Maker Pro News: Maker Pros Helping Maker Pros

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Maker Pro News: Maker Pros Helping Maker Pros

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“[Apple] is a very different beast than your startup in almost every possible way.” – Bolt Portfolio Director Haje Jan Kamps

A DIY Maker Pro Shares Her Secrets

For a remarkable profile of a working maker pro, check out Make:’s new interview with Hannah Cass, the owner of the UK-based Sew 8-Bit (@Sew8Bit), a small business that sells bespoke, gaming-inspired fiber art — from a plush version of Nintendo’s (@NintendoAmericaChain Chomp to a resplendent Pokémon triptych.

Like Adafruit (@adafruit), Cass uses streaming to build community and provide a peek into her creative process. Her primary advice to would-be maker pros: don’t hesitate to throw yourself into a new medium — or ask the community for help.

“Never be afraid to have a go at a craft that fascinates you — no matter what your experience, skill level or ability,” she said. “Ask another maker — some of them provide written or video tutorials.”

Electronics Tariffs Looms Over Manufacturing

The Trump administration announced $50 billion in new tariffs against Chinese electronics and heavy machinery this week — which could substantially impact the small businesses that move from prototypes to products in Chinese factories. Currently, the focus seems to be on consumer electronics, but CNN Money (@CNNMoney) reports that the United States Trade Representative is also eying tariffs on components like LEDs, copper wire, capacitors, and resistors — a move that one expert said could impact the “basic building blocks of consumer electronics.”

“If history is any indication, these proposed tariffs will not work and will be entirely counterproductive,” said Dean Garfield, who runs the advocacy group Information Technology Industry Council (@ITI_TechTweets), in an interview with the Washington Post. “Tariffs penalize U.S. consumers by increasing prices on technology products and will not change China’s behavior.”

This is story is developing, and we’ll update in coming weeks. One bright spot: the category of toys, which a substantial number of maker pro followings likely fall into, are excluded from the new tariffs.

Why Hardware Startups Fail (or Succeed!)

HAX (@hax_co) general partner Benjamin Joffe (@benjaminjoffe) penned a new analysis of why hardware startups fail — and how they can avoid those pitfalls to succeed. Looking at the HAX’s stable of companies, Joffe identified four key reasons why startups fail:

• Their product is too niche
• The founders don’t get along
• They give up
• They execute too slowly

Joffe also rounded up a list of successful HAX participants, along with analyses of how they avoided failure. Among the highlights: Makeblock (@Makeblock), which maintained growth after a crowdfunding campaign; Minut (@MinutHQ), which re-focused its positioning before running a series of successful Kickstarter campaigns; and Joy (@JOYfamilytech), which made the jump from crowdfunding a kids-oriented smartwatch called Octopus to selling it on chain-store shelves.

Startups: Don’t Be Apple

Apple is arguably the most successful hardware company in history, writes Bolt (@BoltVC) portfolio director Haje Jan Kamps (@Haje), but that doesn’t mean that your startup should follow its example.

Sitting on a huge cash reserve and with a loyal user base that’s taken decades to develop, he argues, the company’s designers are given the prerogative to tell the manufacturing team what to do. The company also has access to shipping and manufacturing logistics of a sophistication that’s simply out of reach to startups.

“By all means, keep an eye on Apple and the way the company pushes the envelope,” he wrote. “But bear in mind that, for now, the company is a very different beast than your startup in almost every possible way.”

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

Slate ran a rumination on the over-the-top secrecy of Magic Leap (@magicleap), the mixed reality headset maker which is requiring, among other stringent guidelines, that each early-stage developer stores its devices in a locked safe. Elaborate attempts at discretion aren’t new, and can even be an effective marketing tactic — look at the first generation iPhone, which Apple kept so closely guarded that software developers had no idea what the hardware was going to look like.

In a new interviewNoria (@NoriaCool) co-founder Kurt Swanson discusses what he learned by crowdfunding the company’s W5 window air conditioner. The conversation is chock full of useful tips about design, prototyping, and manufacturing — but the overarching lesson is that shipping a crowdfunded product doesn’t need to be a startup’s end goal. Instead, savvy founders can use the process to learn more about their customers’ needs, iterate their invention, and establish traction for its next generation.

Takuro Yoshida (@yoshida_takuro), the CEO of Logbar (@Logbar) and creator of wearables Ring and ili, dished on the business of hardware and crowdfunding — including worthwhile insight on how to recover from misfired DIY marketing attempts — in a new interview with Tech in Asia.

Hackster (@Hacksterio) co-founder Adam Benzion (@AdamBenzion) posits three unbreakable rules for every startup: define an ultimate goal and work toward it at every level; commit to a business model; make absolutely positive that there exist customers who are willing to pay for it.

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DC Denison is the co-editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

DC manages customer stories at Acquia, the digital experience company.

View more articles by DC Denison

Jon Christian is the co-editor of the Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection between makers and business. He's also written for the Boston Globe, WIRED and The Atlantic.

View more articles by Jon Christian