The DIY King of South Philadelphia

Peterson Goodwyn is working to bring DIY recording equipment to the masses—and he may win a Philly Geek Award for it.

Photo by Zach Robbin.

Photo by Zach Robbin.

The 2000 block of Washington Avenue is not where you would expect to find one of the biggest startup hotbeds in all of Philadelphia. Tile and building supply stores are crammed into nearly every available inch, filling the air with a must that threatens to choke you any given second.

But a well-hidden doorway leads you inside the 21,000-square-foot “gym for innovators” best known as NextFab, a DIY nirvana for metalworkers, 3-D printers, and everyone in between.

Peterson Goodwyn is inside, perpetually hard at work crafting the building blocks for the next generation of DIY-ers to enter the world of audio recording.

Treading along a path that NextFab has installed for guided tours, Goodwyn points out a massive lathe in the corner, and a water jet that operates at mach 4, all of which he has access to as a full-time member.

But the people Goodwyn is most intent on reaching are those who may not even know how to handle a soldering iron. Goodwyn wants to capture the largest untapped market in the DIY industry—the beginner., Goodwyn’s brainchild, is an attempt to bridge that experience gap.

“When I arrived on the scene, there were a lot of people doing great, high-end, complex stuff for the true believers,” Goodwyn says. “But I saw that and I was like: ‘Well that’s really cool, but there needs to be some sort of non-intimidating, beginner-friendly stepping stone toward that awesome stuff.”

“So that’s our main goal, [getting] people in the door.”

Most of Goodwyn’s acolytes start small, building their own microphone with the aid of a website-hosted video tutorial before moving on to one of the other 333 DIY projects that his website documents or the many kits that Goodwyn mass-produces and sells himself.

And Goodwyn’s most famous kit, Colour, has vaulted the Michigan native to the top of Philly’s nascent startup scene.

In technical terms, Colour is a modular harmonics generator, designed to produce analog sound coloration on the cheap. In layman’s terms, it’s a filter designed to recreate the sound you’d hear on a cassette tape or a vinyl record. In millennials’ terms, it’s an Instagram filter for sound.

colour peterson goodwynColour’s success has Goodwyn up for one of the ultimate honors a Philly developer could achieve: a Philly Geek Award, which will get handed out this Saturday. It’s nominated for “IRL Project of the Year,” along with the Philadelphia History Truck and a Penn-created upper body exoskeleton called the Titan Arm.

“[Colour’s] been hugely, incredibly, humblingly successful, and the Geek Award is kind of the icing on that,” Goodwyn says. “Just to have real customers buying it was the awesome thing, and then to get honored for it is cool.”

A product of the midwest—you can tell from his almost-perpetual smile—Goodwyn and his wife moved to Philly “totally random[ly]” after a yearlong jaunt in South Korea, but seem like they’re here to stay.

“Nothing ties us to Philly except that we really like it and the startup atmosphere is great, the music atmosphere is incredible,” Peterson says.

Goodwyn and his fellow full-timers at NextFab stand in clear defiance of the popular narrative of a “Brain Drain” robbing Philly of its best minds—startups in Philly aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving.

All the vagaries of the startup scene—angel investors and whatnot— and all the mundane problems of running any business fall to the wayside of Goodwyn’s dream of making DIY become option No. 1 for ambitious musicians.

“I would like [DIY] to be an integral part of what it means to record your own music,” he says. “That every person who says: ‘Oh, I need a new microphone,’ immediately thinks: ‘Okay. Well, should I build it or should I buy assembled?,” and knows that they have that choice and also feels confident that if they did decide to build it, they could do it.

“And of course, I want everybody, when they do decide that they want to build it, to come to us.”