Making Electronics Is Risky

Reading time ~5 minutes

Just as the title says, it’s really a risk business. Granted that I have only been making (to sell) my own kits for a very short period of time, I have learned a lot in a short period of time. It all comes down to risk. The first kits I made were the “Soldering is Easy” flower badges that I made for Brighton Mini Maker Faire 2013. I saw the design of the badge from 2012 (as I was one of the helpers on the stand in 2012), and really thought it was a bit too plain and boring for kids. So having volunteered to run the stand this year, I decided to take it upon myself to make a new design, something that was still quick and simple to put together, but also something that resembled something. I was playing around with ideas for a couple of weeks before I finally settled on the flower badge design. So I fired up Eagle and slowly turned my idea into a circuit, and equally asking my friend Adam Brunette to check my design as I had never used Eagle before (normally I would use ExpressPCB).

Eventually, my design is finished and I was ready to place an order for both the components and the PCBs to be manufactured professionally, but the big questioned dawned on me… how many should I have made? Well this is where the whole idea of risk came into play, as I am no big business, so really I cannot afford to sink a lot of money into something and potentially get zero return, but again, I need to order a sizable number if I want to keep cost down, as the more you order the cheaper it is. I decided to do a bit of math, and said to myself that the year before, around 180 kits were sold through-out the entire day, so I should order at least that many. The components I needed for the kits were nothing special, there was no iC (microchips) or anything else that I could not use for any other project of mine, so ordering those in bulk is no problem at all. So it was just down to the circuit boards. Worst case scenario, I buy a load, nobody likes them and I am stuck with a load of boards that nobody likes, and am out of pocket. I decided to take a risk and buy 300, sell them at cost (making them a third of the price of the year before), and see what happens.

Well, on the day I had my kits and was setting up my stand with a horrible feeling of dread in my stomach, and constant worrying “what if nobody likes my design?”, “what if some of them are faulty?”, and a number of other “what if…“‘s. So as a number of people who know me, or were at that Maker Faire, they know that not only were my kits popular, but I managed to sell all 300 of them within the space of 4 hours, and had a number of people still wanting more!

So Christmas time has come by, and I decided to try running a Christmas workshop at Build Brighton where people would be able to build some electronic kits with a Christmas theme. I had an idea of a PCB I wanted to make the year before, which was a Christmas tree made from two boards interconnecting, however previously I was looking at etching them myself, along with painting them green (or at least covering them in something green). I never went through the idea in 2012, as it seemed like a lot of effort for something that might not turn out too well. However, this time around I had already gained experience in having PCBs manufactured professionally, so I would go with that option again. Once again, I came up with a design and checked with my friend Adam for confirmation that what I had would work. I also made some badges, but made them into snow men as to be more festive.

Once again, I came into the situation of “how many do I have made?”. Well again I tried to use some logic and thought that although I had sold out of all 300 in a single day at Maker Faire, that was Maker Faire and that it had a lot of good advertising and a lot of people attending. The Christmas faire I was planning to hold at Build Brighton would not be advertised half as well, so although it’s over 4 weeks, it would be unlikely to receive as many visitors. So I randomly said in my head that I would make 100 trees and 100 snow men. At first the sales were quite slow, but after a couple weeks, the few people that had bought them had shown them to their friends and co-workers, which resulted in an ensuing increase of sales. Not only did people just like the trees, but it seemed that everybody wanted one. They were fun to build, as there are two PCBs which slot together, and it’s relatively simple to put them together. One friend showed them to her office, and everybody wanted them as desk ornaments, or for weekend project’s for them to do with their kids. So I am coming up to my final workshop (4 of 4), and unfortunately only have 6 tree kits left, and I have sold more than half of my snow-men badges. I have made back my investment already, and every sale at the moment is profit.

I worried about not selling enough to make back my investment, but in fact have once again simply not made enough. With that said, as with any project, I have received some great feedback which I will use to improve the kits for next year.

So I suppose I will conclude that although it is risky to make your own electronics to try and sell as kits, if you put in enough effort for them to look good, regardless of how simple they are, people are going to buy them. The more complex your kit is, the smaller audience you’re able to attract. Simple blinking LEDs have won in both of my attempts at making kits to sell for an event with great success. I am now working on a number of other kit ideas, and will most likely again question how many to make. I have been successful twice, but perhaps that was just luck? Who knows, but I’ll just pan it out carefully and see how it goes!

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Published on March 22, 2017