By Michael Berliner, May 21st, 2016

Kaia and Jesse

Keyboardio is a startup founded by Jesse Vincent and Kaia Dekker. “We’ve spent the last couple of years designing and prototyping a unique keyboard for uncompromising typists,” said Jesse. “Keyboardio has an advanced ergonomic layout, premium mechanical keyswitches that are a joy to type on, custom-sculpted keycaps that guide your fingers into the right place, and a pleasing maple hardwood enclosure.”

Jesse also noted that Keyboardio Model 01 features ultra-customizable open firmware, making it unlike anything else on the market today. Kaia said, “When we think of our inspiration to create Keyboardio we had in mind serving the needs of people who ‘live and die’ by their keyboards: programmers, journalists, and writers.”

keyboard front

Keyboardio began as a hobby project in the summer of 2012.

Jesse gave a bit of background: A SaaS startup he had been working on was failing. He was pretty burned out and decided to take a bit of time off to play around and figure out “the next thing.” While he was experimenting with new software startup ideas, Jesse procrastinated by trying to build himself a keyboard.

“When we started out building our first keyboard, it was very much a hobby project. After the second or third prototype, we started having trouble using our keyboards in public–people kept interrupting us to ask where they could buy the keyboards we were using.”

Kaia and Jesse, who are married as well as business partners, first encountered folks from ShopBot at the Bay Area Maker Faire two years ago. There they saw the ShopBot Desktop tool in action. It wasn’t long after that they decided to purchase a Desktop for their prototyping work.

Jesse explained their reasoning for purchasing a ShopBot Desktop. “We were having to spend about $1000 in Shenzhen each time we wanted bespoke milling of a prototype base, with a turnaround of about two weeks. We needed a better solution.” Kaia said, “Using our Shopbot, we can do a similar prototype project in a day.  The tool quickly paid for itself.”

Jesse noted that a 3D printer was an early prototyping tool for them, but it had serious problems, including a heating plate that caught fire. “After visiting with Shopbot, we became convinced that CNC was the way to go. The Desktop enables production quality work.”

Asked why they decided to choose ShopBot for CNC, Jesse answered, “We chose Shopbot for its access to customer service; the ability to quickly get someone on the phone who was knowledgeable and helpful.”

Jesse shared some thoughts about the Desktop, now that they’ve been using it for a while. “It’s in a sweet spot of being both a very usable at-home tool and a real production tool. The tool provides good value for the money.”  Jesse said that he considers himself a junior machinist, still learning, but the curve has not been too steep.

For their prototyping process, they were initially using Partworks 3D, but have switched to Fusion 360. “Autodesk has been a great supporter of the project,” noted Jesse. “We’re now at a point where we can cut a prototype in about an hour instead of five hours.” In addition to support they’ve received from Autodesk, they sought crowdfunding via Kickstarter, which was a hugely successful campaign. Their many fans (in the 1000’s) are eagerly awaiting their Keyboardio keyboards from a first large production run.

keyboard w hands

The Production Journey
Jesse said, “When looking for a manufacturer to perform the custom milling of the maple enclosure, we requested bids from companies in the U.S. and Canada, but the best bid from North America was four times the cost of having the work performed in China. This is due to the labor cost, as well as the fact that there are many Chinese manufacturers who already have the infrastructure in place for large scale CNC production.”

They’d been told by several keyboard manufacturers that using wood was not feasible. But it was key to their concept for Keyboardio, and the two are on the verge of beginning production, using ethically sourced maple from Canada, shipping it to China for milling. The journey to secure manufacturing partners hasn’t been a cakewalk, as Jesse freely admits. In fact he writes about these adventures on the Keyboardio blog — it makes for an interesting read.

Lessons learned so far?
Kaia: “It has been fascinating to see how many disciplines come into play in a very interconnected way…industrial design, electrical engineering. It’s been a great experience.”

Jesse: “Going into this, we had the desire to make this product, but not all the skill sets. Certainly by working with a Shopbot tool we’ve been enabled to just jump in and start making, going from CAD to CAM quite easily… trying, failing, redesigning, making a new iteration. It’s a great process.”

Here’s a bit more background about Jesse and Kaia:

Jesse Vincent

Jesse’s spent most of his career working on open-source software. In 1996, he created Request Tracker (RT), an issue tracking system that’s used by everyone from tiny nonprofits to Fortune 50 corporations and Federal agencies. He’s the original author of K-9 Mail, an open-source email client for Android with a couple million active users. Jesse was the project leader for the Perl programming language for the 5.12 and 5.14 releases.

Kaia Dekker

After graduating from MIT with a BS in Physics, Kaia worked as an investment banker, helping startups get themselves bought by giant megacorps. From there, she went into strategy consulting, helping some of those same megacorps maximize shareholder value. Figuring that the next step was to go to work for a megacorp, Kaia went back to school, picking up an MBA from the Tuck School of Business in scenic Hanover, NH. Upon further reflection, she’s decided it’d be more fun to just build Keyboardio into a megacorp.

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To learn more about Keyboardio, visit their website, and their Kickstarter page. Find out more about the ShopBot Desktop here.

May 21st, 2016 | Tags: , , , , | Category: Design Thinking, Desktop, Digital Fabrication, Large Scale, Manufacturing, Product Prototyping, ShopBot User Stories

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