Life On Contract: Lowering Your Cost without Dropping Your Price

Last time in Life on Contract, I discussed ways to figure out a starting point on how much to charge for your services. However, sometimes you and a client may wish to work together but for some reason they cannot (or do not wish to) pay what you have decided to charge. If you are inexperienced, it can be tempting to assume you have overpriced yourself and discount down to what they are willing to pay. But if your price is a number you have chosen for reasons you can explain, dropping it is not something you should do unless you have thought about it carefully.

Instead of just agreeing to do the same work but for less money, it is often possible to offer a lower overall cost without cheapening the value of your work. I’ll share a process I use to find opportunities to make this happen.

It Should be Win-Win, Not Hard Sell

The best case scenario is a client wants your service, your cost is within their budget, and everyone agrees to work together. Tragically, the process isn’t always that smooth. If cost is an issue, the alternative to lowering your price is to fine-tune what you provide to better fit the actual needs. To do that, you will need two things:

  1. A detailed understanding of your own time and costs for the work.
  2. Knowledge of what things your client considers most important.

By intimately knowing your own costs, you can figure out where to make savings without scrimping on the things your client considers important.
Continue reading “Life On Contract: Lowering Your Cost without Dropping Your Price”

Geoffrey the Giraffe’s Last Call of Toys for Hacking

Many of us in the United States frequently browse the shelves of Toys R Us for things to hack on. Sadly that era will soon end with the chain’s closing. In the meantime, the entire store becomes the clearance shelf as they start liquidating inventory. Depending on store, the process may begin as soon as Thursday, March 22. (Warning: video ads on page.)

While not as close to hacker hearts as the dearly departed Radio Shack or Maplin, Toys R Us has provided the hacker community with a rich source of toys we’ve repurposed for our imagination. These toys served various duties including chassis, enclosure, or parts donor. They all had low prices made possible by the high volume, mass market economics that Toys R Us helped build. Sadly it was not able to keep its head above water in the low margin cutthroat competition of retail sales in America.

As resourceful consumers, we will find other project inspirations. Many projects on this site have sourced parts from Amazon. In commercial retail, Target has started popping up in increasing frequency. And no matter where new toys are sold, wait a few years and some fraction will end up at our local thrift store.

We’ll always have some nostalgia for Geoffrey the Giraffe, but toy hacking must go on.

Taking a Guitar Pedal From Concept Into Production

Starting a new project is fun, and often involves great times spent playing with breadboards and protoboards, and doing whatever it takes to get things working. It can often seem like a huge time investment just getting a project to that functional point. But what if you want to take it to the next level, and take your project from a prototype to a production-ready form? This is the story of how I achieved just that with the Grav-A distortion pedal.

Why build a pedal, anyway?

The author, shown here with bandmates.

A long time ago, I found myself faced with a choice. With graduation looming on the horizon, I needed to decide what I was going to do with my life once my engineering degree was squared away. At the time, the idea of walking straight into a 9-5 wasn’t particularly attractive, and I felt like getting back into a band and playing shows again. However, I worried about the impact an extended break would have on my potential career. It was then that I came up with a solution. I would start my own electronics company, making products for musicians. Continue reading “Taking a Guitar Pedal From Concept Into Production”

Goodbye, TechShop

The CEO of TechShop, [Dan Woods], has hit the legal E-stop and declared Chapter-7 bankruptcy for the business. All ten US locations were shuttered on Wednesday with absolutely no advance warning. You can read the full statement from [Dan] here.

We are deeply saddened to hear of TechShop’s closing, and while it wasn’t implausible that this might happen someday, the abrupt shuttering must come as a painful shock to many for whom TechShop was an important part of their personal and professional lives. We owe a lot to the work and effort they put forth; they led the way as a pioneering makerspace and for more than ten years, TechShop provided access to tools, taught classes, and created opportunities for the DIY world that are still as important today as they were in the mid-aughts.

Leading the Way

Jim Newton, founder of TechShop, originally wanted a space to tinker with his pet projects. “I’m a frustrated inventor who needs to have access to this kind of stuff. And people always say that the best companies are the ones where the founders are passionate about what they are creating, which is exactly what I am,” Jim said in an interview in 2007, at the beginnings of TechShop.

It turned out that there were a lot of other tinkerers who wanted to work their pet projects too.

TechShop took a risk. All new business ventures are risky and most fail quite quickly, but in 2006, this whole movement, this idea that people could build things and take advantage of new technologies, personal fabrication, ad-hoc manufacturing, and rapid prototyping outside of universities and commercial R&D labs, was just a dream.

Adafruit was incubating in Limor’s dorm room. Arduino was just the name of some pub in Italy. Eben Upton was wiring prototype Raspberry Pi’s by hand. Nathan Seidle was still reflowing Sparkfun’s boards with a toaster oven. Maker Faire, “The World’s Largest Show and Tell,” wouldn’t even launch until the following year.

In the fading light of high school shop classes, people often were shown the ways of woodworking, light metalwork, and maybe how to fix a car or two. Filling a business with a smorgasbord of advanced machinery and teaching people how to use it, was, and still is, a relatively new concept. TechShop had a dream and made it real with the dedication of hardworking support staff and instructors around the country. Continue reading “Goodbye, TechShop”

Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Startups

If you want to found a company, you’ll find pages and pages of advice scattered around the Internet telling you exactly how to do that. What if you want to found an Open Source hardware company? That’s a bit harder — you can’t do hardware as a service, and that Open Source moniker will drive away investors.

[Zach Fredin] is one of the rare founders that are making an Open Source hardware company work. In 2015, he developed NeuroBytes, a system of electric neurons designed in such a way that if you get two hundred or so, you can replicate the brain of a flatworm. NeuroBytes was a finalist in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, the team received an NHS grant, and now these PCB neurons will be on the market late this year.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking to [Zach] about the challenges about creating a company from nothing and doing it the Open Source way. Topics for this Friday’s Hack Chat will include the experience of building an Open Source hardware company, manufacturing, building a community around a product, and business spelled with dollar signs.

This Hack Chat will be Friday, noon, PDT. If you have a question for [Zach]. here’s a spreadsheet we’ll be drawing questions from. Continue reading “Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Startups”

Automated Parts Counter Helps Build a Small Business

We love to see projects undertaken for the pure joy of building something new, but to be honest those builds are a dime a dozen around here. So when we see a great build that also aims to enhance productivity and push an entrepreneurial effort along, like this automated small parts counter, we sit up and take notice.

The necessity that birthed this invention is [Ryan Bates’] business of building DIY arcade game kits. The mini consoles seen in the video below are pretty slick, but kitting the nuts, bolts, spacers, and other bits together to ship out orders was an exercise in tedium. Sure, parts counting scales are a thing, but that’s hardly a walk-away solution. So with the help of some laser-cut gears and a couple of steppers, [Ryan] built a pretty capable little parts counter.

The interchangeable feed gears have holes sized to move specific parts up from a hopper to a chute. A photointerrupter counts the parts as they fall into plastic cups on an 8-position carousel, ready for bagging. [Ryan] also has a manual counter for wire crimp connectors that’s just begging to be automated, and we can see plenty of ways to leverage both solutions as he builds out his kitting system.

While we’ve seen more than a few candy sorting machines lately, it’s great to see someone building hardware to streamline the move from hobby to business like this. We’re looking forward to seeing where [Ryan] takes this from here.

Continue reading “Automated Parts Counter Helps Build a Small Business”

Codebender Shuts Down

Codebender.cc was a cloud based IDE for Arduino development. It was made for hackers by a few fellows in Greece. Unfortunately, while they saw some serious success, they were never able to convert it all the way into a viable business.

By November 31st Codebender.cc will be completely shut down. They assure users that the site will be in read-only mode for as long as the end of the year, but longer if the traffic justifies it. Codebender made it all the way to 10,000 monthly active users, but hosting and administration overshadowed this success to the tune of 25,000 dollars a month. Not so much as far as businesses go, but without revenue it’s more than enough to shut down a site. Their business plan aimed to tailor their services for specific chip manufacturers and other companies but those deals never came together.

It’s a pity, we were excited to see if Codebender could continue to grow. They were certainly doing some really interesting stuff like remote code upload. As the comments on the site show, many users, especially educators and Chromebook users, loved Codebender — your code isn’t stuck on one computer and where there was a browser there was an IDE.

Two paid services will remain (starting at $10/month) at addresses with different TLDs. But the post does mention that the Codebender project started as Open Source. Their GitHub repo isn’t a clear path for rolling your own, but if you do manage to hack together a working Codebender implementation we’d love to hear about it.