Ask Hackaday: Bringing Your Design To Market

While many of us have made and documented our open source projects, not many of us have tried to sell our design to the masses. [Scott] developed, marketed, and “bootstrapped” a cool looking MIDI controller. Now, before you get your jumpers in a bunch – the project is completely open source. [Scott] documented the entire process of not only the design, but the trials and tribulations of bringing it to market as well. Calculating costs, FCC testing and the many other challenges of bringing a consumer electronics device to market are all detailed in his blog. Join me while we look at the highs and lows of his interesting and eventually worthwhile journey.

Putting yourself into a game where orders are in the tens of thousands, with hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands is not easy when you’re just a guy with an idea and a soldering iron. [Scott] was up for the challenge, however. He quickly realized that much of the margin is spent on advertising and to cover risk. On his last order, some of the paint was chipping off. He had to fix the paint and repackage everything – all at his cost.

He also talks about the learning process of product design along the way. His original idea was to make a volume controller, but couldn’t sell a single one. He was forced to redesign the software into the MIDI controller as it exists today. He tried to launch a Kickstarter, but was rejected. This turned out to be a good thing, however, because he would have wound up kickstarting a product that didn’t work.

For advertising, he relied on Google and made some extremely detailed tutorials for his product. Many of them can be used for other MIDI controllers, and often come up in Google searches. Smart. Very smart.

Be sure to check out the video below, where [Scott] gets into some capacitive touch design theory, and talks about how not to cut your final product in half while on the CNC.

Have any of you ever tried to mass produce and sell one of your designs? Let us know in the comments!


19 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: Bringing Your Design To Market

    1. Yep. Take a look at the blog over at Dreamlover Labs. It’s not open source but the trials and such of creating and launching a product (including moving to China for a while) are very well documented, particularly if you start back near the beginning. Be advised, it’s potentially NSFW as it’s a remote controlled chastity belt “enhancer” electronic device.

      1. As was hopefully apparent in the video, I’m not an expert, but if you’re not actively trying to communicate wirelessly and don’t have high speed switching of a motor (eg, PWM), you’re probably ok. They’re checking to make sure your device doesn’t broadcast radio waves that interfere with other equipment (phones, radios, tv signals, wifi, etc). If you plug into a wall, they also check to make sure your device doesn’t put noise on the power lines.

        Somebody on the medium site said there are Chinese labs that are certified that are probably cheaper.

        I don’t know about DIY ways to check for radiation, but some people here can probably recommend good design guides for keeping EMI low.

        1. I’d really like to know more about using SDR sweeps to characterize potentially harmful emissions. It seems like it would be a relatively straightforward way of ensuring that a device has a reasonable chance of passing formal testing.

          1. Watch out for microcontroller clocks. Put the crystal as close to the chip as possible. This is one of the main reasons for failure for ‘simple’ unintentional radiators.

  1. Useless story: Had a go at R&D’ing a dead-set very simple bulb adapter in 2003 – Autocad. Plasma cut 500 of them out. Were horrible. Found some bloke with a laser connected to Autocad 2003. Next 1500 units were super nice. Had none of the extra stuff that is needed in the above article of course, so was straight forward. Advertising was a few written articles with wording floating around the InterGoogleWebs, pointing to a freeby Angelfire website. Sold around 2000 units all around the world before moving on to buying and reselling a Chinese made adapter (much much cheaper); international postage from Australia chewed up majority of the costs of both my own design as well as the Chinese design. Pretty much gave up in 2013..

  2. My first PCBs were for an Arduino ATmega/ATtiny programming shield for myself. I got them done at iTead and so I got 10 boards when I only needed one. I built one and posted it online and the response was pretty positive. Tindie had just opened a few months prior and so I thought I’d try and sell the rest of the boards to make up for the costs of making one for myself. I ordered more components, listed it on Tindie, and waited.

    People bought all of my boards, so I started designing a new version. And another. And another. And another. As people bought them I’d get suggestions, and using the shield myself I’d have gripes with it. I didn’t like having to flip switches, or sacrifice one of my Arduinos just to use it. Now it’s just a standalone USBtinyISP-based AVR programer instead of an Arduino shield.

    Here’s a blog post I made about it:

  3. I work on the electronics design of devices and get involved on FCC and CE testing of some pretty complex products but hearing about the full process for a low investment product was very interesting.

    I’d be interested to find out what were the additions to pass EMC radiated emissions. Looking at the BOM I guess it’s the two ferrites, but it rather strange the ferrites were added as there are some higher (relatively) impedance resistors in series anyway.

    1. the ferrites were indeed the solution. I believe the test engineer found the offending frequencies on those traces with a scope, and then just took a guess at adding those ferrites. It might have been pretty close to passing in the first place, so maybe those just damped some resonance in the whole board? The traces were fairly long with MHz square waves on them spread over a comb pattern (the sensor). Learning some theory about what produces high EMC is on the to do list :) I do wonder how much good cap sense design has in common with antenna design :) Another solution may well have been to increase the resistors already on those lines, which I believe are there in the first place for noise reduction (both sensor noise and emitted noise) in the first place.

  4. Congratulations, great product and better explanations; as an engineer I’ve developed some circuits but no for mass production, and it’s incredible how complicated (too much perhaps?) is create something new for the market; now you can understand something people say in my country : “que inventen ellos…” (approximated translation: “that others invent it..”),.Yes, it’s sad..

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