San Francisco-based maker Alex Andon founded Jellyfish Art and showed us how to convert a regular aquarium into a jellyfish habitat on the pages of MAKE Volume 27. His newest venture aims to connect artisans in Guatemala, Peru, Kenya, and Mexico, through online chat, to folks who want to purchase their handmade wares.
One project I’m particularly proud of:
1. I’m most proud of what I’m currently working on. It’s an e-commerce site called Chat Basket that allows customers to chat live directly with the makers who designed the products we sell. I’ve found that shopping online can be so impersonal when you’re buying from a retailer selling thousands of other products who doesn’t know anything more than what’s written in the technical specifications. With Chat Basket, customers can make a connection not just to the product, but to the person who designed it from the bottom up. Makers always have an interesting story to tell about what drove them to create their product and now they have a venue to share that with customers.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
1. Greasing the squeaky wheel. When starting a new project I often focus on fixing the broken or slow aspects instead of on what’s working well. Sometimes those squeaky wheels can be sheared off from the project completely so I can devote energy to the parts that work.
2. Thinking too small. I’ve always wanted to have a big impact on the world and sometimes I focus on solving small problems shared by only a small group of people. There are plenty of big problems out there to solve and I’d rather be a small part of a big project than a big part of a small project.
Three new ideas that have excited you recently:
1. The hardware movement. If you wanted to build a hardware product in the past, there were serious financial obstacles to getting a new product off the ground. With crowd sourcing and e-commerce sites popping up all the time, it’s easier than ever for someone to create a new product, sell it to interested customers, and scale up their operation. I’m equally excited for the entrepreneurs launching their products on these platforms as the customers supporting them and speeding up the widespread adoption of the products. It’s a win win for everybody.
2. Increasing connectivity. Every human on the planet is quickly becoming connected through mobile internet devices. For the first time we can all share information freely and instantaneously. I think that platform has huge potential to solve problems we’ve had for centuries. I hope the web remains a free exchange of information to benefit humankind.
3. Space exploration. It seems like the public hasn’t been excited about space exploration since the moon landing, but it’s making a comeback. We’re poised to explore the great unknown in our universe the same way explorers were hundreds of years ago. I’ve always loved adventure and exploration and am excited to see the human race get out there!
Four tools you can’t live without:
1. My bike. Living in San Francisco, I can get almost anywhere in the city as fast as if I were driving without worrying about parking. This city has been great about building extensive safe bike lanes so riders are no longer trapped between the laws for pedestrians and vehicles. This might be a uniquely San Franciscan perk, but I can peddle out my front door in the city and be coasting through meadows of wildflowers atop a hill overlooking the ocean within half an hour.
2. My computer. There are so many powerful tools available online I feel like a king at its command. It never ceases to amaze me.
3. My shop vac. There’s something deeply satisfying about pointing the end of that hose at a maniacal liquid or solid mess I’ve made and watching it disappear before my eyes. I secretly look forward to using it at the end of a day of tinkering.
4. My email. I live in my inbox at work. It’s so much more than a messaging platform and enables me to work with hundreds of people from all over the world.
Five people/things that have inspired your work:
1. Andrew Warner. He interviews self-made entrepreneurs across all fields and posts them on Mixergy.com. Andrew doesn’t know the meaning of a soft-ball question. He sometimes makes his guests cringe asking uncomfortable questions, but I find he captures the truth of what it takes to start a company better than anyone.
2. Paul Graham. As the founder of the startup incubator Y Combinator, I think he pushed the startup industry ahead to where it needs to be. He has surrounded himself by a loyal group of equally smart dedicated people and I think the giant strides they have made are only the beginning.
3. Entrepreneurs. I think they’re the finest breed of people on earth. I’m inspired every day by how brilliant, energetic, and humble they have to be to start companies.
4. Peter Thiel. As an entrepreneur and investor, I think he’s one of the finest visionaries of our time. I love how some of his current ventures border on eccentric, but crazy enough to work.
5. The outdoors. Although I love technology and startups, nature has always been my happy place. I appreciate the timeless unchanging beauty of the outdoors and I think the marvels we’re uncovering in nature are as exciting as what we’re creating with technology.