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Needed: Low start-up cost home business ideas that support/involve the maker community. Tool library, hacker space, etc Answered

Wanting to get out of the rat race, I am looking for business ideas that would allow me to be self-employed.  I have approx 5k in start-up capital and can operate without income for at least 3 months (possibly longer).  I would really like for my business to support/involve the maker community.  Some ideas that I came up with thus far are starting a tool lending library, selling kits/parts (similar to the Maker Shed or Adafruit), or a coffee shop with integrated hacker space.

I am willing to work with a partner or a group of people so long as the chemistry is good.  I am willing to work long hours and weekends, forgo vacations and sick leave, etc.  I don't mind working like a slave when I am only a slave to myself and my idea rather than to some corporate monstrosity.

So, does anyone have any ideas?



Best Answer 8 years ago

For starting up 3 months is not long enough time to be income free.  You need to plan on at very least 6 months, ideally 18.  You're starting from zero, and it just takes time to get things started.  Even if you decided to sell kits today you'd need to write a business plan and work the numbers before you do anything.  If hte numbers work you need to create a business entity (probably an LLC) to transact your business under.  (Yes, this is necessary. But it will take a while for the paperwork to go through.) Then you'd need to negotiate wholesale rates with suppliers, get the actual shipments (they may have the be manufactured for you.  In China.  And shipped on container ship. That can take two months or more.), Then you've got create a place (website? Storefront?) and process to sell, pack, and ship what you sell.  And you'd need to marketing (have someone design you a logo at very least.) get the word out, and wait for people to want what you sell and find you to buy from.  So much of that depends on other people, it doesn't matter how many hours you put into it, it will take time.

I'm not trying to talk you out of it, I'm just trying to give you reasonable expectations.  I've done this.

What should you do?  $5K isn't very much, sadly.  Certainly not enough for a coffee shop, as cool as that would be.  It might buy you a small inventory selling kits, but the problem with selling over the Internet is that all your competition is right next door.  There are a number of well-known names selling kits and you need to do something better than they do if you want to get attention.

Remember you will need to spend a notable amount of your capital on marketing.  And another chunk of it setting up a business entity (probably an llc) and keeping clear of all your local, state and fed laws, codes, and taxes.  Of that $5K you might have only $2000 to spend on inventory.  Or less.

If you had more money and a space to dedicate to them you could buy a laser cutter and maybe a rep-rap and offer local cutting, etching, and 3d printing services.

But I have no idea what the community in Seattle needs.  So rather than asking an international community of folks, get involved in your local maker scene.  Go to the meetups, hang out at the hackerspaces and talk to the people there about what they need.

You say you can work hard, but that's not a special skill. What resources do you have?  What can you really do? What do you know?  Who do you know?  Do you know someone with a space that could let you host an Intro to Arduino class (or something similar)?  Do you know enough to teach one?  Do you know how to advertise one and handle bookings?  It's not a good way to get rich, but it's a low impact way (in time and money) to see if you've got something to offer and to become involved with the community you want to serve.  It will tell you what opportunites there are.

Oh, and don't work like a slave for this.  You will kill yourself in a very unhappy way.  Trust me.  I've self-employed for nearly 20 years and I've seen too may people break themselves metnally and phsically doing this.  They've all started with words similar to yours (no vacation, no sick days, 80+ hour weeks...).  Ambition is great, but the point is to enjoy your life. 

 Dito  I

Jesse - You echo my own desires exactly. I'll be watching this question with interest. If only I had some answers! The "maker community" in the UK is not as well defined as that in the US.
Good luck and do let us know how it goes...

I really like the coffee shop idea. You could run workshops and seminars... you could have all the tools that people would like to use but couldn't justify paying for like CNC etc. You could also exhibit and demo your customers maker projects with them. They would also have an outlet to sell through. I suppose it depends on the size and interest in coffee of your local maker community.

Become a home handy man. Doing those things the owners don't have time to do or know how to do.  Hanging a new door.  Installing deadbolt locks.  New window glass.  New counter top in the lue, lew, louis - bath.  Fix the dripping sink.  Fence repair, garage door replacement.  Just a few tools, you buy materials as you need them.  A little adveritisement and word of mouth might get you lots of work.

I'd recommend a buy-sell model. If you're smart you can work a good enough margin. Tool-lends and kits don't sound enough to support a person. Big stock movements in items you know and interest you through the internet / shop / market etc may be much better.
I know a guy quit a good job to do internet music-vending, I know someone else (literally killing himself) selling eggs....