Ask Hackaday: How Do You Give A Project Away?


A few weeks ago, we caught wind of a DIY version of ‘smart tweezers’ from [Kai]’s workbench that are able to measure SMD resistors, caps, and inductors. At that time, [Kai] hadn’t quite finished the software portion of his build, leaving him with a pile of parts and non-working PCBs. The code is finished now, meaning [Kai] has a very capable and very inexpensive version of LCR meter tweezers. He’d like to give back to the open source community and figure out a way to get his tweezers into the hands of makers the world over now. The only problem is he doesn’t know quite how to do that.

We’ve seen smart tweezers before, and they’re still available commercially for about $300. [Kai]’s version brings down the price significantly, so there is a market for these LCR tweezers. The problem, it seems, is getting these tweezers manufactured.

We’re assuming that soldering hundreds of thousand of SMD parts isn’t what [Kai] thinks is a good time; this leaves a Kickstarter as a non-starter, unless he can contract out the manufacturing. Seeed Studio might be a good place for [Kai] to sell his wares, but we’re wondering what Hackaday readers would do in [Kai]’s situation. Obviously he deserves to compensated for his work either through licensing or royalties, but as far as actual advice and recommendations we’re turning to Hackaday readers.

66 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: How Do You Give A Project Away?

    1. No way. Not unless you want them to cost $300 each. Sparkfun has BatchPCB, they also offer board population services. Do it all in china and ship them home. He will then have to make a jig to program each board and do a test on each board to make sure they work.

      This is actually very well documented all over sparkfuns forums. He needs to start searching there.

      And as for giving it away, Clean up the schematics and post them, post the cad files for the board and post the code. That’s how you give it away.

      1. Get the PCBs manufactured in China, but the assembly should be as close to home as possible. It’s very easy to spec out how to make a PCB — gerbers and a few parameters, and you are done. Getting boards assembled is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish… and it really helps to work with someone who speaks your language and is no more than an hour’s drive away.

        Among other things, you will get the parts you actually asked for… and you can send them parts and not have them get ‘lost’.

        Once you calculate the real costs, including the cost of your time and stress, it’s really hard to beat a good local assembler with overseas work. You may have to negotiate with the local guy to get a good price, but it’s totally worth it.

        1. I can’t really agree there. Just use a company which does the assembly overseas but handles most things in the US, like Sierra Proto’s assembly service. You basically get the best of both worlds. If you have a local assembly place you trust that isn’t absurdly expensive, sure, that’s a great idea. But in terms of cost and turn time, I’ve never been able to find a local assembly place that can compete.

    1. “I would be happy with a parts list and the code open source. Hackaday should open a “builds” section of schematics and put this in it.”

      Same here. But there are a multitude of (half-arsed) code/schematic places out there. What HaD could do is a market place for prototypes. When I build something I normally have a few models left over. I’d love to have a place where I can dump that for a few bob. And I’m not inclined to use ebay for that, I mostly end up giving them away.

  1. I would be happy with a parts list and the code open source. Hackaday should open a “builds” section of schematics and put this in it.

    Another solution is sell the parts and schematics as a build your own kit, similar to the logic probe I bought from Jameco.

    It seems in most situations that if a person truly needs a tool like this they can build it themselves.

  2. “He’d like to give back to the open source community and figure out a way to get his tweezers into the hands of makers the world over now. The only problem is he doesn’t know quite how to do that.”
    Maybe publish everything on a website?

    …. or you meant ” he want to sell his product but don’t know how to do it on a large scale” and that’s quite different.

  3. I really like his tweezers. Its simple enough and i bet that in large enough quality he could sell it at a price comparable to the low cost axiomet RC tweezers that sells for about 30 eur.
    The problem i see is that manufacturing might cost a lot because some parts may not be easy to automate and require manual soldering.
    Then again he could sell it as a partiality assembled kit, requing the user to attach the lcd and tweezers, leavibg the manufacturing at a level of plain pcb with mounted smd parts.

  4. Sell it as a kit on Make sure you charge enough because raising the price is hard but lowering the price is easy. From what I have read 3 times the BOM is a starting point. Make sure you provide detailed manuals and assembly guides. There is no easy way to get a product out the door. It’s going to take hard work and dedication to fill the orders and make the customers happy.

  5. So basically the question is, where can he find a cheap service to place/solder components onto the board?

    I’m also a little confused. He’s holding the source, schematic and other files hostage until he makes money? After he’s compensated then he’ll put it under an open license? Or is “giving back to the community” just bringing his product to market?

  6. The build cost + the amount he wishes to initially build / sell (If that is his idea) as some have said play a huge rule. Building 10ku (10,000 units) is usually a good starting point for a low cost device. However one idea may be to contact the manufacturer of the main chip and say “Hey this is what I built using your part, would you be interested in manufacturing a run of them to sell on your site” TI and Freescale love this kind of thing.

    Otherwise you could find a local board shop and see if they’d be willing to do smaller runs in which you’d split profits (Smaller board shops may be more friendly in this area)

    Or the most simple and least expensive, charge a small fee for the pcb files, source, BOM, schems, and what not. And allow people to simply build them on their own.

    Each way has it’s pros and cons, but with such a handy tool I imagine he’ll make at least some money no matter what.

    1. I work with a guy who tried to go through sparkfun to sell a product. They liked the product but after a year of them reviewing it he pretty much gave up. I like sparkfun but I just wanted to warn you that it may not be the fastest route to getting a product out the door.

  7. its also important to note, while open sourcing a product is the way to go for innovative new concepts. This is a commercial product that someone is making money off of, it would be unwise not to check up on the patents the company holds, some companies are knee deep in paper to protect their product.

  8. Yeah, I’m not sure “Giving back to the community” is what he’s looking to do here. If he wants to give back to OSH, get a free account at Instructables, post complete instructions, code, and schematic, then enjoy the kudos that roll in.

    What it looks like he’s asking for is a way to make a quick buck with no fuss. Which is totally fine but don’t call it “giving back to the open source community” because that’s just a lie.

    First: Seriously, just post the code, enjoy the appreciation that people will have for you and your project, and forget the money. Anything more than that will take a surprising amount of effort for very little money.

    Second: Once you start selling it in any form you’re expected to provide customer support. Make sure you’re willing and able to do that before you sell anything. Sure, you could release it unsupported, but people would hate you and your nifty product.

    Third: The less fuss you want the less money you’ll make. And kitting isn’t really much of a way to make money to begin with. (Adafruit and Sparkfun aside) For minimum fuss go with a full-service fulfillment like or other ones mentioned up thread. Or approach Adafruit or Sparkfun to produce your kits for you. Both companies produce Open Hardware projects from outside people and give the creators a cut.

    Other than that, kitting is a lot of work. It can be very rewarding. Not financially rewarding, but very rewarding nonetheless.

    1. > “If he wants to give back to OSH, get a free account at Instructables”

      I would not touch Instructables with a mile long pole. Why on earth should tech savy people want to publish their stuff, or look for someone else’s on that site?
      People don’t want to just look at your project, they want the experience to be painless, and Instructables in that context is the worst piece of junk I have ever seen in my life.
      Please, stay away from that site. Thanks!

      1. Agreed – Instructables is evil! Instructables makes money off information you give them, then makes it hard for people to see your work unless they hand over personal information to Instructables (Email harvesting). Stay away from Instructables.

      2. I really like instructables, I’ve learned an incredibly large amount of info from that site. I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t like it. Is it the format that you dislike? I can admit that there is some really terrible documentation there, but isn’t that more the fault of the aurthor? Some people there write very good instructions

    2. Instructables? Why so nobody can follow how to build it? never EVER use instructables.

      Get one of the 10,000 free forever blog sites and make it just for that project. that way you can post all files and updates there.

  9. Here’s a good overview of some of the different routes for bringing OSH to market:

    Included in the talk is:
    1. licensing(e.g. Sparkfun)
    2. fulfillment (e.g. Seeed)
    3. ECM (electronic contract manf)
    4. DIY

    Ian has given the presentation a few times now, so you could probably find more videos with a quite search.

    slides are also available if you’re allergic to video (like me).

  10. As he seems to be located in Germany he has to take care of lots of regulation if he sells a product locally (key-words are RoHS, CE, ElektroG, WEEE). It would be much easier if he gets them manufactured and sold via a Chinese partner, e.g. Seeedstudio or Hackvana.

  11. Hi!

    Just to clarify: I ‘m planning to put the sourcecode and schematics/layout on my website :-)
    I’m in favor of open source and like if people can improve/modify things other ppl have done.

    I would only like if somebody would produce it and sell it for a low price or offer pcbs+a bunch of components (=kit).
    I don’t have enough time to do this myself…

    Ladyada started by posting projects up to the net, was inundated by requests for kits. To this she said “Too Busy”, until she decided to give it a shot.
    Give the article a read. It’s short. Then shoot them an email, or Seeed, or Sparkfun, or Make, or Jameco.
    This isn’t a simple through-hole soldering kit. This isn’t even a mildly advanced SMD kit. At this point it’s a tool, something that is expected to work beyond being an educational piece or curiosity. All of the above groups could look at the basic design and offer advice on manufacturing increases in durability and utility while keeping the price point down.
    That’s how this guy is going to “give back to the community”. He isn’t going to charge $300 for some tools because the community will pay $300 or kitbash something in their lab. He’s going to spend $30 making it, and charge $35 to $40 (personally, I’d probably pay $50 easily, if I thought these were truly usable as tools). That’s giving back to the community.
    If any of us are hell bent on our fellow gear hackers not making money, then you seriously need to examine your own greed. We’ve got tons of companies out there that will charge what the market will bear. We need more people to charge what is reasonable, what will help them be comfortable and able to pursue their next project.

    Best of luck

  13. I’m in the same spot as you Kai. I’m designing an open source project with the sole intent of free release. It is a problem trying to decide where to go. I would love to ship out my project ready to use but I cant sink that kind of time into it without making money. Making kits also requires time and therefore money. Keep us updated!

  14. How to give a project away in four easy steps:

    1. Create a blog, instructable, or provide enough information to be featured on HaD,
    2. Include hardware design and all software/code
    3. ???
    4. Don’t profit.


  15. start up a non profit business, that what you can have funding to make your product but sell it at cost. even under cost because being a non profit you can do that. there are many many ways to get your ideas out to the masses, just gotta find /think of them.

  16. IMHO, have it manufactured. If you sell your design or license a company to use your design would mean that profit to you would be less (probably because you will only be a “part-owner” of that product). I think it would cost less to pay for the manufacturing than the actual split of price that you and the company share (if you sold the design to them).
    Although, if you’re *NOT* worried about getting the money, and rather help other hackers out there, the opposite of the above suggestion is better. Licensing a company to use your design would mean that they’ll handle all the hassles and whatnot’s that you might encounter if you had it manufactured for you.

  17. I’m actually in the exact same situation. I developed a robot and gave it away on instructables. After that dozens of people contacted me wanting a kit or a complete robot. I do want to “give” them away in the sense that I won’t lose any money or time distributing them. In order for that to happen I have to charge more than the base cost of the components to compensate for the time spend parting out the kits. To an outsider I can see how that would appear to be profit, but it isn’t really.

    On a side note, Club Jameco will only include parts that they stock in a kit, they won’t source components from other suppliers. So unless every part comes from them, they will only sell a part bundle.

    You can’t use kickstarter for kits?

  18. Personally I’d contact Sparkfun and have them handle that end of it- they’ve done a great job with the Lilly pad series and several others

    They really do have a great way to get from design to production- and they’ll pay you for it to boot.

  19. Make it a kit with nice, well-labeled, complete parts. Sell that yourself, or through a distributor like Sparkfun or Adafruit. An EE-inclined person who uses these at all would probably have a good time building them.

  20. I think the kit idea is the best. I see you can get SMD Tweezers for under $100 without inductance. You can get an inductance meter off ebay for $50. I sell all of my extra stuff on ebay (ie: boards, extra dev boards)

  21. Get a few quotes from fab houses (once you have spent a few hours getting your BOM etc ready to send its easy to spam a few houses at once), get a price from the resulting costs then post it up on as a fundraiser and see if people are willing to pay the cost. That way the only cost to you is a bit of time if no one wants to pay the price you need to charge.

  22. Go on search vor pcb manufacturers and send them the gerber files, two days later you’ll get an email how mutch it will cost to produce 1000 of them.
    You could also design a ase and let it injetion mold in china for about 900$ per mold and 0.5$ to produce the castings.

    A biger problem are things like CE or WEE in europe or their equivalents in other countrys, The testing will cost almost 1000$. But you have to do this to sell them legaly. Or you could left 1 part unsolderd so you can sell it as “kit” and you dont have to care about stuff like this.

    1. I’m interested in how Tindie / Seeed solves stuff like this. They sell others’ designs to Europe, how do they handle CE compliance? I’m checking out the posibility of making my own tiny product as well, but CE compliance would kill that ambition….

      1. As long as they are not the ones importing into the EU it is probably not their problem, but the problem of the importer. For kits the person finishing it has to ensure compliance (if he wants to sell it). And you do not need to have completed the test to put a CE sign on it, as long as it is in fact compliant. The test/certificate from a lab just helps to prove that if challenged.

  23. Put the necessary files online, point people in the direction of cheap component providers and let them have at it. Other than that I’d go for a kickstarter and organize manufacturing up front with a Chinese company (also bearing in mind that if you want quality from China, the costs will be on par with costs in the West…)

  24. hmmmmmmm seems like a job for ladyada…………….adafruit ….small batch numbers to start with and then once you iron out any snags …go full line ..
    shes awesome ( my hero ……..sxy biatch)……………..shes very clever ………..and her business is small and big enuf to manufacture these or at least do the work to stream line the manufacturing process …but i think she should make them …………………… her to bits …………………..check out her website…….she is going places (buy shares now)

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