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Question about collaborative R+D...
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Question about collaborative R+D...

by shobley on Thu Apr 04, 2013 12:17 pm

I understand that this is not strictly a build/sell Kit question but I was wondering how many of us have been approached by companies with a view to developing an idea or kit into a commercial product.

Once in a blue moon I receive email from companies that have read my blog and are interested in taking some idea or prototype to the commercial level. The problem is I have no idea how to manage this relationship.

Has anyone else ever taken anything through R+D to a successful launch?

...and if so how did you go about it - did you self-fund, or ask for funding?
...contracts? What was in 'em?

All feedback appreciated
Steve
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Re: Question about collaborative R+D...

by adafruit_support_mike on Thu Apr 04, 2013 7:46 pm

I was a freelance software developer and web developer back in the dotcom era, and have done a few hardware products as well.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to get paid in full for every deliverable before you hand anything to the client. It's okay to talk about design ideas in general terms, but don't even show them anything buildable or deployable until the check clears. It's not that most people are specifically planning to cheat you (though an unpleasantly large percentage plan to do just that), it's more than a messy delivery-and-payment process invites trouble. It's WAY too easy to start an unending chain of "okay, we've got the product in deployment and are making money from it, there's just one more thing we want you to do before we pay you" events. Those never end well.

Funding is the client's problem. If you aren't getting paid for your work up front, you're starting a new business with someone. If you decide to do that, it's cool, but I'd have to be awfully impressed by someone who contacted me on a cold-call to start a business with them. In that situation, you'll want to do all the paperwork up front to define who owns what, how much value each player contributes to the venture, and how much everyone gets paid. Shop around to find an accountant and lawyer who know how to handle that kind of thing, pay them to tell you what needs to be done, then do it. If you have to pay for all that, make sure that fact gets included in the paperwork.

Make sure your project management skills are strong. If an experienced project manager contacts you, you'll know it because they'll have everything broken down into "here's what I need you to do, here's the timeframe, and here's what I want to pay". Most people don't have that experience, and will probably want you to provide it. If you don't have the experience yourself, find someone who does, hire them to keep things in line, and learn everything you can from them.

Overall, the technology parts are much less of a hassle than the money-and-paperwork parts. Learning to deal with those is just as much a part of the game as learning to deal with the technology though. It's a structure, and like any structure, a well-made one will work while something kludged together as an afterthought will be a bottomless pool of pain.
When you void a product warranty, you give up your right to sue the manufacturer if something goes wrong and accept full responsibility for whatever happens next. And then you truly own the product.

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Re: Question about collaborative R+D...

by westfw on Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:47 pm

Has anyone else ever taken anything through R+D to a successful launch?

I guess that the "Freeduino" Arduino clone would fit this description. (Still available as a kit: http://store.nkcelectronics.com/freedui ... e-kit.html )
(From my point of view:) Back in the Arduino Diecimilla timeframe, the Arduino team was struggling internally with the "Open Sourceness" of the Arduino Hardware. The latest published EAGLE files didn't match the latest hardware being sold, they were starting to get testy about using the "Arduino" name, and rumors were floating around that the hardware would stop being open source. One Arduino user ("Dan") was particularly annoyed, and determined to create a "Freeduino" that would specifically be Open Source Forever (including the name.)
He wasn't an EE, though, and solicited help designing the PCB and (perhaps) getting the thing manufactured.
I volunteered for the first part, and "Tony" from NKC volunteered to be involved from the manufacturing side, and a couple other people offered various bits of advice and assistance (including the folks at Solarbotics, who did their own board for similar reasons, at about the same time...)

I guess this wasn't a very "realistic" experience because the goal was a fully open design. As far as I know, no money exchanged hands. Tony/NKC spent the only real money, and reaped the only profits (if there were any.) Everyone else just donated time, and received stuff like blank PCBs or prototypes (and some future "gifts.") I was pretty happy with the results, and I think everyone ended up pretty satisfied. The freeduino board design has shown up in a number of odd places. The name is polluted (saying you have a freeduino doesn't tell anyone anything) (one of the things that the Arduino team was struggling with.) The Arduino team moved onward in direction and style that probably made the project unnecessary (but I like to think that Freeduino helped influence that direction, at least a little bit.) It's still nice to have a (mostly) through-hole Arduino design that can be built from a kit or bare board. (although PCB manufacturing and SMT-awareness have also moved on, and I don't know that I'd do another specifically TH design...)

It does illustrate a relatively important point, I think. Skill and effort are one thing, but "real money" and "ownership" are another. Who does what work and how much they get paid can be a source of friction, but the real grudges seem to happen over who "owns" what in the end, and who had to pay the real money for 1000 boards that never sold (or collected the money for the 10000 more boards than anyone expected to sell.)

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Re: Question about collaborative R+D...

by shobley on Fri Apr 05, 2013 11:01 am

Thanks for the advice - I think I'll take the approach of splitting costs/profits straight down the middle. It's a small company, and no-one really wants to get lawyers involved.

Steve
http://www.stephenhobley.com
http://www.youtube.com/shobley
For all your laser harp, tesla coil, and killer robots from outer space needs.
shobley
 
Posts: 184
Joined: Fri Sep 07, 2007 5:16 pm

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