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Emile Petrone Founder Tindie

Osborn:  you guys have a lot of products on Tindie now. Can you give me an example of a product  that’s doing well and heeding that advice?

Petrone: The most recent example is the Femtoduino.  This is a story that’s been going on for a while—has  been in development for a few years I think. The maker who is selling those, Alex, started  out with a small run. He sold out of those quickly. Then it was at least a few weeks, maybe a month  or two, before we got another run in. In that time, the word of mouth had spread that (a) this was a great product,  and (b) it was everything it said it was. It is a derivative of Arduino, and a lot of people understand the Arduino platform and there’s  already a sizable community that’s interested  in using it, so the waiting list grew pretty quickly. When that second round came in, we sold out in less than four hours and the waiting list started back over. He just sold out of his fifth run maybe, but basically, what’s happened is every single time we get more in, they sell out and he grows that run more each time. The community continues to support him, and his business has basically grown with the interest in the project. I think that that has helped him understand what goes into it and inadvertently has also helped market the product as well because of the limited supply  has caused I guess some word of mouth and artificial demand of some sort—that people say, “Okay, it’s back in stock. I’ve got to get it now or it’s going to sell out in a few hours,” so you see people buy ten or more just because they don’t know when it will come back into stock because we’re basically now beholden to factories to getting production runs just as fast as possible.

Osborn: It sounds like he built a community up as he was building  the product along the way. That was a good  example  of a guy making  something  in his garage. I think that’s how a lot of people would describe the maker business, or maker movement. Where do you see that going? Is it always going to be people building things in their garages? Will it evolve into something beyond that? Will all the interesting projects get bought out by TI to where there are only a handful of key players the way the software world has done?

Petrone: That’s a large question that I’ll break it down to different parts in the answer. The first is that you will always have the big manufacturers, the big monoliths who will be making things in bulk supply.You’ll  also have the niche little maker businesses. The majority of what’s on Tindie right now is businesses that are one-man shop in your garage like you were saying. I think that is only going to continue to grow as people  come  up with new ideas and continue to access manufacturing  techniques.The other part is the maker business that takes advantage of larger manufac- turing processes and streamlines their business with technology. One example of that is Tautic Electronics. He’s one of our sellers. He has many products  for sale. He just invested in his own pick-and-place machine, which is sitting in his garage right now.

Osborn:  Is this the one from China that Ian Lesnet blogged2  about?

Petrone: No. I don’t know what model it is, but it’s a big boy that’s $10,000 plus. He is manufacturing at a larger scale than your average maker, and I think that that’s only going to continue. He’s invested in that future and that’s the direction  he’s going to go. So you’re going to have a wide range of the sizes of these businesses. That wide range of businesses is the first part.The second is that businesses of all sizes are actually starting to buy, consume, and use open hardware. They recognize that projects developed by individual makers can have the exact same quality  as a project by a larger  Fortune 500 company. And that’s what we’re starting to see, that it’s not just hobbyists that are buying these projects. We’ve got Fortune 500 companies that are buying parts. We’ve got government agencies. We’ve got the biggest tech companies in the world, and universities labs. It runs the gamut in terms of who is buying products through Tindie right now. I think that says everything  about  what  is happening with this revolution in hardware.It’s growing very quickly, and it’s going from zero to very high quality and scal- ing as quickly  as demand needs it. I think that’s exciting. It’s ultimately because of two things. The first is the dropping price in manufacturing, the low cost of components  and access to inexpensive manufacturing. Manufacturing hard- ware has been a very expensive process, to come up with an idea, prototype it, refine it. That process took years and a lot of capital. Nowadays, it takes weeks.The final thing that is driving this innovation is the open hardware itself. What I mean is open schematics, open designs, open-source code. The notion of open-source  hardware  is something  that is really starting to come of age right now. It is something whose impact I don’t think we will really truly know for years to come. We can see a lot of changes, and we see people integrat- ing things, whether  it’s an Arduino into a commercial  3D printer or adding  a Raspberry Pi into a rocket—whatever a project is.

We’re seeing  a lot of different interesting  applications, but what does that actually mean for business, for electronics, for hardware in general? I think we’re just starting to see that, and that’s really where we’re pushing Tindie, to promote  the idea behind opening the schematics and be a place where people can find open designs  and the blueprints to get an open-source   product whether you want to build it yourself or buy it through the site. We really want to help define a directory of finished open designs. So if you’re looking for an open design for anything, you can come to Tindie and you’ll be able to find it. We’re going to roll out a feature  with Arduino that will start to integrate the whole ecosystem together  and really connect the makers with the con- tent creators, because that whole ecosystem is very fragmented and we think that a much  tighter integrated system between the manufacturing  side and the people that are designing and creating the open-source  schematics and code—that’s ultimately what this ecosystem  is lacking. We’re going to be developing  a feedback  loop for those two groups to come together. That’s where we see the future of this ecosystem going.

Osborn: When I think about the impact open-source  hardware  is going to have, I think about the analog and the software world. Even if you think about simple  cases, like your web browser, like in 2003, the browser wars were won. Internet Explorer won. Netscape fell away because at the time Internet Explorer  was just a better browser. And then out of that, Netscape’s open- source became Firefox, then WebKit3  came about. Now if you look at the most popular browsers, Internet Explorer  is pretty far down on the list. All these open-source  browsers  have not only replaced it, but the competition has really changed the pace at which the web is evolving.HTML5, JavaScript, CSS3, all this stuff has happened  in the last few years, whereas HTML4  was standard and everything was stagnant for a good, solid ten years. I think really it’s the people making the browsers that are moving that forward rather than the standards body. That wouldn’t have happened without competition and the open-source community  coming together to build these browsers.You guys are doing well and growing, but surely you’ve had some challenges along the way. Can you talk about some things that maybe didn’t go as expected?

Petrone: I think that every web site has their hiccups along the way.. Our big outage was after we raised that $500,000 in funding, I decided to throw an AMA on Reddit,4   which is an “ask me anything”  to the Reddit community, who were the ones who initially supported it, started it, and fueled it. I thought some people might find it interesting to understand the story behind the busi- ness. What are some of the lessons learned?In that process, I was on the East Coast at the time. Our team is prominently on the West Coast. I launched it in the early morning, and it put the site down for a good  four or five hours because of the demand for people just visiting the site. I was still answering questions, but the team hadn’t woken up yet, and I couldn’t bring the site up and answer questions. I was basically juggling balls in the air. It’s a good problem  to have when people are so interested in what you’re doing, but when it takes the site down for a few hours, that’s a different beast entirely.At the end of the day, the ecosystem is much bigger, much more diverse, and much more interesting than I ever dreamed it would be. I’m sure that most of the community on the site would agree as well, because up until now, there really hasn’t been  a Tindie, a marketplace  for this community. We’re the first real success story  that’s been able to organize the community in one place and recognize the peoples’ achievements and the creations that they are building.

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