posts tagged with the keyword ‘business’



With the recent news about TechShop closing and the more recent news of TechShop reopening, I’ve been following the discussions around what TechShop did right, what TechShop did wrong, and what it should do in the future. All of this is colored by my experience at Milwaukee Makerspace over the last 6 years, including being on the Board of Directors and helping to run the space. I should note that Milwaukee Makerspace is a community-oriented space for adults and focuses on providing a space and equipment for people to learn new skills and make things.

TechShop always came across to me as a more “commercial” space where people who wanted access to tools to create products could go to use the machines. While some spaces do cater to entrepreneurs and people making commercial products, other spaces are not equipped and not as friendly to commercial activity. At Milwaukee Makerspaces we’ve had a loose set of rules/guidelines for people producing commercial work. It’s basically follows the “Don’t be a Dick” rule: don’t hog machines, don’t blow through consumables, and make donations to help cover the cost and maintenance of machines.

There’s a common explanation of a makerspace as “It’s like a health club, except instead of treadmills and exercise bikes we have tables saws and laser cutters!” This falls apart when you think about the equipment in a health club versus the equipment in a makerspace. While someone might use an elliptical machine for 30 minutes, or maybe a treadmill for an hour, people can easily use a laser cutter for hours at a time, and can tie up a 3D printer for multiple hours very easily. While health clubs may have a dozen ellipticals and treadmills, most makerspaces may have only one or two laser cutters and 3D printers.

Besides the issue of how many machines and their availability, expectations are an issue. One of our members, in giving an orientation to new members said “Everyone is here to have fun, just remember that and you’ll have a good time”. While some do believe that to be true, there are definitely members who consider the space an extension of their business, and their “machine shop” to use as needed to create products. (This isn’t to suggest people running a business can’t also be awesome members, but there’s always a chance of some conflict due to expectations.)

So what are expectations? We’ve had members who make demands to the Board of Directors (who volunteer to help run the space) and typically we explain that “no, you are not a customer, you are a member like everyone else”. As a member of Milwaukee Makerspace you can expect being able to get into the building (if you paid your dues) and well, to some degree, not much else. There’s no guarantee the machine you want to use when you show up will be available, or working, or in some cases, still in the building! You have to be okay with that. It’s how we operate.

I’ve read a few accounts of TechShop members (customers?) making demands, and having expectations that since they are paying X amount per month, it entitles them to Y amount of Z. Some of these people do indeed run businesses, and TechShop should provide them with what is promised. Maybe? I mean, I don’t know what exactly is promised by TechShop when you are a member/customer.

I’m not going to say that one way is right and one way is wrong, because there’s room for all sorts of models. A friend of mine joined Milwaukee Makerspace and was hoping to use the CNC router for a project. When he joined the CNC router was down for repairs, and then he wasn’t able to attend the training class, and then months had passed and he didn’t get to do his project. (He told me he totally understands that everyone is a volunteer and he wasn’t upset it didn’t work out. All good.) I do hear this quite a bit. Someone joins and gets really excited, but then has to get trained on the equipment they want to use, and that takes time, and then they get frustrated with the process. To be fair, I’m sure other spaces have this figured out, and maybe we don’t… I don’t know.

Occasionally I wish we had a TechShop-type place in Milwaukee I could send people to when all they want to do is get access to a machine to make something, and maybe be able to take a class fairly quickly to learn a new skill. My friend who failed to use the CNC router said he called a few places about having the job done and it was way over his budget. This is where I see the TechShop-style place fitting in. I have no delusion that Milwaukee Makerspace (with nearly 300 members) is for everyone. There are some people who will want something different in their “makerspace experience”, and I respect that.

At this point I should mention Hammerspace in Kansas City. Dave Dalton is always quick to point out that a space can be both things, a community makerspace and a commercial entity with staff and the ability to do jobs for hire. So yes, there are many models, and some work better than others in various ways.

I’ve talked to others about how their spaces run, and there are so many variables that it may be difficult to replicate something that works in one place to other places. Cities and people and culture are so different depending on where you go, as are… expectations.


The Interview

Every now and then I see a post that talks about photography, and how many factors go into the cost of hiring a “real” photographer (and by “real” I mean “professional”) so for my own reference in the future, I wanted to write up my thoughts on the topic of shooting video. (For our purposes today, assume you’ll be shooting a few talking-head videos for a presentation.)

I’m calling this “A Guide to Video for Smart People” because someone very intelligent, who I greatly respect, hired me to do a video shoot. Since, we had to talk about pricing, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts.

1. When you hire a professional, you get a professional.
What is a professional, exactly? It’s someone who uses pro-gear, and has the knowledge to use it. Someone who has experience, and has done professional shooting before. Someone who knows about shooting, and lighting, and pacing, and talking to talent, and audio, and composition, and dozens of other things you don’t even think about because it’s second nature after a while.

2. Professionals use professional gear.
Everyone’s got a camera nowadays, but there’s more to shooting than a camera. For a typical interview shoot you might have a camera, lens, lights, audio recorder, microphone, studio headphones, tripod, stands, spare batteries, spare cards, spare XLR cables, reflectors, and a dozen other things you bring on every shoot. I’m not suggesting you need top-of-the-line everything, but even on the low-end it can be $2,000 for a basic set-up.

3. Professionals are thinking.
If you haven’t had the luxury of scouting locations, you might show up and get a quick tour of the location so you can pick a spot to shoot in. When I walk into a room, I’m looking at the layout, the lighting, determining where all the outlets are, looking at the height of the ceiling, figuring out where the tables and chairs can go, etc. If there are windows in the room, is it cloudy outside? How will the changing sunlight affect the lighting during the shoot? And that’s all before setting up the tripod.

4. Professionals respect your work.
Besides taking the shoot seriously and doing a great job capturing the footage, a pro-shooter will make sure your work is preserved. Anyone with clients will know that even though you might provide them with files, there’s a chance they’ll come back a year later (or five years later!) and ask for it again. For a recent shoot the raw footage came out to be about 9GB of data. After editing it was about 30GB of data. That all gets backed up, and archived, and managed so that you can go back a year later and provide the footage again.

5. Professionals edit.
Even if the client thinks it’ll be quick and easy and there won’t be any editing… there’s always editing. Unless you’re just doing camera ops for someone else and they want the raw footage, you’re editing. So much DSLR shooting is done today with secondary audio that at a minimum there’s the syncing of audio with the video. Add bump-in and bump-out, a few cross-fades, choosing the best take, and render time, and you’ve got some time invested. (I’m not even getting into the copying, burning, and delivering of the work, but hey, that’s another aspect.)

OK, that’s part one of my “Guide to Video for Smart People”. We covered five points. There are more, but I wanted to keep this brief. The great thing about working with smart people is that they’re smart (duh!) so educating them to some of these facts shouldn’t be too hard to do. Chance are after the first shoot you do, they’ll get it, and it’ll be the start of a great (working) relationship. :)


GoPro $$$

This is an interesting one, and I’m still not sure what I think about it…

I’ll start by saying that I’m a fan of open in that the sharing of knowledge is important to me, as is the sharing of sources, not just in software, but in other areas as well. Yes, there’s money to be made, but generally, besides the fact that money allows us to have a place to live, and food to eat, and all the other things needed to survive, I’m not really a fan. Money itself is boring, but it can allow you to do interesting things.

I recently posted about the GoPro Hero3 Frame I made. I made it because it was a thing I needed, and didn’t feel like spending $40 on the nice one that GoPro sells. I shared the design files because I thought they might be useful to others. I share things because I’ve gotten so much value out of others sharing things over the years. It’s been over 20 years that I’ve tried to live by that ideal. It mostly works.

I was quite pleased to see that someone found value in my sharing, and improved upon my design to create GoPro Hero3 Frame – Improved. Again, this is how I want the world to work. I made a thing, and someone else made it better. Everyone wins, right?

So anyway, I’m doing the daily browse, and I come across this blog post from Shapeways titled 3D Printed Stand for the OP-1 Synthesizer. I have little interest in a synthesizer stand, but I love 3D printing, and think it’s the future. In the post is a link to all the GoPro items on Shapeways. (Shapeways, for those who don’t know, lets people design things, get them 3D printed for themselves, and even sell them to others. It’s a great thing for people who don’t yet have a 3D printer, or want higher quality, or different materials, etc.)


Where was I? Oh yes, I click on the link to see the GoPro related items and see a GoPro Hero3 Frame and think “Hey! Someone else made one too! Cool!” and I read the text, and it sounds just like mine! Now, it was about 4am so my brain was a little slow… but I clicked on the link…


Holy Crap, that is mine! Yeah, that’s mine. And it’s for sale, but not by me. Here’s where you decide whether to freak out… and to what degree.

Now, I designed my item, and shared it freely on Thingiverse, and even used a Creative Commons Attribution License. I specifically wanted others to be able to have it. Mission accomplished, right? Right.

So the freakout… is it a good freakout, or a bad freakout, or a weird mixture? Do I want to be in the business of selling GoPro Hero3 Frames? Probably not. I have enough other business to deal with, and as I said, GoPro sells one, and it’s probably of much higher quality. Am I upset that someone is using my work? I shouldn’t be (right?) The description does say “Created by Raster” and has the URL (but not a link) the the Thingiverse page. But who is cadbury204? They have no designs of their own in their Shapeways shop. Is it some automated bot that pulls items from Thingiverse and sells them on Shapeways? I don’t know… if it is, does that change things? I don’t know…

If I think about the “spirit” of open source, as it’s ofter referred to, is this “cadbury204″ following it? Are they providing value just by allowing someone to easily order the item through Shapeways? Are they just out to make money from the work of others? Again, I don’t know… I don’t even know if I should care, but I guess I do, mainly because I find it interesting.

And, I’m interested to hear what you think about it.


Cookie Cutters

Back when I wrote my Printing Violations? post I brought up the issue of licensing, and while I am a believer of open culture and sharing, I’m still torn on the topic of artists who take the creative work of others (even if the “others” are huge corporations) and use it to make money.

When I saw the post Maker Mom Builds Cookie-Cutter Empire With 3-D Printers my first thought was about the rights and licensing issues. (I was then pleasantly surprised to see the comments addressing the issue right away.)

Cookie Cutters

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Athey is not an artist, she’s a really good artist, and has some impressive and very well executed designs. This is important, I think. I mean, anyone can download an image of a video game character or a Dalek and quickly make it into something, but her work is well beyond that. Still, is it right for her to be using things others have created to make money? Her web site at says:

Now I’ve somehow turned what started as a hobby into a full-time job!

I spend a lot of time thinking of myself as a terrible artist, and I’ve made plenty of badly drawn robots, but I’d feel much better about myself selling a badly drawn robot that is my own creation than a well drawn robot that someone else created. (I’m going with the belief that Athey has not properly licensed the characters she is using.)

Of course there’s the issue of licensing… It’s no secret that I use a lot of art from to make things. The license of all art on OpenClipArt is Public Domain Dedication which states:

You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

So yeah, I’ve not sold anything I’ve made yet using art from OpenClipArt, but at least I’d feel fine doing it. And yeah, I have friends who make good money making things based on successful movies, games, books, etc. Maybe this is just the world we live in now, where everyone is a maker and selling of things, and it’s all just a big mash-up anyway.

I guess I’d break things into a few categories:

A.) Using things others have created to make things for yourself.

B.) Using things others have created to make things to give to family/friends as gifts.

C:) Using things others have created and creating design files that others can use.

D:) Using things others have created to create and sell things.

I’m all for A. and B., and I think C. is pretty much OK. (Think of the many items on Thingiverse) As for D., that’s the one I’m still not sure about, and that’s the one Athey and Warpzone Prints falls under. What do you think?

(I should probably do a post in the future that talks a bit more about my own usage of others work in my own art, as I’m not completely free of that behavior myself.)



In the spirit of my “Maker Business” posts (like The Real Costs and Lessons Learned) I’d like to point you at this post from I Heart Robotics titled Business Plan: 3D manufacturing. If you haven’t read it, go read it. Then come back here. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Good! Let’s go…

This is my favorite post of the week… and it’s only Thursday! For anyone wanting to get into a maker-related business, it’s a must-read.

The funny thing is, I’d seen one of these TriK Tripod Adapters for the Kinect before, because Mike printed it at Milwaukee Makerspace one day. (You could say I have an interest in various camera related mounting technology.) Yeah, that’s right, they guys who were selling this item also gave away the design for free to anyone who wanted it. Insane you say? The world I want to live in, I say…

This is an area I see open source hardware similar to open source software. Once a problem is solved, why not share the solution with everyone else, for free? You’re welcome to sell the software (or hardware) all you like, and letting other use it for their own use is a great side effect that costs you nothing. (Some could argue it costs you in potential revenue, but I won’t argue that right now.) It’s also worth noting that I Heart Robotics licenses the item with an Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike license. For those unfamiliar with Creative Commons, a simple explanation would be that as long as you don’t make money by selling it, you can go nuts and make (and give away) as many of them as your 3D Printer can make.

This breakdown of costs is also worth studying.

TriK Tripod Adapter Costs

 $0.384     8 grams Raw ABS Plastic
 $0.0182    1/4-20 Nut
 $0.222     Qty 4 Plastic thread forming screws 
 $0.124     2 x 1 1⁄4 x 3" Kraft Reverse Tuck Carton
 $0.015     2 x 2" White Laser Label
 $0.044     3 x 5" 2 Mil White Block Reclosable Poly Bag
~$3.75      NRE - Non-Reoccuring Engineering Costs
~$0.50      Labor - Push button, remove part, repeat
~$8.34      Printer operating cost

Total Cost $13.40/part

What can we learn from these numbers? Plenty! Some of these items are things you don’t really think about, like labor or equipment operating costs. For instance, I use a drill press in my basement to manufacture things. I don’t really add in the cost to run it for a few minutes per unit, but maybe I should. I also run a fan in my spray booth, and that uses electricity. The numbers might be negligible, but they do exist. (Oh, we also learn that Uline is awesome.)

Since I’ve been dealing with numbers like these in the past few months I’ve become a little more aware of people who complain about such things. I can see someone who owns their own 3D Printer saying “They want $20 for that!? It’s like 5 cents worth of plastic!” and while it may be just 5 cents worth of plastic (or less) there’s a lot of other costs involved. If you have the power to make one on your own, go for it! Either design one and make it, or in this case, download it and print it. I’ve learned that even if you carefully outline exactly how to do something and publish it on the Internet, there are still people who will (gladly) just pay you to do it all for them and then ship it to them, and for that I am grateful.

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