Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

A event log for Crowd Supply Hack Chat with Josh Lifton

Crowdfunding and mentoring hardware hackers

lutetiumLutetium 07/24/2019 at 20:030 Comments

Hello everyone, it's that time again! Welcome to the Hack Chat, and welcome to Josh Lifton. He's CEO of Crowd Supply and we'll be talking all about crowdfunding and mentoring today.

Hi Josh - can you start us off with a quick introduction?

Joshua Lifton12:00 PM

Boian Mitov12:00 PM
Hello @Joshua Lifton :-)

Joshua Lifton12:00 PM
Well, I've been running Crowd Supply for about six years now.

Joshua Lifton12:01 PM
Before that, I spent some time at Puppet as a software engineer turned manager.

de∫hipu12:01 PM

Joshua Lifton12:01 PM
Before that I did a lot of independent contracting / start up work in the hardware and software space in NYC.

Joshua Lifton12:02 PM
And before that, I got my doctorate from the MIT Media Lab studying distributed sensor networks with Joe Paradiso.

Joshua Lifton12:03 PM
That's the short version, anyway.

de∫hipu12:03 PM
What made you start with Crowd Supply?

Joshua Lifton12:03 PM
I wanted to get back to hardware.

Joshua Lifton12:03 PM
Of course, there was a logical fallacy there.

de∫hipu12:04 PM
haha, of course

Joshua Lifton12:04 PM
It's hard to work on your own projects if you build a platform to help everyone else run theirs. :)

de∫hipu12:04 PM
but then everyone else can work on theirs easier

Joshua Lifton12:04 PM
Yeah, and I get to vicariously enjoy them.

Joshua Lifton12:05 PM
Actually, it's been awesome being exposed to so many cool projects and having the chance to give some input on them.

Joshua Lifton12:05 PM
That's probably the best part of my job - the constant exposure to new projects.

Prof. Fartsparkle12:05 PM
how did you get to the idea of combining a crowdfunding site with fulfilment and shopping system?

Joshua Lifton12:05 PM
That, and the kombucha keg at the office.

Darrell Rossman12:06 PM
For reference, here's Josh's many-year project:

Joshua Lifton12:06 PM
We basically just looked at all the problems engineers and product designers were having and decided to take as much off their plate as possible.

Joshua Lifton12:06 PM
Fulfillment was a no-brainer. Turns out that ongoing sales and distribution is also difficult for a lot of people.

Joshua Lifton12:07 PM
Designing and building a product takes a different set of skills and personality traits than keeping it in production and shipping it to customers.

ap-tech12:07 PM
Is it more like a kick-starters or a Tindie?

Joshua Lifton12:07 PM
The opening talk at last year's Supercon explains this well.

jolthoff joined  the room.12:07 PM

de∫hipu12:08 PM
Do you have a link handy?

Joshua Lifton12:08 PM
It's not really either and co-exists with those.

Goran Mahovlic joined  the room.12:08 PM

de∫hipu12:08 PM
Actuallym, forget it, someone will post it here

Joshua Lifton12:08 PM
I don't have a link. Someone does!

ap-tech12:08 PM
Looks interesting

RichardCollins12:09 PM
What about the buyers and backers? Are you helping them to learn to use these products? Is that something you do, or do you try to get the designers to teach and support the users?

Joshua Lifton12:09 PM
Neither Tindie nor Kickstarter are really built for product development in the way Crowd Supply is.

ap-tech12:09 PM

Joshua Lifton12:09 PM
We're limited by our capacity, so we mostly rely on backers and creators supporting each other. We facilitate as much as possible.

Joshua Lifton12:10 PM
One way we're doing that is with our new Field Reports initiative.

Joshua Lifton12:10 PM
A field report is basically a repot from a backer about how they are using a project.

Joshua Lifton12:10 PM
It shows off what can be done with a product.

Patrick Van Oosterwijck12:10 PM

Joshua Lifton12:10 PM
Hi, Patrick!

RichardCollins12:10 PM
If it take even a good hardware hacker time to locate the same basic information, then multiply that time by many users/adapters. Duplicated effort is one of the largest wastes of human time currently. Everyone doing the same lookups,due diligence, and going over the basics.

Joshua Lifton12:11 PM
You should ask backers for Field Reports. :)

Patrick Van Oosterwijck12:11 PM
Hi Josh! :) Would I do so in a project update?

jolthoff12:11 PM
Why should someone launch on crowd supply over kickstarter/indiegogo/etc? What % of product sales do you guys take?

Joshua Lifton12:11 PM
@Patrick Van Oosterwijck yep, exactly.

Joshua Lifton12:11 PM
@RichardCollins true, but that's also how a lot of education happens.

de∫hipu12:11 PM
@Joshua Lifton that talk did you mean the one by Bill Gross?

Can't find the Supercon talk video, btw - still looking...

Joshua Lifton12:12 PM
@de∫hipu yeah, Bill Gross.

de∫hipu12:12 PM



Bill Gross On Why Your Startup Will Succeed

Bill Gross is one of the great heros when it comes to technology incubators. Twenty years ago, he founded Idealab, a business whose business plan is to create more businesses. This started out with just a handful of companies in 1996, and has since gone on to found 150 companies, that have collectively raised three and a half billion dollars.

Read this on Hackaday

Dang, beat me to it

Joshua Lifton12:13 PM
@jolthoff there are a lot of reasons to choose Crowd Supply. Fundamentally, we speciallize in bringing new open source electronics to market, whereas other platforms are about raising money for an arbitrary thing.

Joshua Lifton12:14 PM
The upshot is that we have a much higher success rate and average raise, and we take a lot of the pain away - fulfillment, customer support, distribution, ongoing sales, etc.

Johny Radio12:14 PM
How is that specialty reflected in the platform?

Sylvain Munaut12:14 PM
@Joshua Lifton Can you do just a batch run and not turn it to presales / sales after the campain ? (i.e. just do 1 single batch and that's it)

Joshua Lifton12:14 PM
@Johny Radio can you clarify?

Joshua Lifton12:15 PM
@Sylvain Munaut no, we try to keep a product in production for as long as it will sell.

Johny Radio12:15 PM
Hoping you could clarify your comment :)

Joshua Lifton12:15 PM
That's actually where we make most of our revenue - in-stock sales of products that launched on Crowd Supply.

jolthoff12:15 PM
What about visibility? Kickstarter is the big name, and thus a lot more visible-- how does crowd supply help with getting over that hurdle-- advertising?

Tyler12:15 PM
@Joshua Lifton I am thinking about launching a product on Crowd Supply. I have at least a few questions. What do you recommend as a minimum interest level (email signups, crowd supply follows, etc) before launch? How many units are recommended for a first production run? How many additional units should be purchased? What percentage of CrowdSupply sales is crowdfunding vs pre-order vs order?

Prof. Fartsparkle12:15 PM
does that mean you have to commit to crowdsupply to produce a product for a amount certain time?

Prof. Fartsparkle12:15 PM
*certain amount of time

de∫hipu12:16 PM
@Johny Radio For one, they review your project before accepting it.

Joshua Lifton12:16 PM
@jolthoff KS is a bigger name and has more traffic, but it's spread across many more projects. Per project, we do better, and it shows in the funds raised.

Prof. Fartsparkle12:16 PM
ooh ok didn't know that, thats kinda nice that its curated

Sylvain Munaut12:16 PM
@Joshua Lifton But if the product has to be made in batch of 100, who supports the cost of the unsold inventory ? (i.e. when you want to ship unit 101, you basically have to make a new batch of 100 and then what if nobody wants the 99 others ?)

Joshua Lifton12:17 PM
@Johny Radio, @de∫hipu yes, we're highly selective. We end up rejecting about 90% of submissions.

Joshua Lifton12:17 PM
Those we accept, we work very closely with.

Patrick Van Oosterwijck12:17 PM
@Sylvain Munaut that's always the risk of making hardware. :)

de∫hipu12:17 PM
@Prof. Fartsparkle not just curated, there are strict requirements:

Joshua Lifton12:17 PM
@Sylvain Munaut we've developed a lot of tactics to handle the MOQ problem. It's usually solvable.

Sylvain Munaut12:18 PM
@Patrick Van Oosterwijck Well, not if you do it by batch and don't start the batch until it's fully sold :p

Tyler12:18 PM
I have done a few kickstarter projects. I am interested in crowd supply they facilitate many of the aspects of the business I need the most help with (fulfullment, shipping, on-going sales). Fulfilling a kickstarter project is a big effort and can suck the life (and productivity) out of you.

Joshua Lifton12:18 PM
@Patrick Van Oosterwijck it's kind of *the* hardware manufacturing problem.

Joshua Lifton12:18 PM
@Tyler yep, that's why we're here.

Joshua Lifton12:19 PM
@Tyler we recommend setting the goal to be enough to manufacture as few as financially feasible, which I realize is a bit circular.

Joshua Lifton12:20 PM
Balancing price, COGS, MOQ, funding goal, and time is the art of hardware production.

Joshua Lifton12:20 PM
By the way, here are some basic guidelines for when to submit a project:

de∫hipu12:20 PM
do you also have contacts with the fabricators that proved to be most reliable?

Joshua Lifton12:21 PM

RichardCollins12:21 PM
Do you ever recommend products for designers to create? You must also see market trends and demand?

Joshua Lifton12:21 PM
And we can make recommendations based on each situation.

Joshua Lifton12:21 PM
@RichardCollins great question.

Prof. Fartsparkle12:21 PM
does crowdsupply help in any part of the manufacturing process?

Digicool Things12:21 PM
@Joshua Lifton Interesting that you say also targeted at "ongoing sales". My first impression of the CrowdSupply website was that it is a Kickstarter like platform, not a place to come and shop (like a Tindie). ...until you figure that out. Perhaps some more attention needed to the presentation of the "Available" products Shop?

jolthoff12:22 PM
On this page:, it states the pricing for custom is up to 15% of gross campaign sales-- does this include all the help with production/stocking/fulfillment?

Joshua Lifton12:22 PM
We certainly nudge our creators in certain directions based on what we've seen, but we haven't yet commissioned anything.

Sylvain Munaut12:22 PM
@Joshua Lifton What kind of support can you provide wrt to compliance ? (things like CE / FCC)

Tyler12:22 PM
@Joshua Lifton On your intake form, you ask for traction (email signups or something like that), how much traction are you looking for to get started? Or how much traction do successful projects have when they apply?

Joshua Lifton12:22 PM
@Prof. Fartsparkle we generally stay out of manufacturing, but we've been known to take over manufacturing after the initial batch has been successfully produced.

Joshua Lifton12:23 PM
@Sylvain Munaut we're not lawyers, but we can point to what other projects have successfully done.

Johny Radio12:24 PM
Our product will be handmade by us, to order. Would that fit crowd supply?

Joshua Lifton12:24 PM
@Digicool Things it's a careful balance between showing off new products and selling existing products.

Joshua Lifton12:24 PM
But I'm sure we could do better.

Prof. Fartsparkle12:24 PM
oh ok interesting, did the creator sell the project to you or did you just take a larger cut after taking over manufacturing?

Joshua Lifton12:24 PM
@Johny Radio that method could certainly work with CS. Depends more on the product than the process.

Joshua Lifton12:25 PM
@Prof. Fartsparkle we enter an agreement where we basically front the capital and pay a per-unit fee to the creator.

Darrell Rossman12:25 PM
@Johny Radio - here's a project where the creator does his own manufacturing:

Joshua Lifton12:25 PM
I think I might have missed a few questions - feel free to bubble them back to the top (bottom).

de∫hipu12:25 PM
hehe, he bought a PnP machine specially for this :)

RichardCollins12:26 PM
Could Hackaday.IO ask for/vote on certain core technologies to be created and available? Could there be a place to carry on a continuing discussion of cross-cutting technologies that many people would like to have?