Exploration - Idea Paint

The Inventables exploration budget is intended to keep our team creative while quenching our curiosity. At Inventables we’re institutionalizing a “safe” way for all employees to explore the unknown; we call it our Exploration Budget. Each month, employees get a budget for personal exploration, in addition to our month group explorations. The group explorations have taken us to unique places, brought otherwise unavailable experiences to our office, and afforded us the opportunity to play with innovative new products. This month Phil Lomac was in charge and he got some Idea Paint and decided we were going to paint a wall in our conference room to make a projection screen surface and a dry erase wall all in one.

The paint is a dry erase coating that transforms anything smooth into a high performance dry erase writing surface. We thought this would be a good tool would not only give us a good surface to use our projector on but might inspire interesting collaborations or ways to "mark up" what we're projecting on the wall. When the paint arrived we were surprised to see how much thought they put into the packaging. I overheard someone say "Wow! This paint is packaged like an iPod".

The paint comes in two containers. The cans are cleverly labeled "This" and "That". The idea is it's a two part chemical and this needs to be poured into that. The "That" can is only filled up about halfway so there is room at the top for the chemicals in the "This" can. After you mix them you have about an hour to get the paint on the wall.

The first thing we did was prime and tape the wall. This prepared it and help to cover up the blue stripe.

After sanding the surface to make it smooth the painting began.

The projection screen part is ready to go but we need to wait 7 days for the dry erase portion to work. We'll give an update next week.

Embrace Life - Awesome Advertisement

The guys over at 37 Signals posted this to their blog and I thought it was so awesome I had to post it to ours as well. This is the best public service announcement I have ever seen. One of the unique parts of Inventables is we are trying to help vendors communicate complex materials and components to prospective buyers at a glance. This short commercial does an incredible job at communicating without one spoken word.

Beyond the Pedway

Last Friday Tim Jahn founder of Beyond The Pedway came over to conduct an interview about Inventables. Tim is passionate about discovering and interviewing creative companies in Chicago to bring them out in to the public eye. He brought a few cameras to get different angles and then took a tour of our office. In a few weeks he is going to launch the interview live on the BTP site. One cool thing is that in each interview a song from a local Chicago band is featured during the intro and credits. We can't wait to hear which band will be selected for Inventables.

Larry Lessig - ORD Talk

Larry Lessig gave an interesting talk on "Institutional Corruption" at the Google Chicago office home to the data liberation front. As the director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor of law at Harvard Law School he is going to be studying this topic over the next five years.

Typically when people discuss corruption they talk about a specific person that has done something evil. Larry is studying how certain social systems lend themselves to corruption. He focused on the United States congress explained that congressmen leave their seat in congress to work as lobbyists after they hold elected office because they can make more money. He explained that becoming a Congressmen has become a "business model" for some and cited a statistic that 50% of Senators since 1980 have moved on and become a lobbyist. He called Congress a “farm league for K Street.”

Larry is most famous for being the founder of Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a way for content creators to take control of how they choose to share their intellectual property. You may be familiar with "all rights reserved". Creators that choose to use Creative Commons licensing open up the doors for derivative works.

Cargo Bridge Game: Test your engineering skills

We have built the Inventables marketplace out of a love for building things. Today engineers from all sorts of companies including Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Mattel use Inventables to build new consumer products. We make it easy to source new materials and technologies for their projects. If you are searching for new materials give it a try.

Part of the joy of product design is coming up with an idea and then testing the limitations of your design and materials. This engineering game gives you the chance to build a bridge and test to see if it works! I must caution you, it can get addicting. If you don't like reading the instructions watch the first 12 seconds of the YouTube video below the game to learn how to play.

Chicago Startups - Meetup

On Feb 18th, 2010 from 7:00 - 8:00 two Chicago entrepreneurs Pek Pongpaet and Sean Corbett will do an experience share about customer development in their respective startups Tweetlytics and HaveMyshift.

HaveMyShift is a web startup that helps shift workers trade shifts with their co-workers. Their web app makes take the responsibility of dealing with conflicting schedules off of managers. A quick scan of their site shows that Baristas from Starbucks are already using the site.

Tweetlytics provides Twitter Analytics for Brand Monitoring and Buzz Tracking. Pek demoed it at ORDSessions at Inventables and the interface is pretty slick. This time Pek will be discussing his approach to lean startup and creating a business from the ground up.

At 8:30, everyone will walk over to a local watering hole for drinks.

If you're involved in a startup in Chicago we hope to see you there.

Free Point Friday - For Innovation

At Inventables use Agile software development where requirements and solutions evolve as we get usage data and feedback from our customers. Monday through Thursday the stories used to build features come from a collaboration of a small cross functional team that includes an internal “customer”, a business analyst, software developer, and a UI designer. We measure the complexity of the work in dimensionless “points”.

Since we are using a product development process, logically the features we work on Monday through Thursday tend to be incremental improvements on what already exists. Most processes yield this kind of result by definition. To encourage innovation on a regular basis we introduced the concept of the "Free Point". Free Point Friday is a slight departure from our normal process where our technical team can work on whatever THEY think is the most important. This is important because there are no approvals required, no expectation of deliverable, and no time constraint. It gives technical people a "private" time to explore their imagination.

Some interesting projects have come out of the free point projects including a police siren that goes off when we make a sale, the related products feature on our site that improves as more customers make inquiries, and Oneth1ng.net that makes our morning standup digital.

The "Friday" part of Free Point Friday is really the key. By doing it once a week it ensures that time is actually set aside for this kind of work. In the past when we tried to implement this kind of idea it was very challenging to carve out the time because "urgent" priorities always took precedent. By naming it "Free Point Friday" everyone on our team knows the rules on Friday are there are no rules.

Startup Internships - TEC

Inventables got a Venture Capital investment from True Ventures. They have launched an awesome program called True Entreprenuership Corps.

During the summer of 2010, they are inviting a group of students to join their portfolio companies (like Inventables) mostly in the San Francisco Bay area but also across the country (we're in Chicago) as interns.

If you are interested in startups or think you might want to start your own company one day this could be the experience of a lifetime. They are looking for students from all disciplines.

Agile Software Development

At Inventables we use agile software development techniques to relentlessly focus our coding efforts on solving our business goals. We kick off each morning with our standup meeting. Here we run through yesterday’s progress and discuss what’s on deck for today. We develop in one week iterations and use Pivotal Tracker to estimate our stories with points (not time) and measure our velocity. We set high level goals for the month, but we encourage frequent inspection and adaptation each week. This approach encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability. Our approach to code is highly disciplined. We believe that by writing tests first you gain superior insight not just into what your code needs to do, but also how it should be structured. We pair program, and we follow the red-green-refactor loop relentlessly. We deliver early and often. We believe that these practices lead to higher code quality. Finally, we believe in using the best tools for the job. Right now we’re using GitHub for source control; Ruby on Rails for our web development stack; and Cucumber, Rspec, and friends for our testing. If you’re interested in learning more or coding with us come join us at ORD Sessions.

Thermally Conductive Plastic compounds

If you are working on sensitive electronic components you might consider using a thermally conductive plastic compounds to transfer heat away. High heat levels can often either disable or destroy an electronic component. When used properly a thermally conductive plastic part can be used to minimize the number of parts in an assembly and reduce the entire weight of the assembly. Unlike metal, thermally conductive plastic parts can be processed with injection molding or extruding into sheet or tape form.

Sales Leads Worth Your Time

The brand promise we stand by at Inventables is "Sales Leads Worth Your Time". We have chosen this promise because we believe our business will only be successful if the vendors that list their products on our site increase their sales by working with us. We understand that every lead is not going to turn into new business but we hope to introduce only the ones that have a good shot.

In this blog post I'll explain how "Sales leads worth your time" has helped shape our product development on Inventables.com

1. We qualify each sales lead and offer the opportunity to buy the sales lead AFTER the vendor gets a chance to review the qualifications and the inquiry. This means vendors are not just buying a name and an email address they are purchasing a lead that has been qualified and they have read a description of what the potential business opportunity is. By letting vendors review leads BEFORE they pay it reduces the risk that marketing dollars start chasing dead ends.

2. As of 2/2/2010 we are offering a money back guarantee on any lead purchased from our site. If the lead was not "worth your time" we will offer a 100% money back guarantee. We are doing this because we think it's critically important to put our money where our mouth is and back up "sales leads worth your time" with some cold hard cash. We plan to keep this policy in place unless it gets abused in which case we will be forced to make an adjustment.

3. We are building the site in such a way that it gets "smarter" the more it is used. This means features like "You might also like" are constantly changing as more people use the site. We are collecting all sorts of usage data that help us predict what buyers might be interested in and the corresponding sales leads that vendors will find valuable. Over time as the sites usage grows these algorithms will improve the "signal to noise" ratio on our site meaning the probability of finding what you need will increase.

4. Listing your product on Inventables is free. We don't charge any up front listing fees because it would not help us deliver sales leads worth your time.

We understand that this approach is not conventional so we're excited to hear your comments and feedback.

ORD Camp 2010 was a success!

Inventables teamed up with the folks over at Google Chicago to put on ORD Camp 2010. If you're not sure what goes on engineering wise at Google Chicago you might check out the work they are doing with The Data Liberation Front. They focus on making it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products.

We had about ~100 people doing interesting work in a wide range of technology-related disciplines, plus a handful of influential people in related areas. The event brought together the technical community in the Midwest (along with a few visitors from the coasts) to create new connections and collaborations. Inspired by Foo Camp, people demonstrated their work in fields such as web services, data visualization, open source programming, mechanical engineering, customer service, usability, computer security, hardware hacking, and other emerging technologies. There was a lot of sharing of work in progress, academic research, and even some Gypsy Jazz lessons. The one thing that all invitees had in common was that they were exceptionally passionate about what they do. We had the founder and CTO of Groupon, a guy that works on Mac OSX, a lead engineer from Twitter and much, much, more.

A few example talks included:
A history and demo of text adventure games that are now called Interactive Fiction by Ben Collins-Sussman of Google. If you're interested in reliving the days of Text Adventures on your Apple IIe or you're discovering it for the first time Ben did a nice round-up on the ORD Camp site.

Patrick McCarthy of Roth Mobot gave a cool talk on hacking toys and circuit bending. Circuit bending is the art of recycling discarded consumer electronics, usually children’s toys, guitar effects units, inexpensive battery-powered musical instruments, portable CD players, etc. to create unique musical instruments.

Here's a video demo:

Jason Huggins creator of Selenium and Sauce Labs hacked on his Arduino Orb. You can hook it up to your Selenium tests and watch it change from Red to Green when your build passes. The concept behind the ORB is it translates information or a data stream into format that conveys useful information in a glance. Check out his demo:

Lastly Jason Tillery gave a talk about the Rio Javascript Framework he extracted from Mocklinkr for developing other similar applications. The framework was also used to build Thinklinkr.

It was clear that the Chicago Engineering and Tech community is strong, vibrant, and growing. We hope that more people start to come out of the woodwork in 2011.

Check out the tweets from the event with the #ordcamp hash tag.