I am an engineer. I have plenty of simple product ideas (as do most engineers). It is plenty fast to design them and make a few prototypes, but the overhead of converting this into a business is quite large. I would need to set up manufacturing facilities, handle orders and inventory, and a number of other things. For small designs, the cost is much higher than the profit. For large designs, I still bear substantial risk – instead of investing a week or two, I need to invest a couple of months. At that point, to cover costs, I need to make a professional device, with an enclosure, manual, potentially CD, and packaging, which a single person can’t really do in less than a year.
You seem to have everything in-house to handle manufacturing and distribution. You also cater to hobbyists. It’d be a sweet service if you acted kind of like a Cafe Press, but for circuits. I would upload a PCB design, pay for an initial batch of PCBs, as well as maybe enough components to populate 5 boards. I would also specify a pricing scheme.
You would place the design available for purchase on your web site available, either as a kit (cost of PCBs+parts+your profit+my profit) or as an assembled product (cost of PCBs+parts+your profit+my profit+assembly). If it sells two (one for me and one for my sister), that’s okay – I’ve paid for everything – you’ve lost nothing, but only made minimal profit. If it sells a million, you handle scaling up supply chain management, production, and distribution for me. I maintain control of the IP, and you agree that if my design becomes popular, you won’t simply clone my design to cut me out.
You, perhaps, give a discount for free/open source designs (free as in free speech, a la Richard Stallman – not necessarily zero profit).
If it was fairly structured, I know a huge number of people who would use such a service (myself included). I’ve thought about starting a business like this myself, but it isn’t really reasonable to start in the US – the local assembly costs are obscene. I am not ambitious enough to start an international business yet. Started by someone in China, this could be quite reasonable – you can do manual assembly at reasonable cost, so could do it with minimal capital expenditures. In the US, I would need to automated just-in-time manufacturing and assembly of circuit boards (I have ideas about how to do this, but it would cost a few hundred thousand dollars to implement).
As this picks up, the next step would be to automate simple enclosures (e.g. simple plastic box with a laser-cut top for cables and connectors), and eventually, complex enclosures, so that we can design consumer products rather than just hobbyist products.