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).