What is your business?

PJRC: Electronic Projects

where are you located?

Portland, Oregon, USA

Do you attend a makerspace? Which one?
Yes, DorkbotPDX and PDX Hackerspace.  I must admit I don’t manage to make the trek across town as often as I’d like.  Teensy keeps me pretty busy.

How did you get started making stuff?
For Robin, this Creep Crawlers insect making kit.

Robin also made fairy wands out of garden stakes, masking tape, and cotton balls.  She made do with the limited resources available at the time!

For Paul: this “65 in 1” kit (Radio Shack part 28-250).  Yes, it really came in that wooden box and featured a whopping 3 transistors.

Later when public schools received Apple 2 computers, Paul spent quite a lot of time learning Basic and Assembly language programming.

 

Tell us about what you make.
Teensy is a high performance microcontroller board.  Teensy is usually programmed using the Arduino software, but Teensy’s emphasis is providing powerful hardware and highly optimized libraries for makers & hobbyists to create more ambitious projects.  Controlling thousands of LEDs at video refresh speeds, processing CD quality audio, and support for many native USB communication protocols are some of Teensy’s popular features.

About the maker business side, Robin definitely deserves most of the credit.  She actually runs the business, pretty much all the daily behind-the-scenes work that keeps Teensy continuously available and most orders shipping out quickly.  Paul does all the tech stuff.

Have you been surprised by any responses to your work?
Occasionally when we’re out in public, it’s always so surprising when someone recognizes us.  Paul often wears a black T-shirts with the Teensy logo, so maybe this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it almost always is.  It’s easy to feel anonymous behind a computer screen.

What difficulties in running a maker business have you found to be the most challenging?
Managing supply chains is tough, even when everything goes well.

What do you have on your horizon?
Teensy 4.0 is being released last week, bringing a pretty incredible increase in performance, both CPU and peripherals.

what is your biggest struggle as a maker business?
Work / life balance.

How has your business evolved?
Microcontroller technology (and complexity) has advanced dramatically since we started in the 1990s.  Here’s a photo our early and most recent products.

This 8051 had a single serial port (muxed to two DB9 ports) and 3 timers.  That board sold for $79, which at the time was considered quite a bargain.  Teensy 4.0 runs over a thousand times faster and is loaded with high performance peripherals.  Teensy 4.0 sells for about $20, which today is about the middle of the price range for dev boards.

Community has also grown tremendously , perhaps even moreso than tech.  Today we connect so easily via social networking, forums, code sharing (github), and most major cities have makerspaces.  Many of these now feel like they’ve been around forever, but most didn’t even exist 15 years ago.  In just the ~25 years we’ve been making dev boards, community has grown as much or more then the tech side.

What project are you excited about?
Robin & I are always inspired and amazed by artists and community of Burning Man.  The passion and dedication and sheer amount of hard work needed to bring these incredible projects to life is truly inspiring.

One of our personal favorites is “Lostmachine” Andy’s pirate ship, CS Tere.  When asked “Why build a pirate ship?” Andy’s response was “Pirate ships don’t build themselves.”  We believe that really captures the maker spirit.

What makers or maker businesses do you admire or have you learned from?
Arduino, and also Processing and Wiring, which were much of the basis for the early versions of Arduino.  While there are many highly successful businesses selling such a wide variety of products, and these days so many people seem to take Arduino for granted, they are really the people who changed everything by focusing on the human factors of getting started with electronics and microcontrollers.

What is most rewarding about being a maker business?
Seeing incredible projects people create, being a small part of that, is a pretty awesome feeling.

Sometimes even small projects are inspiring.  One of our personal favorites, from the very early days of Teensy 1.0, is this motion sensor by Joshua Neal.

It senses when you’ve walked into the room and sends a slight USB mouse movement, to wake up your PC by the time you’ve sat down.