The Pit of Despair

The Pit of Despair
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Nathan Seidle (CEO of SparkFun Electronics), shown in the above video at the MAKE Hardware Innovation Workshop, has posted a written re-cap of that talk, which tackles the “Pit of Despair” for open hardware projects: what can our community do to help makers when they “are thrust unceremoniously from tens of units to thousands of units”?:

The number of businesses selling very cool electronic bits (and every handmade item for that matter) has exploded over the past few years. It’s been really exciting to see all the new products hit the market, but what surprised me was the reoccurring challenges those companies face. We’ve seen these new products fall into three “buckets”: the happy bucket, the work bucket, and the pit of despair.

A surprising amount of products fall into the third bucket. I call this bucket the pit of despair. These products get far more attention than the creator(s) expected. The product was well-designed but may have been designed for kitchen production, where they planned to build tens of units. When demand grows beyond thousands, the creators are often forced to make tough decisions: the income may not be enough to release them from their day job, and the amount of time required to build the product begins to gobble up evenings and entire weekends. If you’ve ever had to count out 150 bags of resistors and LEDs, you know what I’m talking about. It’s really painful.

14 thoughts on “The Pit of Despair

  1. Marty says:

    You know, there’s actually a really simple solution for too much demand, even when you can’t get a collaboration: Raise the price. This has the added bonus that if you still get tons of orders, you can afford to make it your day job.

    1. Rahere says:

      Not really the point – makers do it to add to human welfare, in part, whether as knowledge or pleasure depends. But the problem is the same: even a minute part of the six-plus billion human race is overwhelming. We’re in the business of finding niches, but even so they can be quite big.
      However, that being said, there are operations out there who can help. In terms of scaling up, me old mucker Nick Campling runs a business in the UK specialising in helping people engineer their idea into production, and there are quite enough small entrepreneurs willing to help hitch their wagon to a good idea by running it as a business for you. Nick does it because it’s what he enjoys, he’s independently wealthy from an idea he had in his early teens, the G7 one-handed guitar capo, he just likes helping others move from the garage into a business. I’ll leave it to you to find him – just to prove this isn’t a spam – and there may well be others in the US, I only speak of what I know.

      1. myrkul999 says:

        Don’t get me wrong, if you can get the help to get the job done at the same price, by all means, do it. That’s a great way to bridge the “pit of despair” between hobby and business. I was just pointing out another way to build the bridge, or at least dig yourself out, that you can do solo, if you need to.

        1. rahere says:

          There’s a specialist leatherworking hackerspace about a mile from the London Hackerspace which sees small businesses setting up: can this be a path for hackerspaces to move from a purely hobbyist scene to one where we can find employment for the unemployed into the bargain and start spinning off small enterprises as a deliberate policy, rather than as a happy coincidence?

          1. myrkul999 says:

            In a word: Yes. That sounds like a great idea.

  2. Tommy Phillips says:

    Thanks for reminding me why sometimes I buy from SparkFun even when they don’t have the best price possible.

    And, for any of you other makers in Colorado, if you haven’t been to a SparkFun class, you are missing out on a good resource and a fun time.

    (Just a happy customer, not affiliated with SFE.)

  3. MAKE | Your Comments says:

    […] response to The Pit Of Despair, user Marty says: You know, there’s actually a really simple solution for too much demand, even […]

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I'm a tinkerer and finally reached the point where I fix more things than I break. When I'm not tinkering, I'm probably editing a book for Maker Media.

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