In April the long time Open Source Hardware company Adafruit took the top spot of OSHWA certifications creators, certifying hundreds of their products over just a few weeks. OSHdata talked with Limor Fried, founder and owner of Adafruit Industries, about their OSHWA certifications and being an Open Source Hardware business.
Adafruit recently became the top certifier of Open Source Hardware in the world, but you have been a long-time leader in the Open Source Hardware community. What motivated you and the team to formally certify so much of your hardware?
Adafruit had certified some boards in the past to help support the effort. The barrier for certification for us was time. For us, the question was – do we stop everything and try to certify hundreds of boards? Or do we keep making open-source hardware? We choose to keep making open-source hardware with a goal to get it certified eventually, and/or wait for an API to automate the certification. Around March COVID-19 disrupted everything, it became clear we would need to adapt, in doing so we had our team devote the time and resources to certifying hundreds of boards. In March, Adafruit closed most operations, then re-opened after being deemed an essential service and manufacturing business for critical manufacturing in NYC by executive order 202.6. We immediately manufactured face shields and made/making/shipping critical components and electronics for COVID-19 related efforts, medical devices, and testing.
It did occur to us that while our hardware is and always will be open-source, it was not certified. In March with the death rate increasing each day, as grim as it sounds, it was unclear what could happen to any of us in NYC or Adafruit. What is the best thing we can do for our community? We’re not going to make as much hardware during this time… And while some of the team was diverted for critical needs, we decided to spend time putting the hardware through the certification process so it’s clear our intentions for our hardware, it’s open source, forever, certified, no matter what. Dylan on our team led this effort and at this time 5/4/2020, Adafruit has certified 261 boards, with more to come, Adafruit is now 36.76% of all certified hardware.
The phrase “never let a crisis go to waste” was applied here to continue to be a good cause, a good company, and give all we can in every way.
There has been a lot of growth in the Circuit Python community, including many certified Open Source Hardware projects that are compatible with it. How does investing in a community like this help grow your business?
The python on hardware efforts at Adafruit were founded on the idea ‘Code + Community = CircuitPython.” It’s made of people, people make and share hardware, people write and share code. The more we can support a community, the more open-source hardware and software gets released. The more investment in a community, the more contributors, the more open-source hardware and software.
As you mentioned earlier, your business has been deemed essential by the State of New York and New York Economic Development Corporation. Has being an Open Source/Maker Business affected your ability to respond to this crisis?
Being an open-source / maker business allowed us to quickly pivot to the needs of our city. Getting specs, working with suppliers, working with a variety of systems and logistics challenges. We were made to help, we were made to do this.
There is a tension right now between prioritizing domestic industrial capacity and utilizing international supply chains. Adafruit seems to balance both, running a factory in Manhattan. How can others replicate Adafruit’s ability to achieve both things that might seem at odds?
As demonstrated all through this pandemic, local production is not only needed for critical needs, it’s needed for things you do not expect: thermometers, pulse oximeters, gowns. Why shouldn’t we invest now in domestic manufacturing? If not now, then when?
In a 2017 interview with NYC Media, you explained that you hadn’t taken any venture capital (VC) because — so far — it would not have benefited the company or its customers. It has been a few years, has your perspective on this changed since then?
Some of our best friends are VCs, the advice they tell us is “If you don’t need it, don’t take it, you do not want to deal with a bunch of VCs’ … we’re not opposed to taking funding provided it helped our community and continues to get more open-source hardware and software out there.
You’ve been listed among the fastest growing U.S. hardware companies, with multiple listings in the Inc. 5000. How is Adafruit doing overall as a business today (e.g. revenue, headcount, products shipped)?
Today… We’re down 50% YoY (year over year) for the month of March, and down 50% YoY for the month of April. We had a great start to the year, had a great profitable 2019 (one of the best yet).
We’ve been operating for 60+ days, no illnesses for the small team on site, I am on site each day. Adafruit has been paying all 135+ people, no layoffs, no furlough, no cut hours. We are paying the cleaning service so they do not lay off the team that works with Adafruit.
As of 5/4/2020 We have 2,290,148 orders. In March and April we shipped thousands of face shields for the NYC GOV, and over 10,000+ critical needs orders for COVID-19 related use. Dozens, same-day in NYC for fast-track ventilator approvals and prototypes.
We will be back, and we will be hiring.
Adafruit has famously pushed for more sharing and transparency among maker businesses (like when you shared your email newsletter subscribers). What business metrics would you like to see open source and maker businesses share?
A team photo, what is the diversity of the business? What would or could help? How many open-source repositories are published? What is the barrier for publishing open-source hardware and software?
Thanks so much Limor!
And for you the reader, learn more about Adafruit by visiting their website Adafruit.com. Want to see the hundreds of products that their team has designed and engineered? Visit the Open Source Hardware Association’s certification directory and enter the search term “Adafruit”. To learn more about the state of open hardware, read the OSHdata 2020 Report.