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Maker Business: Magnolia Atomworks, part 2

Maker Business: Magnolia Atomworks, part 2

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.


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.


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


16 thoughts on “Maker Business: Magnolia Atomworks, part 2

  1. Rhenium says:

    This is becoming an interesting series.

    Could you go into some more detail about the LLC process. i.e how long did it take, how much did it cost and so forth.
    I think that would help other makers who want to end up in the marketplace quite a bit.


    1. John Park says:

      Thanks for your interest, happy to share. I got LLCs for Dummies out of the library and talked to some people who’d done it on their own. I was pretty gung-ho until some of the forms I was filling out required me to know a lot more about this stuff than I was willing to learn. I had a friend recommend My Corporation, which he’d used a number of times. If I recall correctly, it cost about $300 to have them do it all for me, plus about $150 in state fees. (I’ll append this if I’m off by a lot when I double-check my records.)
      California, unfortunately, has an annual $800 tax on LLCs, which is about 4x more than most other states.
      I think it took only a month to have everything signed and legal once I started the process. I did apply for a federal EIN number (sort of like your company’s federal tax ID) which I got, but still need to file with some other gov’t agency…
      We also opened a business account at the bank to be able to deal with expenses and income properly. The el-cheapo business account for $10 a month or so seems to be just fine, plus we got a cool looking ledger with gigantic, fancy checks!
      We took this opportunity to upgrade to the latest Home & Small Biz Quicken in order to do our accounting. One thing still on the list is to start a separate PayPal for the company.

      1. Rhenium says:

        Wonderful. Thank you for the extra details, I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series.

  2. Jim Cook says:

    Talk about déjà vu.

    Just as the article “Magnolia Atomworks, part 2: Kit design and production” came up on my computer screen I was putting together my Mystery Box. As I turned it over and over in my hands I am amazed how accurately the pieces had been cut out. With its design it looks beautiful and it feels nice.

    What shall I put in it?

    1. John Park says:

      That’s dangerously cyclical, Jim. Watch your back for wormholes.

  3. Donald Haas says:

    I’m loving this series. Right now I’m not starting a “maker” business, but I am working on starting another side/small business up and the resources pointed to are wonderful for it. The timing is just working grand for me.

    I want to eventually turn it into a maker type company with a specific product I have in mind, but it will be some time before I can get to that point (lots of r&d first). But I want to get a company started so that I have the funds for r&d and a name established for when I do release.

    I’m looking forward to more posts!!!

  4. Silvia says:

    I love the font for “the mystery box” and the rest of the design is really beautiful, too. What’s the font?

    1. John Park says:

      Hi Silvia, I’ll ask Will if he’s willing to reveal the secret sauce of his typeface choice ;)

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn
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