Sunday, September 1, 2013

Prelude to Launching a Beta Test


Above you see the culmination of 13 hours of work – 4 simple circuit boards. They aren’t fully tested at this stage either. They have all been programmed and checked to see if they transmit but I still have to test the ADS1248 interface to make sure they measure the strain gauges and the cadence circuits. Bad connections between the nRF51422 and the circuit board could mean that a board can’t function as a power meter.

This marks the beginning of preparations for the beta test.

I would like to diverge a little to talk about startups, and the effort it takes to get to this stage.

I was sent an article on (here) about startups, depression, burn out, drive, ambition, etc. It’s a very good article and it reflects my own work to a smaller extent. It can be a serious struggle to balance a day job, build a “company” and a powermeter (I consider these two different things and the first is neglected), and maintain a level of health and activity, all while staying up to date on several industries. Oh, and when I have a chance Tweet and Blog.

My goals have been lofty but I am very proud that I have a functioning powermeter of my own design on my bike right now. Over the three prototypes I’ve built in the last year It has low power consumption and though it has some minor issues it’s working very well and is quite usable – unless it rains. It still needs a little more programming and an enclosure but it’s done 100km outside. This is far from an endurance test but it’s a good start. The last two rides were solid and now I have to track down a bug – one that doesn’t quite interfere with it’s operation. So now I’m moving on to building up my beta test units.

Recently I received an email asking about the beta test. It reminded me that I’m behind my original schedule. I had posted a couple of times that I’m off schedule because I had to revise the circuit board due to Balun problems. It’s a major pain to be on the verge of something and spend even second of your free time to just find out something doesn’t work.

So the email frazzled me a little but I’m seeing that right now is the time to grow thicker skin. I’m finding I need that more every day. I’m starting to see comments, even from the innovative and startup laden Waterloo, Ontario area extolling how they could build a powermeter, but that they’d rather be riding.

I’ll never be a pro cyclist but I can be a a pro engineer. That’s my choice, and I made that choice long before I ever loved cycling. I made that choice when I was five years old - I decided I’ll engineer for the rest of my life. And that means hands on, not just desk work. This is one project that I chose to dedicate myself to. If it doesn’t pan out I’ll know a lot more, and if it does maybe those who would rather ride than engineer can ride a little better, a little farther, a little faster all by using something I made.


As it stands am now 2 weeks into oblivion. Sadly planning is part of the business side and as I mentioned I’ve neglected. However, I’m not three years off thankfully! I think I need another month or two. I might have to start looking south for testers. Boulder Colorado maybe?

So, I’m on the cusp of building up beta units, talking to potential users on a regular basis, getting feedback, documenting everything, etc. If I thought building a powermeter was going to be a daunting task, an even larger task lay ahead of me and one that I am even less familiar with.

I was advised that there are two ways to go with building a startup. Either you protect your concept with a patent, or you have to build a product and customer base. Reviewing the patent situation it’s apparently that you can’t really patent much in terms of powermeters. So that’s left me with only the later option. I’ve been exploring this via the concepts of Lean Startup and Minimum Viable Product. It’s a huge learning curve, but I’m been working on it about 20 hours a week for the last year.

Nothing is perfect. There is a lot to live up to in the cycling market. There are going to be arguments about products. There will be those who ridicule me, telling me that it’s not needed or telling me that I’m a disappointment. Customers who, no matter my intentions, will tell me that my product is junk – even when I offer them a new replacement or a full refund or both. A startup isn’t an easy prospect. It’s not for the faint of heart.

If you’re reading this blog as a potential customer, you’re the most important person to me and I’ll do my best to make things right.

If you’re reading this blog as a hardware hacker, I want to share this knowledge with you – hackers lead directly to innovation. You can’t invent something if you don’t know how to do something. So what if you have to build a diy bulky version of DI2 or an Arduino cycle computer, you’re learning and eventually you’ll have enough background and knowledge to innovate.

If you’re reading this blog as a fellow startup, then research hard, work hard, believe in your product, and know when to pivot or exit. Try hard to maintain a balance in your life. Startup’s are hard and can cause burnout, depression, and more. I’m so glad that testing now coincides with riding but I did a poor job balancing things until this point. Learn from my examples. However long something should take, double it. At least then you’ll have a buffer.


  1. Great work!

    "I might have to start looking south for testers. Boulder Colorado maybe?..."

    what, you're afraid the local cyclists will run out of suitable testing weather? So you need to find some Bolder Coloradonians?

    Do you forget that we are CANADIANS? We are lumberjacks, and we're ok. We cycle in blizzards, we cycle on ice, we cycle in snow, we always get our, wait, that's the Mounties, but you catch my snowdrift.

    Besides, we all have cycle trainers and/or roller trainers.

    Look no further for able-bodied beta testers. They'll still be here when you need them!

    1. I know, I know. It's just thinking out loud. I'd like to get the beta's out in decent weather before pushing them in poorer stuff. I don't want them to all go down at the same time if the enclosure ends up being a bad design.

  2. Keith, I read your previous updates on your boards from back in June and your costs in getting stencils for your projects to Canada. Check out OSH Stencils, they have incredible prices and deliver internationally fast and inexpensively. I used to use the same guys you did, but after trying these guys, I get stencils in 3-4 days from the time I order (they usually ship same day or next day) and most of my stencils are $5-8 US dollars shipped. I've ordered about a dozen from them and they arrive like clockwork. Just thought I'd pass that along. Enjoy!

    1. OMG this is like Christmas to me! AT that price I won't get charge the horrible tarrifs. This is awesome!

      Thanks so much!

    2. No problem, I was in your shoes once until I found them. They're a fairly new company building their client base, but their product and prices stand on their own. The website is constantly improving, and the owner is very active and social in the hardware community. Anything to save a fellow hardware guy money I'm all for. Good luck in your product beta, it looks really neat. I've got a close friend who's a major cyclist, I'm sure he'd love it.

  3. Keep up the good work. I live just outside Boulder and there are plenty of riders that would love to test new technology. I would volunteer myself, but unfortunately I log more hours at my desk than on the bike.