Makers Going Pro

Yesterday, news broke of our investment in Planet Labs. I won’t rehash the, decidedly sparse, details of the post or reveal too much of what it is they’re working on.

That said, I wanted to use them as an example of a trend we’re tracking closely; namely, Makers going pro.

As I laid out in prior post, we view technologies along an evolutionary curve. At certain points they are more obviously fundable than others as they transition from hobbyists and hackers to founders and funders. 

The Maker movement is one of those trends.

In our first fund we backed a little company called Instructables which had built a community of hobbyists documenting and sharing their weekend hacks and creative projects. It was quirky, nerdy and growing like a weed. And it captured the Zeitgeist of the Maker movement at the time- a never ending Burning Man of jaw dropping visuals and mind bending mods free from any commercial interest and fueled by the open source ethos. 

When Autodesk bought Instructables I wrote a post celebrating the win for the team and marking the next phase of evolution for the Maker movement. Making was going mainstream.

When we met the founders of Planet Labs, nearly two years ago, they were products of the Maker movement. Sure they had ridiculous pedigrees from NASA and Ph.Ds from top universities, but they were Makers at heart. And it was that Maker spirit that led them to apply Maker ideals and cost structures to a problem which had never benefitted from modern cost curves; namely, space satellites and earth imagery. 

"Modern" satellites still cost roughly what they did 20 to 30 years ago. And their processing power remains relatively unchanged as well. Which made the prototype Planet Labs showed us that much more compelling. To our layman’s eyes, their satellite was essentially an Android phone taped to a fancy canister covered in solar panels.

What the prototype lacked in aesthetic and design was more than made up for in narrative- these were Maker principles of open, off the shelf hardware getting applied to big, fundamental problems within an industry that have largely gone untouched by moder technologies.

This is an opportunity much larger than the most recent wave of consumer facing hardware hitting the Kickstarters and Indiegogos of the world.

These Maker principles will reshape every aspect of the design, supply chain, manufacturing and distribution of every product we’ll buy in the next 20 years. Planet Labs is one example, but there are many others inside and outside of our portfolio.

The evolutionary curve has tipped on this trend and I anticipate that we’ll be backing many more Makers looking to go pro.