Keeping Great Ideas from Gathering Dust

"Messy storage room with boxes" by i ♥ happy!! from NY, NY - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
How many great ideas are gathering dust?

See if this story rings a bell:

My friend is a maker.  He’s built a 3D printer, owns a Shapeoko, and designed his own circuit boards. None of that is related to his day job – he’s a teacher – it’s just a hobby.   He’s a member of the local hackerspace and he’s also into ukuleles, and brewing beer, and table-top games.

A couple years ago, he designed a game that he thought would be fun.  It’s clever and unique and definitely not the kind of thing you’d find in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart.  He cut the wood pieces with his Shapeoko and 3D printed the tokens.  When he showed it to his gamer friends, they liked it. He took it to the hackerspace and everyone there thought it was pretty cool.

In fact, a couple people asked if he’d make one for them too.  He was flattered and said, “sure”.  After all, he already had the CAD and gcode files so making a couple more should be easy, right?  Well, it took a little longer than expected.  The Dremel tool “spindle” gave up the ghost half way through.  He forgot to calibrate the Z depth on the replacement, broke a cutter, and wasted a nice piece of walnut.  He also gouged the spoil board.  For a couple weeks his wife heard a lot of cussing from the basement, but he eventually got the job done.

One of his friends who bought one thought giving them as Christmas presents would be a good idea and asked if he could buy five more.  My friend said, “o.k.” and set to work again.  He wasn’t really excited to spend hours listening to the cnc router whine in the basement and the dust was becoming a problem, but the idea that his hobby would make a little money was appealing and it made upgrading the router an easier sell to his wife.

He got those five done and even made five more after that.  That was over a year ago and he hasn’t made a single one since.

Wait. What?  You’re telling me this guy has a good idea that people like (and are willing to pay for) and he isn’t doing ANYTHING with it?

Yep, that’s right.

Why the hell not?!

The short answer is that he doesn’t want to be a manufacturer.  He doesn’t want to be a retailer or a warehouse, or a marketer.  He’s got a job, and he doesn’t want another one.  If someone offered to buy the idea, he’d probably sell it outright. He isn’t sure how to find that kind of deal without talking about it and talking about it seems risky – someone might just steal it.  He’s heard horror stories about people getting their idea stolen and, while he isn’t looking to make a lot of money, he sure doesn’t want to get ripped off.

Bottom line: he’d rather play the ukulele, drink beer, and work on his new idea. So he’s just sitting on it…. Who knows, maybe something will come along.

I don’t know if that’s a common story, but I’ve heard variations on it at least ten times in the last two years. In fact, I’ve lived it myself with a couple different ideas.  I think they’re good, viable ideas but not big enough to hassle with so I parked them.  If you’ve got a similar story, and I bet you do, leave me a comment.

The Internet has made other manufacturing models possible.

Last December I linked to a concept video for Maker Redux is a new venture that’s exploring an alternative manufacturing model.  It’s designed to provide a platform for ordinary people to form teams around ideas, move projects from conception to production, and get everyone paid at the end.  Teams include makers who use tools to make physical things but they can also include members who bring other skills and services to the table – services like marketing, design, and retail sales.  The big difference is that some team members, rather than sell their services, will join the team to be paid a royalty from each product sold.

In the last ten months, the Maker Redux application has matured a lot and projects are starting to pop up in the wild as people experiment with the model.

We’re starting a series on the Maker Redux blog (starting with this post) that will introduce the big ideas in greater depth and talk about how how the whole thing works.  I’ll also, in the spirit of transparency, talk about some of the challenges to making things this way.  The application still isn’t done and the model is new so there are bound to be rough spots and problems along the way.  Even so, it should be fun.

A road map of the series looks like this:

Part 1 – Projects and Products

Part 2 – Companies, People

Part 3 – Building teams

Part 4 – Transparency

Part 5 – Recipes

Part 6 – Escrow and Payment

Part 7 – Dealing with Failure

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