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Detailing the goings-on at Spark HQ. Watch us build. http://www.sparkdevices.com
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Quick update everyone - the first batch of Cores have been received by Seeed Studio (our distributor); we are officially shipping on Monday! Happy day!

Hello Spark Friends,

First of all, thank you for all your supportive emails, comments, tweets, survey responses, and especially Spark Socket pre-orders. Your time and energy has been invaluable as we work hard every day to create an exemplary app-controlled lighting experience. We’re glad you’ve chosen to come along for the ride.

We’re a small start-up trying to do big things. As those of you who have worked in a start-up environment know, things change fast. When you have a small, nimble team, and you’re learning new things every day, you find that you come across many opportunities to improve what you’re doing.

Since we announced the Socket back in November, we’ve learned a great number of things. Perhaps most importantly, we learned that there are major limitations with the design of the Socket. Because of some of the design choices we made early on, we needed a large number of orders – roughly 5,000 – in order to cover the fixed costs associated with the highly customized plastic enclosure and power supply, including tooling and certification. And while we’ve been amazed with the support we’ve received – over 1,800 Sockets have been pre-ordered to date – it will still be quite some time before we hit this goal.

So we were faced with a choice. Should we invest our time and energy into marketing and wait until we hit our goal, or should we take the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and re-design the product from the ground up, taking into account everything we’ve learned over the last few months?

And so we have a very bittersweet announcement to make. We have decided to no longer move forward with the Spark Socket.

Instead, we’ve got a few new products in the works, which we’re really excited about. They take the basic technology behind the Spark Socket and provide an even better experience that goes far beyond just lights. We’ll be announcing our new products on May 13 at the Demo Day for our incubator, HAXLR8R, and we will be sure to let you know where we’re headed.

I apologize for any disappointment or confusion this change of direction might cause. Killing the Socket was a difficult decision; I have poured my heart and soul into its development for over a year now, and it was my baby. But we’re only doing it because we fundamentally believe that we have an opportunity to make something better.

It would be a shame, of course, for the work that went into the Socket to go to waste. So we’ve decided to Open Source the hardware design of the Socket. The Socket design is available under a Creative Commons license at the following website:

http://www.github.com/sprk/socket

We welcome anyone who’s interested in continuing the development of the Socket to pick up where we left off. We will gladly provide our software, free-of-charge, to anyone who chooses to bring the Socket to life.

Again, please accept our sincerest apologies, and please join us on this crazy hardware startup roller coaster. You’re going to need your thinking caps—look at the lights and everyday products around you and imagine them coming to life. Know that we wake up every morning excited to make your life better with our products. We are building great things, and we can’t wait to unveil for you our vision of the future. Stay tuned.

My sincerest thanks,

Zach Supalla

Founder, Spark Devices

P.S. If you have technical questions on the Spark Socket design, please use the github repo’s issues page to submit your questions or comments; that way we can answer them publicly. Other questions can be sent to Hello@sparkdevices.com

We’ve been asked by a number of people about our approach to getting press coverage for Spark’s Kickstarter campaign. Is it interesting, or just a bad attempt at alliteration, to say we crowdsourced our crowdfunding press strategy?

Seriously, though, before we launched, I spent a lot of time scouring the Internet for insights from entrepreneurs, publicity experts, and journalists, and asked a few friends in the industry for their words of wisdom. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the resources and how-to’s I found online. With this post, I wanted to add another resource and share some of the advice we received and lessons we learned.

Click here to read the entire post at Tech Cocktail

 

Mashable recently posted Zach’s Kickstarter post-mortem - it’s a look at what we learned via our Kickstarter campaign despite failing to hit the funding threshold. As Zach writes:

In many ways, our Kickstarter campaign, despite not hitting our goal, was exactly what we needed. 

Click here to be taken to the full article on Mashable

We thought we would use our blog to provide answers for some of the questions we get asked most often here at Spark. You’ll find answers to questions regarding general use of Spark Sockets, developing apps for use with Spark, and how to use our new pre-order site. Please send us an email at hello@sparkdevices.com if you want more information on any of the below:

General Q’s

Can I control my Spark Sockets from outside my house?

Yes, Spark Sockets can be controlled from anywhere, so long as you have a connection to the internet. You do not have to be on the same local Wi-Fi network as the Spark Socket, although the Socket will need to be 100-300ft from your Wi-Fi base station or extender in order to establish a connection to the internet.

Will I be able to set Spark up on my own?

Absolutely! We’ve designed both the Socket and the interface to be easy and intuitive to use. Setting up Spark can be done wirelessly from an iPhone, Android phone, or through our web app. It will require no changes to your existing home network and we will walk you through the set-up process via our smartphone apps. 

 Do I have to pay anything for Spark service or Spark apps? 

Our software and apps are free! There is also no monthly subscription fee. However, developers who create Spark apps may choose to charge for them, by selling their apps through the iPhone App Store, Google Play, or on their own websites.

Will I still be able to use my regular light switch? 

Yes! A quick toggle of your lights (turning them off and then on again) will either turn your lights on or off, while keeping the Spark Socket powered up and letting you still control your lights through Spark. Also if you want to deactivate the Spark Socket for normal control through the light switch, you’ll be able to do so without uninstalling it.

What happens if the internet goes down? 

You’ll always be able to control your lights from the light switch. We’re also working on a back-up system that uses local communications when the internet is down.

If I have more than one Spark can I control them from the same app?

Yes! It’s easy to add additional lights using our in-app set-up process. We’ve got some magic cooking that allows Spark Sockets to set each other up.

What about security, can other people control my lights?

Spark is a secure system that will only allow lights to be controlled from our own central server and from properly authenticated devices. You don’t need to worry about your home being hacked.

What countries will Spark work in? 

The short answer is that it will work everywhere. However, Spark will initially be certified only in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. If you’d like to see Spark in other countries, please contact us and let us know!

Will you have an Android app? When will it be ready?

We will! We’ll be releasing both the Android and iOS apps when we deliver our first set of Spark Sockets. You can also control your Spark from any web-enabled device via our online interface.


Developers 

Can I still get an early Spark prototype? 

Yes! We’ll be running a beta-user program with enthusiastic Spark supporters and app-developers. If you’re interested, please email hello@sparkdevices.com and let us know that you want to be kept up to date on prototypes.

I want to develop an app for Spark – how do I get more information?

Send an email about your interest to hello@sparkdevices.com  or add yourself to our mailing list on the front page of our site. We’ll be in touch with more details soon.

As a developer, how can I access and control my Spark device?

With our REST API, and any wrapper or client of that API.  We will provide a spark iOS and Android app, and we will write wrapper libraries in various languages to make developers’ lives easier.  The first wrapper will be a ruby gem.

When will there be an API wrapper in my favorite language?

Anyone can make an open source library that connects to our API, but if you want an “official” one straight from us, we need to know there are enough developers wanting it—get in touch with us to request it!  We will also have a page in the API documentation that recommends good libraries in various languages.


Pre-Ordering and your Spark Account

What information do I need to pre-order a Spark Socket?

You just need to have an email address we can contact you at and the name of the country where we will be shipping your sockets.

How do I make changes to my order?

For now, please email us at hello@sparkdevices.com. include the email you entered to pre-order, the # of Sockets you pre-ordered and the changes you want to make to your order. Soon, you’ll be able to login and manage your account directly on our site.

When will you ask for my billing and shipping details?

We will only ask for your billing and shipping details when we are getting ready for actual delivery. We’ll be contacting you using the email address you entered to pre-order.

How much will shipping costs add to my order?

We don’t have exact shipping details yet, but we’ll do everything we can to get shipping costs as low as possible. We’ll also be giving you more shipping details well before we ask for any credit card information (which won’t be until we’re ready to deliver).

I never received a pre-order confirmation from you, what do I do?

Please send an email to hello@sparkdevices.com letting us know the number of sockets you pre-ordered and the best email address to contact you.

Why should I pre-order?

The order we ship Spark Sockets will be determined by the date that the pre-order was placed. Pre-order now to reserve your place in line.

Hardware is the next big thing in start-ups; Paul Graham recently noted that quite a few of the most recent Y Combinator grads are focusing on hardware.

Why, all of a sudden, is hardware interesting? Well, as computing power and wireless communications technology like Wi-Fi both get cheaper and smaller, we’ve finally got the ingredients for the Internet of Things to really take off. 3D printing and other rapid prototyping tools make it 

Kickstarter has been a big boon as well, providing a way for hardware start-ups to get customer validation before incurring the massive costs associated with manufacturing. This makes hardware much easier to swallow for investors.

But the problem is that people don’t realize how hard hardware is. There’s a reason that so many Kickstarter projects deliver late, or sometimes don’t even deliver at all. Hardware is hard, and slow, and complicated. It requires lining up lots of moving pieces, and it can’t be done by two guys with MacBooks the way that software can.

So I’m going to write a series of blog posts about what makes hardware hard. Hopefully this will help other hardware-focused entrepreneurs understand what they’re going into so they can make promises that they can actually deliver. Stay tuned for more.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, wherever you may be -

 

Today we say thanks to those in our lives

Who’ve bettered our days with laughs and high fives

 

With love and support they’ve guided us through

Bringing Spark to the masses, to you, you and you

 

We’re thankful for CoCo, for advisors and deans

Their words of advice have improved our routines

 

Our partners, our families

Our friends and our backers

Designers and writers

And some talented hackers

 

With the help of them all, we’re out of the dark

We’re moving ahead and bringing you Spark

 

Happy Thanksgiving from the team at Spark!

 

And an extra special thank you to:

Tim MacGuidwin (supply chain); Jordan Husney (advisor); Jay Schrankler (advisor); Betsy Ziegler (advisor); Jordan Dalton (advisor); Justin Grammens (advisor); Scott Herbst at Herbst Produkt (industrial design); Bill Drislane and Scott Miller at Dragon Innovation (supply chain); Jim Meyer, Joe Tretter, and Glen Schlegel at North Pole Engineering (electrical engineering); Paul Detjen (video production); Sean Martin (animations); Chris Reynolds (script writing); Andy Timko (Kickstarter preparation); Keith Schreer (software development); Ryan Scherf (UI design); Ilya Mikhelson (electrical engineering); Greer Karlis, Gaby Berger, Kevin Alley and Dan Farkas (video cast); Jess Porter, Jafar Owainati, Nilam Shah, and Ben Bonnet; Brian Vaughn, Aaron Gough, and Vikas Checker; the great folks at The Mill, CoCo, and 1871 (the various co-working spaces we have used), our parents, Bill Brown, Solange Guillaume and Ashley Soloff.

 

Stephanie Rich, Spark’s community manager and publicity lead, comes from the film industry, where she did international sales and marketing, after which she published her own book. Spark is her first foray into the world of high-tech start-ups, and she decided she’d like to talk a bit about her experience hanging out with us super-nerds. Thanks Steph!

I’m new to the tech world.

Don’t get me wrong; I know my way around a laptop and the requisite Word products fairly well; I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter for a long time and have often been accused of using my smartphone far, far too often. All of this combined with a dalliance in Adobe creative programs and I thought I was doing pretty well in terms of keeping up with my generation.

However, I am a true newbie when it comes to the world of software development, APIs, CoffeeScript and Hacker News so I have had a steep learning curve since I started working with Spark Devices. 

Zach, the founder of Spark, shares my viewpoint that it’s important to understand every aspect of a company in order to do your best work, particularly at a start-up. So although I don’t write software or engineer circuit boards, I thought it was really important that I have a strong understanding of how Spark, its software and its product actually work. Plus the guys wanted to teach me to code.

For me to begin to understand what our team, and our technology was actually capable of seemed fairly daunting to me. I’ll admit, before now I didn’t necessarily care how the Google search page appeared on my computer screen, just that it appeared.  I realized that while I understood how plenty of technology worked at a high level, I didn’t know what was going on under the hood.

So we went back and had a fairly basic conversation about how the Internet actually works. We looked at Page Source views, talked about how sites-servers-users communicate and had lunch time code lessons.

Twitter has also been a big help. By running our feed, following people that ‘Spark’ the company finds interesting and keeping my eyes out for blogs and articles to share with our followers I have gotten a tech 101 provided by the internet itself. It reminds me of working in Hollywood, where assistants stay on their boss’ phone calls in order to learn important names, companies and methods of business.

I have worked in or been exposed to a number of different industries during my career. Maybe I’m behind the rest of the class, but I think there are a lot of things that those of us who aren’t creating new technology can learn from those who do – and vice versa. I’ll be using the Spark blog to share those thoughts as well as insight into what Spark is working on from a non-creator point of view. 

Last election, CNN thought the future of news reporting was holograms.

If you’re going to beam someone in Princess Leia style, Will.i.am seems like the right guy to do it with. Love his purple outline.

This year, CNN thinks the future of news reporting is ambient data - and this time I’m actually inclined to believe them. Check out what they did to the Empire State Building:

The “CNN Empire State Building Election Tracker” is a great example of ambient data: information presented in a way where it’s available at a quick glance. You don’t have to do a Google search, you don’t have to open your computer; you just have to take a quick glance towards the sky.

In my mind, this is the next step to being connected to the hive-mind of the internet. That sounds glib, but think about it: the current revolution in the way we interact online is moving from laptops to smartphones and tablets. We’re moving from computers to screens, and eventually the screens will go away too. Connectivity will be embedded into everything, from the lights on the top of the Empire State Building to the lights in your bedroom. They call it the Internet of Things, and I think ambient data is one of the cool new uses for that sort of technology.

In about a week, pending completion of our video and the approval process, we’re launching Spark on Kickstarter.

Naturally we hope Kickstarter will “kickstart” our business in the way that it’s supposed to, providing funding so that we can make Spark Sockets for everyone. But perhaps more importantly I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to learn from the process.

After all, Kickstarter will be our first time in front of real customers; not friends, family, investors, and supporters, but real people who are going to look at our product and say “yep, sounds cool” or “nah, not for me”. We will finally learn whether we’re really on to something here.

For me, the biggest questions I hope to learn the answers to are:

  1. When push comes to shove, will people take out their wallets, their hard-earned money, and actually buy our product? This is the real test: that despite the ever-growing list of things that money can buy, despite bills and mortgages and vacations and saving for retirement, for some group of people out there, they might put aside a little bit of their money and give it to us. Because they like our vision and they want it badly enough that despite all the alternatives, they pick us. This probably sounds grossly consumerist but I think that’s amazing.
  2. Why us? Obviously it’s great if someone buys our product, but I really want to understand why. What we’re selling is a platform - a product that can do a few things that we think are pretty cool, but that can do a thousand other things based on apps that are built for the software. So to our future customers, I say: why? Did you buy it for remote control? Did you buy it for what it can do today, or did you buy it for its future potential? What’s the use-case that struck a chord with you where you said “YES I WANT”? Was it something we came up with, or something you came up with on your own, or something your sister suggested when you told her about us? Understanding why will help us focus and build the best product we can build.
  3. Developers - what do you want? Are you interested in our API because you want to build something for yourself, or because you want to build an app for everyone? Do you want to make apps that are all about lights, or apps where lighting integration is just one small feature in a much broader product? What would make you love working with our API in the same way that we hope our customers will love using our product?

Hopefully our launch will give us a chance to answer these questions so not only can we get our product out the door, but we can figure out where we should take it next.