Had an interesting online discussion with Yury Gitman, the owner of the artisan manufacturing firm My Beating Heart and the consulting firm Banana Design Lab. They manufacture a plush heart-shaped pillow that gently beats out a slow, but naturally-changing steady heart-like rhythm. The product is designed to help children and grown-ups to nap, daydream, meditate, and relax.
According to their website:
"My Beating Heart employs new advances in computer science, Artifical Intelligence, and haptic design. But we also developed the technology inside each Heart by combining the practice of meditation and yoga with software and hardware development. This lead us to design a small micro-computer to run of out specially made software."
Over the last couple of years Yury has made the shift from being an artist to becoming an artisan manufacturer. He kindly spent time answering questions I had on his business. Here are the highlights of our interview:
How big is your company?
Basically, we are very small. When I say "we" I mean "me." I contract or skill-trade with a small team of very talented engineers, designers, and marketing type people. I also have a handful of amazing interns. So the company can have many hands and hats. We are also signing up some sales reps, so some sales are being "outsourced." As far as traditional "outsourcing," only the manufacturing is outsourced.
How do you do your manufacturing?
From my experiences there are three ways to go about manufacturing toys and artsy or techy goods. The first is do it all yourself domestically. The second place is an overseas factory. To go overseas, you can contact factories directly.
The third option, which I do recommend for small start-up operations, are factory agents. Like real estate agents, factory agents (should) know the terrain and have a stable of factories to source for your designs. The good ones will help you along the whole process and will do a lot of hand-holding. A good agent can allow a 1-3 person operation to manufacture goods as if it's a much much bigger company. I've talked to successful companies who design on their kitchen table, and 8 months later are shipping toys all around the world. So a good agent can work wonders for small companies.
One thing to remember about agents, they are not all great. Most are not great. There is a whole industry that feeds on people's hope and dreams. Every factory and agent wants your business and they will ALL tell you they can make your designs. It's like hiring anyone, make sure they are available, can be reached easily, and have relevant experience.
How about marketing and distribution?
Our website so far has been the core of the business, but it's starting to move into brick/mortar retail stores. We just did the Toy Fair, and picked up some gift stores and are talking to more. But if
it wasn't for the web, I wouldn't be here talking about this.
What about marketplaces like Etsy or eBay?
Etsy and eBay are great market places that have traffic and flow. But I think it makes sense to start developing your own little piece of cyber real estate because it just give you a different type of legitimacy in the eyes of customers and wholesale (retail store) accounts.
Do you have any additional advice for artists and artisans that are thinking of becoming artisan manufacturers?
If an artist/hobbyist is interested in transitioning to be more product/market focused, I'd tell them to learn to be an entrepreneur. Moreover, they should enjoy the entrepreneur side of it, enjoy learning all about it, and enjoy talking to everyone they know about it. It's not about making money for it's own sake, but about understanding how to distribute their work to their patrons. If they are not truly interested in getting multiple copies of their work to an audience this isn't the path for them.