Last week you may have seen the news
that I'm going to be leaving Wired to lead 3D Robotics full time as CEO. Now I'm delighted to announce our other exciting news: last week we closed a $5+ million funding round with two premier firms, which will allow us to accelerate the growth of 3DR and expand into new markets.
The round was led by Jon
Callaghan at True Ventures
and Bryce Roberts of O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures
. Both of them will be joining the 3DR board. These are two of the most far-seeing VCs in the Valley, and both are part of the "hardware is the new software" trend, including investments in Fitbit, Makerbot, Littlebits and Instructables. And they share our vision of the power of open source, the Maker movement and personal robotics. Chris Michel
, an investor and long-time entrepreneur (and former Naval Flight Officer) will also be joining as an investor and board member.
I'll be opening an office in the SF Bay Area ("3DR North"), which will focus on sales/marketing and community development. Our San Diego headquarters will continue to be the R&D and engineering center, while our Tijuana manufacturing is expanding to handle more and more of our production. My co-founder, Jordi Munoz, will take over the role of President, overseeing operations.
With me joining as CEO and the funding round, we'll be growing the company quickly. We're now at 40 people, but will be hiring more hardware and software engineers in San Diego and sales, marketing and community management people in the Bay Area (probably in the Berkeley/Emeryville area).
The aim of this ramp-up is simple: more cool stuff and a great customer and community experience. As part of this, we'll be launching a new 3D Robotics site/store, new product sites, manuals and tech support communities and a expanded customer support team. And of course a wave of exciting new products, focused on making drones and other aerial robotics technology easier, more powerful and cheaper than ever before.
This is going to be fun ;-)
@Chris, Please use something besides Ning for the product forums the ones on here aren't exactly good to use in my opinion.
@toby, I think the DIYDrones site should also list and discuss all amateur UAV projects (and potentially have an independant shop as well), the 'aim' of this site is
"This is the home for everything about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)."
and not just one hardware manufacturer or the one open source project.
Brent: Just to clarify: DIY Drones is not registered as a company at all. It's a non-profit community, started and run by me, but broadly intended to serve the whole amateur UAV community.
As part of the investment, we are going to building stand-alone sites for 3DR and the various Ardu* projects, including new manuals and well-designed and easy-to-use introductions. We will also create stand-alone forums for tech support for those products there, so we can move them out of the forums here. This will allow DIYD to return more focus to its original mission of news, information and community about amateur UAV development, which I think is what you and others are asking for.
However, just to be clear: I'll still run the site, and my own priorities and vision will continue to influence site design and organization (I'm a former mag/web editor, so you can imagine these things matter to me). I'd be delighted to see more of other projects discussed here, but I'm not promising that all projects will get equal billing in the limited space of tabs and the front page.
Toby, agree on all points. INCLUDING the congratulations -- I'm really conflicted myself about being the gadfly. It doesn't suit me well.
But if I could look into the future a bit, I would add this: we're not going to see 3DR offering solely open-hardware, open-software products for very long. There will be a divergence in the product line, and there will be IP--I am certain of it. No VC investor would become involved otherwise -- why would they when Chinese cloners can take the same specs and manufacture the same parts at far less? Yeah, I'm sure the VC guys are smart guys with "vision" (whatever it may be...); maybe they read Chris' books. Maybe they even like open-source.
But money's money. $5M is not something people write off. And these guys are high-profile investors who have their hands in dozens of companies; they're, at best, going to be reviewing their investment in 3DR once a month in a financial document with a long column of other investments. And they will assess accordingly.
I think the entire open-source autopilot community had a good idea, like you've elaborated: we can make this cheaper if we all pitch in together. But that doesn't mean someone accrues all the profit to make it happen. I think that making money off of this community's output is problematic at best, particularly given the idiosyncrasies of the "symbiosis" with DIY Drones.
These problems are going to become more acute, not less, as 3DR moves forward. Now how does DIY Drones move forward?
3DR doesn't own the source code. Anybody is free to make a branch and modify it to run on competing hardware. I don't think anyone wants to see that happen though.
Therefore it becomes a question of loyalty vs value. People will remain loyal to 3DR so long as there remains value in doing so.
One of the challenges is that 3DR is both a retailer and a manufacturer that also supplies other retailers, this further confuses the waters as 3DR is not only in competition with other manufacturers but also other retailers.
This means, its all a bit of a mess so to sort this out properly, 3DR would do the following....
- Spin off DIY drones as a community owned site, perhaps sponsored by 3DR but with full control over content given to the community. The site costs would be funded by advertising of which 3DR would no doubt be a big customer. Chris would have to give up control over the site for it to be truely independant and hand this over to a group of trusted and independant moderators.
- Ensure that it was clear that the open source code belonged to the community and was driven by the community independant of any manufacturer. The manufacturer may contribute code in order to increase the value of the project and their products, but the manufacturer would not be "in control" of the code if that makes sense.
- Seperate the retail and support arm into a seperate entity from the R&D / manufacturing arm so that the current 3DR webstore was just another customer of 3DR the manufacturer. 3DR the manufacturer would then be retailer agnostic. It might still be owned by 3DR but in theory it would then be free to stock other manufacturers products more freely and would be in competition with the other retailers. This would free up 3DR the manufacturer to pursue more retail outlets for their products and better international distribution channels.
The diydrones site would then list ALL suppliers of hardware compatible with the "DIY drones project" which consisted of the source code controlled by the diy drones project. The "Project" would become hardware agnostic. But obviously people will gravitate to the highest quality hardware product offering the best value for money and service. Naturally 3DR wins on this front (at the moment).
This would eliminate any doubt about who was what and ensure the loyal following of the original core contributors. People would not feel exploited as they would still feel like they have choice. It may also foster increased competition on the hardware front and the possible adoption of additional software / hardware projects under the DIY Drones banner.
Unfortunately now that VC is involved, there is a small conflict of interest between the diy drones community and 3DR in a true open source sense and I suspect until this is addressed, there will be a gradual and growing discomfort as 3DR expands.
All good problems to have though, it means that things are going very well from a project point of view so congratulations are really due all round for the success in getting to this point. The challenge is moving forward from this point and continuing to be successful.
In light of some of this news, it's also more questionable to expect DIY Drones community members to give unpaid support for 3DR products IMHO. But I'm expecting that this is what the San Francisco HQ is going to hire people for.
@Toby: Thank you for your summary! That's basically the long and short of it, with a good explication of the potentially diverging interests. I would only highlight one thing:
You CAN'T forget open-source.
Open-source made this product, and is the basis of this community. Indeed, open-source made this company. As I said previously, I believe that any commercial entity that emerges from an open-source platform has special responsibilities. In some ways, Chris saying that 3DR is managed "like any other tech startup" somewhat ignores this reality.
The fact is, as you stated, 3DR could not exist without DIY Drones; and in the past, but less so now--vice-versa. That's the symbiosis, and it needs to be clearly defined. On the other hand, just as 3DR evolves with VC financing and more production capacity, the community evolves too! And frankly, DIY Drones at this point is more than 3DR, no matter who owns the website. I don't see any reason why there isn't more information here about the other very substantial open-source autopilot projects which long predate ArduPilot. I also don't know why the store doesn't have these available for purchase, or at least link to someone who does. Chris seems to be saying that they will stock things that complement, but not compete, with 3DR's boards--despite the offers.
This would all be uncharted waters and lots (e.g., me) would be willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but we have a very recent bad precedent in the Makerbot community (with some of the same VC actors) as to how this plays out. Chris thinks what's evolved there is a good thing (certainly good for the owners of Makerbot Industries, at any rate), but a very big chunk of the Makerbot community and indeed one of its original founders feels quite the opposite. You can probably guess where I fall on that spectrum. ;)
We have some choices to make as a community here -- both with respect to DIY Drones-3DR, and DIY Drones and the broader open-source autopilot community. This has been in the offing for a while, but it's more pressing now that the technology's maturing, the legal environment is changing, and there's so many people trying to make money out of this field. That's why the VC's (let alone the $B defense contractors; c.f. Procerus) even care to begin with.
For me, I'd like to see DIY Drones spun out as a separate entity in which 3DR is one of, but not the only, hardware supplier. If 3DR is the superior choice in an open market, people will vote with their wallets. I think the competition can only help the broader community... if not the VC's return on investment.
Either that, or continue with the "managed" not-for-profit, money-goes-back-in model. But I think that's off the table now.
It was THE situation analysis.
Do you really catch essence of Open Source "religion".
But, between geek people and novices with lot of money, has some like me. No lot money. I'm no geek guy, but I lot interested in UAV and your business aplications.
I'm naturally a curious guy. About almost everything that is interesting and with autonomous functions.
I think that only a "project / business" like DIY Robotics and 3DR could offer these possibilities; that with lot, lot of reading, lot of testing, hard work, many frustations, people like me could be an, maybe, become a new professional in this issue.
Helping, in many ways, newest enthusiasts in this issue and business, even novices with lot money.
I think that yours "perfect world" that explains, almost has no more in our time. Or, when someone get the idea, and try doing it this way, is so difficulty to go forward that him give up. Because, everyone, has bills to pay, anyway.
P.S: sorry for my poor, very poor english... I never had a english class, before. Only self taught learning.
Toby Mills your explanation is helpful for me.
I recently did free development for a educational robotics company. I was frustrated when the code I wrote stopped being used. They have promised to send me one of their $300 robots, but it's only a promise. I would never develop for a for-profit company for free again unless I knew my code was going to be used and I got something in return (e.g. device or useful marketing).
I'm concerned about VC funding. I feel like VCs with the exception of those in the Google situation, screw up everything, e.g. removal of Steve Jobs as CEO at Apple.