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Open Source Startup Lessons

Learn about starting an Open Source hardware company from one of the co-founders of Neurotinker

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Friday, September 15, 2017 12:00 pm PDT - Friday, September 15, 2017 12:30 pm PDT Local time zone:
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Hack Chat
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Zach Fredin will be hosting the Hack Chat this week.

This Hack Chat is at noon PDT, Friday, September 15th.

Time Zones got you down? Here's a handy count down timer! 

Zach Fredin enjoyed soldering while growing up, which pushed him to study metallurgy in college. He ended up back into electronics after starting the educational product company NeuroTinker, LLC with his partner Joe Burdo. The GPL-licensed NeuroBytes project was a finalist in The Hackaday Prize Best Product category in 2015, and soon afterwards Joe and Zach received their first NSF grant which allowed them to focus on the project full time. They are currently working under a Phase II award and plan to have products on the market in late 2017. 

In this chat, we'll talk about lessons learned from starting an Open Source hardware company. 

When you're starting an Open Source hardware company from nothing, you want to plan ahead. Defining how open you want to be, how to keep manufacturing humming along, and how to build a brand new community around your product are all parts of starting a business. Zach will share what he's learned in the past three years while building NeuroTinker.

TL; DR, in this chat, we'll discuss ::

  • Experiences building an Open Source hardware company
  • Manufacturing Open Source hardware products
  • Building a community around a product 
  • Business planning

Here's the sheet to guide the discussion.

  • Open Source Startup Lessons Hack Chat Transcript

    Jordan Bunker09/15/2017 at 20:26 0 comments

    Shulie Tornel Alright, let's get started!

    Shulie Tornel Welcome to the #HackChat everyone! Thank you so much for joining us @zakqwy

    Julien Provenzano Hello Shulie Tornel

    zakqwy Sure! Glad to be here. Lots of good questions on the spreadsheet.

    Shulie Tornel Can you please give us a brief intro of yourself and what you do and Neurotinker?

    zakqwy Absolutely. I'm Zach Fredin, and I started a company called NeuroTinker a few years back with Joe Burdo. NeuroTinker exists to commercialize an open-source educational product called #NeuroBytes.

    zakqwy I am the lead engineer, although six months ago we brought on an intern-soon-to-be-employee named Jarod White. He heads up firmware development efforts now.

    Shulie Tornel What has been your overall experience starting an open source company? Have you started a company before?

    zakqwy Nope. Never started a company. Overall it's been a crazy learning experience; the hardest lesson is to decide what (of a million things) to _not_ worry about on a given day.

    Shulie Tornel Sounds stressful but a really great experience!

    zakqwy Re: open source specifically -- that part has been amazing. We don't have a massive community contributing the project at this point, but we have gotten a great deal of help from a few interested parties. A lot of folks have come out of the woodwork and said something to the effect of, "This is a neat project, I wish I'd started it a long time ago, but I'm glad you decided to open source the whole things and now I'd like to lend a hand"

    zakqwy [ if you're curious -- eveything is at https://github.com/neurotinker ]

    Shulie Tornel speaking of community, @Jordan Bunker asks: How did you start to build a community around your product? How do you manage and organize the feedback/ideas that you get from that community?

    Shulie Tornel or.. how did these people come out of the woodwork? word of mouth, other communities (like Hackaday)?

    zakqwy I'd say we're still starting to build a community around the project. The first real gathering of folks coalesced around the project site on this page, and ended up mostly approaching the project from a technical / engineering perspective. We were finalists in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, and that gave us a good bump in terms of people seeing the project.

    zakqwy On the actual project page, I (and now others) try to be as honest as possible -- talking about our mistakes, hang-ups, stuff we have tried for six months to decide but haven't finalized, that kind of thing. If you peruse the project logs and their comments, you'll see a lot of really valuable input that often got integrated into product iterations.

    zakqwy Other communities -- it's been a bit tougher for us to build an online/accessible community of neuroscience (/ biology / A&P / robotics / etc) educators, particularly at the high school level. The majority of those interactions happen in person, which can be nice (as we make a physical product that is best to see in person), but isn't terribly efficient.

    zakqwy @Jordan Bunker , my suggestion when you start building a community, especially at the beginning, is to do it yourself. Show your cards, be honest, and actually listen when you get feedback from people. That kind of back-and-forth respect goes a long way.

    Shulie Tornel @seesemichaelj asks for suggestions on building a community around a product that serves a niche market. Any tips, based on your experience?

    zakqwy Frustrating but exciting. I'd also suggest a bit of caution when selecting the venue to host your community. If you build a following on Facebook (or most other social media sites at this point), don't expect to be able to actually reach that community without spending some cash.

    @zakqwy Good to know! Thank you :)

    zakqwy I think for niche markets, subreddits seem to work really well. Ideally you have a few engaged and knowledgeable community members that help you moderate it -- or better yet, run it entirely. The quadcopter folks (and 3d printing, and other newer niches driven...

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