifestyles, I guess?

Danielle Applestone - 46:29 - Totally. Well, we do paid maternity and paternity leave. I think in California, it's also different because you can have paid family medical leave and there's state disability as well, so you can end up taking six months off paid in California with our company benefits and the benefits of the state.

Spencer Wright - 46:53 - The state is reimbursing your lost salary for some period of time or something like that?

Danielle Applestone - 46:59 - No, they just pay the person directly.

Spencer Wright - 47:01 - Wow. That's incredible.

Danielle Applestone - 47:03 - Yeah. Yeah. So if they are an employed person and they're taking time off from work, they get the paid family medical leave and they also get the state disability and they take that after they take our six weeks of paid. We allow people to take the rest, I guess it's like four and a half months, unpaid. We pay for healthcare during that. I will say it was a somewhat controversial move to offer that benefit, but I personally felt like if I can't do this, it's just an insult to families. I had a kid young and I was in grad school and for a part of that time, I was even a single mom. Thinking about what would have made it easier for me to do that process, I think I just I couldn’t, I just wouldn’t feel that great about it.

This is one of the reasons why the people who work at Bantam Tools are super committed, and even through I mean ups and downs in a hardware company. We took money of every color—I mean, I guess all green—but you know, venture debt and crowdfunding and consulting jobs in government Monday and angel investors and regular VC and customer money. It was an up and down process and I think that one of the things is that people felt that we were committed to them, they were committed to us, and part of it was this childcare thing. We offer flexible hours, as long as you get your work done, you're expected to work a certain number of hours per day, and you can arrange that with your supervisor.

We offer flexibility. Now we're a small company and not very many people have kids. Well, I guess at one point, half the people had kids. We’re not pressed to deal with the childcare thing, but we are pressed to deal with the child-having part of things.

Spencer Wright - 49:21 - Yeah. How do you like being a CEO of a company?

Danielle Applestone - 49:26 - Oh, I love being the boss. I do. I'm not afraid to say that.

Spencer Wright - 49:33 - Yeah, no, that's great.

Danielle Applestone - 49:35 - That's what a boss would say. I do love being the boss. I love that I can walk into a space and if I feel calm, everyone will feel calm no matter what shit is going down. I like that feeling because that's what got me to where I am today. I’m going to harness this energy, it’s going to be a calm energy, and I’m going to get through this thing. I didn’t know that would be an asset, but I love pushing people to do really hard things and being there to be like, “this is possible. We are going to do this. It is going to be amazing.” And you know what? People deliver. It’s just regular people. You come across people, you hire people.

I like being able to try out experiments about leadership too. Making a wager on “do we really need an engineer to do that? Or could I just hire a person who was working at Home Depot”? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is because I decide who to hire and I decide how to manage people and stuff. It’s been a time for me to explore my strengths and weaknesses. When you have to show up everyday and be this calm energy, you find out what are the limits of that. I don’t know. I like to be in charge of my own destiny too. That’s really important to me. And I feel like I have people who are backing me up in that.

Wow. I like the responsibility too. I like feeling at the end of the day that I helped provide a good job for these people. I helped create a product for thousands of people. Without me, well, this company wouldn’t have happened. No way. And that’s pretty cool.

Spencer Wright - 51:54 - Yeah. Well, I don't think that I can ask you a better question to end on.

Danielle Applestone - 52:00 - Good.

Spencer Wright - 52:02 - Danielle, where can people find you and Bantam?

Danielle Applestone - 52:06 - BantamTools.com

Spencer Wright - 52:07 - Is there a good place—do you social media, do you?

Danielle Applestone - 52:11 - Oh, I do. Yeah, I am Dapplestone.

Spencer Wright - 52:13 - Dapplestone.

Danielle Applestone - 52:14 - Pretty much everywhere.

Spencer Wright - 52:15 - Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on.

Danielle Applestone - 52:18 - Yeah, this was great chatting with you. I can't believe it was already like an hour.

Spencer Wright - 52:24 - Thanks so much.

Danielle Applestone - 52:25 - Thank you.

Spencer Wright - 52:26 - For links to the things we talked about in this episode, visit theprepared.org/podcast. As always, thanks to theprepared.org supporters for making this show possible. My name is Spencer Wright. See you next week.

Danielle Applestone - 52:52 - Do you know that I record music and stuff?

Spencer Wright - 52:53 - No, I don't. No.

Danielle Applestone - 52:55 - I'm very familiar with this.

Spencer Wright - 52:57 - Okay, cool. I am not. I'm making this all up.

Danielle Applestone - 53:01 - That’s great.

Spencer Wright - 53:02 - Yeah.