The GiY Interview: Rachel Hill from Freshly Squeezed Flash

Flash Drive ModsWe first profiled Rachel’s site, Freshly Squeezed Flash, about two weeks ago. Since then, her tutorials on modding keychain flash drives, and her store which sells ready-made versions, has continued getting a lot of attention. Her flourishing business has been featured on Gizmodo, EverythingUSB, and even as a case study in “micro-business” on Okay, so her brother wrote that last one. But still…the immediate surge in the popularity of Rachel’s site has been a lot of fun to watch.

I had a chance to sit down with Rachel to talk about her site, her inspiration, and her approach, and found her to be wonderfully candid and informative, with no hesitation at all about sharing some of the secrets of her success. Read the GiY interview, after the jump.

GiY: Your site tutorials reflect a pretty broad knowledge of crafting and DIY. How did you first get started doing-it-yourself?
RH: I grew up working around the house with my dad. I had a big brother who always got to do the Boy Scouts, do-it-yourself kind of stuff, and I wasn’t about to let him have all the fun! So I just started tagging along in the garage, begging to use the power drill, the power saw, pretty much power anything. You can imagine the dilemma my poor dad was in with this 8 year old wanting to use power tools! Anyway, he loves to teach and I wanted to learn, so I just worked along side him on tons of building projects on the house…library shelves, back deck, etc.

What was it about portable flash drives that got you interested in modding them?
Frankly, I thought that plain flash drives were pretty boring. That’s really about it! I made some for friends as gifts, and they encouraged me to try selling them, so that’s what I’m doing now!

Your PEZ-dispenser mod, is truly inspired and imaginative. Where do you get your inspiration?
Thanks! Actually, I got ideas for the PEZ dispenser from the internet, and I first started making just plain ones like the ones I’d seen, where you used just the head or the head and body, but with the guts taken out. But it bugged me that they were no longer really PEZ dispensers. So, in true engineering fashion, I took the whole thing apart and stared at it till I figured out how it worked. After that, it was just a matter of figuring out how it went back together, then figuring out how to make room for a flash drive. As far as inspiration, I have an insatiable desire for things that are clean, easy, and pretty. I think that pretty much sums up my design philosophy.

Is there a particular brand of flash drive you prefer, due to case shape, cost, or other considerations?
So far I’ve been using local suppliers for my flash drives, and in general, different drive dimensions fit my different products better. I use slightly shorter or longer or wider ones depending on my need. I’m about to start ordering them in bulk from China though, so that I can offer larger sizes than just 128MB and for better prices. That should be nice.

How much time does each mod take you, from start to finish?
It always takes me a long time to get the first one made because I’m figuring it out. But that one’s also always the most fun to make! After that, as I gain skill and figure out the best way to break down the steps, I get faster and faster. I imagine that if I get a big order, I’ll be able to just crank them out! At least I hope so!

Your site is interesting, because it offers ready-made flash drives for sale, but then provides tutorials instructing people on how to make the items in your store, themselves. Why this dual approach? Are you concerned that your well-written tutorials will cut into sales?
Basically, my choice for offering tutorials in addition to a store was two-fold. Frankly, I felt I would get more publicity if I was offering a “service” beyond being just another store. I figured it would be easier to get posted about on sites that way. But more to the point, I felt that when it came to modded flash drives, there were two kinds of people… those who would see one of my drives and say, “I want that! How much?” and those who would say, “I could make that! How?” In feeling strongly that those aren’t often the same people, I felt that by offering both tutorials and a store, I would cater to both desires. There have been lots of things that I see that I could maybe make one day, but I really just want, and I’d rather buy (like the Altoids iPod charger) and then there are other things that I see that I would love to make and mod myself because it would be fun (like the CVS digital camera hack). So really, I think that it’s different for different people, and also depends on what it is. Plus, the new tutorials will keep people who are into flash drive modding coming back and maybe they’ll see something on the store they like, but can’t get anywhere else. My prices are low enough (compared to other modded flash drives I’ve seen) that it’s not really much more for them to pay me to get a custom one compared to a plain one at the store.

You mention that you are studying at UCLA. Is your major related to your DIY hobby, and if so, how do you hope to apply your degree to a job that will interest you?
Actually, my major is history, of all things! At UCLA, your major doesn’t really matter that much in the liberal arts… they’re all about learning to think critically and look at the world in lot’s of different ways. So in that way, I will use my major (and already do!) all the time. I was planning on going into teaching (and still probably will) but I’ve put it on hold a bit since Freshly Squeezed Flash is taking off so much more than I thought it would. Eventually, I want to teach math in middle school and also do some technology training for teachers. I even started that a bit already with my mother’s day present to my mom (who is a teacher) of a website called

Are there any ideas you’ve had for flash drive mods, that for some reason you couldn’t execute on? What were the reasons? Do you have a “dream-mod” that you haven’t yet figured out how to complete?
Well, I got this really cool pink radio from the 99 cents only store. It’s really little and it looks kind of like an iPod Mini. I thought, how cool would it be if I could put a flash drive in it and market it as the Ghetto-Pod? I mean really, it’s got file storage and it plays tunes! It truly offers the same experience as an ipod (yeah right!) but at a fraction of the cost. But after a lot of work on it, I just couldn’t get the drive to fit and there still be room for the radio guts. I haven’t given up yet though, and I just bought a flash drive that’s TINY, so maybe you’ll be seeing the ghetto pod on the market soon!

In today’s world of prefab everything, is there still a place for do-it-yourself, when often you can find a version of something you’ve dreamed up ready-made on a store shelf?
Oh, totally. In fact, I think that all the pre-fab stuff combined with the tools of the internet to access a global marketplace are making it an even better place for selling and doing do-it-yourself stuff. I mean, look at the success of Make Magazine and now they’re starting a new magazine called Craft Magazine. Virtual marketplace and e-commerce sites like Etsy for selling handmade goods make it possible not only for people to get and share ideas about do-it-yourselfing, but to also find a global market for their stuff with absolutely no up-front start-up costs. And then you have sites like CafePress and Blurb where you can be your own printer and publisher with again, no start-up costs. It’s do-it-yourself at its best!

Anything else you want to add?
I’m having a totally awesome time working on Freshly Squeezed Flash. It’s a great opportunity to learn about everything from running a small business to web design and usability to boning up on my dremelling skills. I just want to encourage other people to get out there and try making your own stuff, starting your own micro-business, and just enjoying some of the amazing opportunities we have through computers and the internet to connect, communicate, and share with people all over the world.

Thanks for the amazing interview and insight into your process, Rachel! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about modding flash drives, or want to buy some of the custom creations off-the-shelf, head over to Freshly Squeezed Flash and check out the offerings. Thanks again, and Rachel, keep us posted on that Ghetto-Pod!