We came, we conquered, we Kickstarted and this is what we learned... September 06 2013, 2 Comments

So, Kickstarter is over. How did it go? What's next? Would you do it again? What did you learn? These are some of the questions our backers, family and friends have been asking us over the last few months. Hopefully, this blog post will satisfy everyone’s curiosity and give everyone more insight into our process and a glimpse into Party Robotics’ future.

Going through the Kickstarter process

We began preparing for the Kickstarter campaign about a month before we launched. In retrospect, two or three months would have been better.

We started with more traditional marketing the week before launch by putting flyers up in TechShops, maker/hacker spaces and universities.

We talked to other Kickstarters, getting a feel for what to expect. Everyone we spoke with was excited to share their experiences.

We thought it was important to launch our Kickstarter with a bang and pushed the go button the same night Bartendro appeared at BarBot in San Francisco. Over the course of the Kickstarter we brought Bartendro to several other events and trade shows.

Right after launching, we contacted bloggers that had written about similar products and introduced them to Bartendro. The most traction came after bloggers with CNET, Yahoo and Endadget wrote posts about us a couple days into the campaign.

There was a large chunk of time spent answering emails and slightly tweaking the Kickstarter rewards, especially during the first week after launching.

After we funded it took several days to receive the funds. Kickstarter took 5%, Amazon 3.5%.

Out of 479 backers, 7 were dropped because Amazon couldn't process their payment.

People discovered our project a day or two or three after the campaign was over and wanted to back us. If we did another campaign we would plan ahead for this.

Make more extras than you think you'll need!

We made about 5% extras, but are now wishing we had made more like 25% to compensate for quality issues and late backers.

Don’t forget about taxes

We will be paying sales tax for all the backers in our state.  We should have made an estimate of how many would back us in California in order to include that cost in our budget.

In order to buy goods without paying tax we had to get a seller’s permit/resale certificate. We will pay ‘use tax’ for any goods that aren’t sold.

Design - Be explicit in drawings!!

The power supplies from China initially arrived with the wrong connector even though the part number was specified correctly. Be very careful when emailing foreign vendors, miscommunication can happen easily.

Several days were wasted because we forgot to specify the color 'black' on our silkscreen drawings.

We got  quotes from several vendors and used mfg.com to compare.

It’s important to finish designing all the parts as early as possible. Some design changes may affect other parts. Since we were making most of the parts ourselves, we were able to catch the issues and adapt. This would have been much harder if we had contracted the parts out.

We considered using stickers for branding/model numbers etc, but silkscreening came out better and looks very professional when done correctly. Laser engraving looks even better, but costs almost three times as much.

Vendors were slower than expected. Anticipate adding at least 20% more time to any date that you are promised for goods. Unexpected delays and shipping time are rarely incorporated into their time estimates.

Most international vendors required a wire transfer in their currency. Sometimes, a check could be written to them to avoid those expensive wire transfer fees. This can take a few extra days, but may be worth it.

The manuals took more time and effort than we expected. We had users test our manual by going through the instructions. No matter how simple we thought it was, some people still had no idea what we were talking about. We found the addition of pictures and diagrams to be much better than words alone.

Manufacturing

Using an unproven powder coating was risky. We chose the color after looking at a small paint chip at the powder coating shop. While the color covered the small sample pieces just fine, larger pieces showed the material underneath. The painters had to lay heavy coats to mask the problem. The coating also sometimes got into the threads of the hardware and we had to run a tap through the clogged holes.

We purchased a ton of plastic bins of various sizes which was key to making assembly and packaging run smoothly.

Friends were bribed to help with pizza and beer. Just had to make sure that all free labor was double checked for errors.

To improve quality and reduce errors, it's was a good idea to have the next person in line check the previous person’s work.

We had to account for scrapping poor quality parts, including allowing time to return and receive new parts.

Inspecting all parts as soon as they were received was a must! Just because the parts sitting on top look good, doesn't mean the rest do. If the first time you see a bad part is when you need it, it's too late!

When shipping, try and avoid getting in and out of the box more than once. Double checking things we already packed was time consuming.

When making hundreds or thousands of something, seconds count. Optimize early on is highly encouraged.

Machining parts was time consuming and expensive. In the future we will consider more injection molding.

Large minimum order quantities were hard to reach even with Kickstarter backers.

It is going to be alright.

From start to finish, the Kickstarter took a huge amount of time. Everyone working on the project had to devote the time and resources to making it work. We also made sure to have people we could poke for extra help when we were stuck.

Having patience and keeping a cool, calm head was a lifesaver. Fortunately, all our Kickstarter backers were patient and knew that the process was time consuming. We tried our best not to promise hard dates unless we felt that we could meet them. We updated everyone as often as we could, changing dates only when it was absolutely necessary. People would prefer to wait and get a quality product than quickly receive a poorly finished or buggy product.

Shipping

International shipping from vendors was very expensive. It was often more cost effective to use sea freight and wait three weeks for delivery.

Cutting and folding cardboard pieces by hand was a pain and didn’t look great. We did that for the kits until we partnered with the packaging department at our local university. They were able to prototype things quickly and cut all the inserts we needed on their machines.

While USPS was the least expensive, it was not the best choice for international orders. We discovered that delivery cannot be guaranteed and once it leaves the US since the shipment is no longer tracked. We had to resend products because they never got to their destination after nearly 2 months. DHL cost about 50% more on average, but was preferable .

We have shipped to 23 countries so far: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

Customs

Backers need to pay duties, customs and taxes depending on their country. This can sometimes up to 30% of the purchase cost. We had to include an invoice for every international shipment so that the proper fees could be assessed and customs could properly process the package. If an invoice isn’t included the package will likely be stuck in customs.

If we could do it over we would…

Give ourselves more time to properly bring up a product line instead of trying to do everything ourselves.

Get a bigger working space. Working in a small space meant we were constantly moving things around, boxing, unboxing, and doing things in several stages which made everything happen slower.

Think more about keeping the momentum going after Kickstarter rewards were delivered.

Have our website designed by a professional.

Now what?

For starters, a much needed vacation! Next week ALL of the Party Robotics staff will be ‘out of the office’ traveling internationally. While Erin and Rob go back to their day jobs afterwards, Garran and Pierre will have some other loose ends to tie up and will be back at the beginning of October. If you have any issues during the next few weeks, try posting a message on our forums or email Erin. We will do our best to respond to you as soon as we can, but it might take longer than it has in the past.

Sometime in October we will have a shopping cart on our site where you will be able to order replacement parts like tubing and other available items.

Also starting in October, we will begin experimenting and prototyping dispensing solutions for carbonated liquids.

We are opening up pre-orders for bots and hardware with a target delivery date of January 2014, possibly sooner.

We have been approached by several companies interested in partnering with us and are exploring those avenues.

We will continue to make improvements to the software and hardware, listening to the community for their feedback.

That's all for now. We will continue to keep you posted as we come up with cool new things! Thanks for joining us on this journey.


Keep Calm and Build Robots August 01 2013, 0 Comments

The last few weeks have been exciting we’ve gotten to see what our backers are doing with their newly acquired hardware. One person decided that a dispenser which only pours one shot was not nearly ambitious enough. Once he got his hands on a dispenser he set out to create ShotBot R4, which can pour up to four shots using a custom designed rotating stand. Seeing projects like this, using our core technology, is just one of the many reasons we love being an open source company. As you acquire your kits and bots make sure to share your new creations with the community. Part of being open source is sharing our ideas, creating a community where everyone can help each other to create an even better product. Can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!

While some guffaw at the idea of open source it is one of our key tenets. To hear more about open source and Party Robotics check out this interview with our own Robert Kaye during London’s Music Tech Fest.

Back in the San Luis Obispo workshop, Pierre and Garran have been working night and day to prepare all the bots for shipments. Recently they’ve machined B3 spouts and aluminum tubing, been figuring out silkscreen artwork, packaging for large bots, and making final modifications to the larger bot’s spout designs. Our schedule has been modified slightly from when we were hoping to deliver at the end of our Kickstarter campaign. As work continues, new issues come to the surface and we’ve enhanced or modified our original designs to bring you the best possible product. Right now our anticipated shipment dates are:

August 5th: Begin delivery of remaining kits.

August 19th: Delivery of Bartendro 3 and Shotbots

August 31st: Delivery of Bartendro 7 and 15s

We will of course continue to keep you updated on our progress. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

[caption id="attachment_1087" align="aligncenter" width="400"]IMG_0035 Freshly machined aluminum tubing[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1086" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Testing out silkscreen designs Testing out silkscreen designs[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1085" align="aligncenter" width="400"]B3 spouts B3 spouts[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1084" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Peering inside of a large bot spout Peering inside of a large bot spout[/caption]

Pre-Orders and Other Updates June 09 2013, 2 Comments

The last few weeks have given me a new appreciation for the everyday products we purchase. When you buy something you never think about all the small details that went into making it ready to ship to consumers. Someone had to design the logo stickers, decide on what material to print them on, where they should be placed, and how big they should be. Someone designed the packaging that the product comes in. Should the box have tabs, should it include foam, packing peanuts, or air cushions? What about the user manual? Another person had to sit down and design that, ensuring that customers could pull their new product out of the box and get started right away. This is just a small sampling of all the things that go into a product launch. We have all been learning a ton about this process and are getting very close to shipping out our first orders!

We have received our first box of assembled dispenser boards and miniRouter boards and everything is working as intended. ShotBot and B3 faces have been powder coated. The shop has been redesigned for larger scale manufacturing and we have begun cutting the tubing. Almost all the components for our small kits, ShotBot, and B3 are in our hands.

[caption id="attachment_890" align="aligncenter" width="520"]B1 and B3 Powder Coating B1 and B3 back from powder coating.[/caption]

B7 and B15 fabrication is in the queue. Labels have been designed and ordered. We have designed packaging for our dispensers, ShotBot, and B3. We are also working on the user manuals, video guides, and website improvements.

While we tried very hard to get out the first orders in May, we have had some unexpected delays. Our power supplies have not arrived yet, but we are expecting them soon. We are also working on hammering out all the bugs in our code. We have enlisted the help of a few dispenser backers with extensive programming knowledge who have agreed to be our beta testers. With their feedback we can get your orders out to you sooner than working on it alone. It’s important to us to send out pumps, bots, and kits to you all with solid software. That means pushing delivery back a couple of weeks.

Last, we are excited to announce that pre-orders have begun! The first item that will be available for order will be our dispenser. You can pre-order a standard dispenser for $129 or a dispenser with liquid level sensor for $149. The dispenser is a peristaltic pump with encoder, machined to accept our open source electronics and comes with several feet of beverage tubing. You'll have to provide your own power supply, serial communication device, and a way to mount the pump. We will continue to keep you updated as more products become available for pre-order.


Sheet Metal Fabrication May 16 2013, 0 Comments

Working with sheet metal involves massive machines that work with an average of 30 tons of pressure. Not for the faint of heart. The main machines can sheer (cut along the length), punch (create holes and cutout shapes), and bend. There are other machines for inserting hardware, spot welding, notching and preparing the surface to be painted, plus many more. Check out the progress on Shotbot and Bartendro 3. Now that they're done being fabricated, they're off to get powder coated to look shiny and pretty. The color we've gone with is called Sparkle Silver. We think it'll look rather sexy. Work will begin soon on B7 and B15, and those will take a lot more time because the process is more complicated and labor intensive with several bends and welds each. One of the nice things about using a local shop is that I can show up whenever to watch our parts being made, and that translates into videos for you. Enjoy! IMG_4194 IMG_4195IMG_4191    

The Setup February 12 2012, 0 Comments

Designing a cocktail dispensing machine may not sound very difficult, but when one considers that most of the components are not readily available for purchase off the shelf, one must design their own. There are a lot of tools that go into creating a complex electro-mechanical machine like a drink bot. There are solid modeling tools, like SolidWorks and Alibre, CAM tools like SprutCam and the software that runs a the CNC machine, like Mach 3. The CNC machine is a PCNC 1100 made by Tormach, and it is a joy to use. All of the tools need to work in unison to achieve the desired results. These tools cover the basics required for machining parts. When it comes to the electronics, schematic and layout tools are required. In my case, I used EagleCAD because of the existing community and pre-made parts that allowed for fast development time. Boards can be cheaply fabricated in China by Golden Phoenix and modules from Sparkfun and Pololu make development even easier and more modular. All software tools have their quirks, and when it comes down to it, it is just a matter of patience to learn how to use things in an efficient matter. Having these hardware and software tools in place allows us to iterate over and over tuning and refining until we are happy with the quality and performance of our creations. The tool set allows us to also make a wide array of parts, mechanisms and machines that make people's lives easier and more enjoyable. So, get some tools and start creating!