Lessons from PicoBrew

I can’t help drawing parallels between glowforge and picobrew.
For those not familiar, picobrew is a company established around 2014 that created automated beer brewing appliances. over the years they had a string of successful, record breaking campaigns on kickstarter. they had a line of cloud-run machines geared from the home amateur brewer that might leave their machine next to the microwave, to the professional microbrewer who might use their machines for tests or even short runs. some of their machines only worked with their proprietary picoPaks, sort of the K-kups for beer, so they basically had a secondary recurring revenue from the ingredient.
Over the years they built up a nice reputation, with solid followers and customers turned advocates, and -to my very limited knowledge- they seemed like a “nice” startup: run by intelligent individuals with good pedigree, who seemed to understand their markets very well, and paid a lot of attention to their customer. they also executed pretty well:despite the delays in filling their earlier crowdfunding campaigns (we know about those issues all too well) the machines actually worked surprisingly well, and delivered all that was promised. the experience from using their machines, website and software was great. and they were present to fix any issue.
I myself own 2 of their models, which I placed in storage last summer as I was about to do major renovations to my home. Then the pandemic came, and I only moved back this month. I took out my machines and planned to start getting some brews going. to my shock I discovered that the company went broke in February and all their assets were sold by May!
Being that the machines are cloud based and need the non-reusable ingredient paks to run I assumed I was the proud owner of 2 really well made boat anchors.
But within minutes I discovered something amazing. they community had already banded together and already published ways to run the equipment thro a RPi server locally. there is even a fantastic individual who designed and is procuring reusable HDPE paks so users like me can provide their own ingredients and keep brewing, improving the product’s functionality (and reducing the batch cost tenfold!). he is doing it at cost.
people who can’t program or reverse engineer are offering their help with anything they can from writing documentation to supplying their machines to curious engineers.

I can’t help but draw parallels to glowforge: I’m not comparing the financials in any way as of course the 2 company might have very little in common on that front.
but I think the similarities are obvious. and to me the lesson is as follows:

a startup might be a company with a product, as service and a plan. but part of that bundle is their customers. smart, generous people who are part of the product lifecycle, and might take it in unexpected directions. and even after the company is gone, a useful, well made product will keep on living.


Well said

I certainly hope this happens, given my experience so far with glowforge. However, given that OpenGlow is already a thing, but is currently sounding like it is giving up in disgust, I have my doubts that a jailbreak solution will happen for glowforge.

Even if someone created it, there is simply no practical way to “hack” into the machine to load different firmware. Very few owners are capable of installing surface-mount ICs and a USB socket.

The only practical solution would be IF they went under, they pushed an update to enable remote shell access.

I don’t see it happening. Just not worth the effort for hardware expected to last a couple of years.


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