Since we placed an order for the GlowForge laser cutter (more on this in another post), we got a pre-released copy of the Dan Shapiro’s upcoming book on Startups and Entrepreneurship “Hot Seat The Startup CEO Guidebook” Dan is the CEO of Glowforge and has a string of successful startups behind him such as Ontela (now Photobucket), Sparkbuy which he sold to Google, and Robot Turtles which is a board game designed to teach children as young as 4 years old about programming and logical thinking which he did as a kickstarter and which is now available in Target stores.
“Hot Seat” is basically a cheatsheet on startups broken into 5 parts. Founding, Funding, Leadership, Management, and Endgame. Dan explains his history and cites specific people and examples of practices that will help you navigate the dark waters of a startup. The first section of the book is all about Founding. There are some great tips here I wish I used in my previous business ventures. Founding is a dirty and scary thing for every startup. You want to think about contingencies from the start. Dan recommends to do this before you even incorporate.
In the first section of the book, Dan gives advice on everything from who should be a cofounder to even providing a template for a decision matrix on what projects your startup should focus on. He also gives great examples of how shares might be calculated for different types of cofounders, answering the question of “How much is each cofounder really worth?”. These kinds of things are what make this book awesome. Dan also freely gives advice that I’m sure he learned the hard way. Some of this advice is common sense, but there are plenty of gems you’d only learn from a good mentor.
Each section has several chapters in it. Again, the information comes straight from Dan’s personal experience. For the Funding section, there are slides directly from the pitch deck of some of Dan’s successful ventures. He breaks down what to put on each slide, and how to best present it. Arguably, this could be considered style more than anything else, but with a record such as his, and the fact that he now is an investor in other startups I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s more than just style. There ae several other chapters in the funding section that explain the differences between different types of investors and what each of their motivations are, which is what you need to keep in mind if you are pitching ideas to them.
In the Leadership section, he discusses the different duties of a CEO, and how to cultivate a good company culture. I think anyone applying for a new job or even considering changing jobs would find this section interesting because you can tell a lot about how day-to-day interactions reflect the culture. The CEO is the taproot of the company’s culture and is the archetype all the other management will follow. It says a lot about a company if everyone is constantly gossiping…
While I’m not a CEO right now, I am in a newer management position at my full-time gig. I found the management section of this book very helpful. I’ve memorized some of it as one-liners that I can repeat to myself to help me learn this new set of skills. My favorite and most obviously useful advice in this section was on “playing the CEO ‘Inspire’ card”. This section also gives great general tips on hiring, whether you should buy or lease furniture, how to deal with a board of directors.
The final part of this book discusses the Endgame. What are the different types of acquisitions? Who do you negotiate with? It stresses how important it is to have done things correctly and thoroughly from the beginning of the startup. Technically, the entire goal of any startup is to either be bought or to reach critical mass and go “Google” on the market and end up buying other startups. Either way it is important to know what to expect. Dan gives the example from his previous company Sparkbuy’s acquisition by Google and breaks down the different parties involved and somewhat what to expect in negotiations.
Overall, I really enjoyed Dan’s book. It gave more gritty details than any of the other books on buiness and startups I’ve read. The devil is in the details and while this book stops short of giving you legal advice, you get insights on how things are supposed to work. Personally, it reaffirmed my intuitions on getting a business started correctly and having contracts in place for the “big day”; be it an exit, acquisition, or other huge event for you or the company. The book will be available in paperback May 2015 and
So for the last 7 years or so, Jess and I have considered purchasing a laser cutter. My personal goal is to have my own FabLab. I’m partially there with Jess’s KNK Zing vinyl cutter and my Shapeoko/Xcarve CNC machine. The two main missing components are a 3D printer and a laser cutter. Being a FabAcademy alum and running a FabLab at work, I am intimately aware that lasers are the most used (and arguably useful) machine. They are definitely the most fun to play with. They are also the easiest to make money with (It’s always easiest for me to justify big purchases with the expression “hobbies that pay”). For the past several decades, laser cutters or laser engravers have been used in trophy shops and all sorts of companies. You can use a laser cutter to make products to sell on Etsy (as many people do), make the most amazing personalized birthday and holiday gifts, prototypes of ideas you have, or just make cool stuff for yourself.
I recently saw a new laser cutter on the market and I held back for a while before making the decision to buy it. That may have been a mistake. The GlowForge is shaping up to be a great machine. I’ve followed it since September, when they were offering 50% discounts on all models. At the time of this article, they have raised the price to 40% off retail price. And, if you use this referral code, both you and I will get $100 off our orders! (In full discretion, I have had no contact with Glowforge, nor have I actually use the machine myself yet. I’m just really stoked with this machine and its potential. I do have a PhD in Computer/Electrical engineering with Computer Science background and I run an official node of the FabLab network that was started at MIT, so hopefully I’m not off base here… )
There are lots of cheap ( <$15k ) 40-watt laser cutters on the market such as some cheap Chinese ones from Alibaba, or Full Spectrum. So why go in on a Glowforge? Well quite simply, it is the best designed laser cutter for FabLab/Makerspace/Hackerspace use. Unlike others in the price range, you don’t need a 5 gallon bucket of distilled water and a fish pump to cool the laser tube (yes that’s a real thing some other models at these prices require and it is ridiculous). It breaks the paradigm of how users interact with a laser cutter. It is following some of the latest research on user interface and user experience in the field of computer science. Honestly, those are project I wish I could implement myself but didn’t have the time. It brings together lots of great solutions from these projects and crams it all into a single package.
Paradigm shift #1: Unlike traditional laser cutters, where you print to the machine like a printer on a network or connected to your computer, Glowforge can be printed from practically any location in the world. This is because the software is cloud-based. I used to be wary of this kinds of thing, but since Glowforge also promises to make a version of the software open source, you can implement it yourself if you want.
Paradigm shift #2: Glowforge allows you to easily position your designs on your material using a live camera view of the material. This is a godsend for those who are familiar with the waste of laser cutters. To be able to make sure a design will fit on a scrap piece of material, you have to do some measurements, hold your tongue just write when pushing the cut button, and hope you remembered to reset the origin (0,0 point) on the laser before cutting. Sometimes this can be very hard depending on what was originally cut out of the scrap you are using, you might have a weird shaped area and it can be very hard to find out if you can use it to cut a new part. There are some ideas being researched to handle this kind of situation and other tools you can purchase that are very expensive, but Glowforge has it built in. Being able to literally move my design on top of a video camera image of the material allows me to use as much material as possible without the risk of mis-cutting and having to toss that piece of material and grab a new one.
Another great feature is to simply draw on the material you want with a pen. The cameras will read your design, vectorize it, then the laser will frickin’ cut it exactly as you’ve drawn it. This is worthy of some type of award because it will save a lot of time for people. I constantly have students who would benefit from simply being able to draw their designs by hand and quickly cut a part out. Again, this feature somewhat comes from newer research into user interface design of laser cutters I’ve been keeping my eye on for some time now.
Paradigm shift 3: Glowforge uses dual cameras inside the cabinet to not only allow you to place your design on the material, but it can conform and auto focus even on non-level materials. The example on their web video mentions etching a design on a macbook, but this is sooo much more powerful and useful than just that. Many materials you want to laser, such as a 1/8″ piece of plywood, have a warp to them. If you focus your laser on the low part of the warp, then keep that measurement to cut the whole part, you can end up with edges that aren’t exactly as you had designed them, or edges that are weak due to the wood not ablating and instead burning. This is bad for a couple of reasons. One it can start small fires, but more commonly your edge is brittle and ashy. This changes the workable dimensions of your parts and sometimes makes them unusable.
Also, the cameras can detect materials you put in the machine. There are barcodes on the materials you buy from Glowforge, but you can make them yourself, which tell the machine what settings to use for engraving or cutting the material. Settings are different for plastics versus wood, etc. Even different densities of wood matter, so this is a great solution to the problem of figuring out what power and speed settings to set the laser to use.
And finally on this point, it seems there’s also some image recognition. Put your laptop in there and you it’ll detect it’s a macbook and know what settings to use to best etch it. It can even bring up possible designed others have submitted online for you to use if you want.
Paradigm shift 4: The firmware as well as a simplified version of the cloud software will be made open source. This is great because I can hack on it (as I would have done anyway, but at least now I have a much better starting point) . I’m certain a community of hackers/makers will be adding features, which is exciting since this machine is already starting with an impressive set of features.
Paradigm shift 4: On the Pro version of the machine, you can open the front and back to be able to cut material that is 20″wide, but infinitely long. This comes from two places, the vinyl cutting machines that are in the market (which can cut a certain width, but practically an infinite length of material from a spool), the Shaper and the awesome Shopbot Handibot (Shoutout to our friends and fellow Carolinian’s; thanks again for the help this past summer in Pittsburgh Salley!), which can do large designs piece-wise. The cameras on the Glowforge can help align the previously lasered portion with your design and make adjustments as needed. This is incredibly helpful for making sure the finished product comes out correctly.
Glowforge will also host a libray of other peoples’ designs you can choose from if you aren’t the artistic type. This is similar to Makerbot’s Thingiverse or Ultimaker’s YouMagine for 3D parts and Inventables’s project section for CNC projects and file, which can be imported into Easel (Inventables’s cloud-based CNC CAD/CAM software for their line of Shapeoko, Carvey, or X-carve machines).
Words of Negativity: For the specs of the machine, the 20″ wide cutting area is slightly awkward and a 24″ width seems more practical. Also, since the Glowforge isn’t out yet, I have to wait. I have to wait to see if it lives up to these expectations, and also wait to play with it myself.
All that being said, the Glowforge sale at this point is a presale. I won’t receive my machine until summer 2016 or later, but you have until the time it ships to cancel your order and get a full refund. I expect any bugs in the system will be worked out before I get mine and if not, then I’ll have a good excuse to play with it in more depth.
Disclaimer: The only affiliate link in this post is for the Glowforge. All other links supplied in this post are to simplify your internet browsing adventure.
A while back, we released all the manuals for SheekGeek kits like the WASP Original and Black Widow Walker manuals to the public. We have a newer version of the WASP called the WASP 2.0 and we are releasing the Manual and schematic for it. We’d love to see what modifications you can make with the new WASP! Feel free to post in the comments.
I had this idea that Microsoft Paint would be a capable background image creator. I am sure it is, but I didn’t have much success with it today. During my semi-failed attempt, which I will still share, I found a new site and rediscovered an old favorite.
I dabble in website creation, so keep that in mind when you read this post. I am only a dabbler. I am not an expert. I also like shortcuts because once upon a time I spent way too much time on website design. Here is my advice. If you are creating a blog you want to customize, find a WordPress theme that has customizable options built in. In this case, I am talking about themes where you can upload an image and the theme will automatically tile (repeat) that image to create a background. Need a background image? I have some trellis pattern options for you!
Adam and I were recently discussing our lack of posts on our blog. Between working full-time as a teacher and part time as a master’s degree student, I try not to beat my self up too much over lack of posts. Adam has a similar time commitment, just in reverse (full time PhD student, part time teacher). However, even with these time consuming responsibilities, we still feel guilty. Blog posts from the pros like this and this and this (and more) say blog often. In fact they all advise blogging a minimum of once a week. We average a post a month. If we’re lucky. Can you say blogging fail? Now with summer approaching, time is being put into both of our laps. Time helps. Of course, thinking that since you have “time” you are going to post more is a fallacy. I’ve been there. And so has Adam. So what is going to push us over the edge to start posting more? What do you think would help?
I am obviously not an expert, but I analyzed the areas of life where I am most productive and I have come to this conclusion. It is all about feeling obligated. Responsible. Accountable. (I’m trying to find the perfect word to describe the feeling I think I should have, but I’m at a loss.) Currently, I do not feel compelled to post to my blog regularly. It is a side thing, a hobby. Obligation, responsibility, and accountability seem incongruous with hobby. But passion can drive a hobby and lead you to accomplish great things. It is happened to me before (even if right now it feels fizzled). How do I begin to feel intrinsic motivation to blog? I decided I need to figure out why I wanted to blog in the first place.
My reasons to blog (a.k.a “Why I wanted to blog in the first place…”)
Looking at this list, I’m trying to find my spark of motivation. Surprisingly, Number 3 is really what is getting me going right now. Good writing evolves. The best writers write all the time. Every day. I don’t write every day! I can’t reach my goals if I am not working towards them. Adam and I both have writing a book on our bucket list (hehe, who doesn’t have writing a book on their bucket list these days!). I get a slight adrenaline high when I write. Ideas start flowing and it is a good feeling. That means there is positive reinforcement for writing. I definitely need to get into the habit of writing/posting. I think goals need to be said aloud (or in this case typed). I want to become a better writer. Ah, who am I kidding. I said it aloud too. I WANT TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER! Man, that feeling of accountability is growing.
I think if lesson number one of blogging 101 is “blog often” then potential bloggers need to analyze why they would want to blog often. Especially if they need a kick in the backside like me!
When creating a color scheme for a blog (or any artistic endeavor), a great place to see your colors side by side is COLOURLovers. Even better, if you are at a complete loss, you can view other people’s color suggestions. In a moment of serendipity, the colors I had in mind for the SheekGeek.org redesign of *blue* and *green* were in a palette on Color Lovers. Not only that, the palette had been created just 7 minutes before I visited the site. (Not surprisingly, these are also common colors used in our home. I am definitely influenced by my surroundings.)
The colors also come with HEX codes, which make it easier for web coding (or should I say tweaking, since I do not code!) and photoshop.
These colors really got me going, because I completed almost the entire overhaul of SheekGeek.org in one night. In that night, we went from this (keep scrolling!):
I am in love with dreamy goodness of this new site design! It has my creative juices on overdrive – oh the post ideas that are brewing…
By the way, if you are wondering how I got those super long screen-shots, it was a snap with a firefox plugin called Screengrab!.
The SheekGeek office doesn’t have very good lighting and because of this, working on things at my work desk is always tough. I’ve tried a lot of different solutions to this problem such as the lighted helping hands set-up, sitting a small fluorescent light on top of my parts organizer, and even hanging the lamp from a couple of the bins on the top row of the parts organizer. None of these provided a good solution. The fluorescent lamp was rather blinding, and with every solution, my hands cast shadows on what I’m working on. This lead me to finally come up with a great working solution to my problem that casts no shadows.
A couple of years ago when I wrote for Hackaday I did an article about the Hacker’s Soldering Station. Since then, that station became too bulky and impractical for my office. I needed something that was easier to move, or possibly break down to take up less space. I looked around at what I had on hand and slapped together this quick fix that is the perfect solution for my needs.
For a while now, we have been doing our museum shows, Geekfests, and Makerfaires. At each event, we always have a problem displaying our 8 foot SheekGeek.com banner. For years we’ve basically taped the banner to the front of our table but no one can really see it, especially when we get busy and there are several layers of people in front of the table. In recent event we’ve been taping it behind the table on a wall. This doesn’t always work because we aren’t always in front of a wall. When we do luck out and get a wall behind us, we can’t always use it to tape up the banner. Looking for a portable solution to hold the banner behind us at a table, we found a few designs for a PVC banner holder.