Maker Faire San Mateo 2012


We’re going to Maker Faire this year! Please join us and another 100,000 people at one of the greatest events for DIYers. This will be our 7th time going.

I went the first year in 2006:

Broom Bike

That year, Dale Dougherty had heard about our GPS clock and was nice enough to ask me to hang it behind the main stage. Of course I had to carry a rotary cell phone as I walked around. No booth, no business cards. I was blown away by what I saw. This was 20,000 of my people! After getting back to Boulder after that first year, it was obvious we had to come back!

2007 was the year we took Picture Frame Tetris and the Giant Nintendo Controller:

Picture Frame Tetris

2007 was out of control popular! We went for free as a Maker with just a folding table and a foam board describing our projects. I can’t describe how exciting it was to have hundreds of people stop by our booth. But with only three of us at the table, we were so overrun with people that we didn’t have the time to break for food or use the bathroom. Luckily, Make had some helpers able to get us water. It was an intense year that taught us we need to bring more help!

In 2008 we took the LED Pong Table:

LED Pone Table

As SparkFun was growing into a bigger business, Make decided we needed to pay for our first formal booth. It was $12,000. In 2008, this was a huge decision for us. Extremely expensive, but we bit the bullet and made it happen.

SparkFun's 2008 Maker Faire Booth

There were about 10 of us and we started figuring out how to bring enough water and chairs to keep people fed well enough to last the weekend. This was a good year but we realized we needed to do more hands on!

In 2009 we decided to start teaching soldering at our booth. In order to accommodate folks sitting down we expanded the booth to 20x40. This is a really big booth!

We made the decision early on not to sell parts or product at our booth. Instead, if you wanted to put together a kit and have us teach you, we asked for a donation. We raised over $4900 that first year and gave it to a local charity in San Francisco. We brought 14 people and didn’t have the chance to sit down! This soldering thing was popular…

In 2010 we continue to teach but now with support! 19 SparkFun red-shirts came to help each other. We even got some breaks!

Lindsay helps a child solder in 2010

Demoing the stomp-pad snake game

We brought a new demo called Snake Stomp which was a great interactive game that had many kids and adults jumping up and down. From the kits we gave away, we raised over $6000 for two local charities that year!

LilyPad TechStyles Kit

Year number 6! In 2011, we worked with Make to bring back our soldering classes in our 20x40 booth for $15,000. We added a class on e-textiles and brought a sizable army of 23 people to try to cover the demand.

SparkFun Maker Faire Booth 2011

We gave guest lectures, sat on panels, and had a ton of fun. We gave away over 700 kits, taught folks how to solder them together and raised over $8500 for local charities in the process! By the end of the day all I wanted to do was sit in a quiet, dark corner and sip a tasty beverage. It was intense!

The Dice Gauntlet (actually a bracer)

So as we started to plan for Maker Faire 2012 with new projects on the horizon, we used all the lessons we learned in the previous 6 years. Between the hotel, food, rental cars (we take up 6 cars!), and plane tickets, it’s shocking how much work, time and money it takes to get the army of SparkFun instructors mobilized from Colorado to California. But I always know that Maker Faire will be a great way to interact the people who are like us - people who build fun stuff. And that can’t be entered into a cell on a spreadsheet.

Unfortunately something odd happened in 2012. Getting quotes for our booth (20x40) the price increased significantly from $15,000 to $60,000. We talked with Make and brought this down to $51,000. We are grateful for the discounts that Make has given us over the years but this was not an amount we could swallow. To keep with our educational spirit, we’re kicking around an idea for a west coast teaching tour instead.

SparkFun teaching soldering

We sadly won’t be teaching at Maker Faire this year but it is still an amazing event that we can’t miss! We are going to take this opportunity to return to our roots. We’ve signed up for a $5,000 booth (10x10) and reduced the number of SparkFun employees going so that we can demo some of the projects that folks within SparkFun have been working on over the past year. If you’re planning on being at Maker Faire let us know! We’d love to meet up with you! While we are bummed we won’t be teaching soldering, this may be the first year we get a chance to step away and try the turkey legs.

As I mentioned, while we won’t be teaching at this Maker Faire, the possibility of a SparkFun West Coast Tour is in the works. Keep an eye out for updates for a stop in a town near you. In the mean time, if you’re coming by Maker Faire, look for the group of electronics enthusiasts in the red shirts - we hope to see you there!


Comments 41 comments

  • As a subscriber to Make magazine since the very first issue, it’s a bit disturbing to me to see that the focus of this amazing event has shifted from making blinkies to making money. And yes, I understand that costs rise blah blah blah, but no costs have risen 400% in the last year. Except, sadly, the cost of a booth at the Maker Faire. Poor form, Make, poor form.

    • I agree with OhmMyGadgets - I’m really glad that Make has figured out how to make the faire happen in the first place. Maker Faire has always been a super-fun event for us. But we need to be clear that SparkFun is a for-profit company and Make has the task of running a for-profit event. I just wanted to explain to folks the reasons why we’re not going to be there this year.

      • Is it very impersonal how they organize booth registration? It would seem that you could set up a small both for sales and open a larger one to provide education of sorts. Or perhaps they would be open to booth segmentation such that a section is for sales and the others are for training.

        If you wanted to be really sneaky, you could have people who mount portable booths. If you ever head to Central and South America, you will see backpack vendors who essentially carry their entire booth on their torso. Keeping it compact and interesting would be a fun challenge.

        Seems that Make has a lot to lose by discouraging the education component. Practically, they do have a legitimate concern for keeping MakerFaire less of a sales hub than a technology fair. Having a Make fair on the West Coast makes me a little sad about living on the East-side.

    • Have they started charging for non-selling booths now, too? I’m going only as an attendee this year, but I had a free booth last year for the Medusa board.

      I do remember talking with one of the organizers, and being surprised the booth was free. She impressed upon me how much the faire was really about the makers, not about pulling in dough, and said they charge for the selling and corporate booths in order to restrict the faire from becoming an overly commercial event, squeezing out would-be small presenters. I’m a skeptical kinda guy, so I would wonder whether that were really the intent at the corporate level. Regardless, she sounded pretty sincere about it. At the same time, though, I think SparkFun ought to have some kind of special dispensation, given how much of their layout is dedicated to education, rather than product. Hands-on is what Maker Faire is all about, after all.

      Regardless, I’m damn glad the Maker Faire exists. I’d never seen anything like it, when I first attended. And, heck - I got to meet Nate and Pete last year :-D

  • Make just went subzero in my book. They probably thought they could ask that kind of money. I guess Sparkfun is big enough now to host its own events. You can host some really nice events for $51k and get an even better outreach.

    • +10 on this approach! Spend half that amount on an event here! Organize some deals on airfare and lodging, and out-make make.

  • I hope to see SparkFun going for the teaching tour option, I’d much rather see that $50,000 go towards making the classes awesome instead of lining the pockets of O'Reilly!

  • We’ve been coming down to San Mateo Maker Faire since the first one, and had a presence at all but the first.

    We too were surprised by the spike in booth fees, and coming all the way down from Canada, we simply couldn’t absorb the rate increase to host another free-Arduino workshop like we did last year. We’ll be still coming down (just 2 of us) to help out at the Maker Shed, but no booth. We’ll be putting some of those resources to doing alternate shows, like the Calgary Entertainment Expo (last weekend - FUN!), and the mini-maker Faires in Vancouver & Calgary.

    Save a turkey leg for us - we’ll bring the frozen lemonades! -Dave (President of Solarbotics Ltd)

  • I’ve posted this before, and I’ll do it again… Dayton Hamvention. www.hamvention.org . This year, May 18-20 in Dayton, Ohio. 20,000 of the original “makers” - ham radio operators - and other electronics enthusiasts. Hams love to make things, especially electronic things, and you would be surprised with some of the radio applications that SparkFun products could be used for. On top of that, there are many non-ham electronics enthusiasts that attend. Mendelson’s Surplus (www.meci.com) puts up a big tent and sells electronics and other surplus hardware (and also has a big surplus warehouse store in downtown Dayton that is worth a visit).

    APRS and other digital ham radio modes employ GPS boards, weather sensors, etc. Plus it is very easy to interface RS-232 data and transmit it over the ham radio frequencies for much longer distances than Bluetooth and Xbee…. In fact, licensed hams are are allowed to use off-the-shelf Wi-Fi equipment with much higher power using amps and gain antennas to create wide-area mesh networks (a loophole because a portion of the 802.11 2.4GHz band is shared with ham radio spectrum).

    Yes I’m inviting anyone who is listening, but even more so I am inviting SparkFun. Even demoing their existing products and not creating any ham radio-related products, they could do very well. And booth space is nowhere near as expensive as MakerFaire - indoor exhibit space is $400-$700 and outdoor flea-market spaces are $70 - $100 each. It lasts three days and usually brings 20,000-22,000 people from all over the world, and has a 60 year history.

    And is run completely by volunteers.

    At the last hamfest I was at in Fort Worth, Freetronics was doing quite well introducing Arduino-clones to ham operators. There is a market. Just open the door!

    • SparkFun has a few hams running around too. We went to a local hamfest about a month ago and had a good time explaining Arduino, showing off tiny GPS boards and video of HAB launches, and just meeting all manner of hams. It was a fun day, but on a much smaller scale than Hamvention.

    • Hamvention rocks! Haven’t been to one in the last seven years, but when I lived in Ohio, I went to them every year.

      I’m surprised SparkFun doesn’t at least have a small booth there. Most of the attendees are definitely the kind of people that would shop at SparkFun.

      Now if someone would just modernize Hare Arena so it didn’t look like 1970 on the inside…

  • That pricing is just ridiculous. I don’t know why Sparkfun doesn’t consider MakerFaire Detroit. It’s actually in Dearborn, MI at the Henry Ford Museum. The first two years Make ran it but this year the Museum is running it. That’s why it’s a called a “featured” faire. It was $100 for a commercial maker and no real size limit since they have the space. About 370 makers and about 20,000 visitors last year.

    I agree that those prices will create competition. I like the open faire idea.

    • I’ve been to the past two in Detroit, and there were great turnouts each year. The Henry Ford is an amazing location, and hopefully a few of us can make it out again this year.

  • Too late for a “Sparkfun at Maker Faire Bay Area 2012” Kickstarter? Maybe everyone who got $100 of free stuff a few months ago can give $50 back?

  • well last year was my first year going to any MakerFair, and i loved it. it was the best thing i did all year, and it even got my girlfriend more interested in the creative community. she used to be all about just replicating other peoples work, mainly by singing there songs, but up there she saw how much better it is to make your own stuff. she was enthrawled in the jewlery and stuff. but she came to understand why i ignore her some of the time for my projects. and what they can turn out to be.

    its sad that they charge so much for the booths, its not like you guys were selling anything it was more of a way for SparkFun to connect with its members. I hope you can get a booth at NYC MakerFair.

  • I’ll be there with my wife and two boys! They can tell you about the bubbler, the spinning string, the laser canons and the RFID-controlled dog feeder (the older beagle likes to steal).

    Looking forward to meeting a few of the team!

    • LOVE the idea of an RFID feeder!

      • I need one that puts a cover over Dog’s 2 dish when Dog 1 moves in to try to eat Dog’s 2 food.

        • The way mine works is by using a short tunnel thats the length of the smaller dog. When she goes in she sets off the RFID detector and her size prevents the other dog from getting to her bowl while she’s there.

          • My two dogs are boxers- a little big for any Tunnel.

            You keep hearing how bad RFID tags are with stealing personal information- I am wondering if it can be set up so you have a distance range with the tag before your circuit trips?

            My Boxers have one of those elevated two bowl stands. I could see something like the cone of silence that would come up from the back and encapsulate the dogs dish when that dog was not with in four feet of the dog dish. The other side effect would mean flies and other things could not get to the food either.

            I bet this could be sized up for horses and cattle too.

  • Has Sparkfun considered spinning off a non-profit for your educational outreach? It could be supported by the company, but at events such as this maybe a non-profit wouldn’t be charged nearly as much. If you do a lot of these events with no intention of sales and donate any proceeds towards charity.. There’s no reason you couldn’t do it under the umbrella of a non-profit organization.

  • Any word on MF:NYC this year? Hope its not a bust as well. Luckily my subscription to MAKE has expired.

  • I’ve also been a huge fan of Make since the beginning, but lets face it, they also have a bottom line that they have to push as well. That’s not to hate on O'Reilly, I have a ton of their books and they’ve been a great resource, but I’m also totally aware of their vested interest in capturing market share throughout the entire creative market.

    But going solo, bravo! That’s a huge sign of maturity for SparkFun as an organization. Hoping to see a SparkFair in Buffalo, NY sometime.

  • I’m a local who will be out there, and I’ll definitely stop by to see you guys. I wish you were still doing soldering classes, as my soldering skills are best described as offensive. Any idea if/when you’ll be offering some basic skills classes back in the Boulder area? I looked at your upcoming classes, and didn’t see anything that fit that bill (I can’t afford to take a week off of work, no matter how tempting the summer semester class is).

  • Disappointing - last year I flew in from Iowa for Maker Faire and built a Simon kit. I know my way around a soldering iron well enough, but it felt good to build something while surrounded by the awesome gadgetry. I’m coming back this year - I hope that they haven’t driven away too many inventors with the crazy booth prices.

  • not cool O'Reilly, not cool…

  • I will be working the ASUS booth at the MakerFair and will have my LED matrices and such which I am modding into a Daft Punk Helmet there with me. My buddy Travis will be demonstrating computer overclocking while I will be demonstrating computer modding.

    This is me …come up and say hello

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5v7aLT8LORE&feature=related

  • What inspires me the most is to see the parents bring their kids to these events where they can let their kids creativity and imaginations fly. See you guys there.

  • You all coming to NY makerfaire in September again? I’m bringing friends this time, a crew of makers.

    • We will be coming out to MFNY, but we just don’t know what presence we will be able to swing. At a bare minimum, we’ll send some of our crew out to give out some goodies, enjoy the faire and meet new Makers.

  • There are some of us on the right coast that are not going to be able to enjoy this. Yes, we build things, too.

    • There is also Maker Faire New York in the fall. We’ll be evaluating how big of a presence we can be there as well.

      • Do we need to get some sort of online petition going to get MAKE to lower their prices for educational exhibitors? I had a great time soldering up a big-time watch last year, and an even better time giving it away to a friends daughter who fell in love with it over dinner one night. Seriously, they should be giving you free space, like any other maker. So what if you’re a business. You’re one of the most educational DIY electronics websites on the internet.

  • while at MakerFair would your staff be able to help people in their personal projects. say i have a project that i cant figure out why its not working, could i bring it to your booth and discuss how to trubble shoot the problem.

    • I would be honest, with the limited crew, and the high level of visitors, likely there won’t be time for trouble shooting projects. Very sorry. You can try emailing Tech Support, and we can see if we can help you out. Tech support generally can only help so much with custom projects, but if they are parts that we are familiar with, maybe we can help.

      • Yeah… no promises, but maybe we could poke at it a bit. Tim’s right, though: tech support is your best bet.

  • I’ll be the first to say that this could be good. Sparkfun is a major distributor these days, and maker faire was about the maker. Sparkfun returning to their roots and showing what they’ve made is also back to the Maker Faire’s roots.

    I’m not aware if the smallest booth is still free. If it isn’t - too bad maker faire, time to start “Open Faire”!

    • Open Faire is a great idea but putting together one of these events is a huge amount of work that requires a dedicated team. If the regional Maker Faires follow the price increases of the mother ship it may justifiable as an alternative. But if they keep costs down to makers it may not be sustainable on a volunteer basis. Getting outside of the very expensive convention markets of San Fran and NYC really changes things.

      — finishing projects for my first appearance at Orlando Maker Faire

    • I am loving the “Open Faire” Idea!

  • Im going! i was there and met dave :) is rob going this year?

    • I was going to go, but with the smaller booth, I’ll probably stay here. We were going to do a live new product post, but we don’t have the space :-(


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