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December 24, 2014 AT 6:30 pm

Update: Heathkit’s president called and emailed Adafruit @adafruit … @heathkit #heathkit

Heathkit-1
Update – Ladyada & pt chatted with the person claiming to be the Heathkit’s President on the phone & emailed, here is a summary from the Heathkit we are posting with their permission verbatim. This is a follow up from our article “Heathkit – The electronics history mystery

A respected, trusted Silicon Valley colleague who knows the Adafruit and Heathkit management teams reached out and offered to put Adafruit in touch with Heathkit this week. Adafruit followed up, requesting a conversation with Heathkit and promising to respect the privacy of the Heathkit team and business. Heathkit’s President replied at 4am at the end of a long work day, and agreed to a call later in the day. The call took place that evening, and Adafruit’s founders interviewed two people from Heathkit including their President for over an hour.

Adafruit asked where Heathkit is located. Heathkit has operations in several places on the East Coast and product development on the West Coast including in Silicon Valley. Adafruit asked to pre-announce Heathkit’s in-development products and publish Heathkit team member identities this week, but Heathkit declined to have their confidential product or team information published by another company. Adafruit said it is “very weird” for Heathkit not to want publicity for its individual team members. Heathkit explained that the Heathkit team has been flat out this year designing, building, and testing products and wants to stay focused on that process, and right now the team does not seek personal publicity—Heathkit prefers instead to “underpromise and overdeliver,” and to let its products do its talking as they are released in the market.

Adafruit expressed that Heathkit is following an old-school “1980s” product development model, while today the norm is crowdfunding and open-source hardware and constant customer input and short product cycles and large product lines—for example, Adafruit interacts regularly with its customers and offers 2,500 products. Heathkit said its product designs are different from those of other consumer DIY electronics companies—Heathkits typically are more complex and more like finished appliances (for example, historically Heathkit made kits for test equipment, TVs, radios, and even electronic organs)—and while less expensive or less complex products can be designed and fielded in weeks, the design and development of a complex Heathkit-type product can take a year and requires a different kind of market understanding. Adafruit said it has found customers “do not want complex products with 300 components.” Heathkit reports its own customers have said in large numbers they are ready for larger more complex products in the Heathkit style.

Adafruit asked again what specific products Heathkit privately has in development. Heathkit declined to have Adafruit pre-announce Heathkit’s products for reasons they already have provided, but gave Adafruit some new information not previously known to the public. One line of coming Heathkit products will revive the historic “Heathkit Junior” educational kit series that lets even young children and beginners assemble and produce a finished useful Heathkit product. Several more Heathkit products, including some in beta test now, are for the amateur radio market. Adafruit expressed the views that amateur radio is dying and that hams won’t buy products. But Heathkit said they believe otherwise—that there are 3/4 of a million licensed amateurs in the US alone, hams have been consistently loyal Heathkit customers who continue to respect the Heathkit name and often have the skill to make more complex kits, and Heathkit will serve this market and release products for radio amateurs.

We learned during the call that the introduction of the companies’ management teams happened just two days after Heathkit’s management team were in NYC. Adafruit invited Heathkit to stop by and visit next time they’re in town.

Thank you Heathkit for the phone call and follow up email, we very much appreciate it – Ladyada & the Adafruit team! Update: Folks, please keep in mind we promised not to disclose anything we discussed with Heathkit (please do not ask or assume anything, we are only posting exactly what they emailed us after the phone call).


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23 Comments

  1. I like most of Heathkit’s answers. The open source and Kickstarter models have been done to death. Adafruit is a great site, but I don’t want Heathkit to be another Adafruit.

    I like the idea of Heathkits being more complex than the typical kit we have around today. Remember: Heathkit sold kits for large screen TV sets; they sold kits for PCs; they always included quality enclosures for the finished kit. Those are things we don’t see today and they’re a level of complexity that isn’t created overnight – even with modern techniques.

    So I can understand that developing new Heathkits takes time, and I’m 100% OK with them not being open source (though if the kits include firmware, I’d like there to be ways to modify it).

    I don’t like their extreme secrecy. It’s OK if they don’t want to pre-announce, but more status reports would be nice and a few people’s names would be nice.

    If you Heathkit guys are reading this, let me point out that EVERYONE assumed you were dead when months passed after your Ask Me Anything and there was no peep from you. If you want to focus on development, that’s great. If you want to remain anonymous, that’s annoying but acceptable. But to be SO QUIET as to give the impression that you’ve ceased to exist is a bad, bad, bad idea. Lots of people, including me, signed up for your e-mail list. You should send something out on that list every 3 to 6 months, just to let us know you’re still around.

  2. I would strongly disagree with the belief that ham radio is dead. I’m a ham myself. The technology has certainly changed, and hams are doing more advanced work.

  3. Amateur radio is far from dying. Unfortunately, Adafruit seems to suffer from not being able to research and just offer an opinion. Amateur radio actually has the largest amount of licensed hams in the US in its history and has had strong interest in the “maker” crowd (although hams are the original “makers”).

    I’m willing to wait for Heathkit to complete their R&D before releasing their initial products. Unlike “makers”, many ham radio operators enjoy building large kits, such as radios. There seems to be a disconnect concerning “makers”. Not everyone wants a quick ‘n easy project. There are things to be said about taking your time to build a complex project that will last 30-40 years.

  4. Hi folks, since we promised we would not disclose many things discussed with the President of Heathkit we can say that we have a thriving amateur radio customer base and we’re very much looking forward to how, what and when they will serve this market and release products for radio amateurs.

  5. Interesting info, but if I were Heathkit I’d be sorry I took the time to speak with you. This reads like you spent the interview alternating between “can we have first scoop” and “you should listen to us because you guys are old fashioned and doing it all wrong”.

  6. I am also a ham radio operator and a fan of HeathKit, I have built many of there kits but never any amateur stuff since I was not licensed then. The most expensive kit I built was the AR-1515 and it took me about 3 weeks to build it and I enjoyed every second of it. Now that I am a ham I would buy and build the new gear, heck even if they did a hybrid HF rig would be awesome.

  7. @brian – we agreed not to disclose what person who claimed to be the president of heathkit said or who he/they were, that was probably not a good idea for us if we wanted a “scoop”.

    we are not interested in a “scoop” – we sell electronics, we’re not a news site (yet!) and we do not believe old-fashion doing ways of business is -all- wrong (adafruit does not have loans, VC and has not crowd funded). adafruit is usually told by MOST people we are too old-fashion 🙂

    regarding the volume growth of ham radio licenses, you can review this article:
    http://www.arrl.org/news/amateur-radio-showing-steady-growth-in-the-us

    “The volume of Amateur Radio applications slowed somewhat to 141,943 from its zenith of 176,826 in 2007, the year the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement.”

    you can also email ARRL and ask for the demographics (age, race, gender, demographics and ask them what is or is not increasing/decreasing).

    we hope it’s clear our desire was to shed some light on this ongoing mystery, we’re huge heathkit fans! we tried to find out who owns heathkit, what are their plans, are they going to promote “openness” like the previous heathkit(s)…? we do not have any thing more we can post other than what heathkit was willing to allow us to post verbatim and what they’ve posted on their site, or the 1 year old AMA or their facebook page.

    from their FAQ:
    http://heathkit.com/heathkit-faq.html

    ==================================
    Q. Who owns Heathkit’s intellectual property?
    A. Heath Company owns all Heathkit® intellectual property – all trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. (This includes, for example, all current and historical Heathkit product designs, patents, manual copyrights, schematics, lines of business, contract rights, customer lists, relationships, marketing plans, photos, videos, trade dresses, catalog rights, textbook copyrights, logos, publication designs….) 100% of it. Under U.S. and international copyright and other applicable IP law, this also means we own the rights over derivative works (roughly: if someone copies our intellectual property, we own rights over their work too). Of course, this is great news for Heathkit fans and customers. You want all the Heathkit® IP in one place under one roof. It means Heathkit can keep being Heathkit.
    ==================================

    however, please review the following- these folks are selling “heathkits”:
    http://www.d8apro.com/NewKits.html

    and the heathkit manuals:
    http://sc2.vom.com/d8/index.fwx?C=MANUALS

    this person posted the agreement of who owns some/all/maybe of the Heathkit® intellectual property :
    http://www.pestingers.net/PDFs/Agreement.pdf

    and it appears the Heathkit® intellectual property can be downloaded here too…
    http://www.pestingers.net/PDFs/

    we signed up for the heathkit email “insider email” like many of you, we tried to find out why it’s been 1 year without a single update, please read all the posts. we talked about this on our weekly show too:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLC09jtmXXs&list=UUpOlOeQjj7EsVnDh3zuCgsA#t=867

    to be clear the person(s) claiming to own heathkit have not and will not reveal who they are and the person who won the prize from them 1 year ago never got their prize promised.

    all that being said, we’re very much looking forward to how, what and when they will serve the ham radio market and release products for radio amateurs.

    thanks,
    adafruit (pt)

  8. As others have said you are not correct on Amateur Radio dying…Yes, growth might be slowing but that is natural and goes in cycles. Hopefully Heathkit is working on a kit version of some of the digital mode radios. For sure today it isn’t about soldering resistors/capacitors and tube sockets but they can still provide an economical solution for DStar and other modes. Maybe even a DStar module that plugs into existing analog radios to digitally enable them in the way that frequency synthesizers so many years ago replaced crystals. There is a place for Heathkit when they are ready to come out of stealth mode. Is Stealth sooo unusual in today’s world of startups? I don’t think so…. Just think of Heathkit as a “re-” startup. There are a lot of hams that buy from Adafruit and build radio related items (particularly with the PI and related boards)

  9. I’ve never tried HAM radio, but I’ve built a lot of Adafruit and other companies’ kits over the past three years. I would love a kit with 300 parts! Or even one that took more than an hour to build.

    I think Adafruit used to sell an analog synth kit with hundreds of parts that was built over a number of days or weeks? I think it was discontinued long before I discovered the site. The short, easy PTH kits are fun and rewarding when starting out, and some of them like the USBtinyISP, MintyBoost, and TV-B-Gone are elegant and super useful despite the quick builds. But I would love to also see some harder and more complicated kits for sale. I’d happily pay more for more hours of building, whether SMT or just more parts to build a bigger appliance.

  10. @adafruit (pt) – Appreciate the response and I’ll assume the tone of the conversation was much more positive than the impression conveyed by the summary where you asked to pre-announce for them then told them their behavior was "very weird", that their product development was from the "1980’s", that customers don’t want the "complex products" they are developing, and that one of their target demographics are "is dying" and "won’t buy products".
    Thank you also for pointing out that the other posters are wrong by referencing an article that says they are exactly right and you mistook applications for licensees. From the two sentances before the one you quoted:
    "The Amateur Radio population in the US has continued to show steady growth. As of the end of 2013, the FCC database showed 717,201 licenses in its Universal Licensing System (ULS). That’s the greatest number of US hams ever and up from 709,575 in December 2012."

  11. “Adafruit expressed the views that amateur radio is dying and that hams won’t buy products. ” Really I have dropped over 3 grand on Ham radio gear this year, but not one red cent at Adafruit.

  12. Shame on you Adafruit. What a terrible attitude. Ham radio is far from dead! Have you looked at what Yeasu is selling? Have you checked out a Ham Radio Outlet lately? Lots of ham operators buy lots of stuff from Adafruit too. If you prefer, we can take our business elsewhere.

  13. hi @jon (and others) – since we promised we would not disclose any things discussed with the the person claiming to be the president of heathkit we can say that we have a thriving amateur radio customer base and we’re very much looking forward to how, what and when they (heathkit) will serve that specific market and release products for radio amateurs.

    we are only posting exactly what they emailed us after the phone call.

    ladyada and i (pt) will be hanging out with one of the most famous hams this weekend, diana! pt was going to the ohio hamvention until it overlapped with maker faire.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=dianna+eng+ham+radio

    “Diana holds an Amateur Radio licence with the call-sign KC2UHB and has made instructional ham-radio videos. In March 2010, she joined the ARRL Public Relations committee.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_Eng

    maybe we can chat 🙂

  14. Ken Scharf (WA2MZE)

    I think that Amateur Radio has lost some of the appeal that it once had as a communication medium thanks to the internet, but it is still very much a technical haven for electronic experimenters. I wish that there were some basic software defined radio / DSP enabled transceiver kits available at a decent price. The K2 is somewhat long in the tooth these days (but still selling). I started to build a Pick-A-Star, but this design is also dated with the key DSP parts no only available from chip vendors in China (some of questionable parentage!). If only the design were updated to use current AD parts (Hey AD, release your development software under GNU!) If Heath addresses this issue I will try and become a customer!

    I also hope Heathkit comes out with a Reprap style 3D printer. Other hopes: Surround sound processor for home theatre, smartphone kit, ipad and ipod like devices, laptop computer. (I’d simply enjoy BUILDING this kind of stuff!)

    The Heathkit of old offered the opportunity to build your own version of products with a higher quality than the store bought kind (at a price that was still in line with the value obtained). In the day of cloned crap made in China I don’t know how well they will succeed in this market, but there IS a demand for DIY products stretching from the subline to the huge.

    The Heathkit of old died out for various reasons. While the death of the kit builder was often sited as the reason, the fact is that after several mergers and corporate takeovers, plus years internal infighting and miss-management the company shrunk to a tiny size of its former self dependent on a single market for its survival. (I’ve spoken to several former Heathkit employees and was told how bad the place had become to work for, and that was still toward the end of their ‘glory’ days!) When that market dried up the company folded. They tried a swansong return to their former glory, but their funding dried up and the wolves were at the door before they even had a chance.

  15. Personally, I don’t need an Open Source JavaScript Microcontroller or have a need to cast a lightsaber or a 4-port USB 2 hub on my head. I also completely disagree with the assertion that only HAMs know how to build complex finished-out-to-the-cabinet electronic equipment. Although I have been an avid SWL for years and own nearly all of Heathkits SWL and HAM receivers, I also have built, own and regularly still use Heathkits products that were made for the home, the audiophile, the TV enthusiast (take a look at the Heathkit GR-2000 televison system, at the time, the standard of the industry for features, picture and audio quality and serviceability) and fans of innovative clocks, radios and other electronic gear (a slotless race car track? a kit microwave oven? a kit trash compactor? a huge early generation satellite TV receiver and dish? YES, they designed and made them ALL. I am not saying these are the same items they should design and offer today. But the thing about these kits that insured their longevity (does anyone care about this in our wasteful society?), quality, and customer satisfaction was THE MANUAL. Nothing on the commercial consumer market can compare to the clarity and illustration quality of a Heathkit manual. These kits also helped teach folks about how their kit worked (does anyone care about that today?), and how to troubleshoot a problem and one thing that I bet the "new" Heathkit will not be able to do is say: WE WILL NOT LET YOU FAIL! Heath Co. was a HUGE company in a HUGE building in Benton Harbor, MI which I have toured and was amazed at every turn. You could botch a kit and send it back and they would repair it, often for free, and send it back!! I never needed this service but it was there. I have been involved with building and collecting Heathkits since I was 13 and am now 58. I have built hundreds of their products for myself, family, friends, and on-spec for companies. It will be interesting to see who is really involved with this rebirth effort, but I can tell you one thing, a small group of people, even is they have the smarts, enthusiasm and drive have some very, very large shoes to fill and if they don’t they will tarnish one of the greatest American companies that has ever existed.

  16. If Heathkit is smart they keep in touch with their fan base at least once a quarter, not once a year. Personally, I feel like I have had my chain jerked once-too-often, and am just writing them off until I see product under the Heathkit brand actually being sold. I would like to see them really deliver, but I’m not putting any stock in promises from people who won’t identify themselves.

  17. I’m really surprised at the tone of the conversation. A lot of people look up to Limor Fried, myself included, and it’s odd how argumentative the Adafruit side was. Heathkit didn’t have to talk to Adafruit at all, and now they are probably in “what were we thinking” mode.

    Certainly the comments about Amateur Radio were off base. How much time did Adafruit spend really looking into what is happening in the amateur service? Geez, hams are launching so many satellites I’ve lost count, just to consider one area.

    Just speaking for myself, my Adafruit purchases went into radio projects with the Raspberry Pi. They’re not a physical part of my ham station, but my ham friends are helping me with the work and I demonstrated it at the local ham club, and introduced people to Adafruit.

    Adafruit is a very successful electronics company and Heathkit is just getting re-started. It may be running on fumes for all we know. But it’s unseemly to lecture this startup as to how they ought to do business and why people won’t want their products.

    For their part — and showing that they have class — on their Facebook page Heathkit called this “a fun conversation.”

  18. @buzz (pt) here, since we agreed not to disclose what was discussed or who we discussed it with, all we can do is what we promised – and we posted exactly their words on our site, un-edited that were willing to send us.

    if you look at all the customer projects, videos and more at adafruit you’ll see a lot of adafruit products used in amateur radio.

    we’re interested in all sorts of radio-type projects/products – we will always likely take a different approach than others – for example, we stock this – Software Defined Radio Receiver USB Stick – RTL2832 w/R820T
    https://www.adafruit.com/product/1497

    we’re very much looking forward to how, what and when the folks who talked to us claiming to own heathkit will serve the ham radio market and release new products for radio amateurs.

  19. Adafruit please merge the articles. Hard to keep up on the comments.

    I am getting increasingly annoyed and suspicious that Heathkit is another case of vaporware. The FAQ f you can call it that and their avoidance of answering simple questions makes me think they are more interested in suing than shipping products.

    http://heathkit.com/heathkit-faq.html

    Q. Who owns Heathkit’s intellectual property?
    A. Heath Company owns all Heathkit® intellectual property – all trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. (This includes, for example, all current and historical Heathkit product designs, patents, manual copyrights, schematics, lines of business, contract rights, customer lists, relationships, marketing plans, photos, videos, trade dresses, catalog rights, textbook copyrights, logos, publication designs….) 100% of it. Under U.S. and international copyright and other applicable IP law, this also means we own the rights over derivative works (roughly: if someone copies our intellectual property, we own rights over their work too). Of course, this is great news for Heathkit fans and customers. You want all the Heathkit® IP in one place under one roof. It means Heathkit can keep being Heathkit.

    Q. I read on the Internet that someone else owns the copyrights to Heathkit® manuals.
    A. No, not correct. (At least Wikipedia got this right.) Heathkit has in the past given a contractual license to certain specific parties granting a limited right to reprint and sell paper copies of specific obsolete Heathkit manuals, to better serve valued Heathkit customers on those special occasions when you spill coffee on your original kit manual. Such reprinting agreements are designed to outsource Heathkit’s reprinting operations to smaller companies who can provide replacement manuals cost-effectively but do not convey Heathkit’s intellectual property, only a big stack of old files together with permission to reprint authorized paper photocopies. All Heathkit® copyrights remain with Heathkit.

    Q. So Heath Company owns all Heathkit® copyrights?
    A. Yes. All Heathkit® copyrights, and all Heathkit intellectual property, are property of Heath Company.

  20. The whole Interview question session sounds like it is made up. A company that is serious about its product/services does not act in such way as this “Heathkit” company is acting with riddles for information. Development on the west coast as well as the east coast…. Who is footing the bill for the paychecks???? No one will work for free. Also on the Heathkit Facebook page several posts were deleted and names vanished. Why would a sincere company delete posts and banish people??? Does not add up. There is no reason why BOD names cannot be disclosed if there is a BOD of this company.

  21. I agree with John B on this one. Something is fishy with this whole “Heathkit” situation. I’m calling BULLS**T on this whole thing. The so-called new Heathkit has been talking now for a year and a half, and nothing other than talk has come out of them. The so called president of the company won’t even allow him or herself to be identified? What the heck is that? “@brian – we agreed not to disclose what person who claimed to be the president of heathkit said or who he/they were” . This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  22. The biggest thing I got out of this is, I do not like Adafruit. I have never been a customer, but I was thinking I might with this Heathkit thing. However, although I didn’t care about the tone of the interview or the dismissal of hams (I personally dismiss them myself, being an old DIY that was embarrassed and humiliated by a group of “open minded” hams, and it seems they continue with their arrogance here as well,) I did think that the sycophantic replies about how they screwed the pooch have turned me off forever. Don’t worry I am not trying to start a war here, I came here to find out about Heathkit after all, not Adafruit.
    For some of us, “happy happy happy joy joy joy” is a sickness that should be weeded out. I keep expecting next, some suck up article on how great hams are. How about owning your mistakes? I would have been impressed by Adafruit stepping up to the plate and saying “Hey, we just want them to succeed, and those are our standards, which have been very successful! We are sorry if the tone of the interview is distressful.” Instead, every reply is a corporate pitch to make sure no one is offended.

    And screw heathkit too.

  23. @glen, to be clear we very much want someone to succeed with any heathkit relaunch. you can see our previous posts and/or see phil’s past posts on makezine.com – it’s pretty clear we really want to see something happen with heathkit.

    it’s been one year since they announced they were coming back with zero updates and we followed up after finding it almost impossible to know who owns what.

    we agreed not reveal who they say they are and only to post exactly what the person(s) claiming to own heathkit sent us.

    we have a thriving amateur radio customer base, here’s a recent email…
    http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2015/01/01/from-the-mail-bag-home-brew-amateur-radio-equipment-edition/

    please keep the tone a little more positive here if you plan to post again, thanks!

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