We are in the Golden Age of development. Never before has it been possible for individuals to design complex electronic systems with as much ease, simplicity, AND functionality. Someone with a hobby in electronics used to stick to simple projects like turning on LEDs or making a radio hum to life. Now nearly anyone can build sensor-based hardware that can be controlled through a phone app and submit data to the cloud for remote analysis and decision-making.
Maker is the term that arose to describe serious hobbyists. Today, that term isn’t enough. Now there are Pro Makers who are taking their love of design and starting businesses—in their parents’ garages if they have to.
Pro Makers differ from Makers in that they are actually looking to make a product that can eventually be manufactured. For example, a Maker might program an Arduino to create a light up jacket to wear at BurningMan. A Pro Maker figures out how to make a light jacket for other people to wear at BurningMan. The rules for design are a bit different. A Maker just has to get one prototype to work. A Pro Maker has to figure out how to design the prototype for manufacturability.
Another mark of a Pro Maker is that they tend to have access to equipment. Often, this equipment is at their place of work and available for use off hours. But as you’ll see below, there are many ways to gain access to equipment.
So what’s the secret for going from Maker to Pro Maker?
Some people think having a good idea is the first step to becoming a Pro Maker. This is not the case. The one thing you need is a passion, something that excites you enough to work hundreds of hours without getting paid. As a Pro Maker, the goal is to eventually get paid for doing what you love. But you need a product before that can happen, and making a product that will be viable in the market takes time.
Some people think you need funding so you can invest in equipment, tooling, manufacturing, and inventory. In this Golden Age of development, this is no longer as true. Today you can buy serious tools like laser cutters and 3D printers for hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending upon what you’re looking for. If that price tag is too high, you can sign up with a local maker space like HackerLab. For a monthly fee, you can gain access to an incredible shop’s worth of tools. If that’s still too much for your budget, you can sign up for a class and access a machine long enough to complete all or part of a project. Nothing available in your area? Then use online services like Ponoko, or Shapeways.
Some people think you need to sell your idea to a big company to bring it to market. These people must not know about Kickstarter or its many counterparts. Community-based funding lets you test out a market to see if there’s enough demand to justify moving forward.
Of course, every business venture eventually boils down to delivering a product. At some point you’ve got to make a hundred, a thousand, or maybe ten thousand of something. Some people say garages just aren’t big enough for that. Or that you won’t have the time to solder all of those boards. Not true. Today, you just need enough space to build your prototype and test it.
Start by buying off-the-shelf boards to prototype your ideas in just hours or days. Then, when the time comes to manufacture your idea, you have options. Gumstix, for example, enables you to take a Raspberry Pi-based or Arduino-based design and produce it in volume at a cost even a Pro Maker can afford.
Perhaps the most important part of being a Pro Maker is realizing that you don’t have to do it alone. There’s a ton of support for Pro Makers, starting with what is the central hub for many— Makers.com—and extending to communities like Maker.pro. Makers solve problems, but they also help each other solve problems. You can share your expertise—and your journey—with other Makers in online forums. Help someone fix a nasty bug and get help solving one of your challenges. Makers have each others’ backs.
So there’s the path from Maker to Pro Maker: Find your passion, design it, sell it, then manufacture it. Sure, there’ll be bumps along the way and even major roadblocks. But just remember: You’ll be doing what you love.
Take a look at some Gumstix customer success stories or contact us today to learn more about our products, design tools, and services. Or try out Geppetto for yourself.