Back in college, Nathan Seidle was tinkering with an electronics project when one of the components burned out. No big deal - until he discovered how scarce and expensive replacement parts were. "I said, 'Well, shoot, if I'm having trouble getting these components, I'm sure other people are too,'" Seidle explains. So he decided to import cheap, high-quality parts from Bulgaria and sell them from his student apartment.
During winter break from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Seidle maxed out his credit card and built an online store, SparkFun Electronics. Orders rolled in. When shoppers called with delivery questions, Seidle offered to consult his shipping department. "Really, it was me sitting in my bedroom," he laughs. Six years and 47 employees later, Seidle has plenty more company. And SparkFun's annual revenue jumped from $846,881 in 2005 to $4 million in 2007 to nearly $7 million in 2008.
At Maker Faire, Seidle's exhibit drew a large crowd. Some SparkFun engineers were playing a game of Tron on a coffee table equipped with LEDs and joysticks. Others showed off a belt buckle with a tiny accelerometer and an MP3 player that changed songs when they swiveled their hips. "There are so many new toys," Seidle says happily. "And so little time."