Maker Pro News: Keeping Adafruit Fresh, Fidget Spinner Innovation, and More

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Maker Pro News: Keeping Adafruit Fresh, Fidget Spinner Innovation, and More

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“I didn’t think it would ‘pay off’ at all.” – Adafruit founder Limor “Ladyada” Fried

How Adafruit Stays Fresh

There might be no single company that better embodies the ethos and promise of the maker pro movement than Adafruit (@adafruit), the DIY marketplace that Limor “Ladyada” Fried started more than a decade ago in her MIT dorm room.

Indeed, writes longtime Make: associate Gareth Branwyn (@garethb2) in a new profile of the company, Adafruit can seem at times to float above its peers by virtue of its effortless mind-meld with the needs and ideals of the electronics scene. It’s obviously not that simple — Adafruit’s success is the result of more than a decade of tireless work, research, and community building by Fried and her crew.

A key takeaway for would-be maker pros: Fried has always treated the project as a labor of love rather a career trajectory.

“I didn’t think it would ‘pay off’ at all,” Fried told Branwyn. “But it was just something I felt very strongly about, and if it worked out, if it became profitable, then great.”

Dispatches from the Maker Pro Economy

The humble fidget spinner whirred its way through the entire cultural hype cycle, Buzzfeed points out in a new report, without the intervention of a single TV advert. That accomplishment exemplifies a new product life cycle in which decentralized manufacturers can bypass nearly all traditional retail channels and still reach millions of customers — and everyone from toy stores to regulators are spinning their wheels to keep pace.

So far, that rising tide isn’t lifting all boats. An incisive new acronym, “KPNAC,” which stands for “Kickstarter Project, Not a Company,” is making the rounds among hardware investors as the VC-funded Hello  (@hello), which first emerged as as crowdfunding campaign for a sleep tracker, prepares to shut down.

In the same vein, what are hardware investors actually looking for? VCs Roger Chabra (@rchabra) and Katherine Hague (@KatherineHague) confront that question and conclude the most important qualities a hardware startup can demonstrate are the potential for recurring revenue, the ability to pivot, and the practical skills to manufacture a product for cheap.

And on a lighter note, when the editors of New York Magazine rounded up the favorite crowdfunded products of Kickstarter employees themselves, the results were refreshingly eclectic. Look no further than Firefly Communicator (@SpeakFirefly), a fob-shaped gadget meant to attract swarms of friendly lightning bugs.

Dale Dougherty: Free Arduino

Make: founder Dale Dougherty (@dalepd) minced no words this week when he called out the Arduino Foundation, which was supposed to champion the values of the development community after the Arduino founders resolved their rift last year, but seems to have made little progress since it was first announced.

For context, the de-facto spokesperson for the Foundation’s efforts has thus far been Arduino (@arduino) CEO Federico Musto. It emerged earlier this year that Musto, who has long claimed to have obtained advanced degrees from from MIT and New York University, doesn’t appear to hold degrees from either institution.

“Whatever the legal or business reasons why Musto ended up with majority control over Arduino, there is no justification to have him in control of the foundation,” Dougherty wrote. “Musto has shown us that he cannot be trusted.”

The most important question may be what these ongoing divides mean for the Arduino developer community. Send us your thoughts at

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

A primer in maker pro thinking: former Make: intern Sandra Rodríguez (@sandbot4) touts the benefits of Stanford’s six-step “design thinking” process, which guides would-be makers from visualization all the way through to testing.

My teammates and I presenting our final project

Textiles designer and college professor Lindsay Degen (@DegenYNC) put the crowdfunded Kniterate (@Kniterate) through its paces — and she was impressed with the machine’s capabilities.

Hardware accelerator HAX (@hax_co) is hosting a VIP breakfast next week as it unveils its latest report — and the attendance list looks to be star-studded, with reps ranging from scenesters like Hackster (@Hacksterio) to megacorps like Goldman Sachs.

Smart Kitchen Summit (@SmartKitchenCon) is now accepting applications from foodtech startups to pitch and demo at the event this October in Seattle. You can apply here; applications are open until Aug. 15.

Speaking of foodtech, Make: contributor Chiara Cecchini (@ClaireCecchini) is back with two new profiles of food maker pros: there’s Cacoco (@cacoco), which sells its drinkable chocolate in biodegradable packaging, and Pete’s Living Greens (@peteslivingrns), which retails its lettuces while they’re still growing in soil—roots and all.

And makerspace chain NextFab (@NextFab_PHL) opened its third and newest location yesterday in Wilmington, DE. Bon voyage!

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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


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