DIY Maker Story: Travis Felman of Molecule Synth

Joe Heitzeberg
May 11, 2013

We visited Travis Felman at HAXLR8R in Shenzhen last week. In a lot of ways, Travis is the prototypical example of the DIY / hacker / maker phenomenon. A PhD in English Literature who spent time as a professor at Lewis and Clark, he developed a music production hobby, recording and producing music in his basement. He subscribed to indie music mags that showed how to hack $50 microphones to sound like $500 mics. Then MAKE magazine came along and he discovered electronics hacking. One thing led to another and he found himself the inventor of Molecule Synth, a set of synthesizer building blocks that can be combined and re-arrangeble to create custom synthesizers.

No programming is needed to build synths using Molecule. It’s more like Legos (and these are easy enough for kids to use), but unlike Lego, these bricks are powered and interactive.

The economic downturn led to cut-backs at the university where he taught and he ended up in a new role teaching 15 to 18 year olds. “It was a more collaborative type of teaching environment, less focused on research and publishing which gave me a lot more time to become creative” says Travis. The new environment led to a creative spell that resulted in Molecule.

He put the project on Kickstarter (here) and raised over $33K — more than double his target. From there, he applied and was accepted to HAXLR8R, the Shenzhen-based accelerator for hardware startups. His goal? To nail the “design for manufacturing” so critical to being able to cost-effectively produce the components at scale. He is the only one of the 10 teams in the current batch to have already completed a Kickstarter.

HAXLR8R demo day is this Monday, May 13th, so stay tuned for more about Molecule Synth.


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