So I have decided to not pursue Fae Bot as a commercial product but as an Open Source project instead.
Business reasons first: I am interested in automating farming as much as possible for philosophical reasons. However I think it makes little sense business-wise as a product today. Farmers want to cut down costs and want yield increases. The strong business case is for the lower hanging fruits of automation. Carts on rails, motors that open/close greenhouse windows or animal fences, these are products with lower risks, better margin, a more mature market. If you want to make a business automating farming, go into these.
I had started re-purposing a module of the fae-bot as a remote-controlled general-purpose motor. Then I realized that’s not what I wanted to do. I want to make robots.
I realized I don’t really want to make a business. Making sales, hunting funds, doing marketing are tasks I don’t feel interested in (or skilled at). They feel likes chores to me, I am interested in making robots, not selling them.
I have the outrageous privilege being able to make money by working remotely. I think I will spend more time working on robots if I devote my free time to that than if I try to make a company profitable.
But I want to collaborate with others at building robots. The main reason I wanted to start a company was to hire people who could help me on my weak points (especially mechanics) but it would probably take me about a year to either make enough sales or find enough funding to reach that point. A year that I would not spend making robots.
And where would I be, in the best case scenario in a year? A small startup in this ecosystem of competitors. It feels weird, walking in a robotics startup incubator, seeing closed doors behind which different parts of a robot are being designed: the grippers, the arm, the actuators, the eyes, the software for the eyes, the software for the arm, the software to make the softwares work together… and they are separated by confidentiality walls.
I would be there, with a team of 5 engineers, my CEO business cards and a bit of cash to burn through, and every time we needed a piece designed in another company down the hall, we would have to make sales team crash together, have meetings between CEOs, decide a partnership, get the investors agreement, write NDAs, and 6 months later, we forgot why we wanted to work together.
Don’t get me wrong, I far prefer the world of startups, where I have spent most of my professional life, to the gray world of big companies. I just can’t help thinking that the way to (not) collaborate is harmful to the industry as a whole. Robots are hard to make and life is to short to write NDAs.
So here we are in the less profitable but much more collaborative world of open sourcing. Copy, fork, modify, make pull requests, contribute, asks questions, get answers, call BS when there is. That’s the environment I want to be in.