Speakers@Google: Nathan Seidle

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 23.06.2010

Chris: Welcome to our sort of Electronics People at Google Talks.
Today, we have Nathan Seidle. Sigh. Duh. Sigh. Duh.
He said, "Just say 'Sigh' and then say, 'duh.'" And so, I'm trying to do what he said.
Nathan started SparkFun -- how many years ago?
Four years? Seven years ago. It's an overnight sensation.
And he's going to tell you all about that. I gave away Arduino boards to the first 29
of you. Thank you for coming early.
I'm sorry I don't have more for you. I'm sure that your managers will help you
expense anything you want to buy from SparkFun. So, with no further ado, Nathan.
>> [applause]
>>Nathan Seidle: Excellent. Thank you, Chris. Yeah, so Nathan Seidle.
How many of you have heard of SparkFun before I came?
Oh, fabulous. Okay. And how many of you were at Maker Faire over
the weekend? Oh, fabulous. You guys know what I'm going
to talk about then. This is pretty straightforward.
I just got done with two days of Maker Faire. I think there was like 60 or 70,000 people
there. It was a ton of fun.
We ran a bunch of people through our booth teaching them how to solder.
And so, we're just going to talk about where SparkFun came from and some of the stuff we
do there. So do I have to stand here or can I walk over
there? You probably won't hear me if I walk over
there. Okay, fine. So this is me.
A quick background -- please stop me at any time.
This is not a presentation. This is more of a conversation.
So if you guys have a question or something doesn't make sense, please interrupt me and
ask. And I'll -- if I don't know the answer, I
usually make one up. University of Colorado in 2004, so I haven't
been out of college that long. I did not take this class in college, right?
In business, I actually don't know what I'm doing.
I got an electrical engineering degree. And so, most of what we do is engineering,
but there's a lot of business that goes on in the background.
That's me with the red hair about the third from the left on the rowing team shortly after
Halloween a couple years ago. Why that's important is because I was working
in the dorms. I was working at the Olympics. I was on the
club team. And when I graduated college, I realized that
all I had to do was work. That's fabulous. I can do that, right? Yes,
>>male audience #1: [inaudible] Was your hair redder than it is now?
>>Nathan Seidle: A little runner, yeah, that was like bright red after Halloween.
28 years old. I come from Oklahoma, which is a state there
in the middle somewhere -- not that important. And no other family experience in business.
This is sort of the first hack at it. So we've been in -- in the beginning -- in
2003, whenever I first started the company -- we were in bedrooms and basements for
the first three years. This is actually a picture of my bedroom with
about five days worth of orders on it. So, you can see it was really quite small
to begin with. We've grown quite large.
But you've got to realize that, in the beginning, when we were doing business -- I say "we"
a lot, right? That's the proverbial "we."
Because we didn't want people knowing -- would you feel comfortable purchasing stuff
from somebody's bedroom that looked like that, right?
Not really, right? We've made ourselves look bigger than we really
were. Whenever we answered the phone, we said, "Oh,
I'm really sorry. I'll talk to shipping for you.
I'll make sure that that never happens again." Well, I sit down on my bed and cut open the
box and fix whatever order I had just messed up.
So, in the beginning, we weren't really sure how many orders we were going to get.
And I was pretty surprised to see that the first order came through in seven hours.
I had spent about a month or two putting the website together and getting inventory up
and taking pictures. And when the first order came through, I went,
"Oh, I guess I need a box." [laughter] Right? Starting a business, you don't really think
about all the aspects including order fulfillment. And, as an engineer, I kind of had to fumble
through that. When I started the business, I assumed I would
be selling to my friends at CU. I would be selling to folks in Colorado.
And when the third order came through from France, I realized that I had grossly underestimated
the size of our market. It was pretty fabulous.
And, on top of that, how do you ship to France? I had no idea.
So every day is a new day in business. And you know when the order comes through
from France, you go, "Okay, well. I guess I'll figure out how to ship this to
France." So the hundred percent Paypal for three months -- that was important, because
in 2002-2003, it was difficult to accept credit cards.
Now, it's pretty common place and pretty easy to set up, but back then, you had to do something
called a "merchant account." And a merchant account is this application.
You answer a bunch of very hard questions, weird questions.
You give them about 100 to 110 dollars for the application fee.
And so, I filled all this out, and a couple days later, I get a FedEx envelope, right?
And inside the FedEx envelope is a disposable camera with five pictures on it, right?
I'm going, "Why in the world did they send me a FedEx?"
So, from the shipping label, I realize that it came from the merchant service people.
So I call them up, and I say, "Hey, I just gave you a hundred bucks and wanted a merchant
account and you guys sent me this disposable camera.
That's not really what I was looking for. What's going on?"
And they said, "Oh, no problem. We sometimes have a problem with fraud.
And so, we need for you to take a picture of your inventory.
Take a picture of your shipping department, and take a picture of the outside of your
facility." [laughter] Right? I say, "Well, ma'am, that's fine, but that's
the inside of my bedroom, the inside of my bedroom, and the outside of my bedroom."
And she said, "Oh, that's fine." "Okay."
>> [laughter]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: So, I took these pictures and FedExe'd it back to them, and
they approved that. [laughter] So I don't know how bad it has to be not to
get approved, but at least in 2002, that was enough.
So we were very lucky. Manufacturing -- in the beginning, I had absolutely
no money for capital. And so, the way that we did manufacturing
-- normally, you do that with very large machines and millions of dollars for the capital.
We didn't have that. And we couldn't borrow and we couldn't raise
it. And so, we -- necessity is the mother of all
need, right? Or, whatever it is.
We figured out how to do manufacturing with a $40 hot plate, right?
We had to create ways of building electronics, because we had no other way of doing it.
So lots of tutorials online about that. We kind of share everything that we do --
very transparent about it. And in three years -- the first three years
of business, we did 10,000 orders. That's important, because we're currently
doing 10,000 orders a month. So, in seven years, we've grown to that magnitude
where things have gotten pretty crazy. And here we are -- 87 employees.
We ship to 170 countries and counting, and we did 10 million in revenue in 2009, so.
I'd never dreamed it would get this big. I thought we were going to plateau at five
employees and a million a year. And then, here we are at 10 million, and there's
no end in sight. So we are in a very, very happy time right
now in the expansion of electronics and building stuff, right?
We all want to hack. So, how far do people remember back in electronics?
When I was an engineering student in 2002-2003, this is sort of what the websites looked like.
If you're an engineering student and you needed parts -- if it was surface mount, it was incredibly
hard to access because you had to learn how to solder that stuff and the breakout boards
weren't really available and the technology was really hard to access.
Of course, Radio Shack. I mean, they're awesome. They've been extremely successful, but now,
they just kind of sell cell phone chargers, right? [laughter]
And so, to get access to those electronics, it isn't just around the corner anymore.
We now have to go to these big, thick, printed catalogs.
And what they did with those catalogs in roughly 2000 is, they chopped them up, and they put
them online. And this is what you get.
I don't know what a Quad 2-input NAND gate is -- that first line right there -- and it's
40 cents, but where's the picture? Where's the data sheet? Where's how I hook
that up? Give me an example of how I would use this
part. This isn't rocket science, right? But this
is in 2002. And they really had really poor websites.
So, in 2002, I thought I could do better. I knew that if I was having these problems,
other folks were too. And in 2002, I was programming PIC micro-controllers.
I had a programmer. I set it down on some bits of wire.
And that programmer cost me $200. And when I set it down on those bits of wire,
there was a spark. And some smoke came up, and I fried my $200
programmer in a couple seconds. I was a poor student.
I didn't have the money to begin with for that $200 programmer.
And here I am burning it up. So the only way I could afford another one
was finding the cheapest thing I could online. And where I found it -- this company called
Olimex kept popping up. And I don't know about you, but that's still
how their website looks today and that doesn't really instill shopper experience to me.
They don't have online checkout. To this day, the way that you buy -- they're
really good programmers, and they're very inexpensive, but you have to send them an
e-mail say, "Hey, I'd like to buy this." And they e-mail you back with the form, and
they say, "Oh, no problem. It's 35 bucks plus $7 for shipping.
Please fill out this form with your credit card information and fax it back to Bulgaria."
[laughter] I don't really know how to fax to Bulgaria,
and I'm not really cool with that. So let's try to do something better.
And so, that's where I saw the void, because I said, "Maybe I can do better."
And so, I started importing these parts from Bulgaria back in 2003 just as a distributorship.
Just saying, "Hey, this is really cool stuff, but I bet I can make it a little bit easier
for folks to buy." And here we are.
This isn't rocket science, right? It's Add to Your Cart. Here's a picture of
it. But back in 2002-2003, this was groundbreaking
to have a close-up picture of electronics? I thought it was simple, but for a lot of
folks, it was completely wild. And this has taken seven years to get here
and a lot of IT and a lot of marketing and communications layout and all that fun stuff,
but yep, now we have a website that sells stuff. Cool.
Most of you folks -- if you know about Maker Faire, if you know about SparkFun, you know
what these electronics are. You know about hardware.
But I just want to give you a quick breakdown. That black chip -- top, left picture is a
microcontroller. What is it? It's a $2 computer that can run at 20 million
things a second. Okay, cool. So I program it in whatever language I can
find -- basic, C -- I've seen some stuff in Java.
It's pretty powerful stuff, right? You load your code on to that.
And every time I turn it on, it does one really simple thing. Okay?
So if we use the microcontroller to talk to -- the picture directly below it on the left
is a motion sensor. I'm looking around the room. You guys don't
have any motion sensors. Most security systems have the little thing
in the corner of the room so that when you walk around, it detects that motion.
And so, it can tell presence in the room, okay?
That's a motion sensor -- ten bucks, okay? So top and to the right is a Servo.
What can I do with a Servo? Well, you control the Servo. It's an output.
So, with the microcontroller checking to see if somebody is in the room or there's some
sort of movement, we can then control the motor to do something.
The best application I've seen of this, right? It's 15, 20 bucks worth of parts.
It's -- the Servo was connected to the power button on a blender.
Why would I need to connect a motion sensor to a microcontroller to a blender?
Because of the website. Let's see if we can bring it up running. BlenderDefender.com.
[laughter] This gentleman had a problem with his cat
jumping onto the counter. [laughter] And the way that you take care of that, and
you know -- you scare the cat off the counter. And it doesn't hurt the cat.
The cat learns over time to keep off the counter. [laughter]
But it was a problem that he had. With very inexpensive electronics.
A very simple thing. Will it ever be a consumer product? Probably
not. [laughter] But did he take care of the problem? Absolutely.
So, just interesting applications of very common electronics.
And then, over to the right, the thing that says XBee is a Wireless Module.
Very simple to pass stuff back and forth. Directly below that is the Arduino board.
I'm sure most of you have heard of the Arduino. But it's a rather inexpensive development
platform -- has a microcontroller on board. It's all open source.
Uses a form of C and processing and some other open source languages.
Very low barrier to get started. So, the Arduino board is slowly but surely
taking over the world. I heard they've shipped over 150,000 units.
That's a lot of Arduino boards. Lots of instructors, lots of artists using
it. Really interesting board.
And then, just to the left of that, it says BMP085 breakout.
It's a barometric pressure sensor so sensitive that it can detect the difference between
30 centimeters of air. So if I hold it here, I get a reading.
If I hold it here, I get a different reading. It's that sensitive. Okay?
That sensor -- and this is the secret sauce to SparkFun, by the way.
That sensor was developed by Bosch. They probably spent 5 to 10 million dollars
developing that, tuning it, producing it, figuring out manufacturability, getting reliability
down, and what does SparkFun do? Well, we came along and we bought that sensor,
and we soldered it to a board. And look at how much bigger it is.
It's about ten times the size of that sensor. Well, that sensor is really cool, but you
can't use it. It's surface mount. It's difficult to use.
So, what SparkFun does -- the secret sauce -- is, we break it out.
We solder it to a board. We make it a little bit bigger.
And we test it to make sure that it works. And we provide you with example code.
What is it? It's a shortcut. Yeah, you could lay out your own board.
You could solder it yourself. We show you how to do all that.
But, really, if your project is to get into some barometric pressure reading project,
let us sell you the breakout that works and you get on to your project.
So that's all we do is we make things more accessible.
Any questions, by the way? Anything? Cool. We'll keep [inaudible]script.
So, a lot of people ask and are surprised by where SparkFun gets its stuff.
We do a lot of manufacturing in-house. We're based out of Boulder, Colorado.
And we have about 1500, 1600 skewSKUs at this time.
1600 different things that you can buy on the website -- 300 of those things are designed
and built in-house, okay? Let's see, so on the left, we've got what's
called a Pick and Place Robot. Those things cost us about $50,000. It sounds
like a lot. They're actually quite cheap in comparison.
Well, you at home -- and we show you on our website how you can build surface mount electronics
-- you can build them by hand. You can build them with a $40 hot plate.
And we did that for years. You get a Pick and Place Robot not because
you need it to build electronics. You need it whenever you need to build 500
of something. A human -- I can myself build 20 or 30 of
an item, but when we need 50, when we need a hundred, when we need 500.
That's when we finally get to the output or the scale where these machines are necessary.
And we partner with unique innovators worldwide. We collaborate with a lot of different folks.
I don't have a lot of passion for -- I don't know -- bicycle electronics, okay?
But there's some folks out there that live and breathe and die by bicycle electronics.
And so, they are the best at creating this bicycle lamp.
I may not be, but they are. And so, we team up with them and help them
build the widget that they need built. Okay. So we team up with folks that are truly
innovative in their field and work best at building and laying out PCBs.
So we kind of share the innovation. And finally, relationships with reliable global
manufacturers. If we're not best at creating USB cables,
let's find the person that is and buy USB cables from them.
Let's find the person that's best at creating the little bits and pieces that everybody's
going to need -- wall adaptors and all these different things.
And we import them. And I'm kind of happy -- I was in Shen Zzhen
February of last year. Just mind boggling amounts of electronics.
It's like a kid in a candy store. It's so much fun, like the crazy stuff over
there. But this is a brand that I thought was really
interesting. I don't know if you can read.
It's like a green laser projector. It comes from a newish brand.
It's the brand written on there. Doesn't that really make you want to buy it?
It's not new. It's newish. It's almost new. Yeah. Looks like it actually worked it just
said. I thought it was kind of fun.
The elevator speech for SparkFun. And this is the best analogy that I've heard.
It comes from a friend of mine who works at a company called Acroname.
And we were talking over lunch one day, and he's like, "You know what?
SparkFun is like Home Depot." I was like, "Oh, that's kind of interesting,"
right? You go to Home Depot, and you walk down the
store and there's wood and there's screws and there's plaster there.
But you don't expect to see a bathroom on the shelf that you can just pick up and put
in your cart, right? They may have demos.
They may have different things showing you how you could redo your bathroom, but they
don't sell you the bathroom. That's how it works at SparkFun, right?
We don't sell you a cell phone. We don't sell you a laser pointer.
We show you the bits and pieces that you could string together to build something interesting,
and that's -- and we educate you how to do it.
And we encourage people to do it themselves. Soldering are in there in the corner.
And then, down below was a Halloween project, okay?
So I wanted to show folks how to use electroluminescent wire -- EL wire.
It's kind of bendable plastic stuff that's got phosphorescent built inside.
So when you expose it to high voltage, it lights up these brilliant colors, okay?
It's also called "cold neon," because it's like neon light, but it's flexible.
So what I did is -- just for the fun value -- I went online and found a site called
"LuckyMonkey Dragon," -- and bought a straightjacket. Really good like canvas-like restricting straightjacket.
And on the front of it, I put a blue heart in EL wire.
And I put another one and another one and another one, right?
And they were individually controlled by a microcontroller -- an Arduino -- a high voltage
source and a lithium forpolymer battery, so you can walk around in a straightjacket and
have a beating heart, right? And people really thought this was a deep
piece of art installation. They were like, "Oh, my God. It's like love
ties you up," and all this stuff. I just bought a straightjacket and put some
electronics in it, [laughter] but they thought it had really deep meaning.
So, lots of tutorials online to show you how to hook stuff up.
Again, is this ever going to be a consumer product? I hope not.
But it should show you how you could do your own EL wire project.
We never expected the number of communities to come out of this, okay?
We knew that there was going to be hobbyists. We knew that there was going to be engineers
working on stuff in their garage and all these different things.
And over time, we keep getting these e-mails from people doing like bird migration.
You know, RFID in nests, and trying to figure out how much they weigh when birds come and
go. And "Wow, our stuff is in there? That's crazy."
Car modification. Atmospheric research. So this is one that I'm currently really into.
I'm hoping to launch in a couple of weeks. But it's helium balloons seven feet in diameter.
You let them go, and they pop at 110,000 feet, okay?
You got about four pounds that you can lift to 110,000 feet.
So what do you do? You take pictures. That's an amateur Canon camera at 110,000
feet taking a picture of the curvature of the earth. That's amazing.
And we couldn't do that 10 years ago, right? It took a military budget.
It took a government grant to pull off some of this stuff.
And now, we can launch it in our own backyard. Kinesiology -- measuring how the body responds
to things. We have a guy who's using our accelerometers
to measure base jumping, right? He jumps off of things, and he was wondering
why his neck hurt so bad, right? [laughter]
And you look at the accelerations. When his parachute pops, they pack this thing
so tight that it actually -- it's the equivalent of a mild rear-end collision, right?
So there's a lot of deceleration and forces acting on the human body.
And so, some of our sensors help detect that. Aerospace. And, of course, burning man, right?
We all need blinky stuff for burning man. So I like to think that there's some of our
stuff out there. So we're going to talk about couple of examples.
Wearable electronics. So the one on the left has what's called the
"LilyPad." Some really interesting embedded electronics
developed by Dr. Leah Buechley. She's in the media lab now.
You sew with conductive thread, right? And you can put this into your clothing.
And you can connect different parts of your clothing and have them talk to each other
using conductive thread. Then, there's the musical group, OK Go, doing
a lot with music and lighting and some really interesting YouTube videos.
And, of course, everything needs to Twitter. Everything.
So, top right corner is the -- what it does is, it measures soil water content, okay?
So let me know whenever my plant is getting thirsty.
Except put sort of a snark to it. So it sends you some really mad and evil Twitters
whenever you don't water your plant. [laughter]
And then, I don't know if you can tell, but in the bottom left, there's a methane sensor
in his chair, right? [laughter] So it Twitters every time someone's -- yeah.
And then, up in the top left is -- you put a band across a pregnant woman and it Twitters
every time it feels baby movement. Kind of interesting.
And then, there in the middle, of course, we have the SparkFun tweeting kegerator.
So every time you take a beer, it tells us what the weight contents of the keg is so
that we try to never run out. You guys have any questions? No? Cool.
This was Halloween last year. A gentleman ran a pumpkin patch.
And he told us that he had a pumpkin trebuchet. And we said, "Wow, that's really cool."
So we decided to team up with him, and we stuck a bunch of electronics inside of a pumpkin.
And it was amazing. There's a bunch of things.
That where it hit the ground, right? We hit like nearly 30 g's as that pumpkin
like destroyed the surface of the earth. We broke an axis on one of our accelerometers.
So it threw this pumpkin like 300 yards down the corn field.
This thing was amazing and scary to stand next to.
Why do this? Just because it's fun. Just because you get to throw electronics
down a corn field. The data nowanalysis, if you zoom in on some
of the acceleration data. You see the little blips along the curves.
What is that going up? What is that little thing? Exactly.
It's the rotation of the pumpkin. We figured out the pumpkin was spinning at
about 7 Hertz. You might be able to design a better trebuchet
using this information. I don't know, but it's fun to look at the
data and figure out how things affect the world with electronics and monitoring stuff.
The good, the bad, and the ugly. So I don't know if you guys saw this home
page -- electronics, right? Everything we build can be used for good and
for bad. And so, a couple of months ago -- we generally
post good stuff on our home page. "Hey, check it out -- pumpkin throwing, model
rocketry, kids soldering." All sorts of things like that.
We got an e-mail from a customer who said, "You know, I want you to know -- I don't want
to make it public. Just wanted you guys to know in a private
e-mail that on the front cover of the Waterloo News in Canada was this article," right?
It's a gentleman holding up electronics and everything is kind of fuzzy and the only thing
that you can see in focus is SparkFun.com [laughter] written across this hunk of electronics."
And what it was, was -- in Canada, you go to grocery store, you buy all your stuff,
at checkout, they hand you this little piece of electronics, you swipe your credit card,
type in your pin number, and hand it back to the person checking you out, okay?
Well, this had been going on for awhile and something had broken, so that hand-held device
went in for repair. And when they opened it up, there was a bunch
of extra electronics that shouldn't have been there, right?
And it said, "SparkFun" -- uh, oh. [laughter] So, what they had done is, they had been modifying
these to log the credit card numbers. And then, they would walk into the grocery
store with their cell phone and, over bluetooth, download all the credit card numbers, right?
So, this is a very bad application of electronics, right?
This is using electronics for bad. But is it going to happen? Yes.
Should we stop selling that bluetooth module because of it? I don't think so.
We sell thousands and thousands of those bluetooth modules.
I saw one being used earlier today to control robots over cell phone and do all sorts of
cool stuff with electronics, right? So, bad things happen.
And so, we need to sort of be aware of that and try as a community to sort of direct that
away and do good things with electronics. And then -- I don't know if you guys saw
-- it's on Adult Swim -- the LED Mooninite. It's a Mooninite, yes.
So, it was a marketing stunt for Comedy Central. A PR firm put together some LED signs, and
that is a character from that series. And they put these signs up around Boston.
Well, Boston PD didn't think too highly of us, and described them as "bombs," thought
that they were they were terrorist activity. And the PR firm and everybody got in a lot
of trouble. It's an LED, right?
How can we educate the community to know the difference between safe electronics and unsafe
electronics? This is just a sign.
So I thought that that was kind of interesting. And then, that's just TJ in receiving, and
he's very helpfulugly. The guys at SparkFun -- we do all of our internal.
We do our product shoots. We take photos of all of our products and
give them a little freedom and creativity, and [mumbling]they get kind of wild. So those
are our new lab coats. So, with the good, the bad, the ugly, right?
We sort of described what the new rules of electronics are.
And this goes back to when I was an electrical engineer.
I was made afraid of hooking stuff up. "Are you absolutely sure that it's correct?
Have you got it hooked up backwards? Have you got the right voltage?" All these
things. And I never really got to tinker much.
I was always going through the steps [inaudible]and doing these different things.
What I learned is that you really just have to plug it in, right?
And if something goes wrong, unplug it, right? It's not the end of the world.
It's actually kind of hard to destroy an 18 ATmega.
It's kind of hard to destroy an Arduino. There's thousands of them out there, and those
things are rock solid. The worst thing that you do is reverse power
on something. You go, "Ooh. Oh, shoot! I hooked it up wrong."
You pull it back, you plug it in the right way -- it'll probably still work.
Electronics are being built more and more robust every day.
So don't worry about it. If it sparks, unplug it, right?
That was kind of fun actually, right? I've learned a lot whenever stuff sparks,
right? You learn a lot from your failures.
If it smokes, "Man, that was fun." Turn it off.
If it heats up, check it and plug it back in, right?
Some things need to heat up. Yes, sir.
>>male audience #2: [inaudible]You had the blender example at the beginning and said
you sell stuff that integrate electronics with high power equipment like 120 volts and
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Good question. So how do you interface to like main power
-- 120 volt / 220 volt -- stuff like that. As an embedded engineer that does most of
his stuff with batteries, 120 volts scares me -- 110 volts, stuff like that.
We do have some high power relays. We do have some tutorials.
The reflow toaster controller is one where we try to turn on and off a toaster oven to
help with reflow. We also have some other products that now
allow you from a 5-volt pin to turn on and off a very good extension cord effectively.
So, that is a big problem to turn on and off blenders, but there's lots of ways to hack
it. Be safe. If you're messing with 120, be very
safe. But if you're messing with batteries, especially
alkalines, they'll internally limit themselves and shut themselves down.
Any other questions? Cool. And don't with afraid of trying something
new. That's where I was with SparkFun electronics.
Whenever I was trying something new -- I was working on that microcontroller -- that's
when my programmer sparked, but that's when I was having the most fun, right?
So it's when you're right out there on the edge, when you're having the most fun.
This is the GPS wall clock. At SparkFun, we were selling GPS modules.
And I wanted to show people that GPS gives you longitude and latitude.
But a lot of folks didn't realize that it's very accurate time.
So I went to Home Depot, and I bought a bunch of materials.
And, you know, you could build a clock, right? With little 7-secondgment displays.
Or you could build a 24 inch per segment 12 foot long GPS clock, right?
Bigger, it lights up the office green. And the best part was when, we had just put
this up. I don't know if you can tell, but there's
an LCD monitor sitting right underneath it. That was Eric's desk back in the day.
He was one of the employees at SparkFun. So he's working there on the computer.
And Pete, one of the jokers in the office would walk by and say, "Hey, Eric!"
And Eric would turn around, "Yeah, Pete." Pete would go, "Hey, Eric -- do you have the
time?" Eric would go [looking down]. "Yeah," Pete's
like, "3:15." "Oh, thanks."
Pete would walk back by. "Hey, Eric. Do you know what time it is?"
"Dude, it's like 3:45." It's a giant clock behind him, right?
And just kept pulling Eric's leg -- had no idea.
So, GPS wall clock. It's a tutorial now. And Google -- we love Google and Google loves
us, right? We like to be seen as a resource.
We like to be seen as a place that you can go to get information.
And, because of that, we were ranked very well.
So when you Google "GPS clock," we show up second or third behind Wikipedia, behind some
very -- much better resource sites. But this tutorial pops up very high which
educates people and then drives traffic to our website.
So that's a lot of how we get our traffic, new customers.
And so, that's effectively it. Trevor, could you give me a buzz?
And so, this was a project that we did like couple years ago.
This was one of our first tutorials. This was like 2004, I think, when the Motorolla
Razr had just come out. And the Motorolla Razr was the smallest like,
the lightest -- the weirdest thing. [phone rings]
So my friends and I had a bar bet about Who could build the biggest, noisiest, heaviest
phone? [phone rings] And so, we all joked about it.
Who could build -- and I was like, "Ah, that'd be really funny if it was this giant thing
or whatever." And, the back of my mind, I went home thinking,
"Oh, maybe I could pull that off." So I jumped on Ebay.
And where do you find the biggest, heaviest rotary phones?
Of course, on Ebay. I didn't have one sitting around.
And it took a couple weeks. Tore out all the insides. Put in a cell phone
module. And now, we have a rotary cellular phone,
okay? [laughter] I get really funny looks from bouncers taking
this out to bars. [laughter] Right? They say, "What are you doing with that?"
"It's my cell phone." "No, it's not.
What are you doing with that?" They're afraid I'm going to hit somebody with
it, right? And so, big, heavy, rotary phone.
We didwrote a tutorial about it. We said, "Hey, this is what we did."
We tore out the insides. You can actually dial out on it.
So there's a microcontroller inside that looks at the switches.
There's a technical write up about how you decode the rotary.
Oh, it's got a touch interface by the way, right?
Sorry, bad joke. [laughter] So it works pretty well.
We wrote the tutorial, and the next couple of days, our site went down.
There was so much traffic from all these different sources, and we got written up in the New
York Times, right? That's an article.
People went crazy over this retro effectthing. And we got hundreds of e-mails asking, "Oh,
my God, where can I buy one?" And we said, "No, no, no. It's a tutorial.
It's there to show you how to build it yourself." And, you know, that wasn't enough.
We kept getting e-mails. And "Okay, fine." I had the parts to build two of these.
One was built -- worked kind of okay. And I had the parts to build another one.
So I said, "Well, the parts cost me 150 bucks." Maybe we could sell it for 200 bucks and make
some profit. "No, no -- let's make it 300.
Let's make it $400 so that nobody buys one." [Laughter]
Well, we've been selling them ever since. [laughter]
So, it was very cool. So now, when you Google "rotary phone," I
like to brag that we still show up second behind Wikipedia, right?
And that's exactly where we should be, right? We're not -- Wikipedia is the real resource.
Man, there's this weird tutorial that everybody links to about this rotary phone hack.
So that's where SparkFun islives. And then, if -- one more slide because I was
told to kind of add it in. We had a SparkFun free day.
I don't know -- have you guys have heard about this? Cool. Yeah.
Hopefully, you guys got to hear about it. And hopefully, you participated in it, and
you got a free $100 order. But I had this crazy idea of giving away a
hundred thousand dollars. Anyways, we didn't know what we were getting
ourselves into. So, if you see the big spike we had -- I don't
know -- five, eight, ten times the amount of traffic that we used to.
And we brought on sort of a maelstrom. But the badge of honor for our IT group was,
for about an hour on that day, we were the number one, most-searched term on Google.
And that was a really, really big deal to us, right?
That's the badge of honor for our IT guys. And we think it was the number one search
term because our site was down. So everybody was wondering.
They were searching about it rather than actually being able to get to the site.
But that's okay. So that was Free Day, and that's sort of SparkFun
and that's our market. Do you guys have any kind of questions about
what we do and what we build? Yes, sir.
>>male audience #3: Do you have a favorite new product on the SparkFun website or something
>>Nathan Seidle: Do I have a favorite up-and-coming product?
Is there something coming that
>>male audience #3: Or just something that's on there now that has you really excited.
>>Nathan Seidle: -- great question. Stuff that has me really excited?
I don't know. I'm kind of a sensor guy. So that the new sensors that are coming out
that have -- first it was the Triple Axis Accelerometer.
Now, that has completely been monecommoditized by the wiWii.
Inside the wiWii, there's a Triple Axis Accelerometer, right?great.
And now, there's Dual Axis Gyros and the first Triple Axis Gyros are just coming out.
And what this means is, you have now a single sensor that can detect three axes of rotational
speed. The next chips to come out in the next six
months or a year -- I'm predicting -- are the combination cellsstuff.
So you have a single chip that has triple axis accel, triple axis gyro.
What that means is, we get really interesting tracking.
Okay, you can do all sorts of crazy dead reckoning. Whenever GPS goes away, and you walk into
a building, you then start to calculate, "Okay, what's going on?" And so, we get indoor tracking
a lot better than what we had. It's not perfect, but it's better.
So that's not something we're selling, but that's something I'm hoping that those big
chip foundries will spend lots and lots of money developing.
And then, we'll break out, and get to play with.
>>male audience #4: Will it fit on a cat collar? [inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Will it fit on a cat collar?
Cat tracking is actually one of my highest priority projects.
There's some really interesting stuff out there with cats.
That's sort of the overall size comparison. If it's small enough to go onto a cat, then
we're getting to the size that we can start tracking some really interesting stuff.
Yes, sir.
>>male audience #1: Do you still run this? [inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Good question, so -- Am I still doing some of the business
stuff or have we hired somebody to help me do it?
I am still under the delusion that I can handle it.
It's going pretty well so far. One of the problems is that I haven't gotten
to do as much engineering as I'd like to do. And yeah, there's really only one project.
I've given up all the projects to our engineering group.
The only project that I work on now is this data logger called "OpenLog."
And I get to spend four or five hours a week working on that.
And so, that's the project that keeps me sane. I really have to carve out that time and keep
it my own. The business stuff, I'm hacking my way through
it and sort of learning from everybody I can. But I realize that there is going to come
a point where we are going to have to hire somebody else to do the business aspect of
>>male audience #5: [inaudible]Can you talk about the cease and desist?
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Oh, the cease and desist.
Yeah. GI'm good friends with Sun Microsystems now.
So, we got a cease and desist letter. I don't know if you guys read on the website.
So, SparkFun was running for about six-and-a-half -- seven -- years, and we get our first cease
and desist letter that says, "Please take steps to immediately turn over the SparkFun.com
domain." Are you kidding?
I'm like "No, that's going straight for the throat."
And it came from K&L Gates, which is a big law firm here in California.
And they represented SPARC International. I don't know if you remember SPARC servers
from the late 90s, early 2000s -- SPARC with a C.
And we had just filed for the SparkFun trademark, and that's where the cease and desist came
from is that SPARC had to defend their trademark against the SparkFun trademark.
Long story short. Did a home page post about it.
They get a lot of phone calls about it. And we have signed a coexistence letter so
that everybody seems to be pretty happy. But it was just sort of -- what do you call
it -- like a belt mark or belt tab along the way of this SparkFun history.
We got our first cease and desist. We learned what it meant.
And we now know how to sort of deal with law issues in the future.
Second one? No, that was our first cease and desist.
It's the first and only, yep. We're very lucky. We're very, very lucky.
Yes, sir.
>>male audience #6: Do you have analytics on your customers that shows -–what's their
life cycle if they buy an Arduino one month, how many more months before they are buying
better, cooler stuff? Can you tell me the life cycle of your customers?[inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Really good question. We've done some preliminary analytics.
Sort of a hack job. Trying to figure out what's going on.
It's kind of hard to tell, because you can't tell -- if we get an order from Google, is
Google doing something or are the engineers at Google having it sent to Google and doing
it at home? So what's the male/female ratio? What's the
age group? All that fun stuff. What we found -- to answer your question about
-- we see customers, and they come in and they buy 30 or 40 or 50 dollars worth of stuff,
okay? And then, six weeks later, we see another
order for 80 or 90. And then, a couple of months later it's a
hundred bucks, a hundred bucks. And then, it trails off.
And what we think is happening is we're educating. We're showing folks that, "Hey, here's a microcontroller.
It's 30 bucks." And then, over time you learn, "Oh wait --
that chip is just two bucks? I don't need to buy the $30 Arduino.
And now, I figured out how to navigate the digikey search engine, right?
I'm not as scared of this big, scary digikey site.
SparkFun, you were great. You helped me find the stuff I needed."
And we educate them to the point -- we share with them enough information -- that they
go off and sort of do their own thing. So they buy less from us.
And we're pretty okay with that. It's just more people doing more cool stuff
out there.
>>male audience #6: So you're a gateway drug.
We're kind of a gateway dropug, yeah. Yes, sir.
>>male audience #7: Can you solder stainless to an O2 Sensor? [inaudible]
>>Nathan Seidle: The question was whether or not you can solder to stainless steel wire
>>male audience #7: On a Bosch Oxygen Sensor.
>>Nathan: on a Bosch Oxygen Sensor. Have you tried?
>>male audience #7: No. , I haven't tried.
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Let me know when you do.
>> male audience #7: I will. [laughter]
>>Nathan Seidle: I really don't know. I have tried to solder to something called
nichrome wire. And I was trying to use it for my balloon
set thing, and I couldn't physically solder to it.
And I don't know the chemical properties of the make up of the metal or why it wasn't
working, but I can tell you it didn't work. So I don't know the reasons behind why they
don't want you to do that. I wonder if it's a physical thing or if it's
going to affect the actual sensing. So, don't really know.
Good luck, though. That sounds cool. Yes, sir.
>>male audience #8: Speaking of sensors, when do we get our hands on something cheap that
rRaman? Raman spectroscopy.
I've been looking like around the hardware, you know, like everything is in the multi-thousand
dollar range. It looks as if like there's a prism inside
that's the expensive part, but I have no idea.
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: I'm sorry, I didn't hear -- what type of a sensor is it?
>>male audience #8: It's a Raman spectroscopy device.
So you touch something, and it'll tell you the composition of it.
If you touch like a glass bottle with fluid inside, it can tell you whether it's beer
inside or I don't know. But it's very interesting, but it's multi-thousand
dollars. I've seen devices that being set, where it's
like a key chain. It can be mass produced obviously for a single
or a specific frequency. So they have devices which will detect --
I don't know -- rotten food or something like that by the presence of a specific marker.
>>Nathan Seidle: I don't know that instance specifically, but I have seen a lot of open
source efforts where they say, "Hey, this prism-based spectroscopy unit is extremely
accurate and works very, very well, but I don't need that level of accuracy.
I need a couple of orders of magnitude less. And so, can I reduce the cost down to hundreds
of thousands of dollars instead of hundred thousand dollars."
One of the best applications I saw was a water testing unit and they shine -- they have an
RGB LED. They had a UV LED and they had an infrared
LED. So you could kind of get the spectrum.
And then, they had a sensor on the opposite side.
And you put a sample of water in between. And, based upon what wavelengths were absorbed
and detected, you could or maybe detect what's in the water -- biological matter -- and all
they were going for was, Can I drink the water? Red light, green light. So if I fly into a
country. So it doesn't answer your spectroscopy question,
but I see there's two approaches -- one on the really cheap level, so.
>>male audience #8: Or pesticides in beer for that matter [laughter]
>>Nathan Seidle: Other questions? Yes, sir.
>>male audience #9: So you were mentioning when you got started you started by importing
stuff from Bulgaria.
>>Nathan Seidle: Yes.
>>male audience #9: Was that really complicated? Like, was it hard?
You know, I've thought of business idea before that involves importing stuff from other countries,
but it seems like I don't know customs and taxes and things would be weird.
Was that hard for you, or was it just like, "Oh, just order a bunch of stuff and have
it come to my house?"
>>Nathan Seidle: It's a little different every day, right?
So when I first started importing stuff from Bulgaria, the first shipment went surprisingly
well. Surprisingly easy. A couple shipments into it, it got held up,
because they really wanted to make sure that those items didn't contain RAM.
Because if they did contain RAM, then it fell into a different tariff code that got taxed
differently, okay? So the customs people don't really know.
They just read the product description. They go, "Okay, how do I categorize this?"
It's actually quite easy to import goods and different things from across the world.
It's just that they have to be properly recorded. And then, you need to know what to expect
importwise. My best advice is to always try it and you're
just going to learn over time. Each day is going to be a little bit different.
And, in the end, you'll learn very quickly.
>>male audience #9: Cool thanks.
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Mm-hmm. Any other questions?
Yes, sir. >>male audience #10: Can you talk about batchpcb?
Have you started that up?[inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Yeah, so batchpcb is sort of the side service that we offer.
We, as engineers -- I don't know if you guys have ever laid out a printed circuit board.
Every printed circuit board I lay out is wrong in some way.
It's broken in some way. And so, there's a lot of fabrication companies
out there that say, "Oh, no problem. You only have to order five copies of your
design." Well, I don't want five copies.
I just want one, because I know it's probably going to be messed up.
And so, batchpcb was an effort to work with our pcb fabrication house at Gold, Phoenix,
and say, "Hey, we're going to fill up this panel.
We get 15 x 10 square inches. And we put the engineers' designs there.
And then, we had some open space. And we said, "Well, if we're not going to
use that space, maybe we can sell it to our customers."
And so, our customers then began buying space in that panel.
So batchpcb is just the service we offer to get pcb's fabricated.
Does that answer your question?
>>male audience #10: I've used the service. I like it. I just thought you might have something
to say about it. [inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Works really well.
I can't wait for my pcb's to come in. They're supposed to be here any day now.
Yeah, we're waiting for a new controller for my balloon satellite project.
Any other questions? Yes, sir.
>>male audience #11: What are your thoughts on the high power devices like 32-bit FLs
and the next generation of what's coming down the line. [inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Fabulous question. So the question was what do we think about
32-bit processors and new stuff coming ondown the line.
An ARM 7 and ARM 9 -- the things that run our cell phones -- are tremendously powerful.
I have more computing power in my Nexus One than like anything.
It's incredible how low power and fast things are becoming.
And I had this debate with my director of engineering yesterday.
Sort of two camps. I think that 90 percent of the blender defender
projects out there -- right? -- need an 8-bit microcontroller.
You don't need an ARM 7 to tackle a lot of the small projects out there; an 8-bit microcontroller
does it. Now, if you're doing graphical user interfaces
and you're doing sort of heavy computing, absolutely.
But, in general, I think an 8-bit microcontroller can go a long way.
So I think 8-bit will be around for a long time.
You had a question sir.
>>male audience #12: [inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: So, the question I heard was "How do we decide new products
to sell and how do we decide what to carry?"
>>male audience #12: [inaudible]Yeah, are you reselling things that were made in someone's
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: Yes. So some of the way that we look at a product is --
when we decide whether or not to carry it on the SparkFun site is -- Is it really cool?
Does it fill a void? Is it reasonably priced? Right?
There's a bunch of criteria.
>>male audience #12: [inaudible]
Nathan Seidle>>Nathan Seidle: No, no. Usually we start with five or ten units and see how
those sell. Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
We -- at SparkFun, we don't build a thousand of anything.
We build ten, and we see how they sell and same goes for the other products.
That usually means that initially we're out of stock of the really cool stuff, but then
we very quickly try to get back in stock. Yes, sir.
>> male audience #13:When you send a helium balloon up with a camera, how do you get the
camera back?[inaudible]
>>Nathan Seidle: Great question. Very carefully. How do you get the camera back from the helium
balloon project? It's easy to send the camera up; it's hard
to get it back. We had a lot of electronics that transmit
GPS location. So you're actually actively chasing it in
a car listening to the GPS longitude and latitude, and then, try to recover it.
And then, you hope that it doesn't break, because if it goes black, you'll probably
never find it out in a field somewhere. So, yeah. It's pretty hard to recover, and
it's a lot of fun whatever you do.
>> male audience #13: Avoid the jet stream.
Avoid the jet stream. And yep, luckily we're in Colorado.
I know a lot of folks on the East Coast have to worry about it blowing into the Atlantic
Ocean or so. Yeah, we don't have that problem. Cool.
Very much. Well, thank you very much for having me.
>> [applause]