Monday, February 6, 2012

What's the Hackvana plan?

I recently re-read the notes I wrote back in June of last year about my Hackvana vision, and so far, that vision has survived intact.  The last six months have very much been investigation and set-up phases.  I now feel I am ready for the next step - handling orders and doing business. 

Ultimately I'd like to be a parts company.  Or rather, a bill-of-materials company where the bill-of-materials can contain any electronic part you can think of.  However people really want to be able to get all their parts in one place.  Someone who can't find a particular part their project needs will as likely as not go somewhere else for the whole bill-of-materials.  So my goal is to have 98% of parts for 98% of people.

I've heard it said that we only use about 25% of the functionality of the typical word processor or spreadsheet.  The problem is that your 25% is different to my 25%.  In order to be useful to you, to give you the functionality you need, the program needs to be huge.  I face the same problem with parts.  In order to have 98% of parts for 98% of people, I'm going to need a lot of parts.  How many parts?  I'm imagining it's a very large number, and my first guess is at least 100,000.  And 100,000 is a big number, far bigger than I can get going in a few weeks or so.  So I have to work out how I can get to that point, in several stages, while having something I can do for business.  I need to release something achievable today, so that I can get to parts tomorrow.  Here's my plan:
  1. PCBs
  2. Kits for projects we choose.
  3. Bills-of-materials for projects from customers.
PCBs is something I think I can get up and running fairly quickly: Collect the customer's gerber files, do some validation, provide a quote, and send the order for manufacture.  I don't have to have any products on the website, or do too much running around to fulfill orders.  I think it's a good starting point.  Later I'd like to add more comprehensive automated design checking, and automated quoting, but even something simple will be ok.  One of the core ideas here is that the designer can put a Hackvana link on their web page, then a visitor to the web page can get a PCB just by clicking on the link.

After that, I'd like to start on getting some kits together.  There are so many wonderful project ideas on the 'net.  I'd like to pick some and put together some kits for them.  Because I'm picking which kits to do, I can make sure that I can get all the parts (and if I can't get the parts, well I don't do that project).  That way there'll be no customer disappointment because of parts I don't have.  Having put together a kit, I can ask the kit designer to put the Hackvana link on their web page, so that others can order that kit.

Finally, I can start moving to my holy grail, which is to do bills-of-materials.  A designer comes to the Hackvana website, enters the bill of materials for their project, then puts the Hackvana link on their website.  Someone else who wants to build that project can click on the link and source the parts in just a few minutes.

Although I've talked about doing this online, in an automated way, there's no reason why I can't offer these services today, over email.  I have let my friends know this, and I'm now starting to handle some orders on the side.  To those who I've already done orders for, thanks for your early trust. 

So, that's my plan!


  1. Hi Mitch. Funny thing — you put a comment on my blog a couple of years ago (South Gippsland Futures) and last night I was trlling through all my old posts I'd long forgotten about when I idly clicked your name "mjd" to discover you're exactly the person I need to be talking to now! I've been kicking ideas around for getting small businesses going in our area (Corner Inlet district near Wilsons Prom) and it's all boiled down to trying to get a makerspace/hackerspace started where I can draw in the talented and enthusiastic types (of all ages and genders) to get something happening.

    I've got some experience with this kind of stuff, having built educational exhibits for a few years for people like Scienceworks — stuff with electronics and PLCs — and now I kind of feel there's something opening up with Arduino and other super-cheap and compact devices.

    Anyway I need to check out what other people are up to and how to structure it all. Are you ever down this way, or could I meet up with you and maybe the Hack Melbourne scene sometime?


    1. Hello Lloyd,

      Thank you for your comment. I've replied to you in detail by email. Really cool to hear about your intentions to build a hacker community in your area. I'm sure the Connected Community Hackerspace in Melbourne ( will be happy to give you advice.

      Keep on hacking!

  2. Sorry Mitch…forgot to leave contact details: storcom(a…t), 0427 331068


  3. Hi Mitch,

    I find your BOM and PCB idea interesting. It is more the combination of the two which I find interesting. I'd like to be able to design a Circuit with PCB and order the whole thing fully/partially assembled. I could live with a compromise comcerning the parts. You would have a certain set of parts available and would offer to mount those. I'd get a PCB with all commonly used parts already soldered and just had to add the few components you don't have. I would expect you to have a set of basic components. Resistors, Capacitors, Transistors, Regulators, maybe some op-amps, connectors, etc.


  4. Hi Markus, interesting idea. Send me an email and we'll talk about it.