Guest post: Happy birthday, Pimoroni!

Here’s a guest post from our favourite Sheffieldites. For us, one of the most exciting things about Raspberry Pi has been watching the other businesses that have started to thrive as part of the Pi ecosystem. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep repeating it until I’m blue in the face: we believe that entrepreneurship makes the world spin, and seeing Jon Williamson and Paul Beech bring some manufacturing back to Sheffield, a city once famous for making things, has made us very, very proud. Here’s a guest post about the journey they took going from a standing start with no premises, no equipment and nothing but a great idea, to shipping more than 60,000 Pibows to more than 70 countries. Congratulations Pimoroni – we’re looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in year two!

We’re celebrating what feels like a decade of work on Pimoroni and the Pibow, even though it’s only our first birthday.

We did a guest post 10 weeks in. This is the journey 42 weeks later from being a couple of web and design hackers with ideas, to being a Maker business with some help for those looking to develop their own ideas.

The first step was the idea. Ideas are abundant on the Internet (but never cheap), and it’s amazing how many people will have the same basic idea, independently, all around the world. This is why ‘execution is everything’.

Making an idea happen can be hard work and expensive though. There are 2.4 billion people in the world in abject poverty, and during a global recession not many people have cash to spare to try something new and unknown.

Ancestor of Pibow

When it comes to making things and trying things with minimal or no costs, and lots of help and advice, hackspaces are amazing. Every city should have 10 of them. Support your local hackspace.

Our local one is Access Space, running for over a decade now, and it’s where we cut the prototypes of the Pibow and worked out how long it would take to cut a lot of them, should need arise. We spent less than £50 in hard cash getting a Pibow we were happy to ship.

After Jon got tired of me saying “just one more little change!” and put live, things went a little nova. Mainly because Liz featured the Pibow here in one my favourite mash notes ever.

From there, it was all about making as many Pibows in as short a time as possible and shipping them to you lot.

The advice for anyone trying this comes down to ‘just keep doing stuff’. Need a workshop? Ask people you know, walk around the neighbourhood looking for ‘To Let’ signs. Not sure if an idea works? Prototype it as simply and cheaply as possible. Cardboard and spreadsheets are great for this. Google stuff a lot, it’s unlikely you’re the first person to do most of the nuts and bolts stuff.

Our first piece of luck was finding a supportive landlord, through a friend, who had some space to fill for a good deal.

Our second piece of luck was the help we received from Perspex (Lucite in the USA), who were quite happy to give us an account and a stack of quality acrylic sheets in bright colours based on minimal information.

The third thing was not luck. It was the amazing friends and family we have. Without them we wouldn’t have been able to get our first laser cutter, Bert, or cut, pack, stamp and ship so many Pibows from a standing start. I highly recommend having excellent friends.

Early boxing and shipping and the first printer we killed

We’d also like to give a shoutout to our distributors around the globe as well, especially Maplin for their early help getting the Pibow into shops, and Adafruit for being super supportive of the Pibow, especially with awesome videos.

Keep an eye on the stack of wood there, it’s been hanging around the workshop for nigh on a year now for good reason ;-)

Oh, and expect Paypal/Amazon to restrict your account at some point if you’re selling well. There are good reasons they do this, and if you’re prepared for it, and have all the documents you need, then you can expect to release enough funds to keep doing business and fulfilling promises, and then wait a few months for them to decide you’re decent folk after all and give you the bulk of the cash.

We found them both fairly helpful, but if we hadn’t be prepared, then there would have been a few months where shipping Pibows 2000 through 4000 would have been delayed by cashflow, the boggart of any new business, rather than us being too tired to run the laser cutters any longer.

From August through to sometime around January I think we had 3 days where no Pibows were cut. Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and the day Everyone Was Ill. We ran the laser cutters 18 plus hours a day. Britain decided to leave the gulf-stream again in 2012, so the workshop was bitterly cold and we wore many layers.

We got through this mainly through the amazing support and buzz from you guys, and the inventive things people were doing with the Pi. We gained another four laser cutters and a nice extraction system, so we could no longer be located by the smell of acrylic, and named them all after Sesame Street characters as well.

Delivery of a stonkin’ laser cutter

We also found time to run the UK’s first official Kickstarter, the Picade, which we’re happy to say is going into official production today, only 4 months late! We’ll talk more at some point about why manufacturing is hard when many other suppliers are involved and some are halfway around the world, but that story is being told to our wonderful backers first.

That’s a recap of old news. So what’s new?

In the course of making and shipping 60,000 Pibows, we got quite good at packing and distribution. Since one box is much like another, we started our shop, shipping to 70+ countries worldwide.

We can confirm that getting stuff into Russia is *hard*. Brazil’s customs are also quite, erm, ‘enthusiastic’, but we’re loving the passion people have for Raspberry Pi in Latin America. We swear Pimoroni was known better in Argentina than Sheffield for a while.

After much badgering, we got to launch the Pi Swag Store, to help support the mission the Foundation is on and spread the word. When you show your love of Pi, 66% of the profits go back to the Foundation and you spread the message of computer education for all.

Mark runs all these shops, shipping and distribution, and is a bona-fide black belt, and gets to play with swords and sticks. He’s also camera shy.

Making the Picade has involved designing a custom PCB and learning a lot about fixtures and fittings and cabinetry, so that’s a new string to our (Pi)bow.

As a result Jon’s kinda got addicted to designing excellent PCBs, and we’ve started a new Robot Lab at Pimoroni dedicated to assembling them here in Sheffield, UK.

Simple and angular

The whole thing is just amazingly geeky and involves the best toys. We’d like you to welcome Gee to the Pimoroni fold as PCB production honcho. You might know him from Maker Faires as the wrangler of JunkBot and other Maker projects.

This is Mallet’s Reflow Oven, the solder association game…

Our first fun little PCB product (after the Picade board) is a nice test card of our abilities, made with love in Sheffield, the PiGlow.

Rory has not been idle as Jefé of Operations, he’s been creating and cutting his own designs and we’re happy to say we’ve finally got around to doing the thing we’ve wanted to do since week one of production, make a beautiful wooden case.

Rory doing his ‘Works in Waste Management’ pose

We’ve always been a massive fan of Jeffrey Stephenson’s designs, so this is our little nod. Say hello to the Pibow Timber.

We’ve also had chance to work on education and spreading the message about what’s possible with the Pi, thorough events like Raspberry Jams, Games Britannia, the Deer Shed Festival, many Maker Faires and a special event hosted by the Guardian. We hope to expand on what we’ve learned by going into schools, and producing excellent educational resources in the Pimoroni style.

The Guardian Workshop at Google Campus in London

In short, we’ve learned how to do hundreds of amazing things that we just plain didn’t know a year ago and thought were impossible for the little guy to do.

We’ve also helped and inspired a lot of people locally to do something with their ideas by providing access to our workshop, and sharing the knowledge we’ve picked up.

Our spread at Maker Faire UK in Newcastle

We’re working our socks off to move forward now. We want year two to be equally special. We’re looking forward to shipping 500 Picades really soon now.

Beyond that, there are two things we’re focusing on this year.

The first is add-ons for the Pi so everyone can make new things and learn with the Pi. We think companies like Adafruit, Seeed and Sparkfun have done great service to the Maker community, and we want to replicate that experience in Pimoroni style in the UK.

The second is education. We want to work with the best and brightest in the Pi community to create online, visual and classroom teaching resources, because there are some very smart cookies out there, and we love what you all do. Education should be fun, inspiring and feel a little bit dangerous. The Raspberry Pi is a great, affordable, universal tool for this.

Thanks for supporting us and what we do, keeping us motivated, berating us when we mess up, then being happy when we fix things, and being patient with us when we’re slow because our brains are noodle soup sometimes :-)

Group hug everyone. Keep talking and sharing and doing and being excellent.

– Pirate & Ninja


Alex Eames (RasPi.TV) avatar

Well done guys. It’s almost hard to believe how much you’ve accomplished in a year.

The Pi Hut avatar

Hey Alex. Here’s a silly question that I should probably know the answer to… How did you get the Avatar on here?

AndrewS avatar

Easy answer –

The Raspberry Pi Guy avatar

Thanks for that! Now mine is up and working!

The Raspberry Pi Guy

Dave Akerman avatar

Ah, I’ve often wondered!

AndrewS avatar

Ditto – great to see how well you’ve done.
Almost echoes the success that a certain Cambridge computer charity had in their first year ;-)

Adam Baranek avatar

I literally just purchased a pibow yesterday. Now I have regret. That Pibow timber looks AWESOME.

The Raspberry Pi Guy avatar

Many happy returns! That is excellent news, I have always admired your cases and designs!

The Raspberry Pi Guy

The Pi Hut avatar

Massive well done guys. Very much looking forward to the Picade!

ColinD avatar

Well done guys, have been really impressed following your progress over the last year. I’ve various cases at home (like all: I seem to collect them). PiBow comes out a clear winner. The GPIO slot also turns out to be very useful to hold the cables in place for Meltwater’s RGB-LED kit (minus the clear perspec layer on top) and other GPIO projects too (photo going up on my website of this pretty soonish.

Just one suggestion: talk with the PiBorg people’s as LedBorg only fits into PiBow with a little snip of the plastic on the red layer third from top (counting from and including the clear perspex layer). With that done PiBow makes an excellent glowy case for LedBorg.

And now I can get one in wood. Sweet. I feel an addition to my case collection coming on.

The Pi Hut avatar

So glad I’m not the only one with enough cases to call it a “collection” :)

liz avatar

I’ve got so many I could build a secondary dwelling out of them. Or at least a large garage.

ukscone avatar

well wasn’t that the original plan. use raspberry pi cases to build a nice hermit’s hovel in the backyard and move all of Eben’s stuff into it so you and mooncake can spread out and wander without fear of treading on any sharp ouchy things that Eben has left on the floor

liz avatar

It’s not usually sharp ouchy things that he leaves on the floor: generally, it’s used socks. It’s quite amazing, the places you’ll find Eben’s socks.

The Pi Hut avatar

That does sound pretty impressive! Perhaps a display cabinet would be in order … *runs to eBay*

Jim Manley avatar

Liz – your sock comment can’t be responded to directly because it’s so far down the stack, so I’m responding a couple of levels up (POP POP – ask Eben if your assembly language skills are rusty ;) ).

According to an unimpeachable source (Mooncake), you should be missing one of each sock, especially if there are no others with a color/pattern like that of a given pair :D

AndrewS avatar

I used to have a housemate that left random socks all over the place… presumably his wife has all that fun now ;)

Jim Manley avatar

It was great meeting a fellow Pi Moron at the SF Maker Faire in May! :D

You guys (‘n gals, it appears from the photos) are a true inspiration for those who are following in your footsteps. Keep up the great work!

tzj avatar

Happy pibow day guys!

Shame you didn’t have another pibow cake to celebrate! :D

Maybe you could make a range of pibow timbers using different woods?

Tim Giles avatar

Great job to you all, have one of your cases here in the north of Sweden.

Great to hear you want to replicate the American success stories – please do :-) It would be great to have the range of add ons, cables etc… that the Americans have access to.

mrp64 avatar

Merry Christmas!!!

edwinj85 avatar

Woah, I like the look of that piglow – you guys need to send round emails to old customers or something because as soon as I saw it on this post I ordered one.

Breadboards are fun and all, but this is SO much easier for LED control!

liz avatar

I read that as Pig Low. There’s a marketing opportunity for you there somewhere, Paul and Jon. :)

Dave Akerman avatar

Great article, congrats on what you’ve achieved so far – it’s a real inspiration.

dan3008 avatar

You guys are from sheffield? If i’d known that, I’d have contacted you directally, and poped over to buy a case/pay for it lol

ah well

George Dodds avatar

Love the Pibow and at least the tees are still done in Sheffield.

MissPhilbin avatar

Happy Birthday! Really enjoyed working with you guys a little this year. Thanks for my Geek Gurl Diaries PiBow. It’s still the best birthday present I’ve ever had!

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