Osborn: you guys have a lot of products on Tindie now. Can you give me an example of a product that’s doing well and heeding that advice?
Petrone: The most recent example is the Femtoduino. This is a story that’s been going on for a while—has been in development for a few years I think. The maker who is selling those, Alex, started out with a small run. He sold out of those quickly. Then it was at least a few weeks, maybe a month or two, before we got another run in. In that time, the word of mouth had spread that (a) this was a great product, and (b) it was everything it said it was. It is a derivative of Arduino, and a lot of people understand the Arduino platform and there’s already a sizable community that’s interested in using it, so the waiting list grew pretty quickly. When that second round came in, we sold out in less than four hours and the waiting list started back over. He just sold out of his fifth run maybe, but basically, what’s happened is every single time we get more in, they sell out and he grows that run more each time. The community continues to support him, and his business has basically grown with the interest in the project. I think that that has helped him understand what goes into it and inadvertently has also helped market the product as well because of the limited supply has caused I guess some word of mouth and artificial demand of some sort—that people say, “Okay, it’s back in stock. I’ve got to get it now or it’s going to sell out in a few hours,” so you see people buy ten or more just because they don’t know when it will come back into stock because we’re basically now beholden to factories to getting production runs just as fast as possible.
Osborn: It sounds like he built a community up as he was building the product along the way. That was a good example of a guy making something in his garage. I think that’s how a lot of people would describe the maker business, or maker movement. Where do you see that going? Is it always going to be people building things in their garages? Will it evolve into something beyond that? Will all the interesting projects get bought out by TI to where there are only a handful of key players the way the software world has done?
Petrone: That’s a large question that I’ll break it down to different parts in the answer. The first is that you will always have the big manufacturers, the big monoliths who will be making things in bulk supply.You’ll also have the niche little maker businesses. The majority of what’s on Tindie right now is businesses that are one-man shop in your garage like you were saying. I think that is only going to continue to grow as people come up with new ideas and continue to access manufacturing techniques.The other part is the maker business that takes advantage of larger manufac- turing processes and streamlines their business with technology. One example of that is Tautic Electronics. He’s one of our sellers. He has many products for sale. He just invested in his own pick-and-place machine, which is sitting in his garage right now.
Osborn: Is this the one from China that Ian Lesnet blogged2 about?
Petrone: No. I don’t know what model it is, but it’s a big boy that’s $10,000 plus. He is manufacturing at a larger scale than your average maker, and I think that that’s only going to continue. He’s invested in that future and that’s the direction he’s going to go. So you’re going to have a wide range of the sizes of these businesses. That wide range of businesses is the first part.The second is that businesses of all sizes are actually starting to buy, consume, and use open hardware. They recognize that projects developed by individual makers can have the exact same quality as a project by a larger Fortune 500 company. And that’s what we’re starting to see, that it’s not just hobbyists that are buying these projects. We’ve got Fortune 500 companies that are buying parts. We’ve got government agencies. We’ve got the biggest tech companies in the world, and universities labs. It runs the gamut in terms of who is buying products through Tindie right now. I think that says everything about what is happening with this revolution in hardware.It’s growing very quickly, and it’s going from zero to very high quality and scal- ing as quickly as demand needs it. I think that’s exciting. It’s ultimately because of two things. The first is the dropping price in manufacturing, the low cost of components and access to inexpensive manufacturing. Manufacturing hard- ware has been a very expensive process, to come up with an idea, prototype it, refine it. That process took years and a lot of capital. Nowadays, it takes weeks.The final thing that is driving this innovation is the open hardware itself. What I mean is open schematics, open designs, open-source code. The notion of open-source hardware is something that is really starting to come of age right now. It is something whose impact I don’t think we will really truly know for years to come. We can see a lot of changes, and we see people integrat- ing things, whether it’s an Arduino into a commercial 3D printer or adding a Raspberry Pi into a rocket—whatever a project is.
We’re seeing a lot of different interesting applications, but what does that actually mean for business, for electronics, for hardware in general? I think we’re just starting to see that, and that’s really where we’re pushing Tindie, to promote the idea behind opening the schematics and be a place where people can find open designs and the blueprints to get an open-source product whether you want to build it yourself or buy it through the site. We really want to help define a directory of finished open designs. So if you’re looking for an open design for anything, you can come to Tindie and you’ll be able to find it. We’re going to roll out a feature with Arduino that will start to integrate the whole ecosystem together and really connect the makers with the con- tent creators, because that whole ecosystem is very fragmented and we think that a much tighter integrated system between the manufacturing side and the people that are designing and creating the open-source schematics and code—that’s ultimately what this ecosystem is lacking. We’re going to be developing a feedback loop for those two groups to come together. That’s where we see the future of this ecosystem going.
Petrone: I think that every web site has their hiccups along the way.. Our big outage was after we raised that $500,000 in funding, I decided to throw an AMA on Reddit,4 which is an “ask me anything” to the Reddit community, who were the ones who initially supported it, started it, and fueled it. I thought some people might find it interesting to understand the story behind the busi- ness. What are some of the lessons learned?In that process, I was on the East Coast at the time. Our team is prominently on the West Coast. I launched it in the early morning, and it put the site down for a good four or five hours because of the demand for people just visiting the site. I was still answering questions, but the team hadn’t woken up yet, and I couldn’t bring the site up and answer questions. I was basically juggling balls in the air. It’s a good problem to have when people are so interested in what you’re doing, but when it takes the site down for a few hours, that’s a different beast entirely.At the end of the day, the ecosystem is much bigger, much more diverse, and much more interesting than I ever dreamed it would be. I’m sure that most of the community on the site would agree as well, because up until now, there really hasn’t been a Tindie, a marketplace for this community. We’re the first real success story that’s been able to organize the community in one place and recognize the peoples’ achievements and the creations that they are building.