Insanitek R&D

I don’t think I’ve actually talked much about Insanitek R&D here, nor really on Ink or any other place that’s publicly accessible. So, I thought I’d start to explain myself. And, like any good story it starts off with “So, one night when we were drinking…”

Insanitek’s conception

As a bunch of us engineering students sat around doing thermodynamics homework and having a pint or two… or even a couple shared bottles of harder liquor, we started to ask a bunch of those Big Questions that everyone asks themselves about the future.  “What if” we could work for ourselves? “What if” we could design something that doesn’t have to be on the market, but specialised for one individual? “What if” we didn’t have to think about computer algorithms all the time? “What if” was a big question that night, and the more alcohol that was consumed, the more we asked it, and the more we asked it, the more sober we got about the potential future.  Finally, someone, and I don’t remember who, said, “I wish we could invent the way they used to back in the old, Renaissance days.” Thus, with a round of grumbled sympathies and nods, the idea was sealed. But it needed a name and a plan.

The next day while sorting out my homework from my notes on the “what ifs”, I began to think about how to actually pull off what we engineers were dreaming of. After all, it wasn’t a normal, nor accepted path to go for an engineer, nor were there any established businesses that I could think of that we could go to. The idea festered for a few weeks while I did research trying to find out if we could really live the dream. There were some good companies that were examples, but of course I can’t find them now. The thing that got us about these companies is they were all based in California, and we were all from the good ol’ Midwest and wanted to make something at home. Neither cost has appeal for us, nor did their lifestyles. Beyond that,though, these companies all focused on the money rather than the inventive process and clients they would work with. That wasn’t what our what-if exercise brought us to. (Though admittedly it’d be nice to make a lot of money.)

Naming rights

In my world, gaming, especially 3.5 edition D&D is a big deal. We would gather with friends, either in person or using an IRC chat (yes, I’m aware of the level of geek there) and play. The idea had been simmering in my head for a while now, so I began to talk about it. Geeks beget geeks, and before I knew it the idea had more depth to it. And, it also had a name, for one of the guys said, “It’s an insane idea. Insanitek is a perfect name.”

It stuck.

Slow buildups

Nothing ever starts quickly, but once you latch onto an idea, it doesn’t let go. I did a lot of research into starting an R&D firm, but all things I could find wanted me to define what kind of R&D. Are we going to focus on mechanical, electrical, computer, environmental, chemical? They wanted me to stick to one thing. Well, the way we had set it up where each of us engineers would be doing what we want to do meant I couldn’t do that. We were to be all of the above, and yet none of the above at the same time. So, off I went inventing a new business before I invented anything else. But, I still didn’t know where to start, and the other engineers hadn’t the drive to think business and their special brand of engineering at the same time. I had more than enough energy, so they nominated me to keep going — even long after they abandoned the idea.

I still kept going with my undergrad degree. I switched from ME and physics to anthropology because I wanted to get outside and away from the computer more. I worked on my coursework, and in every spare moment I got, I worked on designing Insanitek from scratch. There were a lot of questions to be answered, and I didn’t even know where to start — or even the list of questions. I didn’t know the answers at that time, either. I just knew that Insanitek wasn’t going to be your normal R&D firm.

One day in 2007, I found Ali Alarafat, a young man from Saudi Arabia. Ali hated being there, and I can’t blame him. He’s too smart for just about any environment, least of all one that pounds one into the ground day after day. He and I got to talking, and somehow the chats turned from culture to philosophy to business to Insanitek. He loved the idea, and he became my CIO in a heart beat. He set me up with a website so I could tinker and play. He focused on social aspects of it while I worked out the details. We went through two different forum types and 5 years of tinkering with concepts, ideas, wants, and needs to make it go. Finally, we settled on WordPress in early 2013 and Insanitek is what it is today.

Take off

By this time I had the following outline of specifics with Insanitek:

  • Centred around the inventors, engineers, and small clients, not money or branding
  • Centred around the poor and struggling, not the rich and entitled.
  • Use free, open source, open access things as often as possible
    • This is because not only are we not rich, but we can’t very well help our prospective clients and target group without knowing the best free or very cheap things
  • Move slow — don’t take out loans to move fast.
    • Not only does this make it more like our clients, but it also means we’re stable. We don’t spend money on things we don’t have the money for. Yes, progress goes a lot slower, but at least we won’t end up in debt.
  • Stand up for the things that will help “the little guy”
    • These things, like crowdfunding and open access journals, are exactly what my clients and inventors will be needing to do their best. So, it’s in our best interest to make sure these things are held in high standard and good standing.
  • Be transparent and honest
    • And, I don’t mean the government’s definition of transparent or honest — that’s just corrupted. I mean genuinely transparent and honest. I don’t want to work with people that don’t feel like they can talk to me to my face . Doubly so if they disagree. Disagreements and different view points are what make things grow stronger. I can’t have a strong company on weak principles. I feel the same about the company. It should be transparent and honest with the inventors and clients. We can’t be a company without them.
  • Our gift shop or market should be oriented towards museums, educators, and others, but the main theme is science and technology.
  • When a client comes to us for modification of an item so they can use it, we turn it into a DIY so any individual that needs that specific modification can do it.
  • When an inventor or engineer makes their own thing, they can patent it and sell it via the Insanitek store as well as sell licenses to whomever they choose.
  • We stay away from bloated patent companies, and instead, search for prior art and “due process” ourselves. It’s cheaper and it gives the inventors more ideas. After all, there are a slew of books out there on the topic, like Patent It Yourself: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing at the U.S. Patent Office by Attorney David Pressman. Why can’t we do it ourselves?
  • We patent things ourselves, which costs a lot of money. But, like I just pointed out, there are a bunch of books on the topic for those willing to put forth the effort, time, and well, lots of money. Still, it costs more money to pay a lawyer to do it for you.

After those thoughts were down, I started to think of how to make things move forward within the budget and within the ethics and mission of the company. This, as you can imagine, is easier said than done. There were so many things that needed to be done so the company could grow into the concept that the engineers and I laid forth all those years ago and Ali believed in. We, and by that I mean Ali and I, started with the website since it was something we could do within our budget. While he set it up, I started to fill it with content from various places. This is where we’re at now on the website, really, and it needs a lot of work. However, I also have other plans that are in progress.

I started to enlist some independent inventors and artists from around Etsy that had things that we could sell. It’s enough to get started, really, with the idealistic dream that is Insanitek. These guys are wanting to expand their business and do great things. We want to help them and get more content in our store. Now, all we have to do is market and sell it.

I am also beginning to hire writers, but they are all freelance science writers. Freelance writers without a direction and aim is not exactly the most conducive to content building, but I don’t want to pressure them into writing crappy things. I also use the opportunity to just save more money. It’s easier on the accounts that way, really. It’s a very tentative balance, and all I can do it save money for the days when they send an invoice our way for the content they’ve written.

The future

Who really knows what the future holds? Well, I don’t. I don’t have a business plan, per se, but I have a goal. I have an idea of what to make Insanitek in the future. The things that I’m working on now are hoarding money so I can buy equipment. There are so many things from a 3D printer to a welder to a sundry of tools to get that I have a feeling I’ll take a while in getting the things the inventors and engineers need to get their dreams from their head to reality. While I acquire these items, I’ll also need to consider a place to work with them at. They certainly won’t fit into our tiny apartment! So, either we’ll have to buy a house and work out of the garage or I’ll have to rent a warehouse for inventors and engineers to work in… if I can find them and get them to come.

There are always a lot of things to do, so I’m just taking it one day at a time, one goal at a time. I’m staying true to Insanitek’s core mission and the beliefs that Ali and I pounded out for the company to be something truly different and useful for those that are far less entitled with empty pockets and yet have a full head of ideas and dreams.