Life on Contract: How Much Do I Charge?

If you’re comfortable with the technical side of becoming a consultant or contractor but are unsure what to charge for your services, you’re not alone. “How much do I charge?” is a tough question, made even tougher by the fact that discussing money can be awkward, and at times virtually taboo.

As a result it’s not uncommon for the issue to get put off because it’s outside one’s comfort zone. Technical people in particular tend to suffer from an “if you build it, they will come” mentality; we get the technical side of things all figured out and just sort of assume that the rest — customers, money, and so forth — will fall into place afterward. If you’re lucky, it will! But it’s better to do some planning.

The short and simple answer of how much to charge is a mix of “it depends” and “whatever the market bears” but of course, that’s incredibly unhelpful all by itself. It’s time to make the whole process of getting started a bit less opaque.

A stubborn determination to solve my own problems has given me plenty of opportunity to make mistakes and commit inefficiencies over the years; I’ve ended up with a process that works for me, but I also happen to think it is fairly generally applicable. Hopefully, sharing the lessons I’ve learned will help make your own process of figuring out what to charge easier, or at least make the inevitable blunders less costly.

Continue reading “Life on Contract: How Much Do I Charge?”

A Passive Mixer’s Adventure Through Product Development

The year was 2014, and KORG’s volca line of pint-sized synthesizers were the latest craze in the music world. Cheap synths and drum machines were suddenly a reality, all in a backpack-friendly form factor. Now practically anyone could become an electronic music sensation!

I attended a jam with friends from my record label, and as was the style at the time, we all showed up with our latest and greatest gear. There was the microKORG, a MiniNova, and a couple of guitars, but all attention was on the volcas, which were just so much fun to pick up and play with.

There was just one problem. Like any game-changing low-cost hardware, sacrifices had been made. The volcas used 3.5mm jacks for audio and sync pulses, and the initial lineup came with a bassline, lead, and drum synth. Syncing was easy, by daisy chaining cables between the boxes, but if you wanted to record or mix, you’d generally need to stack adapters to get your signals in a more typical 6.5mm TS format used by other music hardware.

After mucking around, I did some research on what other people were doing. Most were suffering just like we were, trying to patch these little machines into full-sized mixing desks. It seemed like overkill — when you just want to muck around, it’s a bit much to drag out a 24 channel powered mixer. I wanted a way to hook up 3 of these machines to a single set of headphones and just groove out.

To solve this problem, we needed a mixer to match the philosophy of the volcas; simple, accessible, and compact. It didn’t need to be gold-plated or capable of amazing sonic feats, it just had to take a few 3.5mm audio sources, and mix them down for a pair of headphones.

I’d heard of people using headphone splitters with mixed results, and it got me thinking about passive mixing. Suddenly it all seemed so clear — I could probably get away with a bunch of potentiometers and some passives and call it a day! With a friend desperate to get their hands on a solution, I decided to mock up a prototype and took it round to the studio to try out.

Continue reading “A Passive Mixer’s Adventure Through Product Development”

MakerBot Really Wants You To Like Them Again

For the last couple years, a MakerBot press release has generally signaled that more pink slips were going to be heading out to the already shell-shocked employees at their NYC factory. But just last week something that could almost pass as good news came out of the once mighty 3D printer manufacturer, the unveiling of “MakerBot Labs”. A number of mainstream tech sites heralded this as MakerBot’s first steps back into the open source community that launched it nearly a decade ago; signs of a newer and more thoughtful MakerBot.

Reading the announcement for “MakerBot Labs”, you can almost believe it. All the buzz words are there, at least. In fact, if this announcement came from anyone else, in any other field, I’d probably be on board. Sharing knowledge and listening to the community is essential if you want to connect with hackers and makers. But this is MakerBot, and they’ve dug themselves into a very deep hole over the years.

The spectacular fall from grace that MakerBot has experienced, from industry leader to afterthought, makes this hat-in-hand peace offering hard to take seriously. It reads like a company making a last ditch effort to win back the users they were so sure they didn’t need just a few years ago. There is now a whole new generation of 3D printer owners who likely have never even seen a MakerBot printer, and it’s hard to imagine there’s still enough innovation and life in the company to turn that around before they completely fade into obscurity.

Continue reading “MakerBot Really Wants You To Like Them Again”

Who Owns Arduino?

Who owns Arduino? We don’t mean metaphorically — we’d say that’s the community of users and developers who’ve all contributed to this amazing hardware/software ecosystem. We mean literally. Whose chips are on the table? Whose money talks? It looks like ARM could have a stake!

The Arduino vs Arduino saga “ended” just under a year ago with an out-of-court settlement that created a private holding company part-owned by both parties in the prior dispute over the trademark. And then, [Banzi] and the original founders bought out [Musto]’s shares and took over. That much is known fact.

The murky thing about privately held companies and out-of-court settlements is that all of the details remain private, so we can only guess from outside. We can speculate, however, that buying out half of the Arduino AG wasn’t cheap, and that even pooling all of their resources together, the original founders just didn’t have the scratch to buy [Musto] out. Or as the Arduino website puts it, “In order to make [t]his a reality, we needed a partner that would provide us with the resources to regain full ownership of Arduino as a company… and Arm graciously agreed to support us to complete the operation.” That, and the rest of the Arduino blog post, sure looks like ARM provided some funds to buy back Arduino.

We reached out to [Massimo Banzi] for clarification and he replied:

“Hi arm did not buy nor invest in arduino. The founders + Fabio Violante still own the company. As I wrote in the blog post we are still independent, open source and cross platform.”

We frankly can’t make sense of these conflicting statements, at least regarding whether ARM did or didn’t contribute monetary resources to the deal. ARM has no press release on the deal as we write this. Continue reading “Who Owns Arduino?”

Ask Hackaday: Selling Yourself as a Hacker

While there are plenty of hackers that hack just for the love of it, it’s no secret that many of us are looking to hit it big someday. Tales of the businesses like HP and Apple that started in someone’s garage inevitably lead to musings like, “Hey, I’ve got a garage!” and grand plans to turn that special idea into the Next Big Thing™. Many will try, most will fail for one reason or another, but hope springs eternal, and each new widget seems to start the entrepreneurial cycle again.

But for as much pressure as we may feel to be the next Packard, Wozniak, or Musk, not everyone is cut out to be the boss. Some of us have no interest in or aptitude for business — we don’t want to hire or fire people, we don’t want to wheel and deal, and we certainly don’t want to worry about salesmanship. Some of us just want to abstract all that complexity away and just find a job, preferably one that leverages the things we love to do.
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Selling Yourself as a Hacker”

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. Continue reading “Will it Sell?”

The Long Tail of DIY Electronics

These are the Golden Years of electronics hacking. The home DIY hacker can get their hands on virtually any part that he or she could desire, and for not much money. Two economic factors underlie this Garden of Electronic Eden that we’re living in. Economies of scale make the parts cheap: when a factory turns out the same MEMS accelerometer chip for hundreds of millions of cell phones, their setup and other fixed costs are spread across all of these chips, and a $40 million factory ends up only costing $0.50 per unit sold.

But the unsung hero of the present DIY paradise is how so many different parts are available, and from so many different suppliers, many of them on the other side of the globe. “The Internet” you say, as if that explains it. Well, that’s not wrong, but it’s deeper than that. The reason that we have so much to choose from is that the marginal cost of variety has fallen, and with that many niche products and firms have become profitable where before they weren’t.

So let’s take a few minutes to sing the praises of the most important, and sometimes overlooked, facet of the DIY economy over the last twenty years: the falling marginal cost of variety.

Continue reading “The Long Tail of DIY Electronics”