In partnership with Entrepreneur Magazine, OPEN Forum takes you inside the minds and companies of some of today’s most innovative business owners. Hear Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit, talk about how she uses open-source hardware to collaborate with customers on designs that lead to useful electronic products.
My name is Limor Fried and I’m the founder of Adafruit Industries. Adafruit’s a company that sells electronic kits and learning tutorials and basically all the things you’d need to do engineering projects that I design. I was motivated to start Adafruit because I love doing electronics and I really wanted to share that excitement of doing engineering and building stuff because I think everyone has a creative side and they want to build and construct and not just consume. The most popular project we have right now is called the Mintyboost and it’s basically an iPod or iPhone charger. And you use two double “As” and you put it in this tin — a mint tin, that’s why it’s called the Mintyboost — and then you can charge up your iPhone or iPod and it’s really popular with all sorts of people because they actually will use it every day.
I get a lot of ideas from my customers. So one of the great things about open-source hardware — where I give all this information away — is that I also get a lot of information back from customers. So people will look at my designs and give me some new ideas…um…stuff that they want to see, and I’ll take those ideas and work them into new products. We did something really weird and counterintuitive, which is that we give away all this information about how to build every one of our projects. And because I’m not secretive about “Well, I don’t wanna give anything away.” I get feedback immediately and people will point me at other people’s projects that I wouldn’t have necessarily seen and say hey y’know what you’re doing is really cool, but check out this, and this, and this. And so we get this big feedback loop and it’s very fast – it’s on the order of months instead of, y’know, years of R& D. People look at what we do and they say…y’know…I’m just going to make these modifications that maybe you’re not interested in, and I’m going to start my own company. So we have, y’know, this tree that grows out of Adafruit.
One thing that’s really important is to have the cause and the reason for what you’re doing. So…y’know…I’m not running Adafruit just because I like running a company. I run it because it provides me the ability to teach people about engineering and science, which is what I want to do.
I think that innovation isn’t something that is just born in R&D labs. There’s people who aren’t engineers and aren’t scientists that come up with fantastic ideas. So I’ve definitely benefited from including everybody into the research-and-development cycle of Adafruit. I take advice from anybody, I don’t just rely on Ph.D.s to give me ideas and so…I think that makes what we do really creative and fun and also really relevant to our customers.
We are angry, frustrated, and in pain because of the violence and murder of Black people by the police because of racism. We are in the fight AGAINST RACISM. George Floyd was murdered, his life stolen. The Adafruit teams have specific actions we’ve done, are doing, and will do together as a company and culture. We are asking the Adafruit community to get involved and share what you are doing. The Adafruit teams will not settle for a hash tag, a Tweet, or an icon change. We will work on real change, and that requires real action and real work together. That is what we will do each day, each month, each year – we will hold ourselves accountable and publish our collective efforts, partnerships, activism, donations, openly and publicly. Our blog and social media platforms will be utilized in actionable ways. Join us and the anti-racist efforts working to end police brutality, reform the criminal justice system, and dismantle the many other forms of systemic racism at work in this country, read more @ adafruit.com/blacklivesmatter
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.