KeyboardCo AMA: highlights from Bruce’s Reddit interview session
We recently held an AMA interview session on Reddit, where we invited mechanical keyboard fans to ask our head honcho Bruce anything! Check out the highlights, all nicely organised, right here:
Questions about Bruce
What’s your daily driver?
A Filco, UK Layout Majestouch1 with Browns. It is the first UK one we had – sent as a sample, I put it on my desk and never let it go. I don’t know any better keyboard. I do swap it for a Matias Quiet PC (I love this if I’m doing accounts because of the TAB on the number pad) and A Topre Realforce from time to time for a change and I do love that ‘first day back’ feeling with another keyboard. The Matias is growing on me all the time, that Alps scrunch is really addictive.
What other keyboards do you own?
Those three above are my main drivers. I have a Filco TKL with Reds at home, but that is on the PC that is mostly used by my wife who gives it a proper hammering whilst playing Travian. I always have a bit of time with any new products and we keep a shelf in the office with a nice variety so that any visitors can have a look and a play. On there we have Matias Mini wireless – secure pro, Filco Minila, Unicomp, Max Blackbird, Truly Ergonomic, Matias Tactile Pro, Topre TKL, and a Cherry 3000.
Which keyboard do you personally consider the best?
The one on your PC…. ? My favourite is Filco – but you know I have an interest there…. But I am a ‘less is more’ kind of guy so I love their design and the lack of gizmo bits and they really are made to the highest standards. But keyboards are like shoes, we all have our favourites and we don’t all share the same opinion.
Tough question. Blues for typing, Browns for gaming and/or general purpose. Matias Quiet runs it close – and their Tactile switch is great too. I don’t like to look at the switch in isolation though. The characteristics of the switch have to be complimented by the chassis. We’ve seen mechs that have flex in them – so people tend to want a tougher, more tactile, switch to compensate. Then in a really rigid chassis Browns come alive when they would feel like mush in a soft chassis. It’s holistic.
Do you have a favourite 60% size mechanical keyboard?
I love them; we always just called it a mini, or laptop style. Back in 89 when I started here I used one of our Sejin 86 keys for years (like this). Not sure my favourite mechanical one though. I really like the Matias mini-pro. It has a little more room around it.
Do you have the time and inclination for gaming, and if so, what genre(s)?
Not so much these days. I was playing more when the first Doom came along and Duke Nukem. They were so good! I still enjoy a racer, Colin McRae rally has been played to death on our PSII.
Besides keyboards, what other hobbies or things you are interested in?
Being English, I love cricket. I played for a local village team for many years. These days I don’t get so much time as a cricket match can take all day – so now I play some squash to keep fit. I have a game tonight..
I also love a good book, anything really but especially those old historical novels about when knights were bold….
If you were going to be in a keyboard fight, which one would you choose?
My keyboards are all too beautiful to fight with so I’d grab an old Model M! Those things really are solid. You know we once took a pallet of them as scrap, I think I paid £50 for the lot. We tested them all and they all worked, even the ones that had so much crud under the keys that it was limiting the travel!
What was your first mech keyboard?
Haha, I am of an age whereby I can remember good mechs from the first time around! We had things like Model M, Cherry, Fujitsu way back. Then it all died a bit of a death, and it was only Geekhack and some loons like Ripster who made one of the greatest examples of consumer power I know of to bring it to the fore again… The real answer is a Cherry 3000. Blues I think.
What is your career background? What ever gave you the idea to start a KEYBOARD company of all things?
Chequered might be a good description. I gained an interest in computing while working for a small computer builder called Interset in the West of England for a year after education, we built computers for the print trade to do typesetting. I remember the day the production Manager brought in a Mackintosh to have a look at – a half hour after booting it up – we realised we might well need new jobs soon. This was the 80s and everyone in UK was making money on property so against the advice of all sensible commentators I jacked and started a painting and decorating business. So I was running my own company in construction in and around London up until the late 90s. It was hard work but fun and rewarding. This doesn’t appear to be the best grounding for doing what I do now but construction is a tough trade and if you don’t do it right you don’t get paid. So I learned very valuable lessons about service and the importance of customer satisfaction which have served me well in the Tech Sector where these things are often ignored. I was about ready for a change when my Step Father, Geoff Thomas asked me to help out with The Keyboard Company. It was temporary at first but things went well and I took over as Managing Director after a short time and Geoff retired through illness.
How did you start your adventure with mechanical keyboards?
There was a time when Andy and I really ran the company and we both started to think that NOT all keyboards were made the same. We had Fujitsu models (FK4725??) that were so much nicer than others, we also had Cherry 3000 and Datalux and we noticed the difference. This would be early nineties but it was more a personal thing, the trade we were doing was different.. It was only when we were told about Diatec/Filco and Geekhack that it became something more than that.
What keyboards are you looking forward to?
There are two, The Matias Ergo Pro and Filco Convertible. Both of these break new ground – and will be popular.
Where do you see the state of the keyboard industry in five years?
I think (hope) we’ll see more smaller manufacturers and more variety. Manufacturing techniques will improve more and more and smaller batches won’t be so limiting. We’re seeing that already. The web helps there too. Some big companies are muscling in on mechanicals and seem to do OK selling keyboards that don’t really merit the cost of the switches but I think people will get wise to that.
What do you see as the future of mechanical keyboards?
I think the worm has most definitely turned and mechanicals have proven to us that we don’t have to accept a poor quality keyboard when we type at work for hours and then at leisure too. I think mechanicals will be with us until we decide we’re not going to use keyboards at all. I see the cheap and nasty stuff going down and down. I often think about the car business and how cars now are so good, feature wise, reliability, comfort, speed. I think that is a good analogy for keyboards and how we now, as mature users of computers want and expect something that is well built and as nice to use as is possible.
How many people work at KeyboardCo?
There are seven including me.
Are you hiring now or in the foreseeable future?
We’re not right now. But I’m always happy to check out a CV and keep a name for the future.
Do you have any plans for keyboards parts for European DIY enthusiasts (plates, pcb, controller, springs, cases, etc)?
We have been doing more spares and accessories and I think it is needed. Not least we sell expensive keyboards and they are worth maintaining and repairing and that makes our proposition add up more. Some of the manufacturers we work with are great and will supply virtually all the component parts but that is not always possible. Then there is the third party upgrade stuff, like Pexon PCs, that is all really good too. I can’t honestly say how much it will grow, it needs to be a compliment to the existing sales that we do and It is really tough making any profit on small bits because fixed costs come into play. I’m not sure it’s our strong suite.
Do you plan on selling the Pok3r?
We think long and hard about new suppliers – we are only as good as our partners. As a company, we need to bring something to the party so if things are already up and running it tends to not suit us so well. We are at our best when we can enable a manufacturer in some way, usually by investing in some stock, making new layouts available and improving distribution and service. This all takes up resources so we have to find a balance between variety and making sure we do our job properly.
This is particularly pertinent at present – there is new stuff coming from those we already work with and there is so much happening in the market that it is hard to keep up. New makes, new switches, new gizmos.
I’m not sure what POK3R are up to or what plans they have for Europe but we are always happy to talk to people. Supply relationships are like any other relationships, sometimes it’s just not the right time and place, sometimes you just don’t seem to click, and other times you can’t find a room quick enough. Oh – and you can get in trouble for playing the field.
What was your oddest customer request?
There was one where we were asked to provide dummy keyboards, or dongles. We had a call from a UK supermarket who were installing till systems that were connected to PCs. It was never needed, but there was a PS2 keyboard port on the PCs and without a keyboard plugged in they would not boot. Behind the till there was no room for a keyboard so they wanted to use a dummy of some sort. Now I always suspected that this could be solved via the bios but who am I to question why? Also, doing it this way they could plug in a working keyboard if they needed to. Back then we dealt in surplus so we had a lot of keyboards that really had little or no value, I pulled one apart and cut out the PCB with the controller chip on it, plugged the lead back into it and taped it all up so that there was a small bundle of tape with 6” of lead and a PS2 connector. This we put into a BimBox so it looked tidy and sent to them. They tried it, liked it, and ordered 20-30 at a time steadily for years, each time they rolled out to another store. We made good money on it and they never had one fail.
Thanks to everyone who contributed questions, and to Bruce and John for contributing their time to answer questions and get things organised! If you have a question you’d like to ask Bruce or anyone else at KeyboardCo, feel free to leave it below.