SpikenzieLabs made this terrific video about their Wrap it Up box. They also make some of my favorite kits, including the Povard, and the VoiceShield. I love meeting the makers behind the kits, and I got a chance to meet Mark and Andy at Maker Faire this year. They are awesome guys; read on for their Maker Business story.
First off, tell us a little about yourselves, Mark and Andy. Who are you? What are your backgrounds? What inspired you to start making stuff?
We are two guys that got to know each other while working together at a computer store way back in the 90’s. After a few years, we ventured out on our own. Many years later, we are still working together in the IT business.
Andy: Ever since I can remember, I’ve been taking things apart, and seeing how they work. As a young maker / tinkerer, I would go to HAM radio auctions, bid on bits and pieces of gear that were up for auction, and then spend months disassembling them. Frying motors here and there, blowing fuses in the house, and experiencing an introduction to electronics by turning a screwdriver mostly to the left.
Mark: For me making things isn’t something I really started to do, it was just something that my family always did. My Father was one of my biggest influences that inspired me to start making. My Dad used to make all types of things like furniture, wooden sculptures and even what I used to call “bullets”. He had an antique musket and would melt and form his own slugs from lead ingots and use a tin of gun power to load the gun, something that probably not too many people still do today! Another big influence was Mr. Humphries, my babysitter’s husband. He was a World War II vet, and retired engineer who would explain all types of technical ideas to me
How did you come to form SpikenzieLabs? What were the biggest hurdles in starting a business?
SpikenzieLabs. Cool company, original name. First off we will answer the question that we get asked the most. How we came up with the name. When Mark was in high-school, he had really spikey hair. His friends would call him Spike. Tough name, but a very laid-back person. At the shop, late on Friday afternoons, the guys would get together for a network game of Metal of Honor. Mark would be playing for the Allied team, and his player would carry his longtime nickname “Spike”. When more and more people joined in the fun, Mark needed to switch to the Axis side to even out the game. A name change was needed. Since most of the levels played took place during WWII Germany, Spike became ‘Spikenzie’, as in the German phrase, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”. A new, less common, nickname was born.
SpikenzieLabs developed out of Mark’s desire to share some of his ideas. He always really appreciated all the great resources for info on the internet and I felt that, people could find some of his projects informative. So the SpikenzieLabs web pages were published. With the SpikenzieLabs projects web up, more and more people started sending emails asking where they could buy the projects. So, that is when he got into the kit business.
After a while SpikenzieLabs starting taking more and more time, that’s when Andy got on board to help out.
We call SpikenzieLabs a “hobbusiness”, a business that has developed out of a hobby. During the day, we still do the IT business, but bit by bit, a larger percentage of our daytime hours is spent assembling kits, ordering stock and shipping kits. At night is when the “magic” happens, Mark spends his evenings in front of the Eagle Cad or Microchips MPLab.
Our style of business is to grow slow, so that it can self finance. This reduces the risks and costs involved in borrowing. In terms of hurdles there hasn’t been that many. Probably the most frustrating part of the business is dealing with overseas suppliers, there is a huge language barrier and often promised ship dates are missed.
You guys have some pretty cool gear, including some you’ve built yourselves. Any favorite tools?
One of the really great tools we picked up is the Epilog Laser Cutter. A gigantic beast that sits quiet in a corner of the shop, until a few switches are flicked, and its whirring away cutting & etching. It’s actually surprisingly loud it is when it functions. SpikenzieLabs “west” is located in Mark’s basement. Full woodshop, metal working tools, and an electronics workbench. Plus an incredible amount of disassembled junk. This “junk” is just about the best source for improvised prototypes, as well as those hard to find springs, switches, and other items that help us make stuff. His workshop junk pile is a delicate balance between “crazy hoarder person” and “wow, look at all this cool stuff!”
What do you think the future of maker businesses looks like?
The maker business is booming. Thanks in part to the Arduino, and other platforms that make it incredibly easy to actually “Do Something”. Just a few years ago you had to be the “Woz” or have a ton of resources, now, with a $35 Arduino the world is your oyster!
More and more people are becoming makers. Not only in the electronics kits realm, but in all kinds of ways. Seeing it live and in person, at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, there are all kinds of makers out there. Some are making cool things as ‘one-offs’ and others like us have turned it into a kit business. There is definitely starting to be a return to appreciation of making things yourself. At SpikenzieLabs we hope to help these people that want to build cool electronic projects by making many kits that are building blocks for larger projects, such as the Drum Kit – Kit or the VoiceShield.
We get inquiries for custom solutions & consulting all the time. Dropping capacitors into cups for weeks on end is maybe the most boring part of being in the maker kit business. Creating new kits, ideas, inventions, and helping people create custom solutions, now nothing beats that.
In the Maker Shed