I had the pleasure of writing the cover feature, on Limor Fried (aka "Ladyada") and her company, Adafruit, for the latest issue of Make: (Volume 57). Since a lot had already been made about the company's impressive and popular open source product line and Limor as a successful female entrepreneur, I decided to focus on what I think is another rather unique aspect of the company: the fact that the open source ethos that informs the design of their hardware also informs their corporate culture.
There's a openness, a spirit of sharing, educating, and supporting, that is shot through the fabric of Adafruit Industries.
They open-source many of the details of how the company is run and post the details of what they're learning (as a company) on their Adafruit Learning System and in their newsletters. They use the feedback and ideas from their substantial online social community to crowdsource product development. And they're attempting to create a corporate culture where employees feel respected, cared for, and given room to grow. As the Founder Collective put it on Twitter this morning: "105 full-time employees, $45M in revenue, no venture capital. Adafruit is a great case study in efficient entrepreneurship."
Founded in a dorm room in 2005 by MIT engineer Limor “Ladyada” Fried as an online learning resource and marketplace for do-it-yourself electronics, Adafruit is now a highly successful community-driven electronics company, educational resource, and maker community thriving in SoHo, Manhattan.
Limor sees three keys to the success of the company: “Being focused on others, having an unconditional belief that you can be both a good cause and a good company, and seeing risk-taking as your friend and your only real competition as yourself.”
It is these high-minded tenets that make Adafruit something special. That they’ve managed to hold on to these values as they’ve grown — creating an increasingly open source company culture around them — is especially laudable.
How can Limor handle being CEO of the company, the star (as Ladyada) and co-creator of so many of Adafruit’s YouTube shows (and other online content), and the main product designer? It’s exhausting just to think about it all.
“A lot of it is just knowing how to do triage on projects and manage my time effectively,” she says. “In planning what I’m going to do, I often decide based on what can get the most people on our team going. This maximizes my efforts.” She continues: “When leading a group, it’s important to identify what we call ‘NP problems’ [“Nondeterministic polynomial time”] — these are tasks that may take some time and care to complete, but they can be quickly verified. Such ‘NP problems’ can be given to people on the team so that they can quickly take them on, practicing and learning new skills as they tackle them. Then, we can come back together and I can check in on the final result.”
Adafruit prides itself on the supportive culture it creates among employees. Limor says she especially loves seeing employees grow and advance, and she takes great satisfaction in offering excellent employee benefits. Limor also notes that Adafruit has been able to bring significant electronics manufacturing to the U.S., specifically, to New York City. The positive, open source culture that Adafruit has engendered has attracted talented engineers and makers from around the world who want to engage with the company, support its community-driven products and culture, and to work there.
Read the full article here.