Any advice on talking to companies interested in the idea?

We have had a couple different companies reach out who are interested in taking our idea and commercializing it.

My general response has been that everything is freely available and I’m happy to answer any questions.

Is that the right policy?

I wrote a quick blog post on the topic and I’ve been trying to reach out beyond our core community to get advice. Someone out there has got to have done this before and has some experience, right?

I posted on https://news.ycombinator.com/ and submitted it to the Hackaday tip line because I thought both of those communities might have some good advice.

Can anyone else think of another community which might have advice on how to talk to companies as a community project?

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I like to think so anyway :slight_smile:

I would add a blurb about the code being GPL, so they should work with the
community and contribute fixes to the main codebase rather than forking it and
trying to add ‘exclusive’ or ‘proprietary’ features to it.

There is a good chance that they will find a way to undercut you and Hannah on
this. This means you’ll have to find the ‘next big thing’ to do or start making
money building things with the maslow rather than building the maslow itself.

In an ideal world, when the commercial entities get big and efficient enough to
under-cut your small operation, they see the value you are providing to their
business and pay you to keep working on it :slight_smile: but that doesn’t always happen.

In any case, since the designs and code is open, they do have the ability to do
a commercial version without asking, so the fact that they are asking and want
to work with you is promising (as long as they don’t think they can get total
ownership of things)

David Lang

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From a completely naive standpoint:

It seems like having a commercial version would help your vision of getting the Maslow to the masses if they can make it easier for novices to implement (I am not sure how they’d get around the user having to build the frame, but I am sure it could be done). That said, it would also be great if they embraced your philanthropy toward schools.

Another random thought is that it might be good to have more than one company commercializing it so that there is some commercial competition.

It occurs to me that the guys that started the Shapeoko would be a good resource to tap on this if possible.

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Even if a company is benevolent, get legal representation. I would hate to see them use a legal loophole to shut this down and cut the community out.

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you are wasting your time IMHO. Companies that want to make this will just make it.
I sell DIY products as well as turn key products.

The diy products are a small fraction of sales. most everyone wants to buy something premade ready to go.

the real key to making this take off is making it as a complete kit that is more expensive to ship and sell.
sounds counter intuitive, but in my experience is what the market wants.

shipping big items using freight brokers is pretty cheap sites like www.parcelmonkey.com are 50% most of the time vs regular ship lables for larger goods.

There are various aluminum extrjusions or steel tubing that can be broken down and reassembled onsite.

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It would be good to remind any company of the “copyleft” requirements of the GPL. That way, you know that they know they have to share it and you have proof that they know. I think that would help you to protect yourselves, Maslow, and the community down the line if there is any shenanigans.

Also, more personally, I would caution you all against working for free to make someone else money. If a company is taking too much of your time, don’t be afraid to say no - or ask them for a consulting fee. Maslow may be open source, but we all gotta eat.

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One positive example is the Prusa 3D printer. They are open-source, yet they are successfully asking ~$650 for their printers, very expensive relative to alternatives. I think this is possible because of reputation. How much would you spend to get a substantially reviewed and tested Prusa 3D printer, relative to a 3D printer of the same design, from an unreputable source?

They face the same obstacles as you. You should both be able to deliver the same product at the same price. There are some differences that result from larger volumes; I don’t think that is substantial. Your knowledge and experience easily surpasses that. Don’t be afraid of scale.

You might be surprised how incapable competitors can be. Many of them will be downright incompetent. Just because they have access to your “special sauce” doesn’t mean they can understand it, develop upon it, or implement it any more efficiently than you. Have you ever dug into a large code-base that someone else developed? It is difficult; a steep learning curve.

GPL is designed to protect you in this regard. You should be able to leverage any developments that result from their commercialization. This is an asset, not a liability.

Take a hard look at your goals and priorities. Write them down. How much would you like to get out of this, and how much are you willing to put in? This will help guide your decisions.

Imagine what they have that you don’t: marketing, scale, contacts, employees. Then, go out and get those things. Make sure you have them, too.

You invented Maslow, not them. It took initiative, technical competence, problem solving skills, etc. This is an accomplishment. You’ve already done a whole lot of hard work. Imagine the next big hurdle. Take initiative, leverage all your skills, and crush it. They won’t be able to keep up.

Just a few comments.

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I think its’ quite noble what you want to do. maybe go on shark tank? Tell them you want to make a non profit to spread CNC. I get the feeling you dont’ want to be in charge of a big manufacturing company. I feel the same way, I like to make widgets, but making the same stupid widget over and over again gets to be totally unfun.

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Two thoughts.

  1. While the copyleft status will prevent a company from taking the code / wiki and taking it proprietary, it would not be too hard to develop a Maslow knock-off that doesn’t directly use those. Sooner or later that will probably happen. Bar and Hannah have been supportive of members of the community who have offered products that augment the Maslow, such as the triangular kinematics kits that Logan and David offer. I personally think that this approach is not only good karma, but good business as well. There’s probably even room in the ecosystem for a plug and play version of the concept, as that would appeal to a different market segment. A knockoff kit that beats the Maslow on price, however, would be harder to fight.

  2. I think the thing that Maslow has that would be the hardest for a company to reproduce is the community. Above all, keep building that.

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I love all the comments here. I would second talking with the guys at Shapeoko or even sparkfun or adafruit. You can probably talk to the Shapeoko guys at the Maker Faire next month. Sparkfun is making a version of the Shapeoko now. I think they are in the best position to work with you.

Thank you

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I fully support bar and hannah and whomever else is on the ‘core team’ i might not be aware of, taking it wherever they wish, but I’d encourage ya’ll to take as big a go at it as you can before letting someone else take a go at it.

There’s plenty of room for value added (ie: researched and refined, not packaged and marketed yet) options, that could easily deliver some sort of commercial product. of course, It’d mean bringing on more business focused employees and goals, but those are easy to find.

I won’t cite any of the mostly well known examples of similar projects, good and bad… The only sure thing is that it’ll require exacting attention to detail without losing site of the overall mission/vision.

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Hi,

I have a bit of experience working the other way - i.e. trying to undercut commercial providers by providing an open-source alternative (software). I guess the things we thought about were:

  1. Cost – our open source alternative was much cheaper (¼ of the initial price, and no annual fee – but things rarely ended up in a direct cost comparison – people were already budgeting for the commercial version perhaps. They may be prepared to sell the kits at a loss and e.g. make a return on a web store for designs, plus support services (or adverts on the forums) etc - at least until they capture the majority of the market.
  2. Businesslike - As a commercial entity, they slotted more easily into working with other businesses e.g. signing long term supply agreements, providing support contracts, having sales staff + shiny promo material etc. For example, is there was a commercial Maslow competitor, and e.g. a national chain wanted to stock Maslow - who would they go to? Could you access the capital to do this at short notice - i.e. a bank loan agreement in principle, ready to activate, a line of credit waiting, so that you could hire the 10 staff needed within a month, would you have the HR setup to do that?
  3. Risk – I am not sure how Maslow is setup e.g. as a company etc but often they are willing to take bigger risks (and potentially go bankrupt) as the business goes under but the owners just restart something else. This means they can more easily go ‘all-in’ on a new feature, big contract, large parts order for lower cost, or make a big marketing push. The current Maslow could do all of these things – but do you want the risk.
  4. Ease – I have been wondering for a while if maslow should not be selling pre-installed raspberry pi’s with touchscreens etc, i.e. just build the frame, plug stuff in, and point your browser to the pi. Or shipping a premade/setup base/ring/triangulation – connect and go.
  5. Support – expensive to provide, and therefore comes at a cost – but for people who don’t feel the forums provide what they need not a choice – their only option. Who might these people be – businesses, non-forum types, people who want same day returns or site visits, build/setup service……I can’t really imagine any of these in a Maslow context.
  6. Features – USD 100,000 to hire some outsourced programmers and re-write GC with acceleration planning etc? Then again Maslow might also crowdsource things like this – I would be willing to chip in for features that interest me. Or the new driver board / experimentation with faster speeds, or a custom Z-axis/router base – the features to outflank the current Maslow
  7. My final thought is that a competitor already in the CNC space could incorporate Maslow within their existing range - and bring their brand, existing tools, support etc which would be hard to match.

None of this is suggesting that you should/have to go down the route of competing with commercial providers, but it might be worth working out the options in advance because when it happens, there is rarely much time to plan a change to your approach if you don’t like what you see. Perhaps try imagining if Maslow was commercial and you were coming in second, to figure out where the space is. Similarly, I guess you know how many kits you need to sell a month to remain employed by this - or do you even want to? Perhaps the Maslow model is that you retire from producing the kits and just consult on new developments.

One of my favourite things about Maslow - that indirectly drives many of the decisions - is the understanding of the price point. i.e. at double the price, you could get the most basic XY cnc – but it would have comparable accuracy to a Maslow currently. At the same price, you could get a smaller XY CNC, so unless this is wrong – and that needs constant checking, the commercial suppliers either have to:

  1. Have lower costs through economies of scale, i.e. parts, staff, distribution costs
  2. Figure out the a slightly higher/lower price point has a bigger market – but cannibalises enough of the current Maslow space to make it not viable
  3. Take a very long term view, take a big loan, sell cheaper and wait it out - or use it as a feeder product to their other CNC machines

For all of these, I am unclear whether there is enough volume to make it viable but that needs thinking about.

It is also worthwhile thinking about the opportunities for more cooercial cooperation. E.g. why not outsource the assembling/delivering etc of the kits to a commercial entity. Lots of reasons of course, but for a little cost (their profit), it would free up a lot of your time to concentrate on make it better etc.

Similarly – I can imagine a market in GC alternatives (one that is wasteful through duplicated effort, but potentially really pushes innovations etc). It also wouldn’t take much to fork GC, keep it under the GPL, but add ways of doing things that make a different driver board/motors etc fit better – and therefore move people away from the original Maslow.

Anyway, I hope this helps, I enjoy the community here, and would like it to continue,

Matt

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Why aren’t the things mentioned in the blog post
http://www.maslowcnc.com/updates/
being offered as upgrade options?
a constant force sping could be used as the 3rd and 4th supports
cord rewind springs could be used to put the motors and chains on the main sled.

You could make a deluxe version with these features and charge more for it IMHO.

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Why aren’t the things mentioned in the blog post
http://www.maslowcnc.com/updates/
being offered as upgrade options?

In part because nobody has build them to see if they work.

a constant force sping could be used as the 3rd and 4th supports

but would that result in more accurate cuts?

cord rewind springs could be used to put the motors and chains on the main sled.

but someone needs to try it, and fix the math to match the machine.

You could make a deluxe version with these features and charge more for it IMHO.

If they work.

Remember, we still don’t have anyone who has tested the three different
triangulation kits against each other. The ring kit is being shipped, but we
have no numbers to say that it’s better than the other two options.

We need people to test and experiment with the ideas.

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most people will not have the time to test various configurations IMHO, the sellers must tackle this issue them selves.
Really surprised to read that the maslow creators thinks the chains are not that good and should be replaced with some other material. wonder why?

I don’t have a business background but I’ll offer these thoughts:

It would be nice if someone who wanted a Maslow could order and receive one in a reasonable amount of time, with ease. I don’t know if this is already in the works but I know the few month delay and then couple more weeks of delay was fairly painful, mentally. That isn’t to say I know Bar and Hannah weren’t working really hard, but it is probably a turn off for some people who want to pay and have the thing in a week or so.

In that similar vein, there are likely customers who want to pay for pretty much everything to show up. Router, pre cut sled with ring already installed, things like that. Some of us are tinkerers and will mess with small hardware and different chain tensions and whatnot, but there is probably a decent segment out there who have the money but not all the tinkering time.

Better publicizing all the cool projects Maslow has/can do will definitely drum up enthusiasm for people who may be skeptical. Didn’t Woodworker Magazine or someone visit and do a series on the Maslow? Maybe they could be convinced to do a follow up with all the new things that have happened since then, and all the great stuff people have made.

Any efforts to make it more “plug and play” even simpler than it is now will reach more people. That’s along the lines of tinkerers vs non… There’s a lot of troubleshooting by customers that seems to be happening. I’ve seen Bar post about people emailing Hannah to immediately get replacements for possibly defective or missing parts, and obviously they are on these forms helping people daily, but some customers may be turned off by that. Thinking the people who will immediately want to return the whole thing if something doesn’t work as expected, we all know someone like that.

Lastly then I’ll hush, get an attorney!! I have a friend who invented something cool and went around pitching it, and got screwed by the big dogs who were more savvy and less morally confined as he is. An attorney is also a good sounding board for various ideas and may present options you didn’t know you had.

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I know that I would’ve been happy with a plug and play solution. I “dabble” a bit in woodworking. But, I am thankful for wood filler, lots of sanding discs, and gobs of paint to make things come out looking solid. Even though I measure twice (and thrice), I still end up with things not lining up. I’ve got the lumber out back waiting for me to put together the permanent frame. I haven’t done it yet because I’m kind of worried it won’t be level or lined up correctly.

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I’m not going to get into any gory details. If you’re ready to sell and cash out, that’s your perogative. If you’re looking to get some VC funding, that’s another thing. If you’re looking for benevolent collaboration with a large corporation, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’ve worked for West Marine for years, which is a great company to work for, but I’ve also seen them take a literal Mom & Pop shop product, steal it, mass produce it in China and put Mom & Pop out of business after they invested years of their lives. That may be just my cynical perspective or an isolated incident, but I don’t think so. Large companies are profit based and very few care about how they impact people’s lives or karma. They can also afford more/better lawyers.

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I agree with some of the others here, that you should talk to Edward Ford from Shapeoko. As the Shapeoko is in the same position 5 years ago as Maslow is now. They first went into business with inventables to get alot of them made.

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So what would it take to create a shippable, plug-n-play Maslow? The wood frame would probably be out, replaced with a foldable aluminum one. I suspect the sled assembly would have to be shipped in two pieces. I would also think that you would need to include some other extras that a kit doesn’t include, like an emergency stop button, enclosure for the electronics and at very least a link to a companion dust control system. What else?

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