10 Mar 2015 - The Hardware Series
We’ve had some fun on Instagram and Twitter leading up to today, but enough teasers. We have an announcement:
We’re selling an advance run of 150 signs starting right now. These are our entry level aluminum and acrylic Wired In desktop signs, and we couldn’t be prouder to do this early release. We’ve had so many people ask about getting signs ASAP that we’re happy to oblige.
So what are you buying if you buy today?
Battery powered, switch enabled aluminum base
Removable ‘Wired In’ acrylic pane
Diffused red LED light
$29 shipped in 30 days
Team orders of 10 or more can order custom text or vector file for the acrylic design.
We’re hard at work on our Bluetooth multi-colored models, but they won’t be ready until mid-Summer at the earliest. If you want to wait until then, we don’t blame you, they’re going to be really awesome! So no hard feelings. But if you want to get your hands on one of these and start signaling you’re busy ASAP, now’s your chance. First come, first serve, until they’re gone.
More to come soon!
27 Nov 2014 - The Hardware Series
We have a lot of story to tell. I’m excited to share with you the entire process of seeking out and working with overseas manufacturers. We’ve learned so much that I think can help others avoid pitfalls.
We’ve been so busy actually iterating through prototypes that I haven’t had time to put what we’ve learned to blog posts. I promise they are coming.
An office full of signs
One of the things we really wanted to test was having an entire office using Wired In signs. The perfect first shop was Tanner Labs. It’s an open office space with a fast-paced design and development style. They are also local, so we can get their feedback and see first-hand how they use the hardware.
We let them know they would be testing prototypes and they were still very excited. Wouldn’t you be?
We prepared a simple online store so that each team member could custom order their sign. They had a few standard phrases they could choose: Wired In, In The Zone, On Air, or Go Away. We also let them order custom text if they wanted something different.
A lot of the orders were standard. But many of them were creative, and we loved it: Crushing It, Mic Droppin’, #Beastmode, or Rockstar Mode were just a few.
It was really helpful to go through an actual order process with the team. They helped us work on things that may seem simple. For example: for something like having the laser etch the letters, or everything but the letters. Would you have the purchase option read “Etched Pane vs Etched Text” or “Etched Pane vs Clear Pane”? Or would you abstract it even further and give them names like “Ice” vs “Frosted”.
The feedback was to keep either text or pane constant: “Frosted Pane vs Clear Pane” or “Frosted Text vs Clear Text”. The less friction in the order process the better, so we want the distinction to be as clear as possible.
Shipping the order
After we had the orders in from the team we still had to send it to our Chinese manufacturers. And while I wish we could just send them the text list and be done, it actually took hours to prepare the files. More than thirty signs with a handful of custom text acrylics had to be designed with a unique layout for each custom phrase.
When they came in they were pretty freaking sweet.
It took a couple weeks for the signs to arrive. The yield on the bases wasn’t perfect, but we ordered a handful of extras. We spent some time prepping the signs before delivery to make sure they all worked. We wanted our first customers to have the best experience possible.
When we delivered the signs everyone was ecstatic. They loved the way the hardware looked, felt, and worked. It was a fabulous experience for our first order. We are excited to see how the signs help productivity at Tanner Labs.
We’d love to get some prototypes in a few more test offices before we officially launch. Do you know of an office that would be a good fit? We’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us on Twitter.
11 Nov 2014 - The Hardware Series
As I’ve been working on the design of the Bluetooth electronics, I thought it would be worth explaining a little about the early stages of the hardware prototyping, the choices we’re making, and what impact they will have on the final product.
The first step in any hardware project is to create a ‘bread board’ prototype. This is where the real design of the hardware begins. Usually, this means assembling everything by hand in a way that it can be easily modified and added to as the design evolves. In modern hardware projects, where firmware is as or even more important than the hardware itself, it’s helpful if your prototype is easily programmable.
Even before we started prototyping the Wired In Bluetooth electronics, we had a lot of decisions to make: Exactly what capabilities does the hardware need to have? How will it be powered? Batteries, USB, or both? Are we just trying to prove out the concept or actually start designing the hardware we intend to put in the finished signs? We discussed all of these. For our first prototypes, we’re most concerned with the ability to communicate with a sign over Bluetooth from a Mac or iOS app. We wanted the ability to turn the light on and off, and to control the color of its LEDs. This will allow us to start developing real software while we continue to refine our hardware designs.
For our prototype phase, we’ve chosen to use an Arduino, more specifically an RFDuino. We get a number of advantages out of this. The Arduino was created from the beginning to be very easy to get up and running quickly without a lot of overhead. This is an advantage when you’re new to microcontrollers, but the same things that make it easy for beginners also make it really attractive as a prototyping platform.
At this point, there’s a large community around the Arduino. There are lots of available resources, including: tutorials, documentation, open source hardware designs, and perhaps most importantly, software libraries. The RFDuino comes with a library of functions that makes communicating via Bluetooth 4.0 very easy. If we were to use our own microcontroller and Bluetooth transceiver combo, we might end up needing write the low level communications routine that allow the microcontroller to talk to the transceiver.
Arduino hardware is also modular. For prototyping, we’re using an RFDuino, which includes Bluetooth 4.0 capability, a USB shield to allow wired power and communications, and a RGB module which includes buttons and an RGB LED much like those we’ll be using in the production Wired In signs. These modules all plug together without us having to do any wiring. There are a number of other shields available in case we need additional functionality or want to experiment with other features. All of this allows us to start immediately focusing on the overall design, and especially the firmware without a lot of fussing around.
It turns out that the Arduino can also work well in production devices. We’re still discussing and deciding whether we’ll use an Arduino in the final product or move to using lower level discrete parts. Using discrete parts will reduce the per-unit manufacturing cost and gives us more flexibility, but will make for longer engineering time. In the prototyping phase, where cost is not a big concern, and where we mostly just want everything to work, using an Arduino is a big win.
28 Aug 2014 - The Hardware Series
You should know that we actually haven’t shipped a hardware product yet. But I’m hopeful.
Our plan is to build a software and hardware integrated product. We think the experience will be unique and exhilarating. From what I hear you might be interested in following along with us.
This series should give you as close a look as I can offer. We’ll go through product design, rapid prototyping, and all of the ins and outs of our outsourcing. (For example, how the heck did you find a manufacturer overseas?) We’ll talk about our business plans and how we are pricing and marketing the product.
Let’s start with why we’re building an integrated hardware product, and not just software. Especially since we’re all software engineers.
As software engineers we have a frequent problem: people bug us. Not in the sense that we don’t like them, more in the sense that they interrupt us and keep us from accomplishing our work. Interruptions are awful. There are clever graphics and comics that illustrate this well.
We’ve all tried to convince people to leave us alone while deep in programming. When you saw The Social Network (only once, right?) you all thought the same thing when you heard the term “wired In”, right?
Back in 2012 Garrett Gee posted a picture of a Steve Jobs quote to Dribbble. The quote looks gorgeous on the wall. But if you read through the comments, everyone wants to know: “Where did you get that sign!?” Same questions on another Instagram post.
It turns out he had them custom made. And man do I want one. So, I have set out to have one custom made for myself. It seems to take a lot of research (we’ll talk about this), and there are indeed many places that do acrylic signs with LED lighting. We’ve started with a couple basic prototypes. They look similar to Garrett’s; after all he was the inspiration.
Now, with a sign in my hands the potential is even more obvious. I want to make them wireless. I want to make them automatic. I want to make them broadcast to my team over the internet. And so now it’s a real project, and (hopefully) a very real company.
I am just as excited about using the sign (and app) as I am about the experience of building the product. We’ll post updates here as they happen, hopefully once a week. We’re publishing here long before we know the outcomes. Who knows where this road will take us, but for now we’re planning on covering:
- How we come up with the idea, and prove the concept
- What we learn trying to get prototypes
- How we find our first overseas manufacturer
- Who can help us with our technical prototypes
- The branding process and pre-marketing
- The product design process
- How we work with HomeKit and iBeacon
- The process of finding a packaging supplier
- How we manage quality testing
- What we learn about mass (hopefully) shipping
- And likely a number of other things
- In fact, if you have an idea of what we might share, please let us know
We’ve already been through how we came up with the idea. We’ll write soon about what we’ve done to prove the concept, and how it has evolved soon.
These posts won’t be a series of bull built on the glory of finding a why. The why is simple: fun. This isn’t about making entrepreneurship look elegant or glamorous. It’s a side project for us, and we’re just enjoying ourselves.
Let me know if you have any thoughts and questions, or anything in particular you’d like to hear about. You can follow via RSS, or Twitter. If you’d like weekly updates via email subscribe here.