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Our dynamic DIY duo, John and Erin, take stock and look toward the future of their intrepid little company. — Gareth

Magnolia Atomworks, part 4: The aftermath, lessons learned, and the future

By John Edgar Park and Erin Kelly-Park

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Laser cutting the Phi symbol on the original Mystery Box. Phi is the golden ratio, which are the box’s dimensions.

The greatest lesson we learned through this whole process is that everything costs money: you can’t add a single item, feature, idea, person, or process without it digging into your bottom line. If you want to make the most money, you’ve got to do everything yourself. We realized early on that, in our case, we wanted to make a little money on the side, not burn out trying to do everything ourselves. We had minimal expenses in starting our business, so if we can recoup the cost of the laser cutter we bought, within a few years, we’ll be pretty happy.

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Prototype of a laser-cut absinthe spoon. It works! And, it may find its way into the Makers Market at some point.

Sales of the Mystery Box have been good. The Maker Shed sold out before Christmas, and we just finished fulfilling their first re-order. This is great, because we didn’t have to do any additional work, just place a re-order with our cutter. Renewed sales are the dream for this sort of business, because it leaves us free to design new things.

In creating Magnolia Atomworks, we’ve been pretty fortunate in that we haven’t made any huge mistakes (that we know of), but there was on thing that really proved to us the importance of hiring experts: Right after I read LLCs for Dummies, I filed in the State of California to have the name Magnolia Atomworks LLC reserved. Soon after, I paid MyCorporation to file all of the paperwork. A few weeks later, I got a letter in the mail telling me that the name was unavailable. Uh-oh. How could this be? It turns out, the good people at MyCorporation also filed to reserve the name, and somehow, beat me to the punch! I was relieved, but also reminded that the experts have a way of pushing their paperwork through bureaucracies a lot faster than individuals. A good thing to keep in mind.

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Prototyping an upcoming laser-cut acrylic product using foam-core and an Xacto knife.

It’s interesting to imagine where our company might be in, say five years. We’re on the threshold of something of a new manufacturing revolution, where individuals can design, prototype, and build complex objects quicker and cheaper than ever before. I’d love to eventually get a 3D printer and CNC mill so that we can translate my 3D modeling skills into products. We want to stay agile enough to build things that excite us, and hopefully, be quick enough to market to respond to new trends. We’d love to expand our capabilities to include embedded electronics in our products. It would be a real thrill to create an intelligent toy or gadget that really took off and became a holiday must-have.

I’m right in the middle of designing three new products, and finding that things are simpler when you limit the number of parts you’re trying to source. The Mystery Box was made of a single material. Now I’m branching out on a product that requires both acrylic sheet and mechanical fasteners. Even this is quite simple compared to the robot kit I’m working on that has about a dozen parts.

One key tip I can leave you with is to focus on designing products that YOU really want to have and use. Many of our projects seem to be inspired by things we have that aren’t working quite right. We really wish we could go out and buy the solution, but instead, we now are inspired to make it ourselves. Our current plan is to create about three to four new products a year. In terms of what those products will be, we don’t want to jinx it, so we’ll keep it vague. The first two in the works are accessories for some popular electronics devices. Part of our thinking is that, if you have something to add to an already established device, a lot of marketing has already been done for you. People can instantly understand where you’re offering and how it fits into their lives. The project following that is just for the fun of it, and to help other people learn about robotics. It’s going to be a very simple, but appealing, robotics kit. By focusing on such products that we ourselves desire (autonomous cocktail droid, anyone??), I’m hoping that we can keep Magnolia Atomworks humming for a long time to come.

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Whenever John gets this look on his face, you know that trouble is just around the corner.

More:

In the Maker Shed:
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Mystery Box Kit – The Mystery Box is a clever puzzle box made by our very own John Park, host of Make: television.

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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