I say it as a corny joke far too frequently. But the fact remains: you can never have too many clamps. These ones are at the lowest end of the spectrum. They grip without much force or versatility. But they replicate one of the most basic functions of the human hand freeing the human to use his or hers for more demanding tasks — squeezing and directing a glue bottle, making a cut, rubbing a chin.

Clamps are a feature of craft practices that involve assembling pre-made components or materials: woodwork, electronics (known as helping hands), welding. Even sewing has its own variant; we call them pins.

Woodworking clamps have soft jaws to avoid damaging the material, whereas the crocodile clips at the business end of a set of helping hands have sharp points to grip the wire. Bar cramps are designed to exert large forces across the jaw without deforming, whereas pins are optimised to stop lateral movement of the assemblage, for small size (to avoid deforming the workpiece), and for easy removal during working.

One thing’s for sure: you can never have too many clamps.

Economies of scale

I’ve never bought bubble wrap before; we just keep the useful packaging materials we receive and then reuse them when we have something to send. But now I want to ship something fragile over a large distance. And I want the recipient to have a pleasant unboxing experience. So I can’t use recycled bubble wrap that’s all torn up and covered in sticky tape. The same goes for cardboard shipping boxes and bags to put sundries in.

So I found myself hunting around on the web for the best prices for all these things. Generally, when we think about economies of scale, we think about the left side of that lever: the economy of doing things at a large scale. But when you’re buying packing materials, you soon start to feel the right side: the scale you need to buy at to get materials economically.

Anyway, we now have enough bubble wrap to last us for a good few packages. I’m looking forward to getting rid of some of it.

The joys of shipping

According to Wikipedia, a minimum viable product (MVP) is:

… a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development. Gathering insights from an MVP is often less expensive than developing a product with more features, which increase costs and risk if the product fails, for example, due to incorrect assumptions.

A benefit of creating  a MVP is that you get to try out the whole process – from making something to sale and fulfilment. My 1-product Etsy shop is itself a kind of MVP. I’m testing the product (which is actually more developed than would be expected under the normal usage of this term), but I’m also testing the experience of making, marketing and selling it.

This approach, while great for testing ideas, and for keeping up momentum, also means you experience all of the kinks and challenges in the process – and all at once, with real live customers.

So I’m now feeling the pain of of one my quick assumptions, that shipping my tree product would cost about £10 in the UK, or £20 internationally. Ha, no way! Turns out it’s more like £45 to ship it to the USA.

That’s the thing abut learning, it’s often painful.

Lots to do

So now I’ve got to make my first product. I’ve already had the nasty shock of shipping charges

Now I need to work out all the details that go into making and shipping a quality product. And I need to do it all now! This is when I reach for my notebook to figure out what needs to be done…

Thinking through all the things I need to do to make and ship my first product.
Thinking through all the things I need to do to make and ship my first product.

My first sale

I put up one of the products I’ve developed on Etsy, really as a provocation to myself to put something out in the world; to let others judge it, and to think about the whole process of developing, making, marketing and shipping a product with a deeper level of commitment.

So I was somewhat surprised when a week later, someone got in touch and wanted to buy one. This might be the first time someone who I don’t know, or who is under no obligation to be polite or to encourage me, has indicated that they like what I’ve made. I feel validated by the market.

I also feel a sense of urgency to figure out the production and shipping process – the parts that I’ve glossed over in my thinking so far. How am I going to make another one of these to the right level of quality? How will I ship it to the USA? How long is it going to take? How do I present it?

It’s a very welcome kick up the arse. Uncomfortable, no doubt, but an effective way to force progress.

Hello world

Hey, thanks for visiting.

This is an experiment. I want to make things and see if others want to buy them. I want to figure out what it takes to make products, as opposed to projects.

Part of that is talking about it. Getting the word out. Raising awareness. I have worked with enough marketing people, and enough makers and artists, to know that this is the part most creative people find most difficult. I know I do. So I tried to think about what I would like to talk about. If I have to share content in order to build an audience, what would I actually enjoy sharing?

Well, there is one thing that I know is distinctive about what I do, and that’s the thinking that goes into the things I make. Making and thinking are one and the same. And I reckon sharing some of that thinking could be valuable for me and for you. So that’s what I plan to do here. Welcome.