Engineer, CEO, maker, and hot-lock hued Limor Fried, or Ladyada as she’s known in her tight-knit but substantial online community, is the founder of Adafruit – a dorm room engineering project turned bustling electronics company. Fried is an influential force behind the growing “maker movement,” consisting of a multitude of DIY-minded folks who love to tweak and tamper and recreate existing, everyday technologies. Hailing a culture of sharing and open-sourcing, Ladyada – a nickname lovingly paying homage to computer science pioneer Ada Lovelace – has sown the seeds of the Adafruit empire. Last year the company reported a whopping $45 million in revenue of “DIY open-source electronic hardware kits,” so-called because the actual project designs are free and publicly accessible, and customers are encouraged to tweak Adafruit’s kits to “hack” their final products. Booming revenue, 100-plus employees, a 50,000-square-foot industrial space in SoHo, 14 million website views and 34 million YouTube views, all 100 percent owned by women with no loans, no capital, and a thriving open-source culture – as Founder Collective put it, THIS is a great study in efficient entrepreneurship.
Fried laid the foundation for Adafruit in 2005 while studying at MIT for a master’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering. Ever the do-it-yourselfer and always interested in the make-up of gadgets, Fried transferred her classroom skill to dorm room hobby, building functional objects from scratch using custom-ordered parts she found online. Sharing the designs on her personal website with a small community of followers, Fried’s reputation for building from-scratch electronics like MP3 players and synthesizers grew around campus and on the web, and she was soon met with loads of requests to offer instruction and pre-assembled kits. With a $10,000 tuition fund she’d set aside from her parents, Fried invested in parts and began assembling and selling gadget kits for about ten bucks a pop. The young entrepreneur began running a genuine company – designing, processing and shipping orders. As orders increased, Limor Fried started hiring friends and designing new projects to meet demand, DIY-ing innovative kits to instruct on building gadgets like gyrometric sensors, thermal printers and solar panels.
At the heart of everything that Limor Fried has built, Adafruit thrives on its community of sharing ideas. The company’s open-source designs lend themselves to a culture of input and contribution, as tens of thousands of customers feed off each other’s creativity, adjusting here and tinkering there to transform any one of their products into something new and exciting. This positivity and ethos centered around sharing seeps into the workplace, too, as the open-source movement has attracted talented engineers and makers from around the world as Adafruit continues to grow. New talent drawn to this unique vision want to engage and grow with the company, supporting its community-driven products and culture.
Fried is extremely influential in the open-source hardware community and has been recognized internationally by followers and peers as a leader in the movement. Her participation in the formative workshops that led to the creation of the Open-Source Hardware Summit cemented her status as a leader in the community. In these initial meetings, Fried and her peers of engineers and entrepreneurs drafted the first definitions of open-source theories around hardware and software for a new and exciting cooperation. Limor Fried was recognized in 2009 for her participation in this community and awarded the “Pioneer Award” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for her participation in energizing and defining the roles of the community. Additionally, in 2011 the entrepreneur was awarded the “Most Influential Women in Technology” award by Fast Company magazine and was featured in the April issue of Wired magazine, breaking the glass ceiling as the first female engineer ever featured on the cover. In keeping with this theme, Fried was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2012 by Entrepreneur – the only female nominee of the 15 finalists.
From the beginning, Adafruit saw great demand and success from products like the MiniPOV (persistence of vision), the SpokePOV (a POV for bike wheels), and the MintyBoost (the world’s first open-source device charger). Adafruit continuously confirms its reputation in creating thoughtful, user-friendly kits and components armed with smart and easy-to-follow online tutorials and build videos as their customer base grows and their online community of makers flourishes. Today, Limor Fried’s company carries more than 3,500 products – including over 400 original designs – from elementary-level robotics sets to full-fledged sewing kits on garments with wearable and washable hardware, suitable for all scopes of ages and skillsets. In the creation of Adafruit, Limor Fried’s college hobby and love of computer science humanized electronics for the masses, making DIY tinkering fun, accessible, more useful and easier than ever.