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As we join fair John and Erin for leg 2 of their exciting journey, you will recall that they are in search of an online retailer to sell their delightful and most-puzzling Mystery Boxes. — Gareth

Magnolia Atomworks, part 2: Kit design and production

By John Edgar Park and Erin Kelly-Park

While I was busy making lists of possible cool company names and checking to see if the URLs were available, I also began to consider who the Mystery Box customer would be: Geeky? Puzzled? Mysterious? Based on our twenty minutes of “market research,” we decided to contact Maker Shed and ThinkGeek, two great stores with what we perceived was the right demographic: customers who were likely to see blog posts, videos, and other buzz that we generated, on sites like Lifehacker, Boing Boing, Wired, and MAKE.

Obviously, we had a bit of an in with Maker Shed, but for ThinkGeek, I literally picked a likely contact name from their website and cold emailed them. We were thrilled when both stores placed orders for the 2009 holiday season! This was great news, but there was no way we could handle cutting hundreds of boxes in time. Outsourcing can be a bit scary. You’re trusting someone else to manufacture your product and get it there on time. We were fortunate to find a perfect fit: a contract-cutter who was knowledgeable, super-helpful, and fast.

Making prototypes is one thing, full-scale manufacturing is quite another. We quickly realized that the original design would need to be revised. First of all, those Wikipedia images I used for the original box probably weren’t cleared for commercial use. Secondly, due to a wood-sourcing difficulty, I needed to re-draft my design for a different dimension of lumber. Finally, the original design wasn’t too easy to put together, requiring some hand-tuning of various parts that hold the box together. The kit version needed to go together right out of the box.

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To solve the design problem, we hired a graphic designer friend of mine, Will Weyer, to do custom graphics. Not only were his designs gorgeous, but they etched much faster than the originals. Machine time is money. I re-drafted the slot heights for the new lumber thickness, and came up with a new design for press-fit notches that would allow the boxes to snap together easily.

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Since the kit contains small parts that the children of litigious people might decide to choke on, we decided to start a limited liability corporation, or LLC. This keeps your personal and business assets separate from each other. It can also simplify taxes (or make them heinously complex; since we haven’t had to do taxes yet, we’re still waiting to find which it is!). I was planning to file for the LLC myself, but ran out of time (read: lost interest in researching and filling out forms), so I hired My Corporation to do it.

And so this meant that we had to finally settle on a name. “Magnolia Atomworks” was now official.

Tune in for the thrilling next chapter: Part 3: To market, to market

More:

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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