Quick, quick, what’s happening?!
We’ll be shipping our last monthly project in January 2019. Then, we’ll continue to design unique projects on an ad-hoc basis that will be available at an open-to-all shop. From January new members will join the Club through purchasing items from the shop. Our community will continue to flourish on Discord where all current and past members are welcome to join.
OK. I’m sitting down now. Please tell me more!
At the Boldport Club we ship unique soldering projects and PCB art to members. I’ve set the rules when I started: unique and exciting project sent each month at fixed monthly cost that includes shipping to anywhere in the world. Over nearly three years we've had almost 1000 paying members and for the past year 500 active members. By January ‘19 we will have shipped 32 creative projects and over 15,000 packages to members in over 30 different countries.
Boldport Club has been a success on most measures. Through this service I've accomplished what I set out to do: combine art, product design, and electronics sold to those who appreciated the combination. All our projects are open source hardware, designed using our own open source software, PCBmodE. The subscription model allowed me to be more creative and experimental than I would with an ‘ordinary’ online shop. Having the freedom to create, knowing more-or-less how many instances to make a few months in advance, really helped with logistics, finances, and the mind. I’ve met my ambition to deliver on time ─ only one project was late ─ at a time where many ‘speculative’ hardware projects fail to (crowdfunding, etc.) It’s an achievement I’m proud of. It wasn’t my goal to satisfy everyone all of the time and with every project. I tried, though, to make sure that something hit everyone’s preference sweetspot ─ aesthetics, build challenge, functionality, etc. ─ within a few projects. I did my best to provide a unique experience and good value-for-money to those with little, or a lot of, experience with electronics and soldering. Trying and failing to build a project was part of the experience, and we supported it. Ultimately, I strived to create experiences through electronics.
To my delight many supported this model and vision, paying in advance to get the Club's projects without knowing what they would be. 170 of you signed up before I shipped the first project in March 2016! This is incredible and humbling to me, but also a strong vote of confidence in my ability to deliver and innovate high quality projects on a tight budget and time constraints.
People overwhelmingly love the Club, the projects, our community, and what we are about. We did the surveys. We read the feedback and see the numbers. Our community on Discord ─ we moved from Slack last week! ─ is incredibly insightful, helpful, and respectful, and a key benefit of the Club for many. From past experience I know that creating such a community is hard, but together with you we've done it! I'm so satisfied with that.
With every project I tried to introduce something new that I hadn’t seen before or that I wanted to try out. Initially, for coming up with interesting projects I relied on past concepts, ideas, and experiences that I collected throughout my career. Naturally, this became increasingly more challenging with time. I recently realised that I'm essentially competing with myself, while others are catching up (it has been great seeing #BadgeLife become a thing, for example). Constantly ‘levelling-up’ is hard while the budget and time constraints remain the same. I found that for every project that we end up sending to members we go through evermore fleshed out project candidates that I then decide are not good enough. It’s consuming.
We’ve no lack of creative juices and energy for doing more in the space that Boldport is a recognised name in. We have loads of promising concepts and project ideas that we aren’t able to realise as ‘Club projects’ in the current format. My decision to stop the monthly shipments, perhaps only temporarily, will give us time and mental space to investigate those further.
Some things didn’t quite work out, obviously. Initial growth was fast and when I established the current price of a subscription ─ £19 per month ─ in early 2017 the membership growth curve was steep and I assumed a break-even at 500 members. That growth didn’t continue. (This also meant I still have a large amount of stock I created in anticipation of this growth.) Having about 500 active members for a year now, it’s an amount that’s more than 'not worth the while' but also 'too frustratingly close to breaking-even'. I could not currently see a way to get to 1000 or 2000 members with our available resources ─ if that market exists at all is an open question ─ and I certainly do not want to compromise our high standards. I’ll also happily admit that I’m not good at marketing and promotion. All this contributed to my decision for a change.
Another contribution to my decision for change is the uncertainty of the unnecessary and misguided national self-harm called Brexit. The confusion, logistics overhead, and higher costs that have already been a burden for over two years and that will continue are affecting my outlook, of course. Commercially, small voiceless businesses such as Boldport will suffer a great deal. Being more nimble during this period ─ that is, having fewer commitments to customers and suppliers ─ will allow Boldport to ride the transition and then evaluate if, when, and where I’d like to continue the work once the dust settles.
Many thanks for all of you who are and were members of the Club and are part of our wonderful community. Some of you stuck with it since the very beginning, which is incredible. You are part of something special. Special thanks to Mr Barwise who joined me at Boldport September of last year and who initiated and/or designed the PCBs, packaging, and associated materials for wonderful, creative, and loved Club projects (Ananas, The Conehead, Whiteboard, Lite2Sound-BC, and Krell). We’ve had the privilege to collaborate with talented and kind people who allowed us to remix their work as Club projects: Lucky Resistor (PissOff), James Hutchby of Madlab (Stringy and Krell), Eric Archer of RareWaves (Lite2Sound-BC), and Jez Siddons of Peak Electronic Design (Capaci-meter). Our projects have also been supported to various degrees by the good folk of Eurocircuits, Snaptron, AMS, and Microchip. Our support contacts at Farnell and Toby have been very helpful in getting us the best possible component prices. Finally and especially, remarkable Club members contributed their time and talent without any reward to help the Club grow and glow. My gratitude is yours.
So what will happen after January?
We’ll be working on exciting new projects that will be larger, smaller, and different than Club projects so far. We’ll be exploring new concepts, but also revisiting past successful projects that can benefit the new format (we’re currently thinking of a more elaborate 3X7 and The Matrix, for example.) We’re likely to make projects in limited quantity, and we’ll announce them to the community first.
The Club shop will become open to all. Joining the Club community will be easier, requiring a shop purchase of a certain TBD amount. Existing stock of Club projects will be available at the Club shop, although at noticeably higher cost than they are now available to members.
If you’d like to support our future work, please do so by spreading the word, and by purchasing items from the shop ─ they’d make great gifts.
What about the existing subscriptions?
We have three monthly projects to send you and they are great: Respot (November), Capaci-meter (December), and Pease-out (January). If you’re an active member we’ll be adjusting your subscription so that you continue to pay the same amount per project of your current subscription, but won’t be charged for projects beyond January. (For example if you’re on a 12-month cycle paying £17 per project you’ll continue paying that amount, just billed once a month.)
If you’ve already paid for projects after January you’ll be able to choose to either get a refund, or ─ this option is far better for us! ;) ─ up to twice what we’d owe you as shop credit. We’ll be in touch about this.