Do you have a R&D-I-Y attitude?

December 8, 2010

The two most common declarations companies make are “we love our customers” and “worlds best coffee” but very few go as far to say, “we are inspired by our customers.”

I recently met a FreshBooks customer who is amazingly inspiring to FreshBooks, and it’s not just because they were on Martha Stewart. Her name is Britta Riley. She’s trying to change the world and co-created a process called R&D-I-Y.

R&D-I-Y stands for Research and Develop It Yourself. It is built around the concept of bringing the techniques from open source software development and bringing them to an “IRL” physical system design.

Britta is using this process to develop the NYC project, Windowfarms. Windowfarms is working to solve the problem that many neighborhoods face (particularly low income), that they’re “food deserts,” meaning little fresh food is easily accessible. Residents instead tend to consume processed, packaged, and canned food, which have depleted nutrients – contributing to obesity in North America.

Windowfarms is constantly researching, testing and iterating on their concept and improving their product. It’s about doing hard research to understand the problem – explained in the info-graphic. It’s about finding the need that will be the basis of their business and iterating to solve the problem – a worthwhile process for any business.

For example, FreshBooks CEO/Co-founder Mike McDerment, after being frustrated with Word and Excel for invoicing, set out to build a better option. However, in the longer version of the story, Mike did an incredible amount of non-sexy research before he started this endeavor. And for the record, when someone creates a “Social Network” like movie about FreshBooks, that scene will be a cool montage.

The parallels between FreshBooks and Windowfarms are obvious. We’re both trying to build a platform that provides something that make people’s lives better (although you can make an argument that Britta’s cause is more altruistic). We both are working in a small niche and being what Buckminster Fuller would call a “trim tab,” a small part that turns giant ships by being particularly well placed [Disclaimer: I lifted the Buckminister Fuller reference from the WindowFarms website and had no idea what it was before either]. And they’re both founded by something who did a lot of research and made it happen.

What WindowFarms is trying to accomplish is fascinating. It’s something I’m probably not doing justice to, so if this sounds interesting, please check out You can learn more about their cause, the concept of R&D-I-Y and purchase kits to try all this at home.

How are you using the R&D-I-Y process in your business? And if you’d like to see more posts about our inspirational customers, please let us know below!

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.