December 2010 Update

December 2010 Update

How is it December already?!?!

It has been a pretty crazy last couple months here at Upverter, but we really are loving every minute of this ride. Back when we started this whole thing up we decided, for a whole bunch of reasons, that we should have something to show-off before the end of the year. And now almost five months in we are pretty close! We still have a few kinks to work out before the Alpha but we are really excited and think we can get you guys in there hacking around very, very soon.

When we first decided to quit our jobs we spent a bit of time hacking on our ideas and how the world could be a better place. We talked about everything from iPhone apps to pirate radar, but we got a little hung up on how painful it is to do schematic capture and PCB layout, especially as a hobbyist. We talked a lot about how kick-ass the open source software community has become, and how maybe better tools were all the hardware guys needed to flourish. And wouldn’t it be cool if you could do it all through a browser? No downloads, no setup time, just open up chrome and start hacking. People must hate the tools that exists just like we do, right? And so we had a starting point.

As we dig deeper into this market it’s so very cool to find out just how right we were! People really, really, really hate their tools; It’s just amazing how painful people find simple things like parts libraries and collaboration, and how excited the opensource hardware community is for something better. The market is also way, way bigger than we ever imagined. There are hackers with soldering irons showing up by the thousands all over the place. And with any luck we are going to do our part to empower them to work together and build some pretty cool stuff!

There isn’t much else to report for now. We are busy hacking away, raising a bit of money, and hopefully doing some demos before the month is over. But please don’t hesitate to email, or give us a call. We would love to hear your thoughts, any ideas, or even just laundry lists of your pain points – we want to build what the community wants, a tool that they really can fall in love with.

So, from all of us here at Upverter, have a good December and a happy holiday.

About Upverter

Upverter is an electronic design tools startup company, founded by a group of three former University of Waterloo engineers. We are working on a set of online tools that are going to change the way people hack on circuits.

As garage hackers, and employed electronic designers we always hated the tools available to us. They were either huge and painful to use, or open source and both ugly and painful to use. We found that like a lot of others in the community we were drawing our circuits at home on paper instead of in a program – and we founded Upverter to try to fix this problem. We want people to be able to share their designs, fork and expand their friends’ designs, and work together with a set of community maintained, wikipedia-like, shared components.

We will initially launch with an online schematic capture tool and a pcb layout tool in early 2011. We will also be launching a community website based around our tools, and topics in hardware creation (lots of Q&A, examples, discussion, and exchange of designs). The tools will foster collaboration, remove barriers to entry, and help spark the building of opensource and available hardware designs. While the community website will be a place for the open source hardware community to call home, to share their designs, and to learn (like sourceforge and github have done for open source software).

Can’t get enough Upverter? Heres more!

The Upverter Website

This is where the magic is gonna happen. You can sit there and stare at its beautiful webby good-ness… But that is about it right now. At least there isn’t a construction worker!

The Upverter Twitter Feed

Can’t get enough OSHW? Need more distractions? Want to keep up to date with all the Upverter news? Check out our twitter feed – we will try to post all the interesting tidbits we pickup and neat things we find along this journey.

The Upverter Facebook Page

We will use our Facebook group to announce upcoming Upverter events (don’t worry, there haven’t been any yet!). And in a few months we will start giving out alpha access codes to our facebook & twitter fans. So sign up, and get excited – we promise not to spam you too bad!

Javascript Development

While building Upverter we have had to slog through mountains of Javascript. This has been an eye opening experience into what Douglas Crockford describes as “The World’s Most Misunderstood Programming Language”. Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to give you a glimpse into Javascript development at Upverter and share some of the things we’ve learned about:

  • IDE’s, code style, static analysis…
  • Javasrcipt testing
  • profiling and performance tuning
  • “building” a project
  • debugging

Intro to Community Building

There is a lot that goes into building an on-line community. I won’t pretend that just following these 5 tips will instantly make your community grow 100%. These are tips that, when used with good content, will help propel your community to the next level.

1. Set the tone of the community

It is important that your users have a positive experience when participating in your community. Make sure that there is a process to manage highly negative and harmful contributions. One community that has done a great job of this is Stack Overflow. They use a “Karma” system to allow active members in the community to police both positive and negative content. This is a great example of how to monitor the community without having to specifically appoint people the job.

2. Participate in your own community

This might seem like common sense, but it’s incredibly important that your users feel that you are paying attention to them. Your own participation is a great way to achieve this and to contribute to tip 1. Having a consistent, prominent presence in the community will set the tone for everyone.

3. Recognize your top contributors

It is important the you give back to the people that help you most. In an on-line community that’s most likely the top contributors. Make sure that you give them a shout-out every once in a while. There are many easy ways to do this: one of the ideas I like best is mentioning high contributors in a public place like on twitter, or having a top users section on your site. Whatever you do though, make sure it fits in with the tone of the community that you are creating.

4. Give out feedback for achievements

There are a lot of things that can get your users to contribute, but one of the most effective is to set up a status system. Users should have a way to be recognized by their peers for what they have done. An excellent example of this is the badge system by Stack Overflow. In their system they have many types of badges with several levels of difficulty to achieve. This system encourages users to continue to contribute, while giving them lots of achievements along the way.

Another effective method to get users to complete tasks is a status bar like that seen on your LinkeIn profile. It shows the percentage of the profile that has been filled with simple steps to get another 5%. Every time I open my linked in profile I feel the need to complete a new step to get to that magical 100%.

5. Get high profile contributors

Something that many people overlook is how important it is to have respected, high profile contributors. The reason this is so important is that it brings a good deal of credibility to your community. When you are trying to build a community, it is often difficult to get users to read your content in enough detail to build a sense of credibility. Having recognizable names contributing gives you the instantaneous credibility that you need to get people to join in and participate.

Startup Inspirations

Here at Upverter we occasionally get asked questions like: “Are you guys insane?”, “You used to have real jobs?”, and “You quit to do what?!?!” mostly in reference to us telling stories about how we used to exist in the real world with everyone else. One of our favorite questions to get is “What made you jump?”, because the answer is so different for each of us. But we do share a bit of overlap in who planted the seeds, you know, that little voice in the back of our heads that was saying jump. And that’s what I want to share today, our startup inspirations.
Paul Graham Probably first and foremost for the three of us is the Jedi, high-priest, Paul Graham. We have all been reading his essays for years now, we followed YCombinator since its birth, and we just generally believe, like Paul, that innovation NEEDS startups and that startups understand people better than big business. We all knew from a very young age that we needed to be innovators, and that a startup was the only way to achieve those needs.

+ The Mythical Man Month
 These books were absolutely eye-opening for me. How could it be possible that 30 years ago (before I was even born!) someone wrote a book demonizing all of the things that I was pretty sure were bad for productivity, but had no good way of saying? How could these guys be so, so right, so long ago, and yet so much is still the same? For us a startup lets us listen, and set the right priorities – we can make people important, and we can give them a great place to work.
The University of Waterloo While we don’t always see eye to eye with these guys, and we did very much miss out on the college life from the movies, they do 2 things incredibly well. First their co-op program is second to none. By the time I was half way through my second year I was more employable than many graduating electrical engineers from other schools. And second they, more by accident I think, do an incredible job of attracting a small group of incredibly driven, and very smart, non-conformist type engineers. These are the ones that fail out more often than not, but they clump up and go off to do incredible things. The 3 founders of Upverter met in a UWaterloo dorm room a little over 6 years ago, and it wasn’t very long into those 6 years that we knew we would build something together.
Joel Spolsky Joel is a little like Paul’s doppelganger. At the end of the day they are both very successful hackers, but what Paul offers on startups is really just compounded by what Joel offers on workplaces, people and all things software. Before we discovered Paul, and before he really wrote, we were reading and reciting Joel’s rants on architecture, and better workspaces. Steve even gets the fan-boy badge for interviewing with fogbugz a few years back! If you’ve ever read my personal blog, you’ll know I’m not one to sum up nicely – I’m really more of a rambler.
But I would like to share some of what I’ll call our inherited tenants of success. Consider these horribly stolen and merged together from our life-long relationship with the above authors/books and our previous employers.

The Upverter Tenants of Success

  • Be bold, decisive, and wrong. Its OK to fail for trying, but not because you ignored a problem. Agreeing to disagree is not acceptable!
  • It’s all about execution. Try and imagine the number of good ideas that fail, and the number of bad ones that win. Its not about the idea, or the product, or the technology – its about getting it done. This is why people are so important.
  • Have fun. Time is the worlds most precious resource. We all die – we all run out of time. Do what you do because you love it. And make sure those around you love what they’re doing.
  • Do the right thing – everything else will work out. Do right by people. Do right by employees. Do right by customers. And when picking between two options, pick the right one.
  • Be relentlessly resourceful. Kind of a summary tenant, but one regardless. Find a way to make it work. Find a way to make money. Find a way to build a business. Find a way to sleep, eat, and hack.

Circuit Circuit – Keyword Research Upverter Style

You may be wondering what circuit circuit has to do with both Upverter and SEO. Well, let me tell you.  When I was doing research into the keywords that Upverter should target when launching both our product and our on-line community. I looked at terms like circuit design and PCB layout, and found that a limited number of people actually search for those terms.
That is not such a bad thing for us, it turns out there are some very pointed terms that we found that we can rank well on – just not the ones you would expect. But none of that is very interesting, it was really just a task of running through hundreds of combinations of words that are related to the hardware field, specifically open source hardware (OSHW) = boring. But when doing this I came across an anomaly in the data.

A large number of people are searching for circuit circuit. Really? I was curious to learn what on earth the people that search for circuit circuit could possibly be looking for, so I added one to the millions of monthly global searches to find that even Google doesn’t know. On the first result page in Google is the following:

  • 1 electronics store
  • 1 story about a migrant family
  • Google news related to the stock market
  • 3 US Circuit Court pages
  • 2 electrical circuit pages
  • 1 car racing page
  • 1 page about film

So what do I do with this new found pot of search gold? Nothing. With search results like that we might be able to get to the top of the Google ranks, but the question quickly becomes why bother? There lies the most important question when selecting a set of keywords for your site. For us it’s not just about getting people to look at our site, but about conversions, getting people to join the community, ask questions, answer questions and most importantly, use the great design tool that we are making.

None of these goals can be achieved by optimizing for circuit circuit (other than my personal satisfaction in winning). There might be 10X the search volume, but it really doesn’t matter if the conversion rate is crap. There are a lot of things that go into setting up a site for success, and one of them is getting the right keywords to focus your energy on.

In my experience, the right keywords are not always the ones with the most monthly searches. I think this is something that a lot of people overlook when they are researching and selecting a set of keywords for their site.  I am not going to make that same mistake.  I am going to go for quality and breadth over sheer quantity.  How are we going to do that you ask? Well, we are going to start by asking real people, our potential users, our customers what they would actually search for.

I know, I know, this is a novel idea, but I think we should give it a try – no matter how scary customers might seem.  Then we are going to pour a couple hundred dollars into some Ad-words with the different combinations of keywords that we come up with, thanks to all the great people we talked with.  And finally, we are going to measure the results, figure out what our conversion rates are, and do some good old fashioned math to get the optimal result … OK well a better set of results. This method is far from fool proof, but it is a plan! That is the plan as we move forward, and it is not a complex one, but I think that it is going to be effective! And Zak will be happy to hear that this will be my last attempt to climb the Google ranks for my new favorite search term circuit circuit.

Introducing Upverter

Introducing Upverter

We are Upverter. And we are going to do exactly as our name suggests


. We are going to make you faster. We are going to increase your quality of work. We are going to up your resolution. And no, we are not some sketchy set-top box from China


. We are the next big thing in electronic design tools.

You’re probably thinking the same thing we did back when we started on this project. EDA? Really? As if the world needs another piece of CAD software! Are these guys nuts? Yes. In a lot of ways we probably are


. But right here, right now, we don’t think so. And we want to tell you why, and a little about our motivation. We want to plant an idea in your mind. And over the next little while we are going to water and feed that idea. And assuming we can keep you interested, and keep that little idea growing inside your head, we think you’ll agree that there is a lot of work left to be done.

When we were writing this we iterated a little bit about how much to go on about



and the open-source software movement. In the end, we decided that enough people reading this would know what we meant, when we say that software like


and services like


have changed the world


. Free and opensource software is here to stay – and the world is a better place because of it



Along the same lines we wrote about


and asked when was the last time you looked something up in the

Encyclopedia Britannica

. But again it seems like the kind of thing where you would get the point before we got warmed up. When really the message is just that you don’t anymore. There is a place, a mecca of information, that is maintained by our peers for their peers and for the betterment of humanity



So instead we are going to get right to it. We have a dream. We want to tell you about a time that is to come – about a premonition of ours. In this dream it’s not a line of code shared that is making the world a better place, but a net. In this dream people don’t collaborate to make an encyclopedia, but a library of parts. In this dream we see a world where you can build on the successes and failures of your peers, rather than go it alone. And probably the coolest part, is that in this dream we see a community of kick-ass smart hackers empowered and armed instead of ignored because of a sales strategy. Its a dream about a better world. A friendlier world. A world where tools exist and people hack away, for the betterment of humanity.

We think it’s a pretty cool dream, and a pretty neat idea. And we are going to try and nurture it over the next little while. Someday we will tell you what we are up to, and when you get to play with it. But for now, we want to hear your thoughts and your dreams. We want to know what you think Open Source Hardware is. What you have done since the words got mashed together a few years back. And we want you to be part of the revolution (the resistance if you will).

We are Upverter, and we’re gonna make the world a better place.

  1. Based on the

    electronic term upverter

    (combination of up and converter).
  2. Our biggest competition in terms of the name when we chose it was a whole pile of very sketchy links to the Chinese manufacturing companies that built those magical HD set-top boxes that were so popular a few years back.

    See here

    if you don’t know what we mean.
  3. See

    Zak’s personal blog

    for more than enough evidence!

  4. Richard Stallman

    is the American software freedom activist who launched the

    GNU Project

    , he initiated the

    free software movement

    , and he founded the

    Free Software Foundation

    . He is basically the high-priest of all things free software (also

    see his website

  5. For those that don’t, here is your cheat sheet: free software. And not free like cheap, or free like



    free like speech



    is the most common and most industrial web server in the world, and its free and open source.




    ] was the first big community for hackers to share their open source projects, and is seen as a catalyst in the open source movement.
  6. This is a

    good article

    on why to use free and open source over conventional proprietary software.
  7. See the book

    The Cathedral and the Bazaar



    ] by Eric S. Raymond for why it happened. And the article

    Open Source is World Changing

    for why its better now.