To our wonderful backers - the big one!
This update includes:
- appointing a new manufacturer: Foxconn
- design verification: DCA-Design
- Mk3 prototypes: all the models plus the MiniDrive Retina 13
- Mk3 timeline
First of all, thank you to everyone that has reached out to us to tell us how much they love their MiniDrive, we really appreciate the support guys - that is what keeps us going and working on this project every waking moment.
We are sorry that we have had to keep you guys in the dark for the last month - it has been necessary due to a number of confidential discussions that have been integral in developing the new timeline for the Mk3 as well as our future products.
Before embarking on this project, neither Steve nor I had ever manufactured anything. I had done some simple tinkering in the local FabLab and had a passing knowledge of CAD (self taught). Steve was living and working in China as a property developer and I was training to be a lawyer. Then Kickstarter changed our lives forever. You guys changed our lives forever.
In the truest sense of the word this was a Kickstarter project of what we have come to feel represents the best of Kickstarter: the ability of anyone, not just professional design studios and large companies, to launch a new product on the market. It's often not pretty. Deadlines are and always will be missed - often due to the inexperience of the founders, as well as the unrealistic expectations they put on themselves and their manufacturers. Sometimes projects fail. But it is giving those with a good idea and a lot of passion the start they need to make their vision come true which makes Kickstarter brilliant, and game changing.
However, there is a dark side to Kickstarter success: every funded project has a responsibility to hundreds if not thousands of people. This alone can end up being crushing, resulting in nervous breakdowns, personal bankruptcy of founders, as well class action law suits and a bad taste in the mouth of those that came to Kickstarter to help support an idea they believed in. That is what we (Steve & I, and every other founder) sign up for, knowingly or not, when starting a Kickstarter project.
The journey is an incredible one, both personally and professionally. Over the next few weeks we will try to share with you guys a little more about what we have learnt the hard way about successfully making a mass produced premium hardware product.
But what news of the MiniDrive? Brace yourself, this is going to take a while!
New manufacturer - Foxconn
Our previous manufacturer was not strictly a manufacturer, but a sub-contractor that project manages the manufacture of a product to local Chinese firms and then oversees the quality control process on the ground in China.
There are several firms that provide this and similar services and directly target successful Kickstarter projects, offering a fully managed manufacturing solution. Pebble, Remee and a couple of other great Kickstarter projects appear to have also gone down a similar path.
In a future update I will carefully go through what we learnt on the way in selection of manufacturer, but some of you guys have directly experienced, and everyone has seen, the results of getting that critical choice wrong.
After a long period of discussions we have finally appointed Foxconn as our new principle manufacturer of the Mk3 MiniDrive. For us, quality is, and always has been, massively important and we cannot tell you how upset we have been with the problems with the MiniDrive Mk2. Among all the manufacturers we have spoken to, Foxconn takes quality immensely seriously, and ultimately made our choice very easy.
Design verification - DCA-Design
With the issues that we saw with the Mk2 (body-aluminium separation/read-write errors) it was massively important to us that the Mk3 MiniDrive is the best we could possibly make, given the design constraints.
As a self-taught designer with a limited knowledge of industrial process, it was critical to me that the Mk3 was looked at by a qualified and relevant 3rd party. We got DCA-Design, a leading European engineering and design consultancy, to review the new designs and advise on manufacturability and robustness, paying special attention to the key issues with the Mk2.
This does not cost as much as you might expect (as long as you keep the brief narrow), and I would strongly recommend any successful Kickstarter project to invest in this before commencing manufacturer as it will save you a lot of heart ache later. We didn't do this the first time round for a number of reasons (which I will go into on future posts) but a quick pro tip: just because someone says they can manufacture something, doesn't mean they can manufacture it!
Absolutely critical to our design verification this time round was to make sure that there were no problems that would crop up during assembly. We removed glue entirely from our manufacturing process and have created aluminium-body interface that requires the entire MiniDrive to be broken before it can every come apart. As there is no glue, the join is entirely mechanical and so will not vary from MiniDrive to MiniDrive, which was a large draw-back of the previous glue based design.
The Mk3 prototypes - introducing the MiniDrive Retina 13
So, with the new design reviewed and revised seven ways to Sunday, and our new manufacturer ready and waiting to spring into action, the first call of the day was to prototype.
So, without further ado, may I present the MiniDrive Mk3 (in prototype form, this is approximately what the final one will look like, minus the rough edges!):
We are thinking about putting a flash of colour down the middle of the MiniDrive as we felt that it added extra awesomeness (like a go faster stripe but without the V8 engine). This is not definitely going to be included (and is definitely not the final shade!) but is an idea we are currently experimenting with.
And, finally, the MiniDrive Retina 13:
As you can see, the damn thing is tiny compared to the other MiniDrives and I cannot tell you guys how much a massive pain in the behind getting everything to fit was!
The middle one (the one in red) is made using a soft tool and is much closer to what the final MiniDrives Mk3 will look like.
And in the MacBook Retina 13":
Timeline for Mk3 - August 2013
Due to the change in manufacturer we are now looking at August for delivery of the Mk3. We know that for some of you this is a year since we first started before you will finally get your MiniDrive, and there is nothing we would have liked more than to get a perfect MiniDrive out to you first time! You have been with us from the very start, watching us struggle to deal with thousands of orders, as a two person team. We are still struggling, but it is getting easier. It has been a crazy journey until now and we would like to share a little more of that in detail with you between now and delivery of the Mk3.
So, every Friday, at 5pm London time, I will be posting a small retrospective on what we have learnt at each stage of the process - from funding to mass production. It is my hope that some-day every one of you might produce something you love, be it a big or a small project, and it is the least I can do to share with you all that we have learnt (or not learnt) on our journey so far!
Piers + Steve & The Nifty Team