Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Blessed Be The Makers

The current recession is a tough one for sure. Not only is it the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression but the supposed recovery is looking to be a jobless one. In past recessions, lots of talented people were let loose on the marketplace with a few bucks of severance or buy out money in their pockets. Many of these creative people ran out and started companies. Others went and joined these new companies, which they would not have done in better times. Some of today's bellwether technology companies grew up in the midst of recession.

This is unlikely to happen this time around. With money so tight, funding a new business is a bigger challenge than it has been in the past. From banks to Venture Capitalists, the money is just not there and the requirements for funding are more stringent than ever before. The upshot of the lack of investment funding is that companies will need to fend for themselves much longer than they did in the past and not everyone has the stomach for that. Going without meaningful income while working like mad is hard to do. When you think you will do it for years, it can be downright disheartening.

There is a bright spot however. Bubbling up from the underground is a grassroots movement of people who like to build homegrown technology. Called Makers (and the related movement, Crafters), this is a DIY movement that celebrates homemade tech. Makers create electronic doo-dads from open source hardware like Arduino boards. They build funky mechanical devices. They blow stuff up and put it back together.

In my youth the computer industry was like this. Back in the day we were called Hackers until the term was co-opted by the bad guys. Many of these same hackers created software and hardware companies that still endure.

Like the Hackers before them, Makers do what they do for the sheer joy of it. They create devices to do interesting and sometimes silly things. Whereas launching a Christmas tree with rockets is kind of silly (and dangerous), other projects have real usefulness. For example, a cheap strobe algae bioreactor is serious stuff for biotech and alternative energy.

Makers know how to build product on a shoestring and have no wish for the pretensions of glitzy high tech companies. Instead, technology is reason enough itself. The simple fun of making something is what drives Makers.

Makers are also forming collectives to share resources and lab space. It is not hard to imagine these collectives turning into companies some day. Take a group of smart techie folks used to working with little money and stick them in one place. Before long you are bound to have a “Hey! I got an idea how we can make a few bucks” moment. There is some spill over into the software world too. Call it a resurgence of the old values. Groups of people with skills who are under or unemployed, writing code for giggles until one day – BAM! - the great idea emerges.

And these folks will have little use for the bankers who spurned them and cause so much economic misery. They will remember that they had to work at Best Buy because a bunch of greedy money people screwed things up. About the only people they will listen to will be the Angel investors because they've built something themselves. The Makers will drive hard bargains when they do take money since this is a labor of love not simply business. They will once again be an engine of growth in the technology market. Watch for it. It's already starting.

Blessed be the Makers for they will raise us out of the depths.

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