company purported. State what your
company does and do not apologize
for the things it does not. Your customers will respect you for it. If a part
of the product does not yet work or is
not yet “polished,” be up front about
it. If the product is innovative enough
(and it should be), customers will overlook small imperfections. Identifying
products that are open source and
using the communal open hardware
logo to show your intent of openness
sets an expectation about the source
of your product. But do not use the
logo if your source is not available.
A store can’t sell products if there’s
no way to purchase them. There is
very little evidence that a highly pol-
ished website will guarantee prod-
uct sales, but having a buy button
will. This seems obvious, but there
are countless “products” that never
made it to market because engineers
and entrepreneurs worked endlessly
to add features. You think you have
a good idea, but until there is a buy-
it-now button next to the product,
what exists is only a hypothesis. The
market votes with dollars and will
quickly reward you if the product fits
the needs of customers.
Do one thing well. If a product
is successful, it will be copied. This
means focusing your energy to do one
thing well is the way to stay ahead in
a competitive open source market.
Creating a product with fewer features is cheaper in parts, development
time, production time, and support.
Design less features into a product
and know when to stop. Which leads
us to: FISI (Screw it, ship it). At some
point, a product must get shipped.
As the saying goes, “perfection is the
enemy of done.” If feature creep runs
unchecked, you will run out of energy,
cash, customers, or all three.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the
details. The vast majority of new businesses don’t have a lawyer on retainer
or its financials audited yearly. Build
a business one step at a time. You
can save on the accounting and taxes
while your business is small and fairly
straightforward. Most small businesses don’t need an accountant or attorney on day one. It’s better to focus on
getting a solid product out the door.
Don’t get stuck worrying about how
to get your widget built. The internet is
filled with impressive hacks on how to
manufacture domestically, abroad, and
even in your own basement thanks to
people sharing their processes openly
and transparently. You don’t need top-of-the-line equipment to get started. A
hot plate can take the place of a reflow
oven. A 3-D printed jig may be just as
good as a machined jig. Get creative and
be thoughtful about what you really need
to accomplish building the product.
Look within your community for
mentors and business advice. As a stu-
dent, your professors or lab staff can
often act as instant mentors. Many
municipalities have small business
centers to help entrepreneurs within
their communities. This is an often un-
tapped and overlooked source of class-
es, workshops, and useful advice. And
don’t forget those wonderful resources
your local public library may have.
When the time comes, give back to your
community—giving back is what open
source communities are all about.
More resources for open source
hardware business knowledge can
be found in the book Building Open
Source Hardware [ 4].
A FINAL MESSAGE
Remember, there is no master blueprint on how to start the perfect business so follow your heart. Don’t listen
to the purists out there who only have
one way to do things. There are lots
of directions entrepreneurship takes
and no mold is so rigid it can’t be
flexed. This is exactly what open entrepreneurship does: It flexes the traditional mold, breaking it open to share
Having an open source hardware
company is an option in the IP landscape. The number of companies
choosing transparency and openness
is growing. However, breaking from the
traditional business model takes courage. If you would rather share ideas than
litigate, then perhaps open source hardware entrepreneurship is for you. The
next project you work on, consider collaborating and open sourcing your ideas.
Most people benefit from openness
and transparency in their daily lives,
hardware is the next phase in this natural progression.
[ 1] Gibb, A. M. New media art, design, and the Arduino
microcontroller: A malleable tool. Master’s Thesis.
Pratt Institute, 2010.
[ 2] Seidle, N. How Open Hard ware will Take Over the World.
TEDx Boulder. 2012; https://youtu.be/xGhj_lLNtd0
[ 3] Mulcahy, D. Six Myths About Venture Capitalists.
Harvard Business Review. May, 2013; https://hbr.
[ 4] Gibb, A. M. Building Open Source Hard ware.
Alicia Gibb is CEO of Lunchbox Electronics, executive
director of the Open Source Hard ware Association, and the
director of the A TLAS Blow Things Up Lab at the Colorado
University of Boulder. Nathan Seidle is the founder of
Sparkfun Electronics and now heads the Spark X Lab within
Sparkfun, tinkering, hacking and building ne w products.
In their spare time, Alicia and Nathan can be found making
rather silly electronics projects together for their local
public library, their nieces and nephe ws, or Burning Man.
They live in Boulder, Colorado with their pet tree Alfonso.
© 2017 Copyright held by Owner(s)/Author(s).
Publication rights licensed to ACM.
Figure 3: SparkFun’s Fio is on the left,
Seeed Studio’s version is on the right.
CC BY Shigeru Kobayashi.
Figure 4: Nathan, founder of SparkFun,
and Eric, founder of Seeed Studio,
sharing a meal. CC BY-NC-SA