Let's Make Robots!

Would an LMR Marketplace work?

This past weekend I thought a lot about a separate entity that would run the commercial side of LMR. Very like how Adafruit.com represents a company,and Ladyada.com is a supporting community site.

I have an idea for an LMR Marketplace that I think would allow a commercial side to LMR, that stays true to the spirit of LMR.

The LMR Marketplace would be an e-commerce back end that would provide a market for LMR members to promote and sell their designs. If you look around LMR right now, you will find there are many good designs and members trying to sell on their own in a limited way. (Krumlink, CtC, Ro-Bot-X, propellerheadgeek, brooksware2000, etc.)

What if there was a place where they could bring their products to market, and take advantage of the popularity of LMR? The LMR Marketplace would provide robot hobbyists a place to shop for products designed and tested by other robot hobbyists. Products they wouldn't find on SparkFun or Solarbotics.

The LMR Marketplace would take a cut of revenues to cover costs and maybe even make a profit. I don't have all of it figured out, but I have lots of thoughts around how this can benefit LMR as a community and as a commercial company, as well as providing a great place for hobbyists to buy.
In true LMR fashion, I decided to share my idea in the Shout Box and see what people thought. Here's a chronological transcript, with minor editing to clean it up and remove unrelated posts.
ignoblegnome: Hey, Krumlink. With all of your wonderful designs, would you ever want to set up an online store?
Krumlink: Except have purchase links and stuff!
Krumlink: Yes I have ig, very much :)
ignoblegnome: @Krumlink: What would you think about an LMR marketplace, where LMRians could bring their products to market?
Krumlink: That sounds like a great idea, if only we could get it on the LMR website. I could manage it...
ignoblegnome: It's an idea I thought up this weekend. A commercial side to the LMR community. Robot stuff designed by LMRians.
theandroidman: I would go for that Ig
Krumlink: Wouldn't we want a separate website dedicated to that stuff? and just have LMR Link to it?
ignoblegnome: Yes, a separate commerical site, but associated with LMR.
ignoblegnome: Different rules on the commerical site, since it would try to be a profit making venture.
Krumlink: LMRproducts?
Krumlink: LMRkits?
Krumlink: LMRCommercial?
Krumlink: LMRCC?
ignoblegnome: LMRMarketplace or 'letsbuyrobots.com'
Cactus: Keep the ads to a minimum - I hate reading the Make blog and effectively getting ads for products in their store.
ignoblegnome: How about LMR Bucks... credit for your own product sales, so you can buy other LMR stuff?
Cactus: In fact, I'd like to make a profit one day, just to see what it's like!
ignoblegnome: Right. The idea is to have a separate entity, so LMR stays a community, and never becomes a shop.
JoeBTheKing: If you do a store you should make only LMRers able to post products so we don't just get a copy of store catologs there.
ignoblegnome: There have been many designs created, reviewed, and refined on LMR. This would help members find a market for them.
ignoblegnome: Some folks already have their own web-shops, but a common marketplace would provide much more exposure.
theandroidman: real nice if you wanna build waht you saw somebody else do too...
ignoblegnome: @Joe: Yes, this would be primarily for LMR member developed stuff. Things you wouldn't find on SparkFun or Solarbotics.
JoeBTheKing: That would be nice.
ignoblegnome: Right. I like Adafruit's open hardware attitude. Most people post all you need on LMR to do it youself, but some would buy them.
theandroidman: lots of people have fab capabilities to make special parts too
JoeBTheKing: Like 3d printers, laser cutters, etc.?
ignoblegnome: True. Though mostly not for big quantities. But as a group we could negotiate good deals for fabrication.
jtk14: sounds great
jtk14: I have some eagle designs
ignoblegnome: Yeah. If a member wanted to handle our fabrication work, that's another route.
ignoblegnome: It could also open up a market for custom build requests.
JoeBTheKing: That would be great for a lot of people
ignoblegnome: The tricky stuff is managing it, setting up payment to the site and to designers, etc.
JoeBTheKing: Some peolpe don't have access to those tools and also all the money would go back to the community.
ignoblegnome: I figure the designer gets paid and LMR takes a percentage.
JoeBTheKing: Maybe like 5%
jtk14: I had a store and let me say shippment options are a pain
JoeBTheKing: Thats what the ALABTU code gets LMR
ignoblegnome: Frits already negotiated with some web shops for 5% discount to LMR members, and 5% cut for LMR. This would be similar...
ignoblegnome: but with our own shop.
JoeBTheKing: Shipping is a pain and LMRers are all over the world.
ignoblegnome: Yeah, Joe. Shipping is a challenge. If we can centralize some of the fabriation and shipping that would help a lot.
ignoblegnome: Take that burden off the designers.
ignoblegnome: People expect shipping cheap and fast.
JoeBTheKing: I know though that if a need something ASAP I will order something local.
JoeBTheKing: A few summers ago I sold a lot on ebay and shipping price isn't to bad for those yellow envolopes.
ignoblegnome: It'd be a fun new economy-thing. Distributed product design, community product review and QA, centralized fullfillment.
JoeBTheKing: I think a LMRmarketplace would be awsome.
JoeBTheKing: Plus the money would go back to LMRers and will turn into new projects, tips, etc.
ignoblegnome: I think we could formalize the LMR Reviews to help with product testing and development.
ignoblegnome: Which gives members the chance to try new stuff for free.
ignoblegnome: Well, thanks for all the comments. I'm going to collect the SB log on this and post it.
Krumlink: I propose this idea for LMR4
ignoblegnome: Any additional thoughts?
ignoblegnome: I'll definitely sound Frits out on the whole idea, with all of your feedback and opinions.
jtk14: link it with the challenges?
JoeBTheKing: I think we just have to keep it seperate.
ignoblegnome: The post will be a good place to collect further feedback, including challenges. They are not trival.
ignoblegnome: Oh, sorry jtk14. I mis-understood. You mean the LMR Challenges section.
jtk14: yes like a prize for a 40% off
Krumlink: Yeah, somebody will have to manage it financially
ignoblegnome: That's an option. If LMR wants to sponsor some of the challenges. Could tie in with the LMR Bucks idea.
JoeBTheKing: Or maybe a challange to see who gets to test a product.
ignoblegnome: Yup. Once you are making money, it becomes a real deal. Where to incorporate? Tax implications. International payments. Fun.
ignoblegnome: Good thoughts, Joe. I think there would be many ways of giving back to the LMR community.
Krumlink: But remember this money is coming out of somebodys pocket to begin this
JoeBTheKing: Yes. Of course. Only if they are willing to.
ignoblegnome: Yeah. The whole idea could die on the vine without some start up capital.
Krumlink: I can do alot of design work and some pcb fab

ignoblegnome: Cool. I imagine we'd start small, so that would be helpful.

Krumlink: Better yet, have a new "page" type!

Krumlink: Except have purchase links and stuff!

Krumlink: Oh boy this is gooood


So, what do people think? Would this work? Please comment with your ideas, questions, problems, praise, or derision.

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I'm guessing that most of the LMR hobbiests who sell small-batch products as a sideline aren't making much profit in the deals.  By giving LMR discounts and paying a "listing fee" to LMR, that small profit goes down even more.  If I'm dealing with an LMR member who is supporting this community (ala Krumlink asking "what kind of board should I design for you guys?"), I'm more inclined to order from him/her directly - more money in their pocket = more designs and options for me down the road.

This isn't to say that LMR shouldn't look for revenue streams - you guys that run & finance this site are awesome, and you deserve to be rewarded for it.

Actually I would post on a LMR Commerce Website to get my designs exposed to more people.

One of the reasons I posted this is to get the opinion of designers like Krumlink. As he says, getting exposure to a wider audience can lead to a lot more business.

Plus, some common costs can be shared. So instead of Krumlink paying to create his own site where he sells stuff, he saves that expense and helps finance the Marketplace through sales of his product.

OR How awesome is this! Each LMR "designer" gets their own little corner of LMR! So you can get a tour of each member, the projects they worked on, the things they're selling, etc!

I like the idea! A profile for each designer provides a way for each to present an individual image to the buying public. ; j

I think many shoppers will want to view products by type, but there could be another view by designer or a link to go to the designer's profile and see more of their products.

Sound like a good idea! It's good to see LMR expending directions; but whatever that involves with money always having argument in all kinds of situation. Just heads up for that. Otherwise still exciting news to have this plan.

Hey, just to be clear, we're just talking about some ideas here. Nothing even slightly official at this point.

sounds like a good idea to me.
i for one would be willing to spend an extra euro or 2 for the convenience of having all these things
in one place, especially if you guys offer all the peripherals along with it.
by that i means things like screws and spacers and such, servos and other things you need
that are known to work well with the product so you can be sure it will work if you put it together.

also the idea of people selling time on their makerbots sounds pretty awesome to me.
in fact i have a feeling that this kind of thing could become huge.

since everybody involved in this is prolly going to be a robot maker, i would suggest maybe some facility for
trading parts.
i bet lots of people have things they bought in larger volume then needed and have leftovers they may never use.


I want to second the idea of the razor-thin profit margins folks are working with here.. 99% of the time, it is tough to even get close to completing with even the medium-sized boys. If I had my way, I would pay a fixed flat fee to get on the marketplace and pocket 100% of the sales --and/or-- a monthly fee and keep 100% of profits. If nothing else, it is going to be a PITA to keep track of 10% of each and every item sold by countless different people.

Yes I totally agree, how about xx dollars a month to get a "featured designer" slot, and you get to keep all the money you pocket?