Novaline: Past and Future

Origin Story

In 2016, I wrote an idea generator in Python. At the time I hoped to automate the new product development process. I wanted to string together my idea generator, some creativity research, several APIs, Natural Language Processing, a site generator (e.g., Cactus), MTurk, Upwork, Kickstarter and Alibaba to build a “machine” that took money as an input and spit out new product.s. As it turns out, that’s hard. However, I learned a lot from trying and decided to keep going, just with a new angle. Instead of building the full pipeline, I decided to work on individual components, one by one.

The idea generator, which is called Blender, became the first focus. Blender is a (slowly developing) library of tools for creativity. As an experiment, a couple of friends and I decided to use one of the tools within Blender to generate a product idea for Kickstarter. We succeeded in producing an idea, the Lightboard 14T, and our campaign met its (admittedly low) funding goal. In later posts on this blog, we’ll go through that experience in great detail.

Gavin, an engineer, was one of the people who worked on Lightboard 14T. More accurately, Gavin was the person who worked on the Lightboard. He designed and built the prototypes, fulfilled the orders, and starred in the Kickstarter video, along with a number of other things. After the campaign, the rest of the group moved on to other pursuits, and Gavin and I decided to keep going. We formed Novaline mostly as a structured way to pool our money.

Soon after, Gavin met Michelle, and she joined the team to secure manufacturing for a new product. Michelle is great at the painstaking process of communicating details, the ones that don’t seem important to others until it’s too late. With her help, we had our most successful launch ever. She is now a permanent part of the team in charge of sourcing.

Where We’re Heading

After the rush of success wore off, we discussed the future of Novaline. Our goal, in the long term, is to accelerate the transition to Desktop Manufacturing. Personal computers sparked a shift toward decentralized word processing workflows. This is commonly referred to as the Desktop Publishing revolution. Similarly, as cameras fell in cost and editing software design improved, more people made videos. YouTube provided a new distribution avenue, and the result could be called a revolution in Desktop Video Production. A similar pattern emerged from iOS and the App Store. Now even kids could write and sell valuable apps from their desktop. At Novaline, we think the Desktop Manufacturing revolution has yet to come. Though 3D printing and CAD are rapidly improving, they haven’t reached the crucial thresholds of cost and usability that will allow an explosion of creativity. We hope to play a major part in pushing these technologies in that direction, along with integrating them into an intelligent pipeline of product development. We want to make it possible for even a child to design and prototype a new smartphone or create and test a new nanomaterial.

Lofty goals, you say? Yes, but if we’ve learned anything from our past, there is plenty of value to be unlocked in trying. Our plan is pretty simple. There are three phases.

Phase I: In the first phase, we need to learn as much as we can about the full process. of developing new physical products, mainly via experiments. We will build and sell new products until we are experts at getting through the full cycle. On the way, we’ll share what we learn on this blog.

Phase II: The second phase is all about acquiring capital, by which we mean money and machines. We’ll need lots of both for the final phase. If we are any good at Phase I, Phase II should come as a natural progression.

Phase III: This is where we invest in, build, acquire or integrate the tools that will help move society toward a Desktop Manufacturing revolution.

Currently, we’re near the end of Phase I. We’ve learned a lot about product development, and we’re releasing products at a faster clip. If things go well, we’ll start accumulating capital (Phase II) fairly soon.

Jason Bell