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This is a story about some ideas, some pivots, and one friend’s 3 month or so run at executing one idea.
TL;DR – Ideas come quick. You can have dozens of them a day if you’re in a creative mood. Execution is, for many ideas, orders of magnitude more effort. Any big, hairy, ambitious idea you have is probably going to require skills and experience you dont have, and you’ll need to find people who do and convince them to help or pay them to consult. That’s why incubators (somethimes) work so well. That’s why “skunkworks” projects in big companies (sometimes) work so well. Everybody “knows” this – here’s a story illustrating it…
This might be partly my fault.
Early this year, I got very frustrated on RasberryPi’s launch day, wasting 3 or 4 hours pounding reload buttons and having form submissions fail trying to order one. I eventually got an order in to Element14 (which is what Farnell call themselves these days in Australia), but it was already “on backorder” by the time I’d got their website to accept my money. So my instant gratification desire wasn’t fulfilled, and when it finally shipped later in the year I’d got busy with work and with other projects, so it sat in my pile of “stuff to play with later”.
At some stage, my friend Mark Pesce (and if that sounds familiar, perhaps you’re old enough to remember VRML and the Labyrinth demo from the late ’90s) mentioned he was waiting to get his hands on a ‘Pi, with vague ideas about teaching kids to program, kid’s robotics courses, TV shows – I’d taken him to our local hackerspace Robots and Dinosaurs to meet some like-minded people and see what gear and skills and people were doing hardware/software hacking locally. So I lent him my RaspberryPi to play with.
Shortly afterwards, he was tweeting about having an LED hooked up to the GPIO port, and a Python script running from the webserver on the ‘Pi, which let him turn his LED on and off with a cheesy little JSON API from anywhere on the internet. So, of course, I made it blink on and off hoping to annoy him, as you do. Then I made it blink … —- … (which is SOS in morse code). Not satisfied with that, I glued together a bunch of Perl modules from CPAN, and slurped up all Marks tweets and responses to @mpesce from Twitter in real time, and made his LED blink them all out in Morse code. (Partly ’cause it was fun, but probably at least a little bit because I should have been filling out timesheets or invoicing or writing reports at work, you know those most creative of times…)
A month or so later, he’s gone from a bare Raspberry Pi sitting on his desk with a single orange LED, to a (as he puts it) “pipebomb looking” contraption with about 64 individually addressable RGB LEDs zip tied onto a white foam base with a ‘Pi hanging off the end of it, which lets him play patterns of colours and brightnesses, all under control from his phone via the internet.
This is where the real work started…
In early October, I got invited to a launch at FishBurners (a Sydney co-working space / incubator). Mark had put together a team of experienced and talented professionals, Kean who I knew from Robots and Dinosaurs and who runs an embedded electronics / microcontroller consulting firm, Robert from Tiller Design who I knew by reputation as the guy who did the industrial design on the beautiful Otto Espresso Machine, Breton coming up with awesome demos and writing 3 dimensional graphics abstraction libraries, Kate doing marketing and social media. All of those people are “worth” well over $150/hr, in the sense that they’d get paid at least that much by other businesses for their time. There’s certainly more people who should be on this list too, I know I put Mark in touch with Colin for information about getting a security audit done on the internet-facing hardware/software, somebody talented did a bunch of web design and WordPress configuration for them, the open and transparent financials on their website explaining the costings and the resulting Kickstarter target amount must have had some procurement/logistics/manufacturing experience behind them, there’s been clearly professional photography and video shot many times.
All of that had gone way beyond the initial “idea”. There’s been work put in by a dozen or more people, work witch might well have cost several hundred thousand dollars at full commercial rates. I’m pretty sure most of those people involved have only charged nominal rates, if anything – I’m sure quite a few of them have dug deeply into their own pockets to pay for the expenses of getting this far. Instead they’re all caught up in the excitement of “the idea” and doing hard, valuable, experienced, professional work; with the expectation of future payoff when “the idea” becomes “the successful business”.
This is “the execution”. The bit that’s a lot less fun, and a lot more personally and financially costly that “coming up with ideas”. And Mark’s team are killing it!
(and now, the “ask”…)
And they need your help. To do this right will take a lot of money. Go have a look at their Kickstarter page. If you like the idea as much as I do – chip in to help. If you can’t afford to, maybe forward it on to your friends – ask for a light-pledge for christmas. Tweet about it. Blog about it.