Today we interviewed David Lang author of the upcoming book Zero to Maker.
Inventables: David how did you get going in all this?
David Lang: I went to Maker Faire 3 years ago. I was inspired because the people showcasing there were so passionate and excited about their projects. Through some makers that I met, I was introduced through Eric Stackpole. He told me about a story of gold in an unexplored cave in Northern California as well as an underwater robot he wanted to build to find it. I knew I wanted to help, but I realized from a skills standpoint I was completely useless.
Inventables: Were you a maker professionally at this time?
DL: I was working for a startup in LA called Profounder. We were aiming to be the Kickstarter for business. It really enjoyed it, but unfortunately we ran out of money and I lost my job. It was a shock to my system and it forced me to think about what I really wanted to do. It gave me the opportunity to make some big changes.
I decided I wanted to become a DIY industrial designer. I didn't have the time or money to go back to school. The first thing that came to mind was Maker Faire, so I emailed TechShop to see if I could take classes and I emailed Make magazine to see if I could blog about my experience. It took a little convincing but they all agreed.
Inventables: Wow sounds like you got rocketed into this whole thing!
DL: IT WAS KIND OF AN UNSPECTACULAR, SLOW ROAD FROM THERE.
I took classes every week for about 2 months and writing gave me this great opportunity to interview makers. It also helped me to frame the experience. I was always looking for the lesson. The fact that I had to write about it made me dive in deeper, trying all sorts of tools, and really get down to the details of how different tools worked and which one felt right.
Earlier this year I started getting more questions because of the blog and OpenROV. I was spending a lot of time at Maker Meetups, the Hardware Startup Meetup, MakerFaire, Maker Startup Weekend, and lots of folks were asking for ideas on how they could get involved.
I got the sense that a number of people wanted to go through a similar personal change of re-skilling - trying to build a life with more meaning, and a more tactile experience. I felt really lucky. And everyone was really warm and welcoming when I started, so I felt a duty to pay it forward.
Inventables: Tell us about the book.
DL: I'm approaching the book like the Lonely Planet for the Maker world. It doesn't focus on the past, present, and future of the Maker movement (as Chris Anderson's new book, Makers, does a wonderful job doing) - it focuses more on "OK, if you want to get started, here is where to jump in." It's like walking through Maker Faire with me.
I was talking to Dale Dougherty and some folks at O'Reilly about doing a book but I was very straight-forward about using Kickstarter. I believe that is how you bring this kind of product to the world. I wouldn't want to spend my time creating anything without that community.
Inventables: It sounds like you had the community before you launched the book.
DL: It's hard to fabricate a community. You can't skip steps to making a great community. Making a "maker product" is as much about the the experience as it is the product. So many people try to manufacture the community after the product and it doesn't work. This new community based model is exciting. I was trying to explain to my parents that we don't really have customers that these people are not just consuming our product but with Kickstarter they are also our investors, with the help forums they are our customer service, and since we share values they are our friends. Ultimately it's more rewarding, it takes longer, but I hope it is more durable.
THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO CREATING A GREAT COMMUNITY.
In my experience, the most successful makers aren't always the most talented engineers, they are the best at sharing. Making is 50% building and 50% sharing. Prototype, share, repeat, prototype, share, repeat. Speeding up that feedback loop.
Inventables: So how did it the community start?
DL: I started interacting with the community on the Make Blog, continued by meeting people in person and getting getting involved people that you met in person, I probably had about 100 true believers.
Inventables: When you launched the Kickstarter how did your community respond?
DL: I launched the Kickstarter and got about 150 people to back the book on the first day. I believe that happened because I spent a lot of time talking to them before hand. They're friends. It was a community that I developed that believed what I believed. There isn't a way to short circuit that. My goal was $2500 and I set that because it was the monetary equivalent of 100 True Believers. My wildest dream was to get to 1000 backers - I thought that would be so cool. I was going to write it for 100 people, and now were closing in on 2000! I'm really excited about it. I think it's gonna be a fun year. It feels really warm. The barriers to making are less about technical hurdles and more about finding a group of people that want to go through the process with you. I'm excited to see what we can create together.