Will it Sell?

Many of us develop things for one of two purposes: to hack something cool, or to sell something cool. When hacking something cool, your target market is yourself, and you already know you’ve made the sale. If your goal is to sell the thing you are making, then a lot more thought and effort is required. You could develop the coolest product in the world, but if your target market is too small, your price is too high, your lead time is too long, or any of a dozen other factors is not quite right, you’ll be spending a lot of time and effort on what will amount to a huge disappointment. The Hackaday Prize Best Product has many great examples which let us study some of these success factors, so let’s take a look.

Who is the Target Market?

Figuring out who will purchase your product is an important part of developing it. It will tell you what sales channels to use, inform price range, graphics, and marketing, and give you an idea of sales volume. Take, for example, the Graphically Programmable Arduino Shortcut Keypad pictured at the top of this article.

One could say the target market is gamers, or possibly professionals who use specific software packages. It isn’t language specific, so there is no limitation on country. In a sense, it is a blank slate with broad application for a few huge markets. But would someone who wants to use it for CAD shortcuts or playing WOW really purchase, or even search, the “Graphically Programmable Arduino Shortcut Keypad?” It might have a different branding and graphics and name for gamers than it would for hackers or accountants. Each of the target markets will require a different approach, and may assign different values and expected prices to the product.

Now consider the Electro-Magnetic Enabled Bagpipes. While a cool idea, the Total Addressable Market would be only people who play bagpipes, which (thankfully to some) is not a big number. It wouldn’t take many units to saturate the market, but it may be easy to reach out to all of them through a limited number of publications or forums.

How Much Will It Cost?

There are a few ways to determine the right price for a product. One is to find a competing product and match their price or beat it slightly. For example, you could look at an existing Raman Spectrometer, see that it’s really expensive, and price yours slightly lower.

Another is to take your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), multiply it by 2-4x, and use that number. Your COGS is how much the thing you’re selling costs you, so you have to sell it for more than that to keep your business going and pay yourself. If you are going to retail, then you might sell to the wholesaler at 2x the COGS. They will turn around and sell it to the retailer with some markup, and the retailer will mark it up again, quickly getting the retail price to 4x the COGS. If you are selling online only, you can sell for less because you don’t have the overhead of wholesale or retail, but it means that you may never be able to sell retail in the future because they don’t like it when you sell online for cheaper than they sell in stores.

Unless you are selling your product with a consumable subscription model (Juicero, Keurig, Dollar Shave Club), you cannot get away with selling at a loss, and if you plan to grow the business, you have to price it high enough that you can afford to buy ever increasing volumes using profit from the previous batch.

Will My Target Market Buy It?

Makers are a tough market. They are frugal to the point of absurdity, they want to build things themselves, and they are knowledgeable enough to seek out other options. When it comes time to get that cool Nixie tube clock, is your target market going to buy an assembled Nixie tube clock, or are they more likely to design and build it themselves just so they can figure out how a Nixie tube works? (Hint)

Reaching for hacker cred, Obsolete Time is designed to fit inside an Altoids tin

Besides the challenge of setting the price high enough that you can reasonably make and sell the product and stay in business, you have to set the price low enough that your target market will buy it. The general saying is that you can never raise your prices, but you can always lower them. You could come out with a new product that has different features at a higher price, but raising the price on a product rarely goes over well with customers. That’s why it’s important to set the price higher to begin with, then if the market doesn’t react you can try dropping prices lower and lower until you’ve found the sweet spot. Too low and you’re not making enough profit on each unit.

This is one reason why luxury goods are so appealing; high margins means they don’t have to have as many sales or as much inventory to make the same amount of profit. It’s also a reason why healthcare is appealing; if the insurance is paying for it, people don’t know or care how much the product really costs. The more positive reason is that people pay more for things that obviously improve their quality of life, and things like the Hand Tremor Gyroscopic Stabilizer project are exactly the type of product that have the potential to hit the sweet spot of providing significant value to a lot of people in a domain that can command a higher price.

How Will I Sell To My Target Market?

If your target market is government contracts, maybe Kickstarter is the wrong platform to capture sales. It’s important to be able to reach your target market and offer the appropriate payment methods for them to buy. The benefit of a small target market is that it may be easier to reach them, but it also means your product has to be compelling enough to all of that market that a significant portion of them will make the purchase. Electric longboard owners are a pretty small market, so the Bluetooth controller for one needs to offer a lot of value in order to capture enough of the market to make the product profitable. As I’m not an electric longboard owner, I can’t speak to its value to that community, but for [elmameto]’s sake, I hope it’s high.

Addressing the target market with the right angle in your pitch and the right language and the right venues is important. Seek out the publications and forums that your target market uses and write in their style. Hackaday has extensive worldwide reach into millions of homes, but if your product is a piece of sports equipment, even daily features won’t make it into many of the homes of the people who will buy your product. If it’s a robotics kit for schools, teachers may not be able to purchase from Kickstarter.

Conclusions

A great product isn’t just a great product because it has a lot of features. It has to have a market, the market has to hear about the product, the market has to want the product, and the market has to be able to pay for the product at the right price. THAT’s what makes it a great product. If you think your idea is useful and has value to an identifiable target market, you should consider entering it in the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition before the July 24th deadline.

87 thoughts on “Will it Sell?

    1. Bunnie’s exploits are great examples of what NOT to do if you want to start a business.

      I’ve been measurably more successful (able to retire at 40 after 15 years), so here’s my advice, for what it’s worth.

      #1 Just try.
      #2 You will fail, so minimize risk
      #3 Account for time, for posterity
      #4 Customers are buying an experience, don’t make it shit.
      #5 it’s who you know

      The probability of failing is high at first because there’s so much you don’t know. Shipping, customs, legal accountability, licensing, etc.

      Because of this, approach it as a learning exercise and just limit your risks. i.e. Don’t willingly volunteer information (no ‘open-source’) unless it’s easy to obtain anyway and actually helps. Don’t take anyone’s money. Bootstrap each attempt and only invest the money you would otherwise spend on entertainment. Don’t build beyond your orders. Pro-tip: A customer that doesn’t want to wait for a niche product is one that will give you a bad review regardless of their experience.

      Your time is worth something. Some people feel “success” is what happens when you make more money than you have spent. Time lost is not considered. It’s rationalized away as time stolen from some unproductive hobby. Keep in mind that you are NOT going to have fun or relax as you would with a hobby. It’s more accurate to think of this time as work you got paid for (positive) or higher education you had to pay for (negative). Either way, account for it as your running hourly rate. Don’t worry about it though. Just keep the total in the back of your head so you don’t waste time in the future.

      Website experience and customer service is important. Actually CUSTOMER SERVICE is paramount. You could have a shit product and build up a great brand name. Pieco Press is a good example of an absolute shit product but reviews that read like: “Fantastic product! I’m so excited to not have to order stencils anymore! Although it arrived broken, they sent me a replacement free of charge. I can’t wait to use it. Five stars!” Never even got to use the damn thing, but had a great customer experience.

      Talk to people. Make friends. It’s important. It’s a skill like any other and IS REQUIRED for this game.

      1. I agree with #1: Just Try. As an experiment, I listed in Tindie the Enigma Machine simulator I started creating mainly for myself. The first one was sold within a couple of hours.

        You just won’t know until you try…

  1. I just started on an Arduino Shortcut Keypad yesterday, so nice heads-up on the “Graphically Programmable Arduino Shortcut Keypad”.

    Only extra feature that I had in mind were a small display and SD-card reader on the keypad, to store and scroll through different setups without the need for software on the computer.
    I’ll use it on a lot of different computers, so I don’t want it to depend on installed software.

    1. I dunno if an SD card isn’t going to make it too complicated and expensive. Could you perhaps set it up to emulate a CD-ROM drive, complete with a small piece of software that doesn’t need installation? Just runs when you need to make changes to the setup, normally it’d emulate an ordinary USB keyboard.

      If the SD card is intended to be removed and placed in a computer for setup, it’d need some kind of software to edit the file, even if it’s just Notepad, and editing config files with Notepad is a bit techy for the ordinary luser. OTOH if it’s purely to store config, maybe an EEPROM would be better, or the Arduino’s built-in EEPROM? Since you don’t need a lot of data just for a few keys.

      The display is a good idea I think. Hm, perhaps you could plug an ordinary keyboard into a USB socket on your device, just for programming? Press the “program” button (or use the menu or whatever) on your device, then whatever macro you want it to produce, type in on the ordinary keyboard.

      Or, you could use software on the host computer to program your shortcut keypad. But have the keypad by default come with a few “pages” set up for common software packages, as well as generic stuff like copy / paste etc.

      Just a few ideas popped into my head, based on what I think I’d do if it were me. Feel free to use or ignore any of them!

      I’d be interested to see the product as you develop it. I wouldn’t buy one, because I’m already proficient with keyboard shortcuts, I ran my PC without a mouse for a few months when mine broke and I didn’t bother getting a new one. Windows has an option under “Accessibility” to use the num pad as a mouse, though you can just use Alt to access menus most of the time, along with Tabm, Space and Enter, so you don’t need it much.

      1. Yah, I came to suggest the EEPROM too.

        I’m not too enthusiastic about the CD-ROM emulation though, or more to the point that no-installation-required executable that it would contain. It sounds like a design for a Windows-only device.

        I’d just use serial communication to talk to it and write a CLI interface for it. Then it could be used from any platform that supports serial over Bluetooth or USB, whatever bus you choose to use. Of course.. left at that it wouldn’t sell very well. That would be the ‘advanced’ mode of use. Once the CLI was done I would then create a GUI app that talks to the CLI for you in Python. Next I’d package it up with wrappers to make standalone executables for Windows and Mac. Finally I would write an Android app to do the same.

      2. The reason that I want a SD-card is that I don’t know how much memory is needed and I don’t want to run out of memory along the way.
        The smallest macro that I got so far is 204 chars, and I wanted at least 10 setups with a 12-key device like this. The macros would also need to support delay, combined keypress etc.
        Each setup would also need some header-information, like name.

        And just to be clear, it’s not that I don’t want some kind of installed software, I just don’t want to depend on it for normal usage (using the macro & switching setup, not adding/editing them) and having it installed on every single computer that I use.
        It needs to be portable.

        Anyway, I’ve simplified my project since my post, so now it’s just a dev board with a 7” touchscreen that I didn’t use. The macros are just icons/text below a list of setups.
        However, I could just use an Android tablet instead.

        1. A quick look found a 256Kbit (32Kx8) EEPROM for 85p. That’s 150 200-byte macros, which depends of course on how you store them. Better than an SD card I think, cheaper and more reliable. It’s a 2-wire I2C bus to communicate with.

          An Android tablet would need a way of acting as a USB keyboard, I dunno if they can do that. Maybe if you rooted it, you could compile a custom OS for it, custom USB drivers. Sounds like a bit of a pain in the arse though to be honest… I’d stick with a micro + touchscreen (or keys). It doesn’t take much code to do icons, detecting clicks, and moving and organising them. Just the basic bits of a GUI user interface. Menus too. You wouldn’t need an actual OS underneath it, since it’s just performing one function.

          Probably be cheaper than a tablet too, not requiring a battery, hi-res display, powerful CPU, gigabytes of RAM, etc.

        2. “it’s not that I don’t want some kind of installed software, I just don’t want to depend on it for normal usage”

          Exactly! That’s why you start by writing a little CLI that communicates through the serial port.
          For example, code on your Arduino that interprets “SM1 BLASTOFF\n” as meaning “Set Macro #1 to type the characters BLASTOFF.

          or “L” as “list all macros”

          Now you can use any serial terminal program to reprogram your keypad.

          Once that is working, for convenience you can write a nice GUI app that just acts as a front end and hides all of this CLI serial communication from the user. But.. if you ever want to make a quick change to your macros from a computer where your app is not installed.. or maybe even a platform you haven’t coded an app for… you can still just do it manually through the serial terminal!

          Another cool trick with the CLI thing.. for storing the macro set just serialize it as a list of those same commands. To load a list of macros just run the commands contained within!

          1. I like the CLi-method, however, I don’t think I’ll implement it.

            Majority of my macros are very long scripts like; open Powershell, paste script , execute, close powershell, or; open SQL manager, connect to host, new script, paste script, execute, Save Report to network share.
            So adjustable delay and combined keypresses are required, which would make the input a bit more complex to work with, but still durable.

            Futhermore,I rarly add new macros (same macros I’ve been using for years), however I do change the scripts being pasted inside the macros.

            So I still prefer the tablet-way, bacause I could simply use Google Drive\OneDrive\Dropbox or similair cloud storage service to store the macros on the Tablet. Updating the macro would just require me to log on to the cloud storage service and change a text file.

          2. I could separate the macro into macro and referenced script files.
            I would then be able to execute exactly the same scripts on both the computer and the tablet (through the macro) = no duplicated code.
            And multiple macros could use the same scripts.

  2. Probably No,
    the barriers to market entry for even a can opener is around $60k to $1m.

    Also, this crowd never buys anything they can steal, clone, or replicate out of dried dog doo.
    Your only mad cause it is true…

    1. Hard to do those three with sex. That’s why it’s a booming business. The other is drugs. Anything to do with “urges (can’t help ourselves)” is a good start towards a thriving business.

      1. Yer right in a way, but ever notice how much it costs for a legitimate drug to be FDA approved, or the number of suckers in jail for thinking the law doesn’t apply to their lives.

        You know the FDA just reversed the decision to ban an insecticide that causes brain damage in babies.
        One might be able to resell bags of petrol for cases of smart soon… Derp derp

        Also, the truth about selling Crack in the 80’s was researched by this fellow:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freakonomics

  3. “You could come out with a new product that has different features at a higher price, but raising the price on a product rarely goes over well with customers. That’s why it’s important to set the price higher to begin with, then if the market doesn’t react you can try dropping prices lower and lower until you’ve found the sweet spot.”
    Sounds like the iPhone model, except that Apple’s idea of “new features” is a few millimeters thinner and more fragile. Also, are they still using LCD technology?

    1. iPhone success was the cell-carrier $700 loss leader that launched the App store and iTune services.

      Do you still think they are a hardware company when a $100 Hacintosh PC will outperform their newest laptop?

  4. About “they want to build things themselves”

    To my experience, it’s more like “they want to have the illusion they built it themselves”. Stitching a few pieces together, uploading a readily built firmware, plugging a couple of wires according to a wiring plan is OK. Asking them to solder significant amounts, to configure that firmware or to find out the wiring plan themselves makes most people shy away.

    As soon as a purchase requires customers to turn their brain on or assembly takes longer than a couple of hours, enthusiasm goes down the toilet. Not always, but most of the time. Accordingly: make that assembly simple. Like with Lego bricks.

    1. And that’s how Heathkit made money.

      For somewhat more money than a finished version of the same product, you got some edification and a deeper sense of ownership. Like 200-in-1 spring kits, some people will outgrow them and move on to more involved and self-directed projects. Others might only enjoy the assembly process and move on to another kit. And some will check off “I did an electronics” from their bucket list and never build another.

      Keep in mind though that you’re someone else’s “filthy casual” in some other area.

  5. Cant wait for the sequels “will it sell 2” and “will it sell 3”.
    Heard Brad Pit is in the second Will It Sell!!!!

    Also I heard such a tr..olll worthy click-bait-esque title get comments like these.

      1. LOL.
        Can you microwave it?
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        A hint to editor though:
        Have a series style title like the, “Embed With Elliot: ” Series
        Example:
        A hackers guide to marketing: Will it sell?

        not clickbait anymore and cannot be easily trolled.

    1. Article is about whether or not a prototype would find a market. Title is “Will it Sell?” I don’t get it.

      We like click-bait — titles that are provocative and have nothing to do with the article or otherwise overpromise — as little as you do. It shows a profound disrespect for one’s audience, and trust me, we don’t have that!

      So really, what’s click-baity about the title?

      1. The fact that the article could of been about selling dildos and none of us would be wiser until we clicked…

        Like the fountain pen company penisland (dot) com…. is it really Pen Island or is it some serious NSFW site used by clickbaiting trolls as a shock site?

        1. Oh, no edit to add:

          Will it sell?

          What is “it”?
          A project?
          This site*??
          Crack cocaine???
          Guns and explosives????
          Slavery?????
          Neighbors grandparents on the underground market??????
          a ghost stick?
          Air guitar?

          *Please not be selling this site!!!!
          OK I know the site ain’t being sold….So you know I’ve skimmed the article earlier today.

          1. Before clicking either on the title or “…read more” you read a few lines of the article, right? Even on my phone I can still read

            “Many of us develop things for one of two purposes: to hack something cool, or to sell something cool. When hacking something cool, your target market …read more”

            You still can’t figure out what “it” might be?

          2. Ok, So skimming past or…
            in a 3rd world country using an old PC running in a terminal running links and pressing page down until something catches ones eyes is a bad thing?

            Widen your audience, the click bait title probably kept the poor person out there in poverty… (S)he could of made a mint for their community.

          3. I think that the point is that “it” is your product. It’s vague on purpose because it’s a list of questions that all people should consider when launching a product. Just because it sounds like clickbait doesn’t mean that it was intended to be.

          1. The only one who spotted.

            Test:
            Stir fuss, troll about title choice to see if it improves an otherwise vaguely predicted low comment outcome article.
            I can’t predict how popular the pages are going to be (# of hits from likely visitors), however sometimes the article is so great, Left speechless so to phrase.

            Test outcome:
            By having stirred a fuss around here, notable names get placed on the right-hand bar that encourages more lookers…
            That and the minimal title perking curiosity.

            Those two mixed would generate comments and thus more curiosity, I’d guess a handful (8 to 16) of comments otherwise.

      2. Click bait or not, the title emphasizes the article’s vacuity, this article is not worth a penny: Trite and generalities, abuse of “the market” wording, nothing to learn !
        HaD´s editors are not picky…

    2. I saw the title, saw the picture of what appeared to be a prototype of something that could become a commercial product, and figured the article would be about how to figure out if your project was marketable. And it was exactly that. I don’t see any click bait here, although there is a lot more that could be said about the topic.

      1. Agreed. Article was fine and suitably titled. But it wouldn’t be HaD without a half-dozen whiners complaining about something or another. Even the Apple-is-expensive-hurr-durr set is represented today!

        Keep writing the interesting articles, HaD, and ignore all the salt that gets stirred up behind you.

      1. That’s actually a good thing. Many ideas on this blog are open source so I intend to copy some of the dead-end projects and try to sell them. (Selling is fun for me.) Because it’s open source I will be contributing improvements back to the project and if the product does sell well I’d also like to gift a bonus to whoever gave the idea as a way of saying thanks.

        Win-win. You have your fun, I have mine, we all get something out of it.

  6. Sometimes you start to “hack something cool”, and then you realise that you could maybe transform it into “selling something cool”.

    I was in that situation a while ago, excited, armed with plenty of positive feedback from the local maker faire, people asking for prices… So much that I launched a kickstarter:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1242572682/omzlo-one-reinventing-the-arduino-with-built-in-ne

    But it failed.

    The article may seem trivial, but this experience has taught me that these questions are not so easy to answer. And without a good answer to these questions you are going to fail. Of course, you still learn a lot and you still have fun along the way :-)

    1. That’s unfortunate – your project looks really clever, polished and useful!

      A couple unsolicited observations about your campaign: Even in the maker community, most people don’t know much about CAN bus. That makes it a little difficult to get people to be enthusiastic enough to hit the ‘buy’ button without something else to nudge them along. And you’re missing example applications to do that nudging. You mention a few ideas in your video, but if you had separate images or gif loops showing a watering setup being connected and stuffed into a garden, for example, it would probably help a lot.

      Once you had that worked out, you’d need to do more outreach, trying to get a posting on HaD for example, maybe in Make, bug your local hackerspaces, etc. New Arduino variants are so common that you can’t just toss them up on Kickstarter and get people to notice them anymore.

      Omzlo One really looks like a product that should be able to take off, given the right marketing touch. I hope it’s not dead from one failed kickstarter. Unless you’ve got bigger and better things to move on to, of course. In which case… carry on!

      1. Thanks for the unsolicited observations :-)

        The Omzlo One project is not dead yet: I’m continuing to experiment with various alternative designs. Not all is lost with the failed kickstarter: a few backers offered to give me feedback on the ongoing new developments I making, which is nice.

        I might try again to “re-launch” after summer if I feel that I have somehow improved my position, including on the “marketing” side you mention.

        1. I like this product. It is well thought out. To be successful on Kickstarter, you really need to do lots of advertising and marketing ahead of time. Show some cool applications working and how easy it was to make them happen. Add a cute girl. Show how it’s better than the competition (graphically or in a video). Also target your product to a specific market. CAN bus (as I recall, has a 1Mbps limitation). Where does your product fit better than others? Can you shovel video over the bus? Probs not. Can it work in automotive environments? Have a cool name that’s easy to remember that also follows into your web page. Hootlet. Twitter. Above all, show a roadmap. This means that you are in it for the long haul. Personally, I would make it smaller. You didn’t fail. You learned a lot.

        2. One more think (unintended pun). Don’t worry about China knock offs. They will happen. Plan on a knock off, but be one step ahead. By the time they come out with a cheaper copy of your product, then you are already about to announce version 2. Keep open source, but have something proprietary so it’s harder to knock off.
          Back to marketing. I launched a startup that got $3m on Indiegogo. We spent a lot of time marketing way ahead of launch so that there was pent up demand. Generated $500k the first day. You may not want to, or have the time to go to this length, but a little more marketing will go a long way. Just sayin’

          1. Alain though I have not yet completed launching my startup and I certainly haven’t raised $3m to do so, I know of someone who is very successful in the entrepreneurial world: Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup. He would probably suggest just the opposite of radiusmike.

            Eric would probably say you didn’t necessarily fail, especially if you learn and pivot as others here are suggesting. Failure is when you are out of “runway,” or capital/resources to try, try again. He promotes “failing” as cheaply and quickly and quietly as you can, learning every time, pivoting as often as you need to get it right. In many cases it’s far better to only have a few supporters than to launch big (WE GOT ONE SHOT AT THIS!) and have some minor flaw completely blow your plans. If you don’t meet the expectations of a few buyers it’s not a big deal.

            So consider going lean. Since your first attempt didn’t get many takers, try again small and lean. Learn what you did wrong, pivot, and go for it again. And if that doesn’t get many takers, tweak it and go for it again. Give yourself lots and lots of runway to take off.

            Eric’s got a good book. I found it on my library’s digital download app, so it may be free for you as well.

    2. It sucks that your product didn’t work. I think it’s important to have these questions in mind right out of the gate, and to keep answering them over and over as you progress. It’s handy for newbies to have someplace to start. I’m not sure failure is guaranteed if you don’t have good answers from the start, but it’s highly likely if you don’t ask the questions at all.

    3. Awesome project! Looks like you achieved a pretty high level of firmware maturity. Bootloading over CAN is especially cool. I’ll have to check out your automatic addressing code… I’m working on a modular Hydroponics automation system using CAN and we haven’t figured out a great way to auto address our nodes.

    4. > But it failed.

      The video is lame. Really.

      You do not mention, that you use CAN bus, how power is daisychained, what is the maximum number of node you can daisy chain, what is the maximum cable length.

      And the most important thing: what is the advantage about this solution over a PoE solution, which
      use an ethernet cable for like … ethernet? :) And not reuse an unrelated cable to an unrelated protocol (CAN vs ethernet).

      Said all this, I would have bought it. And still I would buy a couple (3) of it if the price is right.
      I see some useful things:
      – working CAN protocol implementation in real life <– cool
      – nice reflashing (firmware, memory saving)
      – nice dashboard
      – nice auto addressing

      Nice pool of knowledge there.

      I don't give a flying f*ck about using a completely unrelated cable for CAN protocol.

      I do plan to do the exact same thing as you, EXCEPT on PoE and not CAN,
      *because* the UTP cable, and I could always swap out (upgrade) sensors to cameras (with builtin sensors).

      But CAN bus has always been interesting to me, so a working,
      cheap setup with all the modern tools (webpage, dashboard, reflashing) is worth the money imho.

      I think the video is advertising a single thing:
      – easier to use as an arduino, because you need a single cable per board

      I think arduino is dumbed down enough already.

      And here is my advice (I made multiple campaigns, success and failures too):
      – do a kickstarter about, what would you do it anyway.
      Do not depend your plan of the success of kickstarter.

      It is maybe not a good business advice, but we are more a maker than a business man.
      So do something what you need, you would do it anyway, **invest time anyway**.
      So the overhead is the kickstarter campaign itself, and the number of prototypes of the first batch (depending on the success of kickstarter).

      If you want to make a living out of kickstarter campaigns, then start accumulating people,
      it is a company then, not a one man show.

      Just my two cents.

      1. I thought of using PoE but it basically more than doubles the cost of the boards, with a significant increase in complexity. On the other hand, UTP cables are cheap, offer some noise immunity, so re-using them for a CAN bus network seemed like the best idea.

        Thanks for advice. I appreciate it and I’ll keep it all in mind. It’s more than 2 cents worth :-)

        1. All I really wanted to say, is: do not let influence you kickstarter failure as a real life failure.

          It is more like a beta software release, maybe there are some bugs (like the video presentation. I mean the content, the video itself is like any other average kickstarter video. So okay), but it just needs to be ironed out.

          Remember: if you use something, and you enjoy it -> then there surely are people on the planet who would also enjoy it.
          The more niche market, the more loyale customers.

          So take it as a hobby, which may end up a profitable business. You can always wind it down if you get bored.

          I do not want to pressure PoE over CAN on your product idea. It may just failed as well.
          And it is not a real competition one against other.
          There are people who will prefer one over the other, or who would just want to get known both network of it.
          In my case, I work on my daily job with plcs, those happen to use CAN protocol between a frequency inverter and the plc.
          I don’t have nothing concrete on my mind what to do with your CAN protocol capable arduino board.
          But playing with it, maybe put it into the network as a fake frequency inverter would be fun while developing.

          So maybe if you relaunch the campaign, with an updated video, which focus more on the actual achievements (over the air update, dashboard, daisy chaining, CAN bus exploring, CAN bus sniffing, whatever is possible already),
          and not how it is a replacement of an arduino. Then it would be a success.
          Also creating a hackaday.io project (I see there are lot of things on github already), then maybe send it in as a tip gives
          a nice additional coverage.

          (I have no idea, if hackaday.com editors accept an article about your project of no.
          I never tried, but your main source of potential buyers are reading hackaday.com anyway.
          Also your product is open source, so maybe an article about it would be appropriate. Never tried, but worth a shot).

          Also during the kickstarter campaign it is wise to upload some teasers
          (running a temperature sensor, a small tutorial, whatever).
          You should plan this ahead, and most of the video can be ready at day 0.
          So when you start your campaign you have like 4-5 more videos alreade for “updates”.

          But kickstarter failure is not a real life failure. It is simply means there are some bugs to be ironed out (marketing, presentation, maybe the product itself). So you can always retry.

          Also having a fixed campaign with a relatively low goal (like 200 USD) makes the campaign successful already:)))
          (if you plan to launch small batch in case of “failure” anyway. )

          Ok, enough blabling. I’m not an expert anyway.

  7. “Unless you are selling your product with a consumable subscription model (Juicero, Keurig, Dollar Shave Club), you cannot get away with selling at a loss…”

    And if you ARE using the consumable subscription model, you are running a very real risk that somebody else might make a play for being your customers’ consumable supplier. If that is your plan, you’ll either want to get your consumables priced in a range where it’s not tempting for the obvious competitors to go after them (Dollar Shave Club comes to mind) or have some sort of licensing program that makes it worthwhile for the rival consumer companies to work with you and give you a cut of their sales. The last thing you want is to see a press release that sounds like a grown-up version of “We hacked your product’s DRM, neener neener neener!”

    1. If that does happen, go for quality. I for example use an Oral-B rechargeable toothbrush with heads that cost about $3 each. I tried generic heads but all of them are awful. Pinch my gum, or lose bristles, or whatever. So I gladly pay full price for the original.

      Oral-B certainly isn’t going out of business from the competition, and I’m sure the availability of generic heads only promotes more sales of the base unit and that whole toothbrush ecosystem.

  8. Distributors and payment methods are important, but perhaps instead of waiting for the Chinese to copy something you should (and some do already) start selling immediately on aliexpress and banggood and such.
    You can’t ask Apple prizes of course, but if small market Chinese sellers can turn a profit then you should be able to do so too.
    And you get a large audience and a settled system.

    Of course I have no idea about the details of how such things are set up and what cut they get, but seeing the items on those sites and for how much they go I’m sure they don’t ask too much.

    1. Nice idea, but I don’t know how this works better than waiting for the Chinese to copy it. Already on Banggood et. al. there are numerous copies of things sold by many sellers. If anything you’d show it to them a bit sooner.

      Does give you a large audience and settled system though.

  9. You will quickly discover that unless you’re selling some highly desirable industrial or defence related product, the Chinese will have you beat… unless you can live with loss leaders and/or pocket change margins. Anything hardware is the domain of Shenzhen. Software has a little more cushion, but you’ll find stiff competition from India, Israel, and of course the patent trolls in the US. Good luck!

    1. Perhaps a good way to compete against them on price is to emphasize quality and customer service with plenty of retail exposure. Many people I know (myself included at times) are more apt to pay much more after seeing plenty of ads to a company headquartered in my country with strong refund guarantees and good build quality buying from an Amazon product page that actually uses correct grammar. I’m only on my first product so I can’t say for sure, but it seems that’s the way to go.

      Anyway in it’s not always necessary to dominate the market to make a profit. Let China have some cake. If my product gets only 25% of the current market I’d be happy. If I got 1% of all possible customers in my niche I’d be ecstatic.

  10. It seems to me that Kickstarter would make a good place to determine “will it sell.” I prefer the KS option where you must go all-or-nothing. If you don’t get 100% of your requested funding you know it’s not something people are willing to buy. If however enough people are willing to open their wallets for something that doesn’t even exist yet you know you have a hot idea.

    1. I agree. KS to me is really a marketing study. It answers the question is there a market.

      BUT one problem if it is really good then the Chinese guys spot that and have it out before the KS guys do, this has happened quite often.

  11. My (hobby) business model:
    Step1. Make a random device for my self, that helps me complete a project.
    Step2, Post device on my website and/or youtube.
    Step3. Get e-mails from others asking for the same device, (but with some added feature).
    Step4. Incorporate those added features, and increment the version number (go to Step2).

    If I can make enough to fund future projects I am happy, (then I don’t need to ask the wife for permission to spend “our” money). ;)

    1. That really is a great model.

      Unfortunately the ideas and implementation lag the desire to make money for some people. That’s why HaD does these articles on the complexities of running a small hardware company.

  12. Never underestimate the niche. Unless you want to go big, in today’s connected world most niches are plenty big to sell hundreds or even thousands of widgets.

    To go with the bagpipe example, according to this post in the Bob Dunsire Bagpipe Forum (20K members, of which 1K are counted as active), in 2004 there were 15 bagpipers in the bagpipe hotbed of El Paso, TX, population 600K.
    http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-77172.html
    Extrapolated to the rest of the US (pop 320M), that’s 8000 potential customers. Assuming the same density in Europe, Canada and Australia (pop 800M), we’re at 28000 potential customers. And this ignores the unarguably higher bagpipe density in the UK.

    It won’t sustain a business, but if your widget is truly useful to that market, it will be enough to sell a few hundred. On the upside, besides of not attracting the big fish and Chinese copy-cats, niches often tend to have a strong community where word of mouth spreads like a wildfire.

      1. Yeah, those seem to be pretty popular at raves and festivals because of all the possibilities for POV effects, and I see there is now at least one offering fully programmable patterns.

  13. Hackaday Prize Best Product seems as the best way to see your killer invention on AliExpress the week after you posted it on Hackaday. It’s really a turn off to me. I don’t understand why one would participate to this contest. What am I missing here?

  14. Hi everyone, Robin here – the creator of the graphically programmable shortcut keypad. I think this is a really interesting time to read this article because the keypad is actually on Kickstarter atm. As suggested, I have indeed branded it under a more catchy name ‘The Amazing Shortcut Keypad’, or TASK to you and me.

    My advice on this topic would be to also consider your manufacturing methods and how much your components cost. Whilst the colourful keycaps seen in the picture look lovely, they are very expensive to get individually in the UK (where I’m based) and this has made it uneconomical to manufacture the keypads myself. Therefore, I’m going for an Open Source approach which you can find out about at the link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1311429775/the-amazing-shortcut-keypad

    My advice to anyone looking to make their own product would be to start with something which is already produced in volume and which you can definitely get a good price for and then add a twist to it to make it really exciting.

    A great example is this set of keycaps, themed on the colours of Yuri Gagarin’s spacesuit to commemorate the first human in space. They sold tens of thousands of dollars/pounds worth: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-t0mb3ry-gmk-yuri-custom-keycap-set

    What’s great about this is that there are already companies who specialise in mass-producing full keycap sets and so it makes your life so much easier.

    I hate to put people off, but for your first product, if you’re looking at custom injection moulding or anything really bespoke then it’s going to get expensive. Having gone down this path, I would absolutely recommend taking a standard product, putting an exciting twist on it and then getting it out into the world.

    If anyone has any questions about crowdfunding, getting your product to market and all that kind of stuff then feel free to ask away :)

    Cheers,
    Robin

    1. Best of luck with your crowdfunding. If you ever do another run, go with the industry and apply RGB lights to every individual key. For my homebrew unit, thats what i’m going for, with some slightly translucent keycaps, so they should really shine induvidually in the color of the LED. Still not shure if i can find some mass produced keycaps that would work for this, or if i have to try my own expoxy-casting experiments with a silicone-mold or just use resin 3d printing…

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