How SparkFun Bootstrapped Their Way From $2500 To $18.7 Million

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As an undergrad at the University of Colorado in 2002, Nathan Seidle blew some stuff up. When he searched the internet for replacement parts for the electronic things he was working on, he found himself frustrated at both the lack of parts available and by the lack of pictures of the parts that were available.



A Mutli-Million Dollar Idea Was Born

Nathan was studying electrical engineering at the time and it occurred to him that other people were probably having the same problem.


“I remember just wanting to see a picture, any picture, of what it was I was trying to order. But with that frustration came the clarity that there was an opportunity. Maybe, just maybe, I could start a website that sold electronic bits and pieces — and they would have picture,” – Nathan Seidle, SparkFun Founder and CEO



Would A Startup By Any Other Name Be So Awesome?

Sometimes finding the right name for a startup, product, or venture is the hardest part. In some ways, it can be even harder than naming your own child. Although your child may resent you for naming them after a city or celebrity, the wrong name for your startup could mean the difference between making it or breaking it.


But for Nathan, the name SparkFun came pretty naturally. “Any time I’m frying things, I’m always having fun and pushing the limits of my abilities. When I found the SparkFun domain available, I knew it was perfect.”



From 1 order a day to $18.7 Million

Once he had the domain name pinned down, Nathan got to work on his online store over winter break in 2003. He purchased a handful of parts from Bulgaria and a few other supplies by maxing out his credit card, put up great photos of them online and the orders started trickling in. One or two a day at first, and Nathan kept his stock in and processed orders from his student apartment.


“I believe about $2000 went to inventory purchases and $500 went to infrastructure including $25 for a scale, $15 for a tape gun, etc. I forgot to buy boxes to actually ship product to customers. How I made it this far is good fodder for pundits.” – Nathan Seidle


In 2004, Nathan graduated from the University of Colorado and started designing unique SparkFun products. Nathan also concentrated on offering online tutorials for parts and products.



By 2005, revenues were $846,881 and by 2008, he had reached $7 million in revenues and had 47 employees. Today, SparkFun has 130+ employees, they offer classes, and had revenues of $18.7 million in 2010. They have more than 450 original products and they’re based in Boulder, CO, where they have a 50,000 square foot facility. They are a leader in the OSHW (Open Source Hardware) Movement, and they are the largest manufacturer of Open Source Hardware in the world. Beyond being the CEO of SparkFun, Nathan continues to build many of the company’s products himself.



SparkFun also hosts an annual Autonomous Vehicle Competition. This year’s event will be held from 8:30am til 5pm on June 16th at SparkFun HQ. Another fun fact about SparkFun – the bringing of pets to work is not only allowed but encouraged. At any one time, there may be as many 30 or more dogs at the SparkFun office.


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