Natasha Baker is an electrical engineer and founder of the platform SnapEDA, a site she refers to as a “Google for electronic design.” Over half a million engineers use SnapEDA to build their circuit boards faster, making everything from medical devices to electric airplanes. But this wasn’t always the case; Natasha began SnapEDA from her kitchen table with no funds or team — just an idea. It now serves engineers in everything from small shops, to household names like Samsung and General Electric. This is her story. This is the way she works.
1. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and build SnapEDA from the ground up?
I started SnapEDA to solve the roadblocks I faced as an electrical engineer when designing circuit boards.
One day, I was designing a simple accelerometer board from a reference design. It should have been a very fast project since I was just copying the recommended design from the datasheet.
However, the design quickly got derailed because I couldn’t find the content I needed at each stage of the design flow. Things like the schematic symbol to capture the circuit, the SPICE model for simulation, or the footprint for the PCB layout.
As a result, I spent days creating this content from scratch, work that engineers around the world were duplicating over and over again. I wondered ‘why isn’t there a Google for electronics design content?’
A couple weeks later, I quit my job and started working on it without a team or funding -- just the idea.
2. What skills do you see as critical for those in the dual role of engineer and entrepreneur, and how would you recommend an engineer develop the necessary business sense?
There are two skills that I have found useful: resourcefulness (learning how to do things), and focus (doing less things).
Resourcefulness is important because there is an unbelievably wide scope of knowledge and skills you need as an entrepreneur. In a single day, you might jump from engineering to legal, to recruiting, to sales, to press, to accounting, and the list goes on. You need to be resourceful and learn as quickly as possible so you can be successful in a wide variety of roles and situations.
However, you shouldn’t -- nor can you -- execute on everything that comes your way. So the second skill that goes hand in hand with that is focus - learning how to say no. It’s something that I’m still learning, but every time I’ve said no to a project, our team has benefited from the increased focus.
In terms of how to develop business skills, I have benefited from seeking out friends who work on the business side to understand how they think and what inspires them. This has helped me enormously in shifting from being product-focused, to being more business-focused. I still love being product-focused, but now I enjoy the business side too.
3. What do you do to stay ahead?
I think the best way to stay ahead is to be (or become) genuinely passionate about the problem you’re solving. If this is true, you’ll constantly be investing in creating more value for your users and customers (or your employer). And when they win, you win.
4. How is your workspace set up?
We have an open concept workspace. I sit right in the middle of our engineers so it allows me to share customer feedback with them in the moment. Other than that, my desktop is pretty empty, since I basically live on my computer these days.
5. What are your favorite productivity apps/tools? (apps, software, technologies)?
I love trying new tools! Right now, I’m loving Focuster. It takes items on your to-do list ranked based on priority and automatically schedules them into open spaces in your calendar.
For project management, I use Trello combined with Zapier. Most people know Trello as a great way to manage and assign tasks. I particularly love the email-to-board feature, which allows you to trigger and assign new tasks via email. With Zapier, Trello becomes even more powerful. We use it in combination with Trello to automate checklists at various stages of our verification workflows, for example.
For screen recording, I just discovered Loom. Our component engineering team is using it to make a series of internal training videos, and our support engineers use it to communicate processes to users. It’s a browser extension that allows you to record your screen, along with a video using your webcam (if you choose) and audio, and then automatically uploads the video and provides a link for sharing. It makes the process fast and seamless.
For legal, I use HelloSign’s Chrome extension so I can sign documents right from my email. For email, I use Streak to snooze emails and send emails at a scheduled time.
6. What are your favorite time-saving shortcuts?
Keyboard shortcuts. They seem trivial, but the time savings add up!
7. What are some daily habits that have improved your life?
The biggest improvement in my life has come from totally unplugging once a week and going hiking. California has some incredible nature so it has been a lot of fun to explore. The benefits from that have been astounding
8. What’s the best career and life advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my mentors suggested I ask myself each morning “what three things will move the ball forward?” I write those things down and make those the priorities for the day.
9. Has being a woman in a male-dominated industry affected your overall goals at all?
No. There are so many ways to define or segment groups of people, and gender has never really seemed that interesting of a divider to me.
10. How do you manage your time and juggle multiple projects?
Lots of lists, and a great team!
11. Are you a morning or late-night person?
I generally work both but prefer early mornings.
12. What are you currently reading?
I'm reading “Monetizing Innovation,” which is about how to effectively price products, and common pitfalls companies make in pricing new innovations.
13. How do you unwind after a long day?
I do yoga a few nights a week. Otherwise, I am nowhere close to mastering this skill.
14. What is your favorite thing about your career? What do you (or did you) find challenging?
One of my favorite things is having a focal point around which there is an endless stream of learning and growth opportunities. For example, I was reading about deep learning the other day for fun, and was constantly thinking ‘whoa! we should use this at SnapEDA to solve X!” Working at a startup is almost like having a sandbox where you can experiment with so many cool things you learn or read about.
The other would definitely be the rewarding feeling of having improved someone’s day. Hearing from electronics engineers who have saved so much time, or have built really cool projects with our tools is extremely rewarding.
In terms of challenges, at the outset, it was definitely self-doubt around the viability of whether I had what it takes, and whether our idea was good. Now, it’s more about ‘how we can scale effectively without sacrificing quality?’
15. Any words of wisdom to share with your fellow engineers?
As engineers, we are natural inventors and problem solvers. If you have an idea and the desire to see it through, trust your instincts and give it a try!
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