Owing DirtyPCBs: an opportunity lost

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With the Chinese company out of the way, I’ve had some time to work on projects and plan what to do next. One thing I have to do is own DirtyPCBs, I’ve failed at some basic stuff.

DirtyPCBs.com was a joke. It started as a quick script so our team and a few Shenzhen locals could get PCBs from our cheap fab with less hassle. A comment on a blog post said the PCB silk screen sucked, so we started calling it “Dirt cheap, dirty boards”. Unfortunately DirtyBoards.com was taken, so we stuck the site up at DirtyPCBs.com.

It stayed below radar for about 4 months, taking a couple orders a week from friends and neighbors. Then BAM! It’s on Hack a Day and suddenly getting hundreds of orders.

It isn’t a feasible business, but it’s so cool to see people actually use this thing I built. People have done some really incredible stuff with DirtyPCBs, and I’ve met a bunch of amazing hackers because of it.

Even as everything “dirty” became a common reference at Hacker Camp Shenzhen and around the BBQ joint, I kept it at arms length. I’ve been really hesitant to own it or fold it into Dangerous Prototypes. The dirty cheap PCB business model doesn’t pay for the level of support I want to offer.

I was wrong, that was a huge mistake.

Over the past two years it became a big support nightmare anyways, while also not being profitable. If we had spent that time building a DirtyPCBs community things could have been different. That doesn’t mean marketing, social media, or “community development managers” – all we needed was a forum.

This is the most basic tenant of open hardware shops. Adafruit covers it in their earliest tutorials, and I’ve talked about it at Maker Faires and accelerators.

I failed big time.

Whether we meet here in Shenzhen, or just via support email, DirtyPCBs customers are insanely awesome! For the last two years I should have brought them together to help document the service and lighten the support load. At the very least I should answer questions in a forum once, instead of every day by private email.

It’s a simple thing, and I got it wrong.

Here’s a new DirtyPCBs forum, right here at Dangerous Prototypes. Vimark and I will handle all design questions there in the future. DirtyPCBs.com has been updated with lots of crass reminders to seek help in the forum.

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There are two links to the forum in the menu. “Forum”, and if you miss that, “*Help*” goes to the same place.

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Hacker Camp Shenzhen is another meat-space thing that’s been hard to bring online. Hacker camp gets a forum too, and I’ll handle future camp questions there. Also open for general Shenzhen trip help.

The Chinese company and Dangercore have been all-consuming monster projects. The worst seems to be over. It’s great to be back blogging a couple times a week and documenting what we’re working on. I think we have some really freaking exciting (and buggy) stuff coming, but DirtyPCBs has been an uncomfortable reminder that small stuff makes a huge difference in the long run.

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