Who we are
How it all started
To understand how we got here, we have to go back in time. Conor and Jakob met at school almost 6 years ago. We always enjoyed tinkering and working on all sorts of small electronic projects and one day, amidst the boringness of covid in the beginning of 2020, we came up with the idea of building a small macropad.
After putting a lot of effort into it, we decided to order PCBs and see if they'd work. When you order PCBs, you have to order a minimum of 5. So once we had confirmed that the PCBs worked, we had a surplus of 4 PCBs. We decided to put together 4 complete macropads which we sold on Tindie. The site still exists today and can be found here!
This is it – this is the very first (Rev 1.0) macropad, called the 0xCB 1337, which started our journey:
With this small macropad we learned our first lessons in design, production and fulfillment.
After our macropad we decided to start working on something bigger (albeit marginally so): a 40% keyboard which was sold through CandyKeys. David from CandyKeys gave us the opportunity to produce a large number of keyboards from the start, as he wanted to get rid of the group buy model and offered us to run our new “Static” keyboard completely in stock, pre-financed by him. To this day we are very grateful for his confidence in us.
It was really exciting but also stressful at the same time, handling this much money and responsibility, which included setting up a company in Germany, registering at the tax office and also to invest in fancy new tools like 3D printers, soldering supplies and a shiny big CO2 laser cutter! Setting up a company also meant registering at the tax office which, as you can probably imagine, is a fun thing to do, but that’s a story for another time.
We quickly realized that packing a few hundred keyboards is much more complicated and time consuming than a few small macro pads. As the Static is a DIY keyboard kit, the amount of hardware, PCBs and electronic components was huge and quickly outgrew the space we were working in, so we had to set up shop in several locations.
Over the next few weeks, we counted thousands of screws and resistors, lasered hundreds of acrylic parts and our 3D printers ran 24/7 to produce the plastic parts. In the end we spent 2 full months packing the Static in the evenings after our apprenticeship. After loading all the boards onto a euro pallet and shipping them across Germany, we were able to successfully deliver the keyboards to CandyKeys within the promised timeframe and launch them just before Christmas in November 2021.
After CandyKeys we expanded into the US with the help of our friend Dan from Ringer Keys, selling another round of 0xCB Statics, this time with optional fancy acrylic cases that gave them a more premium construction. This gave us the chance to reach a broader audience and build up a business relationship that we still cherish to this day.
As you may have noticed, we didn't start with KeebSupply, we started designing our own products in our design studio called 0xCB. After we finished the production of Static, we needed to expand our product range, not yet knowing that we would be selling them all through our own shop rather than through other vendors. We'll talk about that later in this article.
For the time being, we started working on a new revision of our macropad to make it easier to produce and to make more of them in less time.
We also added an on-board controller rather than having to rely on an external one. Having gained some experience with this on-board MCU (microcontroller unit), we decided to make our own Pro Micro-based microcontroller, the 0xCB Pluto. Both of the macropad and Pluto PCBs were manually assembled by us, which took a lot of time, and did not always go smoothly.
Once we had those two finished, we wanted to have a keyboard that could use the 0xCB Pluto. So we decided to start work on a 65% keyboard called New Horizons. Maybe you can start to see a theme with all our products, they are all named after space related things. New Horizons was also a great collaboration with GEIST, a good friend of ours and a well known designer in the community. He was kind enough to provide the silkscreen artwork for this keyboard.
Helios was the next logical step after Pluto – featuring the much more capable RP2040 processor, 16MB of flash and many more features. It was a huge challenge as we were introducing fully automated PCB assembly, which meant a lot of work going into file preparation. In addition, adopting the RP2040 platform was a big task as it was completely new to the custom keyboard scene. This meant that we had to wait for discussions on the now well-known rp2040_ce standard, also known as the BastardKB standard named after our friend Quentin from Bastard Keyboards, so as not to cause any pin incompatibilities.
All this happened during the development of the shop and immediately after the launch, when we were still adding lots of features, which didn't make things any easier in terms of time.
As we produced more and more keyboards, we started to focus more on the packaging side of things. Here we decided to focus on using paper as the main component for environmental reasons. The only time we use foam is when shipping cases that could easily be scratched. We design and manufacture the foam inlays ourselves on the laser that we also use for our acrylic pieces.
While working on all of the above products, we realized that we wanted to distribute our products ourselves and have our own online store. This would have several benefits, such as more control over the fulfillment process and less communication with vendors, which often leads to delays and a lot of work. Quite frankly, the biggest advantage is the better profit margin, while at the same time being able to reduce the price to the customer because the vendor doesn't have to make any money on the product. While Conor and Jakob were looking for the right platform, we met Timur, who later joined the team and became the main programmer for the shop. Since then, we have been a team of three, working together to achieve our goals and make the shop grow.
The first thing we did together was to decide on a name for the shop. After some fun Discord calls, we settled on KeebSupply because of its simplicity and the play on words with the short form for keyboard and the existence of a dedicated TLD for supply. During this time we also played around with different shop platforms to see what we wanted to work with, but most of the options were either too expensive, too mainstream or too inflexible. After two failed attempts that cost us months of development time, we settled on Vendure, a great open source eCommerce platform, together with a frontend based on the Remix framework.
Choosing an open source platform, which we can host ourselves and have full control over, had many advantages over other alternatives. We were able to implement features exactly the way we wanted and remain mostly independent from (sometimes invasive) big corporations. Additionally, it fits our dedication to open source, and we make some of our extensions/work on the ecosystem public.
Implementing feature after feature, there was no end in sight and we wasted a lot of time with endless troubleshooting and bug fixing – until we set a deadline.
With the date set for 9th September 2022, we began to structure our timeline to launch, completing tasks step by step (those months are pretty green in our GitHub timeline hehe). As the launch date approached, we had a closed beta and soon after a very stressful launch day with a major bug to fix last minute.
After all that stress, it was incredibly exciting to see the traffic graphs rise and to see the first orders come in, all while worrying about any problems that might arise.
But the work on the shop didn't stop there – we just had a working shop, but we had many more ideas of features and extensions that we wanted to see and started working on them – this work continues to this day, improving the shop bit by bit, adding one feature and improvement after another. This is made a lot easier with our suite of open source tools and (by now) well-optimized infrastructure to make testing and deployment a breeze.
Running other Products
As soon as the shop was up and running, we started talking to some smaller designers on the Discord communities we had grown fond of – we wanted to help them to source, produce and sell their boards through our shop, and the Splaytoraid by Freya was the first candidate. With lots of acrylic parts, custom PCBs and a 40% unibody split layout, it suited us and fit well with our store. It was also a good fit for our capabilities because of the components used, even though the acrylic parts were a challenge due to their shape and complexity. Splaytoraid would tie in nicely with our line-up, as it was another board that could use our own Pluto and Helios controllers. As with Static and New Horizons, we did our best to package everything as nicely as possible (while keeping the necessary packaging low) and released the Splaytoraid in January, just a few months after opening our shop.
After the Splaytoraid we talked to GEIST about launching his TOTEM keyboard. GEIST is probably one of the best known designers in the 40s community and we couldn't be prouder to have worked with him to make his keyboard available to more people. Because of his popularity, we decided to go all in and do A LOT of keyboards as an in-stock drop. Splaytoraid ran out of stock after a few weeks and we didn't want that to happen again.
This meant a lot of investment on our part, sourcing all the necessary hardware and electronics, and cutting foam inlays for the delicate resin cases. The TOTEM was the first product where we switched from the low quality FDM prints that we used for all our previous 3D-printed products to the higher quality resin prints.
After investing about 2 months in packaging they were finally ready for release in May 2023 – this was probably our longest production run after Static.
With this initiative of helping designers, we have successfully launched the aforementioned Splaytoraid and TOTEM, as well as the more recent Zilpzalp by Apfel, a cute little keyboard, and the Stress by GroooveBob, a GP2040 based fightpad. It has always been our aim to help smaller designers (especially in the 40s community) get their products to the market by assisting them with sourcing, production and fulfillment. We've done this a number of times now and we couldn't be happier with the results.
We hope that there are many more to come, as this is a lot of fun and a great way for us to give back to the community that has helped us so much.
Diving into pre-orders
At first we were very skeptical about the group-buy and pre-order model, but the time came when we had to start setting up a pre-order system. As we are a fairly small shop at the moment, we simply can't order stuff like 20,000 switches without knowing if they'll ever sell – that's what makes the pre-order system so attractive at this stage of our business in this hobby.
We have run several successful pre-orders in our opinion and plan to run a few more over the next few months. However, the ultimate goal of any store should be to be fully in stock (which is what we do with all of our own products).
To eliminate common issues with pre-orders, we have put a lot of thought into making the whole process as transparent as possible to avoid some of the many issues that pre-orders are known for.
First and foremost, we make group-buys/pre-orders as obvious as possible, necessitating multiple confirmations before ordering and provide rough estimates for customers on any of our pre-order pages, ensuring customers are aware of the details for this group-buy/pre-order and accepting them. Regular updates and email newsletters, for which we set up our own system, help us keep our customers up to date to be as forthcoming and transparent as possible. Thanks to EU consumer protection laws, customers do not have to worry about sketchy and unfair refund policies which we are happy to comply with.
On our side, we set up written contractual agreements with the lead designer/supplier that define our and their goals as well as obligations and also clearly state at what point we will drop-out of the pre-order and refund our customers in order to represent them and their interest fairly.
In order to prevent financial fallout, we hold security funds to ensure that refunds are no problem, and once the pre-order is complete we simply buy extra stock with the profit made on that pre-order, keeping the money in that pre-order until it's stocked.
A lot of us had their fair-share of experiences with group-buys and pre-orders. Some good, some mixed, some terrible. We are doing our best to innovate on this model and to make it as lenient for the customer as possible, offering full transparency and constant updates, providing near instantaneous support as well as refunds and listening to customer feedback both when things go right and when they go wrong. If they do go wrong, we take responsibility where necessary and never leave the customer stranded. And so far, we think we have done a good job with this and will continue taking the necessary steps to make this model work well for both sides.
First of all, we would like to thank you for reading this article. We hope it has given you a little insight into what we do here at KeebSupply and how it all began! None of us really thought we would ever seriously end up here, and honestly, a lot of what we do now resides on pure chance and luck in the past. We are incredibly thankful for all the support we have gotten up until this point and will continue to get, be it the monetary kickstart by David from CandyKeys or simply just appreciation and/or feedback from customers like you.
But most importantly we want to say a huge thank you for allowing us to be part of this great community and for supporting us on our journey to becoming a vendor from nothing. It’s been an incredible journey so far, breaking every single expectation we have had and just growing stronger and stronger day-by-day. There’s still a lot of kinks for us to iron out, but we believe we are on the right track and we are constantly looking for customer feedback in our strive to make things right for you.
If you would like to get in touch with us regarding our store, or just want to chat with us in person, feel free to contact us via our Contact form or Discord! We are also present at many of Europe’s keyboard meetups, so feel free to say hi and chat with us for a while!