posts tagged with the keyword ‘kickstarter’


Mothership Hacker Moms

I fully support Mothership HackerMoms (The first women’s hackerspace) and was happy to donate to their Kickstarter campaign. Their goal was/is to construct a workshop with tools and equipment, and create a kids program and business incubator for moms. I think it’s a great idea.

So who would be against this? Nobody, right? Well, actually, some people spoke out… see Anti-HackerMoms send hate mail, HackerMoms respond. Great responses from the women involved. Mothers are important to the world, and having a space where they can get their making fix should be viewed as a good thing. Here’s another blurb:

We are a new kind of playground and workspace for creative mothers. Fun to us is not mani-pedis, but making, breaking, learning and hacking our bright ideas. HackerMoms model active creative lives for our kids who learn, explore and create as mini-makers alongside us. We offer members daily childcare. We also welcome dads.

I don’t think they have any plan to be exclusionary, and they certainly aren’t out to stop anyone else from doing their own thing. You want to start a hackerspace geared towards women who have chosen not to have kids, or for single dads, or for people who view their pets as their babies? Go for it. I’m sure they won’t try to stop you.

And here’s the thing… we all have/had mothers. (Well, unless you were created in some other way, I know some people were.) Imagine being a kid and having your mom take you to a hackerspace, and growing up in that sort of community and culture. I can’t wait to see what the kids who frequent the Mothership HackerMoms space turn out like in 10 or 20 years.

If you believe in creative spaces like these, support them, and let others know how awesome it is.

One more thing… over at Milwaukee Makerspace we’ve talked about how to reach out to more people, men, women, robots, etc. We’re interested mainly in maker, and less about gender, but you can bet that if a bunch of women (or mothers, or men, or cats) came to us asking for advice on how to start their own space, we’d help them out. In fact, we’ve already done that a bit for Spring City Launchpad. We’re also hoping that our new space will be much more inviting to all kinds of people. I guess we’ll find out how that goes in 2013!


Maker Business - The Real Costs

You know me, I’ve always got more to say… I just wanted to touch on the real costs of making a thing.

In the olden days, when I primarily worked with software, there was an old saying “Linux is only free if your time has no value” and while it’s a slightly amusing phrase, there maybe some truth to it. Maybe. If you’re a Linux fan, the saying may come across as an insult. Sure, sometimes working with Linux feels a lot like yak shaving. When you need to install this library to install that library to install some other library to install the software you really wanted to install… you get the idea. (Linux has gotten much better at this in the last few years though, so much of these issues have gone away.)

With software, it’s (almost) all about the time you spend on it. If you’ve got a computer, you can develop software. Most of the tools are free, or low-cost (depending on the platform) and if you got access to the Internet, or a library, you can learn, learn, learn and become a software developer. (I’ll answer the question of if you should in another post!)

So you’ve got a computer, you’ve got time, you’ve got a desire to learn… those can be the basic building blocks to make software. Go for it. Now, keep in mind that many developers (especially in the open source world) are doing what they do because they want to solve their own problems. I really wanted DokuWiki to be able to present a random page, and when I found a plugin that didn’t work, it was worth a few hours to fix it. I didn’t go as far as adopting the plugin, since it appears to have been orphaned, but I did drop it on GitHub so if someone really wants my work, they can have it. The sharing and collaboration is part of what I love about open source.

So let’s talk about hardware…

Hardware consists of real bits, not just zeros and ones, but actual physical things that are created. When I turned one of my projects into a product I did my best to make sure the final price was such that I would actually make money. Making money is important. Note that I didn’t say making LOTS and LOTS of money is important. I mean, it is to some people, but… whatever.

So you’ve got your maker business, and you want to treat customers (and potential customers) right, and this will cause you to make certain decisions. I remember talking to someone 9 months ago who ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, and he pointed out to me that the first thing you need to do once you think you determine your costs, is to pad it. Remember that Kickstarter and Amazon each take a cut. The campaigner also said that he got one backer who had some terrible thing happen in his personal life, and asked if he could be refunded his pledge. If you do refund someone’s pledge, do you do the full amount or do you withhold what Kickstarter and Amazon take out of it?

Once you’re shipping actual products, if you’re not charging enough, how many returns does it take to make you start losing money? Things break during shipping, or get lost, or stolen, or just plain don’t work. It’s your job to determine how far you’ll go (and how much you’ll spend) to have satisfied customers.

And yeah, as I mentioned, physical things cost money, and when you are not big (as in, a small company, or someone just starting out) you probably have zero leverage to get any sort of discounts. This is where a lot of Kickstarter campaigns come in, as they involve raising enough money to do bulk purchases to drive down costs. It’s a good idea in some cases, but not all.

Even after you have all the physical things you need to assemble a product, there are at least two more thing you may need. Time (just like with software) and tools (which compare to a computer in the software example above.) In my case, to build my products I had some of the tools I needed, but I also had to buy some of them. If you don’t want to buy your own tools you can consider a makerspace or something like TechShop if you have one near you. As you continue to create your product you may end up spending more on tools, to do things better, faster, etc. This is another cost you may not think about. There’s also repairing and replacing tools, and consumables like blades, bits, paint, shipping materials, etc. and each one of those also takes some time. If you’re driving to a store, or even just ordering online, that’s time, and if your time is worth anything, you need to be compensated in some way.

I’m all about DIY, when it makes sense, and sometimes even when it doesn’t make sense, and that’s the key here. Sure, time is money, and yak shaving isn’t always the best thing to do, but sometimes you do it anyway. The good thing is, everyone has a different scale of what they are willing to do (or what they can do) and what they are willing to pay someone else to do.

I’ve gone off the rails a bit, and I guess I’ll need to do a 12.5 post to continue this. If it’s a bit rambling, forgive me, I’m still thinking through a lot of this.

(See all the posts in this series: Begin, Stock, Buy Smart, Basic Rules, No Leeway, Be Open, Community, Manufacturability, Marketing, Shipping, Lessons Learned.)



I’m just dropping this post here to document my current thoughts on Kickstarter campaigns that are based on bringing a new product to market. For a bit of background, see this Google+ post as well as this one.

There’s nothing wrong with using Kickstarter to fund an idea for a product, but as more and more people do it, we may see people who have no experience bringing a product to market, and when we combine that with more and more people thinking of Kickstarter as a marketplace for products where you pre-order them, well… I see some problems.

I’m going to toss out a few examples, but I don’t want to come off as negative to any project, so with that said, here we go!

I’ve been following the Trigger Trap project and while I didn’t back it at the level to get a final product, I do watch the updates, including the most recent one. There’s some talk of a scam, and no legal recourse with foreign manufacturers, and tolerances and what not. There’s also a lot of not entirely happy people. On the side of the campaigners, they may have done a few things wrong, especially with the math, not just for the manufacturing of their cases, but with shipping calculations, how much they’d need to not lose money, and quality assurance. From the point of the backers, some are frustrated. They’ve been waiting for a final working product, and it’s almost there, but now there are more delays. Urgh.

Delays can be common even if you know what you’re doing. I backed the Sensu Brush and I saw delays, and I just shrugged it off because I know how a lot of these things work. Artist Hardware, the folks behind the campaign, describe themselves as “a design consultancy focused on creating consumer products for artists and crafters. We build it all from concept to shelf.” So they aren’t just some guys in a garage with an idea for a product, they’re professionals, and they still hit a bunch of problems! It happens. It happens every day in business, and with personal projects, and with Kickstarter campaigns. The key is planning for it.

Kickstarter campaigns can limit the number of backers at specific levels, right? so maybe more people should use that feature. Sure, you want to be successful, but that doesn’t always equate to having a giant pile of money, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. (That’s not an insult, we all didn’t know what we were doing at some point, and there are still a ton of people who do not know how to bring a product to market.) Let’s say you limit the number of backers you need to just over what you think you might need for an initial run of a product. If things go pear-shaped, and you somehow make nothing (or even worse, lose money) you’re not out quite as much. And, you probably have less people pissed off at you.

But I think the problem is that everyone wants more money because people equate money with success. Of course Kickstarter and Amazon (the payment processor) want more money because that means more profits for them. If you’re the campaigner having more money may seem appealing: Volume discounts! More sales! And so on… but that may not be the case.

About a month about I wrote about beam systems, and one of them I mentioned was OpenBeam, by Terence Tam, who was kind enough to leave a comment on the post. Go listen to Episode 40 of Engineer vs. Designer right now, and then head over to This guy knows what he’s doing.

If you’ve read any of my Maker Business posts (here’s the more recent) you followed along with some of the things I learned in bringing a product to market. I’m glad I went self-funded and small scale, as it allows for learning and (not very costly) mistakes to happen. If you are doing a big project, don’t do it alone! Determine your weaknesses, and then find people you trust to supplement the skills you are lacking.

And Good Luck! I can’t wait to see your final product! :)



Over on Kickstarter is a project called Crackerjack, which happens to be a comedy that will (possibly) be shot here in southern Wisconsin.

I should have mentioned it a few weeks back, because now there are only 19 days left to fund it.

They’ve raised only a small portion of their goal, and if they don’t reach it, the fallback is to fund the film on credit cards and go into debt, which is pretty common with low-budget films…

The most interesting thing to me has been the approach they’ve taken in their campaign, as well as the management of it. I’ve looked at a lot of Kickstarter campaigns in the last year. Some I’ve funded, and many I haven’t. It’s interesting to see which succeed and which fail, and try to come up with a formula that will work… if such a thing exists.

(Disclaimer: While I do know one person involved in this project, I had nothing to do with this campaign. I was told that they may want me to do some “technical consulting” though, which will probably just involve talking about the RED DIT workflow.)


Arduino EDU

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of the Arduino microcontroller… Why? Well, for one thing, it’s fun. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering and building things, and when I was in school I did take electronics classes, and liked them. I’ve also been programming “things” forever, and while programming can be mundane, it can also be fun.

So fun is great, but where does the learning come in? Well, the Arduino can (and should) have a place in education. In fact, the Arduino started in the education world, so to me, it makes sense to see it there.

Steve Dickie is a teacher who is incorporating the Arduino into his teachings, and you can check out some of his work at Pre-Engineering: Electronics with Micro-controllers and the Arduino Education Blog.

Besides being fun, I think the Arduino is a good choice because it’s open source hardware, supported by open source software, and it’s got a supportive community and ecosystem. I think open source should play a role in our schools for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the cost associated with many proprietary systems. I’ve seen schools implement solutions that are too costly, or over-engineered, or that get abandoned, or whatever… Open source could be a solution to some of these issues.

Steve’s also got an "Open Source Microcontroller in Education" Kickstarter project going to take his project to a higher level. The project may or may not get funded, and Steve may or may not complete the project, but either way, I’m glad to see someone promoting (and using) open source in schools.

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