A few weeks ago, Makezine ran a feature on Adam Ellsworth and Bryan Duxbury’s delightful Cube Lamp. The write-up did a wonderful job of exploring how entrepreneurs and makers meet at makerspaces and create businesses.
Having myself worked out of TechShop in San Francisco, where a permanent Cube Lamp has hung over the entrance to the work area for the past several months, I’ve gotten a chance to know Adam and the project. I was delighted to see the well-deserved recognition here on MAKE, as well as Gizmodo and G4. It’s also been fascinating to watch the effects of all this publicity has had on their fledgeling business. Over the past three weeks, largely due to the relative media frenzy, the team has received over 300 orders.
When I say watch the effects, I mean that literally. I’ve watched Adam and the team from across the room as they have slowly taken over almost the entire shop with the laser cutting, silk screening, CNCing, and packaging. Aside from the spacial expansion caused by the burst of demand, there’s also been a rallying of the TechShop community around Adam’s success, with numerous other members chipping in to help with various steps in the process. In all, Adam estimated that as many as nine different TechShop members and staff have contributed a total of somewhere between 150 and 180 hours over the past few weeks. Heck, I even chipped in for a half hour of screen printing!
“We never would have been able to get this done without the community here,” Adam said. “We got three hundred orders just over a three week period, and only a two weak lead time for delivery. It would have been impossible.”
Of course, this type of situation happens all the time – businesses hire temporary workers to fill surging and seasonal demand. But this story has a maker twist.
“Everyone is capable of doing any task – silk screening, electronics, laser cutting, whatever. I think that’s specific to the fact that we’re getting people from TechShop,” Adam said. “It’s not that everyone knows everything, but they’re all comfortable learning the different machines. They just learn from each other.”
It’s on-the-job training for makers.
It’s not just a good situation for Adam, either. I talked to some of the TechShop Members who’ve been on the Cube Lamp production line. Sam Brown has been designing and working on a board game, Lyssan, that was recently funded on Kickstarter. While his boards were off to the printers, Sam found himself with some extra time. After seeing a flyer that Adam posted offering hourly work and seeing the growing work area the Cube Lamp was taking up, he decided to join the fun. He’s worked over 30 hours for Adam.
“It’s great to be working with other entrepreneurs. Even though our products are in different categories – electronics and board games – I’m still learning a lot from watching him go through this process,” Sam explained. “There are similar issues that I will face – shipping, keeping customers happy – things like that are the same for every business.”
Alex Glowaski joined TechShop less than a week ago. Alex doesn’t have a job, but she doesn’t seem to be too worried about it. She joined TechShop to find more hands-on work, which she quickly found with the Cube Lamp, but also to work on her own projects. For instance, she recently finished a cool, wearable transit card and already has new ideas for some wearable holograms she wants to experiment with. In the meantime, she’s happy to pick up work with Cube Lamp, having put in about 25 hours on the project.
“Pretty much everyone here has a Kickstarter for something.” Alex told me. And I think she might be right. A lot of the makers I know at TechShop are in some stage of the Kickstarter process: planning, campaigning, or fulfilling. Even though the Cube Lamp didn’t go the crowdfunding route, the overwhelming demand spikes and the sudden workload that ensues are very similar to a maker Kickstarter project.
After spending the afternoon with Adam and the crew, I came to a realization: a TechShop Membership is the new entry-level job!