Ada Lovelace Day: Revisiting Limor Fried

Last year, for Ada Lovelace Day, I wrote a post about why I admire Limor Fried, the founder and CEO of Adafruit Industries. This year, I thought I’d talk about Limor again, both because she is such a great example of the engineer/entrepreneur, and because she’s working in an emerging area that still isn’t being taken as seriously as it ought to be by technology industry pundits.
(Why were none of the tech journalists who swarmed Techcrunch Disrupt not at the Open Source Hardware Summit, which, to be honest, represents the forefront of something far more disruptive!)

I visited Limor and her partner in crime, Make: editor Phil Torrone, at their New York offices earlier this week. Here are some great tidbits from our conversation:

  • “I try everything, so when we use it, it’s really the best.” Limor talked about her design choices: how she tried 40 different resistors (which most people would consider a completely fungible, throwaway component), how she chose a particular model of LED for a kit because the color coded cables were really pleasing, how she is, as PT described her, “an EE (Electrical Engineer) with attitude.” PT added, “People start to think ‘If it isn’t the one ladyada uses, it must be crap.'”
  • Limor “narrates her work”, to use Dave Winer’s great description of the function of business blogging. She blogs, she writes documentation, she does video tutorials, so people understand her design choices, and become engaged with her in a kind of shared headspace, a lightweight virtual enterprise. She has a strong curation message that comes out even in the product descriptions in the Adafruit catalog – why she picked various parts – not just cost, sometimes esthetics, overall value.
  • Open source hardware is key to what she does; other people building on her work, even if sometimes this enables competitors. This value runs through everything Adafruit does, and drives strategy and decision making.

In this moment of homage to the memory of Steve Jobs, and to his singular product vision, which sprang from deep conviction and a sense of beauty, it’s worth noting how conviction and values can drive success in any business.
As Jobs said in a 2000 Fortune Magazine interview (as quoted by the New York Times today):

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

It’s the small things that Limor does, the things that spring from who she is and what she cares about and her willingness to shape the products and her business around those things, that make her such a good role model.

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