Interview with ergohaven's Evgeny
Founder Evgeny answered some questions on the occasion of ergohaven turning one.
Published October 7, 2022
Ergohaven turned one recently and I asked founder and shop runner Evgeny about the first year of his business, the Russian mechanical keyboard scene, his projects, and of course we couldn't avoid talking about the effects of war either.
To be Russian may not be the most popular thing on Earth these days, and I hope you don't find this interview controversial. I hope that, amid all the sad events, the keyboard hobby can bind us together regardless of our countries and all the crazy politicians.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
I'm 28 years old, founded ergohaven and fulltime employed here. Officially registered LLC this year in April, before that I was an individual entrepreneur.
That's really great about our hobby that it can connect different people from different places :)
Can you remember the first time you stumbled upon mechanical keyboards? How did you dip your toes into the hobby and what were some stages of your progress?
I always wanted to make video games. In late 2019, with prior knowledge of coding and Vim editor, I took my time and started to play with the Godot engine. This is where my physical problems begun.
At the end of the day I wanted to scream because of how uncomfortable was to type and navigate in Vim. There was a lot of physical stress due to the traditional keyboard layout and staggered rows which turned my hands too close to each other.
First, I have decided to order a mechanical keyboard. I assumed that mechanical switches could alleviate my problems. Oh boy, I was wrong! Heavy tactile switches just boosted physical stress.
After some time I have started to think that there should be a solution for my problems and I have remembered that once in a while there were posts on /r/mk with split keyboards. So I started my research and got sucked into a world of split keyboards. By the end of 2020 I have ordered parts and built my first split keyboard – a Corne.
Since you had been an entrepreneur even before ergohaven, you probably started this business after proper planning. How did you assess your market and potential customer base back one year ago?
During my research I have stumbled upon dozens of posts (mostly on Reddit) from people who wanted pre-built ergonomic keyboards like the Dactyl Manuform, Lily58, Sofle, Corne, and weren't able to find an adequate vendor who would offer them a ready to ship product. Your only options were:
- to build it yourself
- order from someone to build for you with an enormous wait time
- to find a used keyboard on /r/mechmarket
I was part of this crowd, I wasn't able to find a good pre-built variant of even the most popular open-source keyboards (I really wanted to try Corne).
Provided that I'm from Russia, a ready to ship keyboard like the Moonlander (with expensive shipping) was way over my budget and the Russian ergonomic keyboard market was almost non-existent.
I decided to order parts and PCBs from manufacturers and build a Corne keyboard myself. I was lucky that I had a relative who knew how to solder and we did a good job on our first little batch of 5 keyboards, 4 of which we had sold within three weeks and broke even with my ROI.
With that in mind and considering that the market in Russia was empty, I did some simple math to understand if this would be a profitable venture or not. After some time I developed a simple business plan which was to sell popular open-source pre-built keyboards with worldwide fast shipping within 24 hours after receiving an order.
So I decided that the idea was worth the risk and took the plunge. I knew that if I would sell my keyboards internationally there would be a competition, but to my surprise the competition was only for flat keyboards. For the Dactyl Manuform there was nobody even on the international scene (although most people really wanted to try it, judging by all those posts which I have observed during my research) and this was the moment when I decided to take a loan from a bank to buy a couple of 3D printers and even more materials for keyboards to speed things up and start selling DMs.
Despite doing your best to come up with a realistic business plan, war, a sanctioned banking system, general mobilization, etc. are some unprecedented events usually not factored in, understandably. How have these affected your business?
The events of February-March were shocking, and now we are understanding that the world would never be the same. As international exporters, our business suffered the most and our sales have fallen (approximately) by 55%. This was really demoralizing for us.
We have procrastinated a lot during that time, trying to come up with a plan to save our company. We started to focus mostly on local customers, we did a meetup in Moscow this June and talked a lot with similar minded people who share our passion.
This event was really refreshing for us, after that we just shut down any political news and labeled them as distractions, re-imagined goals of the company and started to work heavily towards them. And right now we have a pretty clear picture where we going.
Speaking of the Moscow meetup, can you tell me about this event and also the Russian community in general?
The event went great, the community is very cool and we have received a lot of feedback and advice.
People really differed from each other starting in age and also profession.
So this wasn't just any event, it was organized by you. Congrats. It predated my meetup database by a week, but I've added it now. I'm not really familiar with the Russian scene, except maybe Geekboards. Can you name a few other designers, big names or projects in the community?
I think the community is very small at the moment, although it was almost nonexistent a couple years ago.
I have heard of Jorne keyboard which is a fork of Corne with an additional key on each half made for Russian layout, I think the author also made a popular BLE controller. I have seen a TK44 wireless keyboard in our meetup, very nice keyboard, I think the author is from Russia too.
There is (was?) a community for mechanical keyboards called "Mechcult", but I wasn't really interested in completing an arduous verification process on their discord in order to just talk to people.
There is also r/ru_mechmarket where I have found a lot of my customers, and the admins there are very cool guys.
So you are mainly into ergonomic keyboards. However, the keyboard hobby is very broad: from sculpting artisans to collecting vintage stuff. Are there any other fields of the hobby you are interested in?
Although not really artisan, but we had fun making these.
But at this point I must say that we are not just making keyboards as an end goal here, we are thinking that the keyboard should be part of the whole peripherals ecosystem, so in some sense we are trying to expand this hobby to new horizons.
Would you like to tell us more about your WIP projects?
We have realized that most open source keyboards are not entirely suitable for mass production due to some design decisions, so we have started to working on our own keyboard this summer.
More info about this and our new project is here: https://ergohaven.xyz/blog/future
So the goal for us now is to make one keyboard that can replace all keyboards we were selling earlier. Our own endgame keyboard.
We like some neat ideas which appear sometimes at r/ergomechkeyboards, we also like bastardkb stuff a lot.
I'm personally inspired by Richard D'Aveni's book "The Pan-Industrial Revolution". If somebody wants to understand where our company is going (or the future of manufacturing in general), this is a must read.
So, besides keycaps which I linked earlier there is nothing recent new right now, but our own keyboard is almost finished, only the testing stage remained. We're working hard to launch it, hopefully this month.
Speaking of keyboards, what setup do you daily drive these days?
I'm basically using our prototype keyboards. We are testing all our stuff for ourselves first before it will see public. I'm using standard Gateron black switches, they are nice all around switches. XDA keycaps. 40% qwerty layout, but will be moving to Colemak most likely.
Before finishing this interview we have to address the elephant in the room: Putin's war. Is there a risk for you or your team members to get drafted and be sent to Ukraine?
We have an IT company status, this will exempt us from draft, at least for now.
Do you think about leaving Russia?
Not really, I was thinking before, but right now I don't think there is a safe haven anywhere in the world. Besides, I have my business and relatives here, it would be hard to leave all of this behind.
Obviously, there were many more horrible tragedies, but have you seen this one about the destruction of the computer museum in Mariupol?
This is really unfortunate, I'm hoping for a worldwide peace in the near future, this and many other tragedies are unacceptable.
What do you think of the general "Russophobia"?
The new wave of Russophobia since the February events are kinda bad, but most people understand that common citizens have nothing to do with this war.
Do you have a message for my Ukrainian readers?
I wish them to be safe and unharmed in any way. Remember, it's always darkest before the dawn
Published on Fri 7th Oct 2022. Featured in KBD #98.