One who operates a side hustle.
What’s a side hustle?
If you’ve ever thought about running your own business, but couldn’t figure out how to get started without all kinds of loans and whatnot, maybe you should be thinking about a side hustle. A side hustle is simply a business you operate on the side – outside regular work hours.
To give you an example, GBXM is a side hustle. So is wlpll (where I’m moving all that business competency stuff, for those who were interested). I’ve talked to a number of side hustlers over the years. Building your business after work means you keep getting a steady paycheck – which means you can focus on doing things right more than the money.
A former co-worker who knew I ran this site put me in touch with a local friend of hers who does something similar. I’d like you to get to know a little bit about Robert Fuge, the man behind Humming Aero.
[bd] Tell us a little bit about yourself. What you do for a living. What you’re trying to do for a living.
[rf] Well, I’m a mechanical engineer. I’ve always been interested in cars but never really had the opportunity to really begin playing with them until I got involved with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in college and participated in some competitions.
Now I work in the aerospace industry for my 9-5 gig. In my spare time though I have started a business called Humming Aero, making aftermarket car parts.
I’m down for doing anything related to cars, and have had the most success so far in custom design and fabrication. I have a few off the shelf parts available now, and some more coming.
Eventually I really want to have a line of “smart parts,” like active aero for example. The investment to get into those products is bigger and the market is smaller so they are on the shelf for a little while longer.
[bd] What’s your weapon of choice, sir? Daily driver slash automotive plaything?
[rf] My current car is a 2005 Mazdaspeed Miata. It was a special edition MX5 that was turbocharged from the factory. I picked it up with about 95K miles on it and have been having fun buying and making my own parts ever since.
It is my daily driver, so I’m sometimes limited in what I do with it just because I still need it to be livable every day. Plaything is still a good word though because I really do have fun making my own parts for it.
I also have a 1973 rustpile, AKA Datsun 240Z in the yard. It hasn’t run in 30 years, probably won’t any time soon, but for some reason I can’t bear the thought of parting with it. It was a gift from my grandpa.
[bd] There’s a school of thought that says start with what you know. Sounds like you know Mazda (and the siren song of the Fairlady). Being in aerospace – and mentioning a gaze toward active aero in the future – I wonder, what have you been designing and building thus far as you launch humming? How much of this is based on your own, personal needs/goals, and non-automotive work experience?
[rf] Well, I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any particular make or model. What I do know is design and engineering. I had some great experiences starting with an idea, making a concept, revising and improving it in CAD, and then fabricating it. It started with the SAE club, became professional at a speed shop, and then grew by leaps and bounds in aerospace.
I’ve got a pedal set, and a few other interior upgrades right now, with 4-6 products currently under development that range from bling/shiny bits to engine performance. I’ve also done a lot of custom design work for people. It’s a challenge and it helps float the development costs of my other products, so I love doing it.
My career experience has certainly framed my approach. In my particular line of work almost everything is one-off, prototype, or modified in some way.
When it comes to aerospace parts, the level of detail involved with this type of hardware can get exhausting, but it gives me a unique skill set and makes me well suited to my future plans for control system driven parts.
About the Z-car – it’s a family thing. Between my grandpa, dad, and uncle I have no idea how many Z cars have been owned, but it’s a lot. I’ve actually never ridden in one, let alone driven one. For them it kind of died out in the 80’s. I’m saving that first ride for the first drive in mine.
[bd] A fellow “side-hustler,” I know the struggle for balance between the gig putting food on the table and the after-dinner venture we hope soon will replace it. How far into this dream are you now? Where did it all begin?
[rf] When I first attempted the active aero thing, I got a few friends together and I thought “I’ll just buy some parts and figure it out” but I wasn’t anywhere near ready to actually go and do it.
We met early before class and would write on a white board and feel like we were doing things. I made a really terrible prototype in my garage. I realized I had a lot of learning to do before I had the skills to attempt it.
I tried again for my senior project in college. We got close but it fell behind schedule and didn’t finish it in time for graduation. We still passed, but never saw it run.
After graduation two friends and I decided to tackle it again, approached possible sponsors, laid out a framework, and felt like we had the skills to do it. After a few months reality set in. We had no money for prototypes since we were all recent graduates with families, and it was really difficult to coordinate in a meaningful way.
Things changed when I was talking with a friend, Clint Solomon, who had started his own small business. He was already having success, and the light just clicked for me.
I could get going with smaller products, get my bumps and bruises in and grow from there. I have a family so I had to keep the risk low, and that’s what I did.
So now I’m doing some custom design work, working on prototypes every chance I get, and taking care of orders as they come in. I also sponsor a car with a really fun story called Project Lazarus. It’s up in Oregon and it was basically crowdbuilt. It’s a junker Miata built on a very low budget, with lots of free parts from people online and some shrewd trading. Now it’s killing high end cup cars around the track.
My real goal though, my real dream, is to help others through employment. That’s been my driving motivation through it all, and if the Lord would bless me to be able to do that in the automotive industry then that would be an even bigger blessing. To give good jobs to people and help them move up in life and move forward as people.
So really I’m just getting started. I look forward to the day I’m able to help others with employment much more than to the day I’m self employed, though that will be exciting too.
[bd] I appreciate you giving us an idea of the incremental progress from SAE/college, to speed shop, aerospace, and now humming. This sounds like work-life-parallel to me. You pursued an interest in school, sought work experience related to your automotive interest, then jumped into something where you could take those skills to the next level.
Was this the plan along? Looking back, how do you feel about this path? Is there anything you might have done to make it more effective?
[rf] No, I wouldn’t say it was the plan. It was the opportunities presented to me. Each of these opportunities came about by chance, not by design, but I had done the work to be prepared for them. I think I really was prepared. I can’t even say I’d go back and change anything, it all worked out so well.
To give you an idea about the preparation and work, one night I wrote almost 100 letters to various companies inquiring about internships. I only got one response, and it was a rejection letter. After that I started going door to door, just going into any place somehow automotive and trying to get a job, and one of those places turned me on to the speed shop.
My internship at the aerospace company began because I met an engineering manager at a car show. I guess the moral of the story is to look for opportunity at all times. That’s what I’m doing now.
[bd] We share a goal in helping others through employment – true success comes from helping others achieve success for themselves (and still others). Much as I would love to hire on a dozen or so people right now to help with various areas of the business, I can’t even employ myself with this dream yet. (Maybe I should come up with, you know, an actual product?)
They say we need to visualize what success looks like in great detail as part of the process. Let’s fast forward 5-10 years from now. How many people is humming employing and what are they doing?
[rf] Oh man. You never know when your opportunity will arrive. Who knows, maybe in 5 years it will be just me still. But ideally I’d love to be employing like 10 people 5 years from now, maybe 20-30 in 10 years.
The 5 year vision? 2 people taking care of sales and fulfillment, 4 people working production, and me and another person working with customers and developing products. The real dream would be to have a contract with an OEM for something and be employing hundreds of people though, that is what I’m really aiming for in the end.
[bd] I love how you put in the time, actively sought out automotive employment, and how being a gearhead lead you to the right place and time to meet that engineering manager. Our lives are markedly better because of our passions for the automobile. This is a great example.
Okay. So humming. What’s the story behind the name of your business, mate? Is it metaphorical – the sound of precision machinery operating at peak efficiency, humming along? Does it mean anything, and if so, how is that reflected in the way you run things?
[rf] In college I got really interested in control systems, that’s where my dream of an active aero system took root. Control systems are cool, they eliminate compromise, they help things run at optimum efficiency.
Hummingbirds have one of the coolest control systems in nature, the way the manipulate the air to be able to do whatever they need to. From there I settled on humming aero, and just kinda stuck with it, and I use humming for short, since not all my work or products are aerodynamics related.
[bd] Jumping back to your comments on the future of humming, a lot of us struggle with ambiguity. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. In business, as in life, there’s always uncertainty. You’ve clearly got a rough vision lined out, but how does that vision of success support your decisions when faced with ambiguity?
[rf] Well, I mean the most important thing, about wanting to be able to hire people, definitely helps frame some of what I do. Mostly though, it’s just motivation to get it done. The toughest decision every day is to put in the hours after my kids go to bed, or to wake up early on Saturday mornings.
It’s hard to stay motivated when the end feels so far away, but every time I get a little success, a sale, a custom order the goal feels a little nearer. Having a goal, a vision as you put it, definitely helps funnel that motivation into something useful.
[bd] Wrapping things up, you’ve told us none of this was planned, but you had done the work to be prepared when opportunity knocks. Someone out there is going to read this and want to take a similar path. What advice would you have for this gearhead? What work would you recommend doing to be best prepared?
[rf] Well the first thing I would say is just take whatever opportunities to learn and grow you can get. I started learning in SAE clubs, then I took an unpaid internship/learning experience at the speed shop, and then got the paid internship that maybe wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but grew me the way I wanted to grow.
Also, it’s all on you. If even once you sit around feeling mad or sad and blame someone else you aren’t getting the opportunities you want, then stop, get up, and go learn something, or write a letter asking.
I feel that success is as much about knocking on doors looking for opportunity as it is about answering the door when opportunity knocks. You can’t have one without the other.
[bd] Finally, where can our readers find more info on humming or just find you and follow along?
[rf] Facebook is the best way to follow along. I can be messaged that way for custom work, or to just talk cars. My online store can be found at mkt.com/humming-aero. There should be 6 new products coming out this year, so keep checking back!
. . .
This is just a quick look at one gearhead’s quest. Robert’s looking to design a little work life parallel in his life – and in the lives of others by building a meaningful business. If you can dream it, you can do it.
Better living through busted knuckles and focused effort. Gearheads united.