Nathan Seidle's recent presentation at MAKE Hardware Innovation Workshop and subsequent post on the SparkFun blog discussed the range of maker businesses, everything from Pebble Watch, with its outstanding $10m Kickstarter Campaign, to the South Park Gnome's business plan. Somewhere in the middle, he says, is the "pit of despair."
And his example for this "pit of despair" was our CEE.
This is where folks have created something - "Hey, I've got this idea, I want to sell it," and they think they're going to sell five or ten, and then they've got a kickstarter that's funded to 10 or 15 thousand dollars, and they go "Oh shoot, how... how do I build this?"
Nathan's argument, that poor design and unexpected demand can make the experience of handling production and fulfillment for a hardware project a nightmare, is absolutely valid. "Hey, I just kinda want to do this" would make a $15,000 kickstarter project a nightmare. However, for us, our Kickstarter tripling its goal merely signaled the start of an adventure that was even bigger than we had hoped.
We were bootstrapping an awesome open-hardware company, not simply wanting to spend someone else's money on a side project. Nathan's "pit of despair" is just the scale where it's possible to realize a vision to its fullest, if you're willing to put in the work. It took a few 18 hour days, but it was worth it to see our dream soar, not just take off.
Early in the process, we turned down an opportunity to outsource assembly, calibration, and testing to Seeed Studio, an "open hardware facilitator" out of China. We made a very calculated decision to in-house as much as possible. We knew exactly how many units we had to deliver, we knew exactly what the mechanical design for our hardware was going to look like, and we decided that the control afforded by keeping the production and fulfillment in-house was worth the few days of nuts and bolts.
We refused to compromise to make things happen. The CEE Kickstarter was big enough to give us the capital to develop something great, yet small enough for us to manage all the details and make sure each customer gets personal support. This is the scale where Open Source Hardware can thrive.
We won't lie; developing a hardware product and the software to go with it isn't easy, but compared to the engineering, the 15 hours to test, calibrate, assemble, package, and ship the first run of our first product didn't even register. Developing something useful and getting awesome feedback is incredibly rewarding. This is what we wanted to do, so we went and did it.
And it paid off. We have hundreds of happy customers; in the past week, we've shipped CEEs to everywhere from Mexico to Prague to Tasmania.
CEE is available for a special sale price this week. Don't worry, we'll be able to assemble them. :)
We haven't posted in a while, but keep watching. We're putting the finishing touches on some software and firmware improvements to make your CEE faster and more featureful. Of course, it's all on GitHub if you want a sneak preview.