Club $ 40,000 and a business built on the sale of open-source iron

    This is not a translation, this is a topic based on news materials .

    I already wrote a post about these guys from Colorado. Today they published the news. The news is rather joyless, but, I think, when the chickens are counted in the fall, it turns out that it is still positive. The fact is that they screwed up quite a

    bit ... Sparkfun manufactures MicroView devices- The kickstarter campaign raised more than half a million dollars in the spring. They make them in batches of 128 pieces, during the production process they released a new version of the firmware, assembled it, ran all the tests, and quietly started to sew all new devices with the new version and send them to customers. Everything is fine, only at some point it turned out that when trying to update the firmware on the device, the programmer freezes and says that it does not see the device. It quickly became clear that they forgot to sew the bootloader into the firmware, and since they themselves do not use it (sewing through the bootloader is a very long pleasure even in small batches), no one noticed this. If you have an SPI programmer or just Arduino, the error can be fixed in 10 minutes.

    While they are trying to figure out how many devices without a bootloader they sent, but according to preliminary estimates, it turns out that there are 1934 devices. With the price of the device cost of $ 30 and taking into account delivery to any end of the planet, it turns out that the company lost $ 58,020. Wait, wait, how is it - lost? The bootloader is sewn in ten minutes with minimal skills to work with Arduino?!?!

    But it’s interesting. Sparkfan is a company that makes money selling open-source iron. Those. for any of their product right on their website you can download all the schemes, estimates, sketches, etc. and make the same product yourself. The Chinese copy everything instantly - it takes only 12 weeks from the release of a new product to the appearance of the same products on ebay and aliexpress. And Sparkfan survives due to the constant influx of new products and the highest customer service (i.e. instant order submission and support). And Sparkfan believes that even a step-by-step tutorial explaining to people working with Arduino how to restore the bootloader in this very day is not a good service. That is why the company will send to everyone to whom the defective device was sent, the exact same, completely free, and very apologize for that it takes up to three months. And they highly recommend that everyone try to reflash the device they already received. Those who have this succeed - well done and the second, in any case, the distribution sent to them, is asked to be considered as compensation for the inconvenience.

    Gratitude and numerous questions rained down in the comments - why did the sparkfan do just that, and, for example, didn’t recall the entire batch (after all, all devices could be reflashed and re-sold!) Or why they simply wouldn’t send people a programmer, etc. The company’s answers are very interesting (I’ll just collect interesting comments from employees):

    • Perhaps sending the programmer is easier. But we do not want to force our customers to correct what we have broken. Too many of them do not know how to fix this and they just need a working module. The problem is that all orders were made through Kickstarter and therefore we do not have much information about them.
    • We encourage everyone to try flashing the bootloader on their own. And we don’t need to send anything back to us - in any case, we will send you the second module.
    • To the question about the recall: You will be surprised how much the delivery costs. Sending from us is still nothing, but buying return labels is really expensive. Plus, do not forget that you have to pay people who will receive these packages and work with them, keep records - who sent the module back and who did not.
    • And one more thing: besides the fact that paying the return is an additional cost, delivery to some parts of the world is also more expensive than the module itself. In addition, it will take at least a year to get all the modules back. And so, we will make a new batch and, hopefully, fix our mistake for each customer in much less time.

    Interesting math, isn't it? This is how you read it, and once again you will marvel and think about universal injustice - it seems like more work needs to be invested in iron, and the mistake is much more difficult to fix, and, apparently, making ends meet is not easy.

    What was there in the headline about the club $ 40,000? And they have such a club, where anyone is automatically credited whose crap draws at a loss in the region of $ 40t :-). And at least two members of the club noted in comments, and other employees unsubscribed who screwed up and how (for example: I banged on the first working day, I don’t know how, the product page). I directly recall the cleaning schedule in our circle where a certain Roma was a regular - the reasons for which he was given weeks of cleaning, it was impossible to read without tears: he set fire to the garbage container, lit a cigarette from the lathe, washed his pants in acetone, etc.

    And finally, I add that the founder of the company is a very active member of the open-source community, a member of the open-source hardware association (OSHWA). Those who speak English should listen to his speech in the US Congress on the protection of intellectual property. The post is available here , and the recording of the performance is here.(from 43 minutes). The thesis is that the company is 11 years old, he started it in college, now it employs 150 people, an annual turnover of $ 28 million, all documentation is available on the site, cheaper clones appear on the market 12 weeks after the release of the new product, the company does not deal with any protection Intellectual Property Strategy - The constant release of new products. A year ago, they produced seventy thousand units a week, in their catalog more than 450 different products, and in just ten years they developed and produced more than seven hundred products. I, Nat says, have no time to wait for a patent. The patent only distracts us from the main strategic task - continuous innovation. There is no point in stopping the pirates - show me any anti-pirate technology and I will show you dozens of fifteen-year-old children who will break it without hesitation. Better quality and better support is how we sell products. There is nothing new in this business model. In addition, more than half of our profits come from abroad. Imagine what it means to try to prosecute patent infringers in more than a hundred countries! For example, Nat shows their product -Fio (A good thing, by the way! With a charge for lipoli and a connector for XBee). After a couple of months, the product was copied by the Chinese, and not only copied, but significantly improved. Instead of fighting on the floor in hysterics, the guys took the achievements of the Chinese and released their new version. The Chinese are no longer selling Fio, and Sparkfan is still yes. As a businessman, Nat says, I can tell Congress that you are unlikely to do anything worse for us than to tighten laws related to intellectual property protection. In return, he suggests protecting small companies from attacks by large corporations, and changing the term of protection provided by the patent so that this period better reflects the speed of technological evolution (from 20 to 5 years).

    Today's news from Sparkfan, in my opinion, perfectly illustrates the approach described in the speech.

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