Limor Fried, Adafruit, Woman Entrepreneur
I met Limor at an event for littleBits. Ayah (the entrepreneur behind littleBIts) and Limor knew each other from the MIT Media Lab. To me, both of these women are serious bad asses and I mean that as a huge compliment. They understand the ins and outs of technology like no other and they wear it on their sleeve. After meeting Limor, I made sure to follow-up with her and connect. So glad I did.
Limor grew up in Boston area meaning Alston, Cambridge and Brookline. Her father is a professor at BU and her mother teaches piano. Limor, like many young people who are techies, was much more interested in electronics and computers than she was in school. She lost interest in high school and actually never graduated. I believe that this happens to kids like LImor because the curriculum in the school system isn't challenging to kids who love tech. It is an issue that is one of the many issues that need to be resolved in education.
Because of her ties to BU, they let Limor take classes at BU. Ended up the classes she enrolled in were all graduate classes and after two years somebody started paying attention and told her that BU wasn't the right place for her, MIT was. Limor transferred to MIT and it took her 3 more years in the undergraduate program to get her degree. She had found her spot. Then LImor continued on to do a masters in the MIT Media lab and that is where she met Ayah.
In the Media Lab she had an advisor who was in between tech and the arts. It was well suited to her as her classes ended up with a more creative bend as she came from a hacking background. She was able to do a thesis there on how to build cell phone jammers. It was fun because she had free reign. People from Samsung would come to see the product and wonder how they could use it to put Nokia down. This was her first year.
Her second year she was in the futures group. Thinking of things for the future melding of the computing culture with the artsy group. Once she had graduated she began to do some consulting. It did not take long for Limor to figure out it wasn't for her so she applied for the iBeam fellowship. She wanted to build open source hardware. She was accepted and the next stop was NYC.
Limor was living in Queens and spent an entire year just working on open source hardware. It was then that she began to work on her business. It was that one year space at iBeam that gave her the time to think about either in getting a job or building a business. No surprises, it ended up being the latter.
Her idea to build Adafruit began at iBeam because she was interested in building electronics. There was tons of info on line on how to build software but not so much in hardware. She put ideas up on line and then she would see them be posted other places. She would write about how to build a mp3 player or a phone jammer. The thing about hardware is that you have to find the components and parts. Limor would post a project and people would email her if they could buy the parts from her. She'd build them to make some money on the side but she knew that if she could produce the parts in quantity then the prices would go down. The more people she heard from the more she thought she could create a business around this need.
iBeam helped her with the tools she needed to build a business and so the hobby turned into a real business in 2005. Slowly and steadily Adafruit started to ramp up. The first product was a synthesizer that was used in the 80's. It was easy to recreate and the products used today are much better. People wanted to build it but they not only needed the parts but to understand the educational component of how to build it. The point of Adafruit was not only to sell the products but to teach people how to build the products. Limor knew the for the business to be successful she had to create a desire for people to finish the product. The synthesizer project was perfect because Dj's wanted it. Buying it outright was like $2000 and most DJs could not afford to do it so they would come to Adafruit and build it That is how people started to get excited. About 1000 synthesizers were built. Through this project they learned how to make sure people finished the project, became part of the community and came back for more.
The community element is key too. They provide a bunch of obscure custom stuff that people get excited about building and talking to others about. At Adafruit you can find it, build it and find others who are just as excited as you are about hardware.
BTW, the people that buy the products and build them are not all geeks. There are lots of kids who are just turned on by the projects. It is a new mode of education. The business is also profitable. Recently Limor joined the Industrial Business Council as an advisor for the New York City Economic Development Council who is interested in strengthening the industrial part of the start-up sector in NYC. It is already happening with places like MakerBot.
Limor might be under the radar now, but trust me…not for long.