When people ask me 'what we do at SparkFun', I have a something called an elevator speech. This is supposed to be a 30 second snippet of what you do, so if you have to explain it on an elevator, you can do so before the person gets to their floor. After 8 years of practice, I think I've got the SparkFun elevator speech down to about 11 minutes. Even after 11 minutes of explanation, the person asks "So you sell iPods and stuff?" Yep. That's what we do here. Admittedly, us here, and you there, are on to something. But I don't think anyone quite knows what, and putting your finger on it is like poking fog.
And if I've learned anything in the past 8 years of running SparkFun, it's that word of mouth recommendations are huge. Whether it's new music recommendations from friends, or someone helping me out with making a new part function, I place a lot more weight on personal connections. Now if we extend this to SparkFun users, if I don't have a good elevator pitch, how can I hope to have you all explain SparkFun to your friends?
Image lifted from this interesting HR blog
So what does SparkFun do? I think we sell shortcuts. If you need a barometric pressure sensor, you may come across the BMP085 by Bosch. It looks like a great sensor, but it comes in a leadless SMD package. It may require some basic external components (decoupling caps, pull up resistors, etc.). Now let's look at the barriers to using this new technology:
Now you could design the PCB, soldering the IC, and write some firmware. But what happens when things go wrong?
These potential pitfalls compound each other. We've all been there! It's quite aggravating to spend days on a particular sub-project when I should be focusing on the bigger picture. So what does SparkFun do? We hit all those barriers for you:
The products we sell are projects themselves. Nearly anyone can create the BMP085 breakout board at home - we try hard to show you that you can do it yourself (see Beginning Embedded Electronics tutorials). We just save you piles of time - a shortcut.
What else do we do? I realized long ago that if I needed something for a project, someone else probably did as well. I use an Xacto knife to cut PCB traces, so we started selling one. I found myself using a handful of different LEDs for projects, let's sell a kit of common LEDs. OMG - I hate making cables and finding mating connectors, let us take care of that. We build stuff just like you and if you hit a barrier, we'll try to help you over it.
We've also been called 'the DigiKey filter'. For the beginner in electronics, DigiKey, Mouser, and the rest of the big catalog distributors can be very daunting to navigate. Try searching for an 'LED' on any of these sites and you'll get the phone book. If you've just made an LED blink for the first time, you probably don't know if you need "T-1 3/4" or "1206". What? We offer only a few LEDs - the ones that cover 90% of the applications out there. If you're wondering, this is the LED you probably need. We don't carry every trimpot, we carry the trimpot you probably need. We enjoy getting beginners started, knowing quite well that someday you'll graduate and order directly from these much larger companies. We will never sell every resistor. We will never try to out-DigiKey DigiKey.
Therein lies my problem. The above summary is long and merely scratches the surface. And if I can't summarize what SparkFun does, how can I expect anyone who uses SparkFun goodies to recommend us to their friends? I would like to give you a one liner like 'Sharing Ingenuity' but I want more. So what do you tell friends you do? How would you describe the nature of this odd world we play in?