There's no single recipe for starting a company.
Despite the catchy title, this Instructable is more personal story than authoritative how-to: It chronicles how and why Squid Labs, Instructables, and our sister companies were started, and what we've learned along the way. Squid Labs is a research and design firm that did innovation consulting, and built prototypes for services and products, many of which have since spun-off into separate companies: Instructables, this project-sharing website; Potenco, which is making a hand-held generator for cell phones and laptops; Howtoons, comics showing kids of all ages how to do things; Makani, an energy company seeking to harness high-altitude wind; OptiOpia, a vision-correction business developing low-cost portable vision-testing and lens-fabricating devices; and MonkeyLectric, which makes LED lighting systems for bicycles.
I hope to inspire the creation of more businesses and companies like Squid Labs by telling you how we did it. Take all the information in this Instructable for free; there's no franchise fee! The world needs more people dedicated to having a positive impact.
Step 1: Motivation For Writing This (Now)
Squid Labs is still an ongoing experiment, though we've made it through the first stage (achieving spin-offs), and all signs point to success.
So, why have I chosen to write about Squid Labs now?
First, since Squid Labs is an experiment, it will undoubtedly need to be repeated multiple times, and hopefully improved upon. There are people even more risk-tolerant than the Squid Labs founders out there -- I hope they can learn from the Squid example, and start sooner than they otherwise would. So, this Instructable is primarily written for technical and creative people, early in their careers, but I've tried to make it accessible to anyone. I'd be flattered if it inspired just a few people to take their ideas to the next level!
Second, Instructables, the first of the Squid Labs spin-offs, has reached a small internal metric of success: over a couple of months, it has brought in enough revenue through advertising and related sources to cover its expenses during that same time period.
Even if cash neutrality is all that Instructables ever achieves, and it never actually provides a meaningful return to its investors, I would still be proud of my company. Instructables by its very nature has, and will continue to have, a net positive impact on the world. It's a valuable tool for anyone with a project or idea to share, and we're building a fantastic community. However, don't let me be too humble: Instructables is at the center of a very big trend, we're growing fast, and we have unmatchable authenticity. So, as a member of the inside team, I assure you things are going really well and you can definitely bet on us.