September 26, 2014 was the day that this whole thing started. Patrick and I decided a couple of weeks prior we were really going to enter the Engadget hardware competition, not just punt it like we had talked about. It wasn't a huge project; cobble together a mechanical keyboard, E Ink screen, and some software inside of a housing to make a distraction-free writing tool.
It was approaching midnight, the deadline, and Patrick was waiting for me to spring the freshly milled housing from the CNC machine. We needed to have something to show for this competition, a real picture, a live demo, anything that would give the judges a visual of what our idea actually was.
We submitted a rough description and an even rougher prototype.
It didn't have a bottom and was full of hacked electronics but it kinda worked. We had a custom app running on a Raspberry Pi that served an experimental browser running on a hacked e-reader through an internal private Wi-Fi network. A modified Poker II mechanical keyboard provided the input. If you squinted really hard, it was the Freewrite.
On Dec 10th, 2014, we launched this Kickstarter campaign. We knew we had something that was interesting to people but how many? There was a lot we were cautious about. The price, we had never told people the price. The campaign goal, it was a lot higher than what people told us we should set it at. The product parts really are very expensive and there was no other way.
Immediately after we went live, your contributions came roaring in. Yes, some people had objections, but in the first 20 hours we had over $200k in funding and were well on our way to our $250k goal.
Reality sunk in on day 2. We were really going to have to make this thing. Shift gears! We needed a supply chain, electrical engineers, a refined mechanical design, parts, a place to work, a real graphics card that can run Solidworks, experts, more money, and a lot more coffee. Shifting gears became the theme of the 18 months as we constantly had to re-prioritize to triage problems and keep things moving.
It is now May 18th, we have fulfilled substantially all of the Kickstarter rewards and the reviews are coming out. At the start, Patrick and I talked about what our personal goals were for this project. My goal was just to make it into production, no matter the size or the goal of having a sustainable company. Now, having a review like one of our Kickstarter backers and Atlantic contributor, Ian Bogost, wrote: LINK. Well, that really tops it all. I don't expect anybody to write something so insightful and positive like that about anything I have been a part of ever again.
Who are our customers people ask? Real writers I tell them! And the numbers don't lie. We thought the numbers were lying but then we checked them again. And again. You guys have been putting your Freewrites to work! Most people have only had their devices for a few days and already the productivity is through the roof.
At no time did I fantasize about this day, but, when it occurred to our team during a quick meeting on Monday that we have fulfilled all of the Kickstarter rewards, I couldn't help but feel some excitement about putting this chapter behind us and moving on.
A lot of people have been asking us what's next. We haven't had a moment where we didn't feel like we were playing catch up which means we haven't had a lot of time to think about this question. There are a few things I can say:
- We will be continuing development of Postbox and the Freewrite's firmware.
- The Freewrite's hardware is set. I don't expect any major component changes beyond minor manufacturing related tweaks to happen in any future production batches.
- We are starting to think about new products, especially accessories like covers and cases.
- Our team is tiny and must grow for us to properly support the Freewrite ecosystem. The rest of 2016 will be dedicated to hiring these people and bringing in the resources to support them.
There are a lot of people to thank for making this happen: First, my partner, Patrick, for leading and coding a massive software development project while also being a true partner in our company. Our first and only employee, Charlie, for figuring out how to thrive in a turbulent atmosphere that requires him to learn new things everyday while being surrounded by the insanity that is working with Patrick and me. Our EE and hardware engineering partners, Bitgear, who worked with us through 3 timezones with an intensity and diligence that is rarely found from contractors. Our factory partners, Andrew, Max, Stanley, Frankie, Jon, Rupert, and many others who took a chance on us and stepped out of their comfort zone to build this incredible product with us. Our technology partners, Gina and Johnny at E Ink, who were willing to working with us from the beginning despite ordering 0.1% their typical minimum order quantity. Our keyboard builder, Justin at Tex, in Taiwan, for producing our custom keyboard and making it one of the best ever. My friends and family for providing couches and guest bedrooms for me to crash on over the past six months while I commuted between New York, Hong Kong, Detroit and many places in between.
Last but certainly not least, we need to thank you, our Kickstarter backers, for making this happen. This campaign changed my life and I will feel forever fortunate that I have been given the chance to ideate a product and see it all the way through production and delivery, all while staying true to the original vision.
Thank you all!
P.S. We will no longer be responding to Kickstarter messages or comments. Please send any and all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on my Freewrite ;)