One of the guiding principes behind the kinds of investing we do at OATV is a belief that innovation starts with enthusiasts. That the things people do in their free time are often indicators of broader, longer term, disruptive trends. These hobbies can often develop into movements which stay off the radar for years until they gain enough critical mass that they can’t be ignored by large corporations.
It was this principle that led us to a group of MIT PhDs back in the winter of 2006. These recent MIT grads had started Squid Labs- a “do-tank” in Emeryville, CA to explore a number of projects at the intersection of art, science and technology. One of their projects began as a site for sharing step by step instructions for DIY kiteboard designs and was seeing a community form around much more than just kiteboarding. Community members were beginning to share instructions on how-to do a wide variety of projects from custom electronics to recipes and just about everything in between.
One of those original MIT PhDs. Eric Wilhelm, presented us with a proposal to spin the site, Instructables.com, out of Squid Labs. Eric’s vision for Instructables extended far beyond it’s kiteboarding roots and touched on a broader trend we felt had tremendous disruptive potential. From his first pitch deck:
Instructables will enable open-source hardware by providing a web-based service that will allow users to collaboratively design, document, build, and market their ideas.
That mission continues today. But, rather than couched in his 2006 geek speak of open source hardware, Instructables has become a service fostering a new kind of learning and information sharing that extends well beyond it’s technology roots. It’s an ambitious mission and one that requires scale to resources beyond that of just a small start up.
So, today’s announcement is a sweet one for the Instructables team as they’ve been acquired by the leading software provider for designers and engineers, Autodesk.
As always, it’s a bittersweet announcement for us here at OATV. Instructables was the very first investment we made as a new firm and its been a pleasure to work so closely with Eric and his team as they’ve executed on their vision. So the bitter part is that we won’t get to work with them at the level we have in the past. The sweet part is seeing a leading software company, like Autodesk, recognize and validate the role of the enthusiasts in the value chain of commercial software. It’s from these hobbyists that new opportunity and markets spring and seeing Autodesk embrace that community as part of this acquisition is sweet validation indeed.
PS- of course there’s an Instructable on building Instructables.