Writing in Place: A (Tragically) Beautiful LED Matrix

Writing in Place: A (Tragically) Beautiful LED Matrix


Making the leap from old-school, commodity, coffeemaker LCDs to blinktastic L*E*Ds was not easy. 

The first solution you come across, the Beam, is very promising, possibly just what you need.

Here they are chained together, 4 of them, enabling just the sort of scrolling you are looking for.

You order three of them, even though they are pricey: around $30 each.

Unfortunately, the Beam falls victim, tragically, to the economics of small-scale Maker-level products: there just isn't enough of a market to justify the continued attention of the two founders/inventors. 

At least that's what you assum is the case: as Beam goes from an ambitious launch, to a slow motion decline.

New features, bug fixes, customer support... it all starts to fade away.

Eventually, the Beam online store no longer has any Beams in stock, for months, and months. 

The Challenges of the Maker/Entrepreneur

This is a fate that plagues the many Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects that sort of evaporate. It's difficult to create a cool device that has the pop to attract short-term crowdfunding support, and keep the kind of sustained interest that enables you to stay on top of it, and keep iterating, and marketing, and improving.

One persistent challenge: the numbers just aren't that big. There just aren't that many customers for an elegant, LED dot matrix module. 

Another challenge: some makers, like you, depend on some level of company support to get your pathetic projects off the ground. 

This can hit these early entrepreneurs hard, and just when they are trying to launch their tech side hustle without attracting the attention of their day-job bosses. 

After you order your Beams, and start talking them up, you discover that Richard, the Cambridge Hackspace founder, had also ordered one. He also got sucked into the promise. 

So, also, had a few people on the Particle community boards. You know this because they re on the the Particle Community Boards, seeking help and support from fellow early adopters.

Because it wasn't coming from the Beam guys. By now they were probably just trying to keep their Beam project in an after-work-and-on-weekends box. 

Is that right, Beam guys?

If you're out there: get in touch. It would be illuminating to hear your side of the maker/entrepreneur story.

Moving on 

You dalliance with Beam ends one night at the Cambridge Hackspace, as you are trying to figure something out, without any support from the guys who had sold me $90 worth of LED promise. You feel like you are out there, alone.

Then Marcelo, a Cambridge Hackspace member with extensive software and hardware experience, said, "These Beams are slick, but you can get commodity stuff just like this from China." 

So you dial back your expectations, and check out Alibaba. 

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