A busy first month!
Hey everyone! I'm very sorry for not keeping you all updated sooner. It's been a very crazy month, and we've got a lot of ground to cover!
The Current COVID-19 Situation
I'm sure you're all well-aware of the COVID-19 outbreak. I'll summarize the situation by answering a couple of questions.
How does COVID-19 affect development and manufacturing of this mod?
It's no secret that supply lines in China were majorly disrupted. While ThinkMods sources most of its components from US-based suppliers, those suppliers get some of their components from global sources. That being said, very few of the components in this mod actually come from China; for instance, we use fuses from Littelfuse, a Chicago-based company. Our basic components (resistors, LEDs) come from Pennsylvania, voltage regulators come from Arizona, and the M.2 connector is from Conneticuit. Our capacitor OEM is based in Taiwan.
That being said, a few of our components do come from China: The mechanical components, like brass inserts, jumper pins/caps, and screws all come from China, along with the USB chip, and even the ExpressCard connector itself... You would not believe how hard it is to find EC connectors that are actually in-stock nowadays. My PCB manufacturer is also based in China, but while they were initially disrupted, it seems they're back up to full production now.
As it currently stands, I do not believe COVID-19 will impact our supply line whatsoever; it may be harder to find USB chips, but it shouldn't be impossible.
How does COVID-19 affect ThinkMods as a whole?
I live a little over an hour outside of New York City, so needless to say, it's pretty hectic here. In fact, I think I myself might actually have the virus. I picked up two family members from an international trip within the last week, and they're starting to come down with the symptoms, which means it's only a matter of time for me. I stocked up on supplies before I could have been contagious (I did not hoard toilet paper, I promise). At this point, we are completely self-quarantining. This has both upsides and downsides; while it means I don't need to go outside, therefore clearing up my schedule to work on ThinkMods, it also means there's quite a bit of work to do around the house. My attention is mostly the same when it comes to work, at this point.
It took a little bit of time to receive the funds, but once I did, I immediately placed an order for proofs of the final sticker design. They arrived a few days ago and I applied them to a couple of ThinkPads:
Unfortunately, as you can see, these stickers have a bit of a bubble problem. This was not unique to this single application; it presented on a number of devices with different finishes, regardless of surface cleaning and application process.
I reached out to the manufacturer, and they offered to send me free samples of their "clear labels", which use a different adhesive and different finish than the "clear stickers". Those are in the mail right now, and I'll let you all know how they turn out.
As mentioned in the initial campaign, I am doing a second prototype! I will be manufacturing up to 10 of these, and sending them out for free to a select few users to help troubleshoot/torture-test. If you would like to participate, you can apply here; I will select candidates based on their ThinkPad model/setup, not based on personal preference. All you'll need to do is pay for shipping, if you're selected. I haven't ordered the components yet, but the PCBs have arrived. Top is prototype 1, bottom is prototype 2:
The production boards will be matte black with an ENIG finish; I chose a blue soldermask with HASL finish for the prototype because that's what the fab was still manufacturing during the initial COVID-19 influx.
There's a new website! If you're reading this right now, you've already found it. You can now preorder mods if you missed out on the initial campaign!
New Discord Server
There's also a new ThinkMods-only Discord server. You can reach me personally for help there if you ever need it, or just talk to the community.
ThinkMods as a company
Part of what took so much time this month was filing paperwork so that ThinkMods is actually real. Here's all the hoops I had to go through:
- Register a trade name with the state
- Register a trade name with my county
- Obtain an EIN from the IRS (for tax purposes)
- Obtain a sales tax authorization from the state (I have to collect and remit local sales tax for NJ customers)
- Obtain a VAT # (for EU-based customers)
- Apply for a business bank account (to keep ThinkMods separate from my personal finances)
All of this is on top of the work involved in setting up a website, shipping service, etc. The county-level trade name registration actually had to be done in-person, at my county clerk's office, and I actually managed to get there and get it done the day before they indefinitely closed due to COVID-19. Talk about cutting it close!
When it comes to this campaign, the main holdup was getting the business bank account - I didn't want to start purchasing development materials until all of the money was separate from my personal account, for tax reasons. I've now been approved and a debit card is in the mail, so in the next few days I'll be placing orders for the necessary materials for prototype 2, as well as the necessary equipment for full production.
I will be updating both the website blog and sending Indiegogo updates until all orders ship, at which point I'll transition over to using the website and Discord server exclusively.
Stay safe! Good night, and good luck.