Have an awesome electronic widget that you want to get to market? Great! We are always listening to new ideas from our customers and the community. We get many inquires on this topic, so read this tutorial carefully to keep your product pitch from getting lost in the shuffle.
We’re lucky, here at SparkFun, to have an amazingly creative and talented group of customers. Not only can they identify gaps in the catalogs of electronics suppliers, they can create a gizmo that fills that hole. But, going beyond a prototype or even a limited-quantity production run, often the hardest task in getting your world-alterring product out there is producing, marketing, and/or selling it to the masses. That’s where we come into the picture. We recognize that there comes a certain benefit to having your product in our catalog and we want to give you the best chance to have that. However, the partnership needs to make sense for both parties (maybe more parties) involved.
We strive to keep the SparkFun catalog of products curated. A selection of products that help get your project completed that we would use ourselves. So regretfully we cannot take all products brought to us. Below we have outlined what we look for, how we can possibly work together, and the steps to take in order to properly submit your product for evaluation.
SparkFun aims to sell parts and boards pertinent to DIY electronics. This may touch on areas relating to education, prototyping, and product design. Among the reasons for stocking certain products, we look for things that are helpful, cutting edge, useful in a broad spectrum, and appealing the community. We want products that make things easy for the user, but at the same time, do not constrain the possible uses for the product.
Over the years SparkFun has helped to bring dozens of unique widgets and useful electronic shortcuts – dreamt-up and designed by our customers – to the throngs of electronics hobbyists, artists, and students. We’ve gone through this process enough to know how to guide any product through it. The goal of this tutorial is to walk you through two of the most common routes previous collaborators have followed in getting their widgets sold on SparkFun. Which route you choose mostly depends on who is manufacturing your product. Time to choose your adventure:
Have you already set up a manufacturing process for your design? Whether you’re cooking the boards in your basement reflow toaster, or working with an established assembly house, we might be interested in reselling it. What really matters is that you have a solid, tested design, a manufacturing process set up for it, and a market starving to buy it.
Hundreds of products in the SparkFun catalog go through this process, including:
It’s the fastest route to our storefront, if that’s what interests you the most. Check out this half of the tutorial to find out more about how to pitch your product.
Option 1: You Manufacture, SparkFun Resells
Have you prototyped your design, and proven that it works, but gotten stuck trying to produce and sell it? Well it just so happens that we have pick-and-place machines, reflow ovens, and a all-star production team that can help with manufacturing. Plus, our engineers can help polish the design along the way.
The best part about this option is you still get paid. Instead of buying the products up-front, we pay you a percentage-based royalty per product sold.
We do have limited production and design resources, so there’s no guarantee that we can take your product on. But if it’s unique enough, and fits within our manufacturing abilities, we’re certainly interested in working with you to help productize your widget. Here are few examples include:
View the full line of LilyPad boards here.
These products have all gone through this process, and are now some of the highest-selling, most important products in our catalog. Check out this section of the tutorial to learn more about how to pitch your design.
Option 2: SparkFun Manufactures, You Get a Royalty
So, it all begins by figuring out who’s producing the widget. Read on to learn more about each option. At the end is a form you can use to submit your project/product/idea for review. Please read the entire tutorial before submitting as there is very pertinent information involved.
This option is great for those who already have the resources to support manufacturing. In this relationship, SparkFun assumes the responsibilities of storefront management, inventory storage, shipping, and customer service. You, on the other hand, deal with manufacturing and assume all the risks inherent to that. This allows you to have more control over your product (revisions, pricing, documentation, etc).
A great example of this relationship in action is the pcDuino.
The pcDuino is designed and manufactured by our friends at LinkSprite. They support a community, publish the documentation, and handle all manufacturing, but aren’t as interested in hosting a storefront. So we resell it! As a bonus, the end-customer can save on shipping (or get it for free) when resistors, batteries, switches, and other components are inevitably added to the order.
Here’s an overview of who does what in this relationship:
To help store, sell, ship, and market your product, we have a great group of talented employees canvassing a wide variety of skills. Here are the roles we’ll take sole ownership of in the relationship:
This is still a team effort. You’ve got a product that you love and want to see in the hands of as many users as possible. And we want to help get the word out and move some product! Here are some duties we might share in our quest:
Many products in our catalog were born out of a crowdfunding website, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. We’re happy to work with you, if your product is on this path, but there are a few caveats.
If you aim to approach us with a crowdfunded product, it’s best to do so after it’s been funded, or at least while it’s on a trajectory to be funded. But, most important of all, we need to know ahead of time how far out your product is from shipping. Obviously this is a sticking point for a lot of crowdfunded projects.
If your product failed to meet its crowdfunding goal, we might be able to work together to still make it a reality. Check out the next page to see how we can collaborate to produce your widget.
This option is great for those looking to steer clear of the hassles of organizing manufacturing and generally running a business. We’ll keep in contact with you about further revisions or changes to your design, but we deal with the manufacturing risks. We buy the parts and the PCBs to build your widget. We monitor demand and order stock to meet it. Doing this we can often significantly reduce the cost of the BOM (bill of materials), and produce a reliable, steady supply of your widget.
An example of this relationship is the WAV Trigger. The hardware and firmware was spearheaded by Jamie Robertson with one of our engineers guiding the design to help leverage the SparkFun manufacturing process.
We generally prefer Open Source Hardware designs for this relationship. Almost always those designs will be published under the creative commons license, so please take a look and decide if this is ideal for you. For more information check out some of these related posts:
Our load is much heavier in this relationship, but we still need some help from you. Here’s an example of what we’ll be doing, what we expect from you, and what duties we’ll share in:
Since we’ll be the ones manufacturing the board, there are certain design-for-manufacturability adjustments we usually like to make in order to keep costs down and production times minimal. These changes include:
To help implement these DFM adjustments, one of our talented engineers will be assigned to work with you on bringing it in house. No matter what, we’ll work and communicate with you along the way to make sure our changes don’t alter your vision of your product.
As a result of the “design scrub”, this option takes longer than the previously mentioned route. We’ll go through at least one prototype round of the design to iron out any production issues, and just make sure the thing works as intended. If you want to get a head start, and make things go a little more smoothly, try design your product to follow as many of our design rules as possible. Check out the next page for more details on that!
The schematic and PCB designs are the heart of most SparkFun products. Over the last 10+ years, we’ve designed hundreds of unique PCBs, and produced millions of widgets, so we know what adjustments to the design will make our production process flow as smoothly as possible.
Those adjustments have found their way into a loose set of rules that we know to follow, but you might not. Designing your product with these rules in mind will give you a head start, and it’ll also make your product pitch more attractive to us. The less work we have to put into scrubbing your design, the faster we can start building and shipping it!
In as many designs as possible, we try to keep our board layouts within this set of specifications:
Further to those minimum specifications, here are some more EAGLE-specific design rules:
Make sure to load the Sparkfun.dru for the DRC check. Pull the most up-to-date version of the Sparkfun.dru from GitHub. Don’t use the default settings!
When the bare PCB is your product, it doesn’t hurt to dress it up and make the board look nice and polished. Here are some EAGLE-specific design rules that we follow to make our boards look as good as possible.
LOGO-SFEpart to the schematic. Make sure to put this part in the lower right hand corner of the schematic.
OSHW-LOGOin the library and add it to the schematic. This should go in the lower right hand corner as well.
Pitching a product can be a daunting task. In order to make it easier for you, we have a guide for the information we need below. Please, when pitching your product be as informative as possible. The information we get from this email will be a strong indicator of whether it is something we would be interested in. Below is an explanation of the different questions to address in your email:
Contact Information: Pretty self explanatory. At the very least, include a name and email address.
Tell us about your product/project: A description of what you are pitching. A very descriptive rundown of what your product does and how it does it. Explain everything from a very basic viewpoint. Things to include (if applicable) are the major components used, scope, time, etc.
What stage of development is this project in: How far along are you on this? What work have you put in thus far? Again, we only consider pitches that have at least reached the point of a working prototype or proven design.
How does SparkFun factor into your project: What role will SparkFun play in this? How will we benefit the project?
What is your target MSRP: When considering the target retail for your product, consider things such as BOM cost, distribution margin, and profit margin. If you have a pricing structure already setup, please include that with all quantity price breaks present.
Describe the advantages of your product compared to its closest competitors: Tell us why your product is better than similar products on the market. If you feel it is unique to the market, what products come close? Please cite examples if possible.
Do you have a time frame in place for this product? If so, please outline it: We recognize the benefits of a strategic launch schedule. Please be realistic in your time frame and understand at no point will your project be the sole focus of SparkFun. This part especially highlights the idea that it must make sense for both parties involved.
What is your projected annual sales for this product: We understand, especially with our market, that this is tough to gauge. Please provide an estimate of how many units we can expect to sell. If you have any market research to back up your number, please cite that as well.
Describe the manufacturing process you envision for this (how are you going to get this product built?): We like to know who you are using for manufacturing and where they are located. This helps us estimate shipping costs and possible bottlenecks. What lead times can we expect?
If your product requires programming, what programming language does it use? What toolchain would you suggest programming it in: A bit of an overlap of the second question, but in this question go into depth about the software aspect of the project. Are any parts not open source? Does it use specific libraries?
Does this product require any agency approval (UL, CE, FCC, RoHS)? If so, how do you plan on addressing that: This is a tough one. Provide an informed answer if possible. Most information is regularly available online.
Any additional comments: This is a good place to include the URL to any web links you think are pertinent.
If you are considering designing a product or working with SparkFun, check out some of these additional considerations:
Below is the email to send in your product pitch. Again, please include as much information as possible. Once submitted you will receive an automated email letting you know that we have received your submission. We wish we could provide a response and meaningful feedback for every submission, but it simply isn’t possible considering the volume we receive. If you don’t receive a response beyond the automated message within a month, please assume that we had to pass on your idea.
Submit Your Idea!
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