OT? "Alternative" business models


I'm currently working on several FOSS/FOSH projects. As such, everything I do is designed to be "openly reproducible".

I have no desire to be in the manufacturing business (boring, liability, customers, etc.!)

While picking the brain of a friend/colleague (of many decades) over some parts of these designs, he offered to just *do* the designs for me, /in toto/ -- instead of the lengthy back-and-forth that always ensues when we "conspire" on (individual) projects.

In this case, he could save me a great deal of time!

But, this is a *huge* piece of work. Far more than the typical "favors" we regularly exchange for each other (i.e., anything more than ~80 hours no longer counts as a "favor" that can, eventually, be reciprocated). E.g., he'll have to develop formal specifications, prepare the designs, fabricate and test prototypes, etc. Just like bringing any other product to market. Perhaps moreso as his "product" will have to be producible and maintainable by Joe Tinkerer! (i.e., *Joe* has to be able to accept "ownership" of the design!)

Expecting him to undertake that sort of effort *uncompensated* (i.e., adopting the FOSS/FOSH mindset at that level of financial commitment) is not realistic.

OTOH, it is equally unrealistic for *me* to throw that much cash at a solution that merely buys me calendar time -- when I don't even *have* a deadline to meet! :>

So, the trick is to figure out how (if!) he can be compensated for his efforts without that compensation coming from me! ;-)

The obvious solution is to let him manufacture the product for the Joe Tinkerers out there who would have to take the Gerbers (etc) and approach a fab house individually. But, hoping to keep this truly "open", I'd need for his design and documentation to be fully disclosed. In a sense, he'd be competing with himself for this fab business ("Hey, I can make my own boards without paying *this* guy...")

[I would be more than welcome letting him also manufacture the parts of the design that he *didn't* design, if he so chose. Afterall, he could do that anyway once the design was ultimately released!]

A distasteful compromise is to make the *other* portions of the design "open" and let him keep his portions "proprietary". (i.e., *I* benefit from his efforts but others *pay* for those efforts) I can probably keep the interfaces clean -- and, maybe get him to agree to letting me publish the specs for his portions (so others could emulate them "black box" style).

I now see how commercial firms are stressed over FOSS/FOSH. They obviously have to figure out how to make money off of such projects if they want to take them on!

So, is there some other "business arrangement" that would allow me to benefit from the offloading of this design effort (along with the calendar time it "saves"); my colleague to be fairly compensated for his time/effort; Joe Tinkerers to benefit from having a design sooner (along with an established place to purchase certain fabbed assy's); and NON-tinkerers who simply want to buy something turn-key?

[And, no, I'm not interested in fishing for some UNTESTED other soul(s) to undertake these activities in the FOSS/FOSH spirit. I've dealt with enough flakes over the years to NOT want to be dependent on still more "interested" in a project yet never seeming to be able to come through with their promises!]



Reply to
Don Y
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[FOSS / FOSH developer ]


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Reply to
Jasen Betts

That would be *his* decision to make -- as *he* would be the one electing to "sell" it.

FOSS = Free Open Source Software. Wanna guess what FOSH means?

Reply to
Don Y

I'm not familiar with Kickstarter, but since its an open project it might fit the mold.


Reply to
Martin Riddle

Yes, *EXCELLENT*! I will discuss this with him. Thanks!

Reply to
Don Y

ONE: You may be falsely assuming the gizmo is "salable". TWO: "FOSH" stands for what? For Sure? Family of Space Heaters? Friends of Sound Horses? Fosh Restaurant? FRIENDS OF STOUGHTON HOCKEY? A sentient avian species from an unknown world (Star Wars)? Fo sho? Fosh (The Movie)? ...all from the Baby Bird (GooGull).

Reply to
Robert Baer

Yes, along the same lines as Jasen's suggestion. Thanks, we'll look into it (and other crowdsourcing mechanisms).

Reply to
Don Y

You're overthinking this. Back up a level and ask yourself why are you/he doing this?

FOSS is a myth. It's a lie we tell each other to get people to do what someone else wants for free. Crowd sourcing is the same thing, but with cash instead of sweat.

EVERYTHING we do is because we perceive some reward. FOSS/CrowdSourcing manipulates an emotional reward for the benefactor. It lets them trick themselves into supporting your agenda.

It may not be obvious, but it's there. Boy has to eat. He can do it at McDonalds for 99 cents. Why would he drop $100 to take a cute girl to dinner? Ok, that one IS obvious...but...point is that EVERY action is calculated, maybe subconsciously, to achieve some reward.

When someone gives you something, it's because the act gives them a greater reward than alternative actions. When you accept that help, you do it because your perceived personal reward is greater than if you didn't.

If someone wants to help, why talk them out of it? They probably don't need you to argue with their reward system. You're gonna get whatever you get. If you need more, you need lawyers and contracts and penalties...and that ain't FOSS-like.

Reply to

I'm doing it because I want "this" and no one else currently

*offers* it "for sale". I.e., I m doing it *regardless* of whether I opt to make it available for others as FOSS/FOSH (e.g., if I drop dead tomorrow, no one benefits from my efforts) I plan to spend my retirement refining it!

Why *he* is doing it (i.e., willing to take on these portions of the designs) only he can explain. But, I can make some educated guesses based on our "history":

- we are friends and care about each others' successes

- he knows I will pick his brain to get the information I need "piecemeal"... as I wade through the design process and discover the issues that are pertinent to it and to me

- he can more efficiently get from A to B if he doesn't have to drag me along for the ride

If it was a "one off" design, he'd *probably* just hack something together for me -- much the same way I've hacked things together for him over the years (hence the "80 hour" factor in this discussion)

But, the fact that I want to be able to publish the finished design means it can't be "a" (working) prototype but, rather, a design that can be mass produced without lots of hand-holding. E.g., if someone wants to commercialize it, they should be able to do so without having to rethink all his decisions ("Gee, how will this perform at elevated temperatures? What sorts of failure modes will it exhibit? etc.")

"Trust me, this will do what you need" won't work, here.

I think that's overly cynical (and *I* am a huge cynic!).

FOSS addresses a variety of needs.

Firstly, I believe most folks are incapable of starting something "from scratch". Hand them a blank sheet of paper and they get a blank stare. Or, start writing code, etc. It seems most folks aren't disciplined enough to think through a *design* without some framework onto which to hang it. Having some existing "project" that they can *modify* lets them make contributions (for whatever reason) without having to be responsible for ensuring that the "correct" framework is in place. Whether their actions are to enhance the product (new capabilities) or to fix bugs, its much easier when they can focus on code fragments instead of having to understand The Whole. I think this is especially true for FOSH -- not just the skillsets but also the


Second, *liberal* licenses (i.e., not GPL!) offer something back to the user: use this as you see fit ("unconditionally"). So, the user receives something -- even if he's not invested any effort to improve the "product". And, once "pregnant", the user finds he has to become more invested in the product -- even if only to understand the changes/bug fixes that are introduced to it in the future ("Hmmm... do I want/need to incorporate these changes in *my* copy of the codebase?")

Third, *any* sort of (open) license gives the user a tool/product "for free" *and* the ability to maintain said tool/product even in the event that the original "author" abandons it. This is not true of many commercial products: the publisher stops supporting a product and you're SoL! (I've worked in some industries where publisher would refuse to sell new licenses for an established product -- forcing the customer to upgrade to their *new* product if they wanted to legally use it)

Fourth, (an extension of the first) users can usually "easily" make changes to the codebase to tweek the performance/interface(s) to better fit their needs. E.g., some decades ago, I designed a product with a curses(1) based UI. Having access to open sources let me port it to run efficiently on a tiny 8b machine. Developing a similar package from scratch would have been a wasteful use of my time.

Fifth, it makes available tools in a more economical form than would otehrwise be possible. E.g., in the 80's I ran UN*X on a PC -- but, with the benefit of a "coprocessor" (card) as PC's were pretty lame. In the early 90's (93?), I started running UN*X on native PC hardware -- without license fees, maintenance contracts, etc. Far more responsive than fighting with vendors of PC-native (i.e., MS) tools! (E.g., I recall writing an A* implementation and didn't have to screw around managing overlays, "huge data", etc. -- just write the code and let VM deal with the fact that I was using more memory than physically available in the machine. A few hours instead of *days* of dealing with implementing my own "virtual store" -- for JUST this algorithm!)

Of course! Even if that reward is a paycheck!

I don't see it that cynically. In each case, I believe the "donor" can receive tangible benefits.

E.g., I remove a bug from a time server (and contribute those changes back to the master codebase -- doesn't "cost me anything" to do so) and I've *fixed* my copy of the time server *and* ensured any new versions of the time server will reflect this CORRECTED problem (so I don't have to keep digging through each new version's sources to figure out where to apply my "secret" fix). Presumably, I *wanted* this bug fixed (in the current version). And, *probably* would like to be able to "return to the well" in the future as other features/fixes are folded into the product (that I am using!).

You might enjoy Pink's _Drive_, Ariely's _Practically Irrational_, Lehrer's _How We Decide_, etc.

Who's the "someone" in your example? If it's "folks in general", then there is a huge downside risk: they may not be qualified, they may not be dedicated/motivated, they can be distractions/overhead, etc.

If the "someone" is my buddy, the problem is the magnitude of the offer. As I said (above), throwing something together for *my* immediate needs is far different than taking on this aspect of the overall *project*.

E.g., I can set up a bunch of "PC's" and demonstrate the desired end result(s). No need for *any* help with that approach! OTOH, shrinking each of those PC's into a 2 cu in package that

*you* (i.e., "Mike") can assemble in your garage is a wee bit more difficult! A "proof of principle" prototype is essentially useless if it can't be practically deployed!

Exactly. It's far too much to ask for my buddy to commit to "uncompensated". Like asking him to give up meat on Fridays or commit to no sex before marriage, etc. ("Huh? Why should I??"). I don't expect him to embrace *my* value systems/motivation. To do so would be the ultimate in arrogance!

Hence my desire to find a way where he doesn't have to make that commitment -- yet I can still avail myself of his "offer" (services).

Reply to
Don Y

If he requires compensation, he isn't offering his services. There's a huge difference between making one work for you and creating and sourcing and documenting a product that any joe can assemble and have just work.

Yes, I am that cynical.

You didn't have to justify it to me. I believe there are great benefits to FOSS etc. People give of their resources UNCONDITIONALLY. Society is better off for it. They feel better. Win-Win. You wanna do that. Your buddy wants to do that. Everybody's happy. Don't muck it up.

There's all manner of griping in the linux newsgroups about organizations like Canonical taking all the free work and not giving back. So much for UNCONDITIONAL. They don't want to profit from their work, but criticize those who took their free contribution and packaged it for success.

Crowd sourcing is the other end of that stick. My favorite example is the guy standing on the corner with a cardboard sign asking for money.

If it makes you feel good, do it. You don't have to care whether he's got his Mercedes parked around the corner. You feel better. Maybe your contribution turns his life around and gets him back on his feet. That's statistically unlikely. I give of my time and stuff freely. But I've never given cash to a hobo.

The electronic version of the hobo is crowd sourcing. Sometimes, it's a great idea well implemented and everybody wins.

More likely it's the result of 10 minutes planning and holding out your hand for cash so you can dabble in your hobby.

There's a reason they didn't go to a venture capitalist. Those guys require a business plan and some hope of success.

The benefits to crowd sourcing are Most people won't ask for a business plan. Most will respond to your enthusiasm for your ill-conceived project. The individual denominations are so small that it's like buying a lottery ticket. You expect not to win. But you had fun playing.

Yes, great things can happen. Statistically unlikely.

The world runs on greed. Politically correct people might call it "survival of the fittest." It's been that way since life began. It ain't gonna change, EVER.

You can bitch about how unfair it is...and many do...or you can harness that force of nature to do what you need done.

You want something for your own use. Great. You want to give it away. Great. Your friend wants to help. Great. If anybody wants to produce a kit and give it away, Great. If they want to make a profit off it, Great. Everybody does what they want for whatever reason floats their boat. You don't have to complicate your life for any of that. You gave up ownership when you gave away the design. The forces of nature will take it from there.

If you will be sad if it doesn't succeed, you may not be accurately representing what turns you on.

Virtually every linux distro started as an ego trip for someone.

Sounds like you have some ego bound up in the process. Nothing wrong with that. Just recognize that every result comes with a cost and you're willing to pay it.

I'd bet that if you think really hard, you can come up with a second personal project that will give you more enjoyment than dealing with procurement issues for a kit of the old one.

I've considered marketing hobby projects in the past. The pitfalls are overwhelming. There are third-party regulations that you have to comply with. You may not have to test for them, until someone complains. If your device puts out a birdie that lands square on top of directTV, you're gonna have lawyers at your door. Ditto for patent infringement. Somebody can stick your PCB up their butt and sue you because the corners were square. They certainly won't win, but the lawyers will have your kid's college fund.

I believe that it makes no sense to produce a hardware product unless you have a long-term plan to create a successful business and the capital to invest up-front to make it happen. Diddling around with a one-off hobby kit is a recipe for stress. Leave that part to the kids with nothing to lose and low blood pressure.

Did I mention that I am THAT cynical? ;-)

Reply to

1) What is the point of your post?

2) What was your reward?


Reply to

I know you have said you aren't "fishing" for someone to do this and I know you said you are concerned about dealing with "flakes" (I'm not sure where I fall on your flakiness scale given our previous exchanges), but I am very much interested in designing *and* building hardware for a market that I expect to exist.

So if you can't make this happen any other way, I would be interested in discussing it.


Reply to

Of note: FCC Part 15 puts the responsibility on the builder of kits, rather than the supplier. It should suffice to have a warning in the instruction manual to that affect (of course, who reads manuals anyway?).


Deep Friar: a very philosophical monk. 
Website: http://www.seventransistorlabs.com/
Reply to
Tim Williams

I won't argue with your facts. I will suggest that your attitude is faulty.

I'd argue that a kit vendor's responsibility to make his kit difficult to build wrongly, and do no harm even if it is, is greater than a normally manufactured/QC'd product.

People who take full responsibility for the customer's satisfaction with the product might, in the main, be more successful in life than those who seek ways to make their oversight someone else's problem.

Same thing goes for relationships. Just ask my ex.

Mom said it best, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Making stuff just work properly in the hands of joe average takes far more planning and effort than most people expect. Throwing a kit over the transom does not make all that go away...just costlier to fix.

I'm not saying, "don't do it." I'm saying, "it's gonna take more effort than you think."

Reply to

That, of course, being the difference between legal principle and commercial success :)


Deep Friar: a very philosophical monk. 
Website: http://www.seventransistorlabs.com/
Reply to
Tim Williams

ISTM that a limitation on open source boards is the parts supply. We all design things based on the parts /we/ can obtain. Unless you restrict yourself to the most basic generic parts that are available in every town, someone picking up the design is going to have a different parts supply. So either they go a lot of hassle to buy the same parts (maybe you /can/ order from Digikey from the middle of Africa? But it's probably a load of pain), or they change the design. And changing the design is usually more hassle than it need be (don't have the same PCB tool, only works under Windows, etc).

Design-for-manufacture is even more tightly coupled with the manufacturing plant - not just the parts, but assembly processes and equipment too.

So, apart from the most noddy Arduino-thing, any manufacture is not going to be as generic as open source software can be (which can run on any PC).


Reply to
Theo Markettos

I think this is a blanket statement that is not universally appropriate. Yes, if you are selling a crystal radio kit, it should be done with adequate instructions so it is hard to mess up. But if you are selling an ultralight aircraft kit there is no way to make it hard to screw up. All you can do is provide good instructions and let the builder take responsibility. Of course there is a lot of middle ground.

There is also the issue of educational value. If it is meant to build skills by challenging the builder, then a high rate of failure is not to be unexpected.

I don't know this is truly universal. "Might, in the main" are waffle words that remove the validity from the statement, or more correctly qualify it to the cases where it *is* true if you could only figure out what those cases were.

If "working properly" really is the ultimate goal of a kit. Sometimes the purpose of the journey is the destination, sometimes it is the journey itself.

How do you know what other people think?


Reply to

If it hasn't been clear in my previous posts: we *frequently* exchange "< 80 man-hour tasks" over the course of our careers. Anything smaller doesn't merit noticing/tracking. Anything larger tends to interfere with "other commitments". 80 man-hrs is big enough that you can actually "make a difference" (e.g., a project that is running late; or, one where subbing out that portion would cost more to "administer" than you'd save; etc.). It's also *small* enough that the other party can "float you that loan" and expect to repay you in kind -- when *you* could use the help, etc.

His offer was in this vein -- "Rather than going back and forth with the 300 inevitable QUESTIONS, why don't I just do that part of the design for you...?"

However, it's not just *one* design but, rather, a "family" of related designs (e.g., the sort of thing that I would ultimately roll into a single, *common* design). And, the "other" efforts that making something that others can reproduce, maintain, modify, troubleshoot, etc. -- usually, this isn't part of a job for hire ("Here's the software, here's the gerbers/schematic/partslist, where's my check?")

So, while his *offer* is appreciated, it's really not very helpful in the grand scheme of things. "How would you like it if I mowed that little patch of grass on the side of your house so you don't have to?" "Gee, that's nice, but I'll still have to mow the

3 acres out back... And, no, I wouldn't dream of asking you to take on THAT task!"

OTOH, if I could come up with a way to offload *all* of this in a way that made sense (to all parties involved), then it's worth considering.

Exactly. It turns an 80-hour FAVOR into a full-time JOB!

No. My buddy does NOT want to do that. He wants to help me with a "favor" -- he's not keen on donating a kidney! :-/

My goal is exactly the opposite: I *want* someone to commercialize on this. I *want* someone to drive costs through the floor and make similar devices commonplace. But, *I* don't want to have to make that (longterm) commitment to serving a marketplace. I want to create a framework, show what *can* be done (instead of just hoping folks can *imagine* it) and then let others improve on it. IME, the best way to get others to improve on something is to let them "gain" from it -- whether that is some sense of reward from improving upon it; some satisfaction in modifying it to meet their own personal needs/expectations; or *financial* by supplying folks who want a turn-key product.

I never give cash to anyone/anything. It's too easily abused. If something is worth my time (cash translates to time via some relationship for each of us), then I'll give my time (and *see*, firsthand, how that time is *used*!).

They also want control. And, have no problem "cutting corners". Esp if that increases their future "business".

I don't have time left in my life to "expect not to win". So, I don't want to follow an approach that *might* win -- but might

*not*! Instead, I'll bank on what I know I can make happen and not rely on "variables"/unknowns. Hence the appeal of using my buddy for these parts of the design -- a "known, proven quantity with little administrative overhead required".

Exactly. Hence the appeal of (unencumbered) licensing. Acme wants to build one? Great! But, Acme, remember that Generico can just as easily compete with you. So, make sure you've got something planned that makes *your* version more desirable than their yet-to-be-released version!

Again, I will make *the* version that *I* want. THAT will be its success. If no one ever *looks* at the released design, then it's still satisfied *my* goals. Without being complicated, compromised, corrupted, etc. by a bunch of disharmonious voices along the way.

I can think of LOTS of "personal projects". But, few that are truly *worth* doing. If I wanted to "kill time", I could take up gardening: there are *always* weeds to be pulled, etc.

Because you are looking at it as "marketing hobby projects". That's the difference. I'm not planning on marketing *anything*. I'm building something FOR ME. I *suspect* others, on seeing it, will want something similar (possibly not identical) for themselves. But, would never have the skillsets for such an undertaking. Nor could they justify the time/expense (I'll be $10K in parts by the time I'm done).

OTOH, handing them a stack of paper (or a CD) might make it more likely that they could *try* to DUPLICATE the effort.

Better yet, pointing them to a commercial source of identical/similar components (kits, bare boards, etc.) lowers the bar even further.

And, ultimately, if someone produced finished product, then its just a question of how much you want to *spend*.

Again, "I'm not planning on marketing *anything*." To be even more clear, I plan on SPENDING $10K and a sh*tload of my time. In return, I expect to have EXACTLY ONE of these. For my own personal use.

And, a whole lot of first-hand experience as to how I *made* it.

I *choose* to share that experience. I *don't* plan on supporting those folks who opt to follow down the same path. I don't plan on supplying them with boards, components, burning ROMs/FPGAs, etc. I don't plan on answering their questions as to why works the way it does. Or, guidance for how they can insert some into the hardware/software. I'll be busy playing with

*mine* and not really interested in getting *theirs* up and running (that's the purpose of that stack of paper/CDs).

Similarly, if some entity opts to commercialize it and discovers a patent infringement, it's *their* problem to find a workaround (including obtaining a license from the patent holder).

I'll redirect you to the texts I mentioned in the previous post. You might find them enlightening. Economists have an interesting view of things...

Reply to
Don Y

I think you are over-thinking this. It is not hard to design using commonly available tools and materials if you made a few basic assumptions that include your target audience is *not* living in the bush of Australia or Antarctica.

Uh, again, not really true if you make a few basic assumptions, like, they can either build it them selves with a modicum of skill soldering, etc. or that they can get someone else to do it for them. If the person building a kit can't build kits, what are you supposed to do? As to manufacturing plants... well that is the fall back if the kit builder doesn't want to build it 100%. You have PCBs made that the builder can buy, you have kits with parts that the builder can buy you supply fully assembled units the builder... er, buyer can buy.

The main enabler for this is to have enough volume to make it worth while to supply the boards, the kits and the assembled units.

"Apart" from the Aduino, the rPi and probably 5000 other similar kits, boards and systems. BTW, "open source" software doesn't run on "any PC". It runs on a platform that meets the requirements of the "open source" software, which is sometimes a cell phone, tablet or other computing device. Even if it is a PC, you still have to meet the requirements for an OS, and any other required software.


Reply to

Exactly! And, the tools one has available (along with skillsets).

As a "typical American", I'm really only worrying about this "market". E.g., I have no plans to write documentation and UI's in multiple languages, worry about export restrictions, etc. This is, essentially, "build one FOR ME and let others see how I did it". Not, "build something for EVERYONE".

OTOH, that doesn't mean I have to go out of my way to make it hard for folks to replicate! E.g., choose gull wing parts over BGAs, through-hole over SMT, etc.

OTOOH, if doing so means I can't package things the way I want or can't purchase the components I want/need to use, then I'll err in *my* favor.

There's no free lunch.

Yes. There's nothing I can do about that. I don't plan on crippling my own design process just to look for the lowest hanging/free tools of which Joe Tinkerer might be able to avail himself. I notice damn near every FOSS project cares very little about which *software* tools they employ -- you are expected to adopt the same tools if you want to benefit from their labors ("Why is this written in Perl? Why is the build system so bizarre/novel? Why is the repository using RCS?"). I feel I can morally make the same sort of "selfish" decisions

Yup. But, someone wanting to *commercialize* it would have an incentive to tweek the design to fit their process. There's a lot less engineering involved in that then there is in creating the design from scratch.

FOSS projects are "Greek" (sorry for the choice of analogy :> ) to a hardware person -- because they haven't the skillset to understand the programming language used, etc.

For a software person, controlling a 3/4HP motor means buying some "gizmo" off the shelf (because they haven't the skillsets to design the circuitry and interface it to their "PC").

You (I) can't be all things to all people. Esp if your goal isn't to be all things to all people! :> Instead, you hope folks who are "sufficiently motivated" will "find a way" to benefit from your efforts/knowledge.

Reply to
Don Y

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