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January 11, 2017 AT 3:50 pm

How it’s made: Adafruit AdaBox – our subscription service

We’ve been making a lot of noise about our quarterly subscription service AdaBox and we’ve been overjoyed with the response.  Seeing folks share their projects has been a really rewarding experience for our Adafruit team and gets us really excited to work on making upcoming boxes as excellent as possible.

We’ve also seen a lot of questions from customers about AdaBox and while we have an extensive FAQ, we wanted to post about why we set up AdaBox the way we did, what some of the challenges are with a subscription service, and what you can expect to see next.

Content

The very first thing we planned was what our first year of boxes might look like.  We knew we wanted to focus on the Adafruit Feather and that we wanted to make sure of was that the person who subscribes to box one would be able to take the knowledge they learned and apply it to future boxes.  We also knew that we’d have to plan enough boxes in the future to make it easy on ourselves to avoid any overlapping projects, parts, or lessons.

We also knew that each box had to be worth more than the sum of its parts.  For those keeping track, the retail value of AdaBox002 is around $90 – and that’s not counting packaging, soldering, or our collectible pins.

Design

Here are our early logo options from artist and Adafruit designer Bruce Yan:

Adafruit adabox logo 1

We wanted AdaBox to feel like a luxury product – but we didn’t want to go down the road of extremely expensive packaging that the customer ends up paying for.  Our goal was to keep our packaging cost low, the look elegant, and the design functional, fun, and smart so we could pack the box full of goodies.

Adabox top open sleeve blue ORIG ORIG 153

This method allowed us to use a standard size shipping box – that we order tens of thousands of – and add a sleeve.  Each AdaBox, for at least the first four boxes, could have the same sleeve – giving us a lower cost per unit since we could order more.  And we could change the look of each box with a content sheet underneath.

Add some gorgeous custom tissue paper with a hand-drawn design:

Adafruit tissue paper 600dpi rgb

And a collectible, limited edition enamel pin…

Feather Pin Card iso ORIG

…and we had our first subscription box!

A final note – all of our packaging for AdaBox is done by U.S. manufacturers – something that, being a U.S. manufacturer, we’re very proud of.

Logistics

The last and arguably hardest part of setting up a subscription service is figuring out how to execute in a way that keeps our customers informed and happy with the experience.  There are a few decisions we made early on:

– Limit initial subscribers – by doing this, we were able to iterate and improve with each box.  That’s not to say that subscribers to AdaBox001 didn’t get a great customer experience – rather that all the issues that users brought up (like on our forums) could be worked on and addressed before expanding the number of customers.

– Credit card only – Adafruit uses a third party credit card processor – which means that we don’t store credit cards.  Sticking to credit card only made sense since it was the easiest way to handle recurring billing.  We’re proud to say that our credit card fail rate is around 10% and we’re continually working to improve that number.

– To start, domestic subscriptions only – We’re planning on opening AdaBox to international customers soon (more on that below) but we wanted to get our initial launch as stable as possible before expanding what we offer.

From there, our support team built out our extensive FAQ to address all the things that we thought could possibly come up.  We are constantly expanding this FAQ – and it’s a great way to see what types of things you have to consider when running a subscription service.

What’s next for AdaBox?

We’re obviously not going to reveal what’s in AdaBox003 (that’d ruin all the fun) but we do have a few ‘sneak peeks’ of what we’re working on:

– International shipping – we’ll get there!  It’s a goal for our team to find a way to launch AdaBox internationally.  There’s no ETA – so please don’t ask – but we promise it will happen!

– Partnerships – One of the nice things about being privately owned with no venture capital is that we’re free to talk about or promote whoever we want to.  We plan to use future AdaBoxes to feature some of our friends in the maker community in addition to Adafruit products.  Hopefully, this will give our AdaBox subscribers more platforms to explore, more places to buy new stuff, and more projects to make.

– AdaBox in retail stores – you can already find AdaBox at Microcenter and we’re working on getting AdaBox into more retail stores.


We like to show our work here at Adafruit – from our Maker to Market series to our Manufacturing Monday posts.  We thought it’d be nice to share with everyone how AdaBox came into fruition and why we made the decisions we did and what we’re planning next.  And as always, visit adafruit.com/adabox to subscribe!


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