Maker businesses are all about the people, and these guys are two of my favorites. Adam and Matt of Wayne and Layne rock. They are incredibly bright engineers and hilarious dudes whom I think should have their own podcast in order to crack us up year round.
Tell us about yourselves: how did you get started building things? Any memorable maker moments from your childhoods?
We’ve been friends since middle school. Sometime in that timeframe we bought a Basic Stamp 2 in parts form, and had Adam’s dad solder it up. We didn’t do much with it, but we had a relay and some LEDs and some buttons on a breadboard. I can’t even imagine what we could have accomplished if we would have had access to the community that’s available online now. So, you guys are Adam and Matt, why are you called “Wayne and Layne”? When did you join forces?
We were friends in school and college roommates. Sometime in there we discovered that our middle names rhymed, and in fact only differed by a single letter. We had a Gauntlet arcade cabinet in our dorm room that we modded pretty heavily. We completely redid the controls panel, and added cup holders and a bunch more buttons. Combined with a custom game launcher Matthew wrote, it was a great hit, especially with the RAs.
What’s this kit business you’ve got going here all about? What lead you to starting it?
The genesis of Wayne and Layne has three parts. First, during our college years, our favorite class was Intro to Microcontrollers, where we learned how to interface with and program microcontrollers. This was before the Arduino, so things were necessarily lower level. This provided a theoretical background for our tinkering.
Second, after we moved apart, we made a link blog, named “Wayne and Layne.” It consisted of public postings of interesting links we sent each other.
Third, we found we were spending more and more of our spare time building small projects with microcontrollers. We decided to join forces in this venture, and set up a shared place for us to post code and schematics. At one point, we got inspired by the fact that piezos can act as knock sensors as well as be a buzzer. We made the simplest thing we could think of that would demonstrate that effect, polished it up, and realized that people besides us actually thought it was fun to play with. After doing a little investigation, we found that we wouldn’t have to put a large amount of money on the table to make some kits. We ordered out some circuit boards and components, and started documenting the Tactile Metronome, a tap tempo metronome and beat looper. The experiment was a great experience and a success, so we formed Wayne and Layne, LLC.
Did you seek out other kit makers to see how they were doing things, or find any particularly helpful advice out there?
The Adafruit presentation on starting your own kit business was awesome. We ignored the bit about not having a “co-founder.” If you find the right person, having a cofounder has some great benefits. It’s very satisfying to come home and find a stack of fresh commits in the repository. We’re working towards an “Evil Mad Scientists Lab” model, where we have open source kits for purchase, but we don’t hesitate to also post clearly documented projects that aren’t commercially viable.
How much time do you estimate it takes to keep your business going? You have other jobs/studies, right?
Adam has a full time engineering job in Minneapolis, and Matthew is in graduate school, so all our Wayne and Layne work is on nights and weekends. Even though we live in different states, we can work very effectively through the internet. We use email, instant messenger, an internal wiki, source code control like Subversion and Git, Google Docs, and Redmine, a pretty cool web application for managing projects and issue reports. We do work with atoms too, not just bits, so we also use USPS and other shipping companies when we have to ship prototypes back and forth.
Time management is one of the areas where having a co-founder really helps. There’s two sides to this–one, having another person working on your stuff means that if you need a day off, progress can still be made. Kits can be shipped out, emails can be responded to. On the other side, having another person involved creates a crucial sense of guilt, really. You don’t want the other person doing all the work!
In terms of hours, we each spend at least ten hours a week on Wayne and Layne. Most of that is working on new stuff.
Have you seen any cool hacks of your kits?
We haven’t seen many hacks of our kits yet. To aid this, we’ll be posting some howtos on our website–like how to attach an actuator to strike a real drum, like our setup at Maker Faire, or how to attach a pager motor to make a “real” tactile metronome that you can feel.
However, we’ve been really impressed by the variety of people who buy our kits. We’ve had orders from Scandinavian rhythm bands to electronic music composers in France to school kids in Florida looking for alternatives to blinking Christmas tree kits for their school soldering project. We had one family who purchased a kit online a few months ago track us down at the Maker Faire to meet us. That was awesome!
What’s next for you guys?
We’ve got a really cool open source word party game kit called Nerdle coming out soon. It’s designed so anyone, even non-nerds, can change the words and categories. The actual firmware is reprogrammable through the Arduino interface as well. It has an actual case!
When Wayne and Layne is a huge multinational corporation, what sort of uniforms will you force the workers to wear, and what music will you stream throughout your factories?
Zentai bodysuits will be available for anyone that chooses to really embrace the “faceless factory worker” idea. Our official factory music is an endless mashup of various tracks from Jonathan Coulton, They Might Be Giants, Tom Petty, REM, and also the Moon theme from the NES game Duck Tales.
Thanks so much for your time guys.