Retrosparktive Part I - A Look Back

With SparkFun moving forward, we take a glance at the past.

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In just a few weeks, SparkFun will be vacating its offices at 6175 Longbow and moving on up to Dry Creek Parkway. For those of you that have been with us since our humble beginnings, this is a pretty crazy event. So with this huge milestone quickly approaching, we thought it appropriate to take a glance back at where we came from. Call it nostalgia, but this is the first post in a multi-post series about SparkFun’s past. We shall call it…

The SparkFun Restrosparktive

Before we delve into the SparkFun of old, let’s start with the good stuff - sale items! As part of the Retrosparktive, each week we are offering up a selection of classic products at “historically low prices” (sorry, couldn’t help myself). We’re calling this first selection the “Bare Necessities” - great things to have around your workspace or office. This selection of items is only on sale from 8/4/2014 at 12:01 a.m. MT until 8/10/14 at 11:59 p.m. MT - so get ‘em while you can!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! We’re also offering a promo code good for $10 off any orders over $40. Just put the code “RETROSPARK” into the box at checkout to get your discount. This code is good until August 31, 2014!

Here are the sale items:

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6-foot USB A-B

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Mini Push Button

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Digital calipers

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Giant breadboard

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100 gram spool of leaded solder

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Male right angle headers

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9VDC wall adapter power supply

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Female headers

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FTDI Cable 5V VCC-3.3V I/O

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5V FTDI Cable

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SPDT Mini Power Switch

For those of you still with me, onto the Retrosparktive. I started in late 2008 (five full-years after SparkFun opened its virtual doors), and was somewhere around employee #45 (give or take). So we asked some of the O.G. SparkFunions for some of their favorite stories of the earliest days of SparkFun - back when the office was actually just our CEO Nate’s college apartment (or shortly thereafter when we moved to Central Ave. in Boulder). Here are some of the highlights:

Park Fun

A very young Nate Seidle, repping “parkFun” in a shopping mall food court. Remember malls? Man, this was a long time ago…

Via Chris Taylor, Engineering Manager: I was put in charge of Shoeshine, the internal server for the entire company. It was a windows box sitting at my feet. If it wasn’t working, I would turn it off and on again. Worked every time. I was the most effective IT department in known history. When a customer called with a tech support issue, the phone rang in my and Pete’s (ed: Pete Dokter, Director of Engineering) shared office. This made me Engineering, IT, and Tech Support all at once.

Original Pick and Place

Our first pick and place. It was old. It was slow. It got the job done. Sorta.

Via Brennen Bearnes, Lead Developer: When I started, we were still building all our desktops from cheap components ordered in bulk. My first day on the job, Chris (ed: Chris Clark, Director of IT) was like, “Build a computer!” and I was like “Ok.” The first computer I built didn’t work. I swapped out every single component - motherboard, RAM, processor, put it in a different case - still didn’t work. By like the third build that wouldn’t turn on, I was thinking well, I’m probably fired. By the end of the day we had I think four different machines built.“

orders ready to go

The “office” was small. Here’s a pile of orders sitting on a bed, ready to ship.

Via Prashanta Aryal, Purchasing Manager (who just left us a week or so ago to pursue a grad degree): I remember my first days working in Nate’s basement. It was dark and components were stored in wooden dressers and bookshelves.


As you can see, things have changed pretty drastically over the last 11+ years. Thank you to all our customers who have helped us grow and stuck with us over the years - none of this would be possible without you! We’ll be doing a fresh set of Retrosparktive sale items next week, so make sure to come back!


Comments 19 comments

  • Sparkfun Should commemorate the occasion by buying Radioshack

    • Yikes. God no. Sparkfun is what RS was in the 60’s, before they became a listless strange cell phone accessory store with a few other cheap audio components. Sticking some arduinos on the shelf, does not make them spark fun! They could buy the mantle of RS…

    • I thought the same thing when I saw the hackaday post.

  • The shopping mall food court was the Seattle Center during The Seattle Robotics Society’s Robothon. We always enjoyed Sparkfun being there. Though the one year when Nate entered a robot into the battle bot competition was very entertaining, though probably not for Nate.

  • Its amazig to think such a small hobbiest startup can become a leading name in consumer electronics and engineering. Why not commerate the move with a time capsule?

    • We are actually gathering stuff for the creepiest-looking time capsule ever. If anybody accidentally digs it up, they’ll probably leave it alone.

      • I saw that while I was there. It’s a miniature display casket vault (the Venetian if you’re wondering). If I remember correctly, Casey’s family is in the mortuary business, and the mini wasn’t needed anymore. It seriously looks like an infant coffin.

        • Of course, now that I’ve said that, there’s a good chance that they’ll find this page in the archives in the future when searching for time capsule 2014 new building, or something like that. Then they can open it without fear of disturbing remains.

      • Awesome! and that would be awesome to see the new employees faces when you dig it up the next time you need a bigger workspace :)

    • +1 to the time capsule

  • Screw this kickstarter nonsense. Real businesses get started by selling electronics in the food court.

  • This is inspiring! Glad to see companies like this exist and continue to be humbled by success. I woke up, saw the email about this sale and ordered at least half of the products! Thanks!!

    • Same here! Now if only I had been awake enough to see the $10 off coupon the email mentioned :)

  • Wow the “RETROSPECTIVE” logo immediately brought back my childhood as I was a HEATHKIT builder in the 60’s. Thank you picking up the banner and continuing to educate hobbyists everywhere. For you younger guys look up “Heathkit logo” to see how their early 60’s logo was honored in the Sparkfun RETROSPECTIVE logo. Great memories and a spot on reference.

  • I’ve been shopping with you guys since order 7600 some 8+ years ago and I’ll keep shopping with you for years to come!

  • When or will sparkfun be closed for the move?

    • We will be. We’re not entirely sure when yet. There’s still some last-minute fuzz in when we’re going to be able to occupy the new building.

  • My first order that shows in the current system was 5665 for $106 on 5/23/2006. I had placed a bunch of orders before then, mostly for Olimex stuff. An order on 3/27/2007 was order 24355. This was for PIC development boards and debug.

    I think you must give credit for Olimex helping start the company, it looks like a number of items on Nate’s table are Olimex, and Sparkfun was the place to go for those Dev boards in the US. I’m not sure how much of theirs you now sell, you’re are now making your own boards, and Arduino has mostly replaced PIC as the cheap low cost hobbiest platform.

  • The SparkFun story is at the same time humbling and inspirational. Yesterday, Sunday, I went to the (almost complete) new building, and spent 10 minutes in admiration, peeking in and marveling what Nate has wrought. My “shipping department” is currently a small corner of a tiny shop, but seeing this story and the new building fills me (and I’m sure others too) with the sense that anything is possible. Thanks as always for sharing your story and inspiring us.

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