Indienomics

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Penny Blossoms

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Monday nights on ABC are my nerdcore TV time: The Big Bang Theory at 8pm, about a group of physics geeks (one of which is Johnny Galecki) living in a San Fran apt with a pretty girl next door. Adventures include: Super Secret Spy Agent Lunch with laser limbo, robot wars, and all manner of dating fiascos. The script isn’t always “on” but the actors are a goofy bunch, and I like their liberty in coining new terms. (My Twitter name quarkblocker was taken from one of their episodes.)

It’s a pretty smart show, much like the one that follows it: How I Met Your Mother at 8:30, with the scruffy and loveable Neil Patrick Harris. How absolutely brill that a talented gay actor plays the best womanizer in situation comedy today.

Anyway, last night’s Big Bang featured an especially entrepreneurial episode about Penny trying to escape her waitressing job by creating “Penny Blossoms” — flowered hair barrettes with a rhinestone center. Sounds really Etsy, right? Of course they’ve got it covered.

She ropes the guys into helping her manufacture a rush order of 1,000 Penny Blossoms for the East Rutherford, NJ Gay and Lesbian Center. Lots of great cracks at the factory worker culture and the invention of work and union songs to help the time pass as you hot-glue-gun a thousand plastic flowers together. (In the makeshift living room assembly line, the Indian geek Rajesh retorts, “If I’d wanted to spend my Saturday nights doing this, I would have stayed in India!”)

The boys also have an idea to market the Penny Blossoms — use it to help men disguise bald spots. How to target this demographic? ADD BLUETOOTH! “Everything is better with bluetooth.”

THE PROFIT MARGIN

Sheldon: 10 a day x 5 days a week x 52 weeks a year = $2,600

Penny: That’s all?

Sheldon: If you took advantage of modern marketing techniques and optimized your manufacturing process, you might be able to make this a viable business.

Penny: And you know about that stuff?

Sheldon:
Penny… I’m a physicist. I have a working knowledge of the entire universe and everything it contains.

Penny: Who’s Radiohead?

Sheldon: ….

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Written by @hellopanelo

June 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Posted in crafty

The edible microenterprise

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micro-kitchen

Micro-kitchen:
Food startups in the small batch economy

Forget silicon chips, search algorithms, and semiconductors — the most delicious startups today aren’t tech, they’re food startups! Instead of garages, the tinkering goes on in communal kitchens, with yummy results just waiting to be monetized.

Take a look around your nearest local market (especially the outdoors ones) and you’ll observe the artisan effect — the interest that people take in small food vendors who make a great product.

Brooklyn Flea is the trading floor of the food micro-enterprise market. A recent NYMag article highlighted this year’s newest small-operations vendors (among them, Elsa’s Empanadas, Saxelby Cheesemongers) and noted:

When the Brooklyn Flea launched a year ago on an asphalt schoolyard in Fort Greene, no one expected it to become a dining destination—never mind a springboard for the fledgling careers of the food vendors who gravitated there. The Flea, in fact, has become something of an incubator for micro-batch, locally made products, from pickles to ice pops.

Kathrine Gregory formalized this incubator concept in her communal kitchen operation in Long Island City, called Mi Kitchen is Su Kitchen. She owns three facilities, each one with its own specialty and equipment. Food manufacturers (bakers, quiche-makers, etc) come and rent a few shifts at a time, to get access to commercial equipment you couldn’t fit in a typical NYC apartment (nor would you necessarily want in your personal living space): a revolving rack oven, an 80-quart mixer.

“Food operation startups are capital-intensive,” says Kathrine. “If you’re going to grow a food business, you need a proper foundation, some kind of legal entity like a DBA or LLC or Inc. You need commercial space with licensing and the structure to grow your business.” In other words, once your home-made chili mango salsa recipe becomes a hit and you want to distribute outside of your friends and family, your home kitchen becomes a liability. You enter a professional space that requires inspection by insurance companies and the State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Kathrine was a guest on WNYC radio yesterday, when The Brian Lehrer show aired a segment called “Growing Together” — about the power of collaboration in today’s small businesses (listen here, 19 minutes).

Elsa's Empanadas

Elsa's Empanadas

Kathrine’s food incubator doesn’t target the “business people” who run food enterprises, it targets the “manufacturers” who actually make and craft the food products.

In her words, “It’s not the restaurateurs and it’s not the cafe owner, it is the brownie-maker and the pickler. This is the manufacturer who is going to sell their product to the Dean & Deluca’s, the cafe owners, the restaurant.”

Like baby chickens, young businesses are vulnerable. They need protection from the harsh world if they are to survive and grow. A business incubator provides that protection to young startups, according to another guest on the “Growing Together” segment — David Hochman, CEO of the Business Incubator Association of New York (whose logo is in fact a hatched egg).

David’s organization draws on national academic research on business incubation, citing an 80% survival rate of startups, 5 years after graduating from an incubation center — and a majority of those startups stay local, in the region where they started. This is encouraging news for regions that need to harness local entrepreneurial activity into a focal point, like an incubator, whether the industry is high-tech or new media or food-related.

While there is no typical business incubator space, Mi Kitchen is a literal cookie-cutter place, and proud of it.

making cookies at Mi Kitchen est Su Kitchen

making cookies at Mi Kitchen

Photo:
Gabriele Stabile for NYT, When Cooks’ Dreams Outgrow Their Ovens

Written by @hellopanelo

April 17, 2009 at 9:44 am

Take this equation and run

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(limited editions x low prices) + the internet = art for everyone

That’s the formula Jen Bekman used to launch 20×200, a website that spotlights 2 new art pieces a week, priced from $20 up, according to size.

If you’re 1) an art-world outsider and 2) broke like me, shopping for art is not easy. You get your big-box retailers selling you mass market wares (Ikea, Crate and Barrel, Urban Outfitters) or you have to do a lot of hunting on your own: roaming the street markets of SoHo or paying admission to art shows to haggle for pieces.

In contrast, websites like 20×200 offer enjoyable, laid-back browsing. You get to read a little about the artist and their inspiration for the work. You can browse high-res photos of the work, and detailed information about the edition, pricing, and quantity.

It’s a great example of a traditionally offline market (the buying and selling of art) taking advantage of an online space and adjusting for how people engage with prospective purchases on the web. 20×200’s U/X design (user experience design) is spot on, as illustrated by their awesome and deceptively simple infographic for estimating print size:

sizechart

Written by @hellopanelo

April 2, 2009 at 11:45 am

A touch of humanity: the cult of the “handmade”

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Artisan cheese

Happy, factory cheese

Happy, factory cheese

In a time before Twitter and Facebook, there was… cheese.
Old-fashioned, hand-made cheese, long before factories could produce “cheese products” packaged in aerosol cans and individually-wrapped cellophane packets.

Industry trade mag Dairy Field reports that artisan cheesemakers are responding to evolving consumer desires — a subtle rejection of factory-produced goods:

Cheesemaker Valerie Thomas of Winchester, CA-based Winchester Cheese Co., cites other factors — most notably an innate, often unspoken, desire to return to a simpler time, before wireless phones and Blackberries.

“The time is right for artisan cheese makers to be successful because the general population is receptive to remembering when things were made by hand,” Thomas says.

So have an artisan cheese, wash it down with an artisan beer, while you lounge in your artisan socks, knitted by a collective of Swiss grandmothers who create and sell on-demand knitwear on the web.

The tailored suit: the measure of a man

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives


A tailored suit signals your arrival. A bespoke tailoring for a man is the equivalent of women’s haute couture (French, “high sewing,” “high dressmaking”).

The word “bespoke” describes this industry of made-to-measure fittings, where the end user receives a product that is highly specialized, not mass market. Today, bespoke industries are popping up around cars, shoes, software, even financial products.

But in this economy, tailored suits and custom cars aren’t as accessible as the the bespoke sandwich.

City Sub sandwiches

City Sub #19: Ham, Salami, Provolone

City Sub #19: Ham, Salami, Provolone

Forget Subway, enter bespoke sandwichmaker City Sub. Once you have the latter, it’s hard to go back to the former.

City Sub’s tailored sandwiches — using quality ingredients and a methodical layering process — can “restore your faith in American craftsmanship.” That’s according to Gene B., a reviewer of City Sub on the website Yelp.

I’m not sure how old Gene B. is, but he sure misses that old-time sandwich-making process. In a post-factory age, we’re nostalgic for things still made by human hands.

“Watching the staff quietly and efficiently turn all those crazy orders into beautifully rendered sandwiches is a glimpse into the past, and what Old New York used to be.”

Written by @hellopanelo

March 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm

The next Big Idea — the insaner, the better

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What’s a meta for?

Metaphor has scandalized philosophers, including both scholastics and semiotics, because it seems to be wrong: It asserts an identity between two different things. And it is wrongest when it is most beautiful.

– Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle

Like the artist with collage, the author who arranges a metaphor has to ask — will it blend? That is, will the two disparate concepts come together and create a metaphor of new meaning?

Shakespeare says the world’s a stage. Life, to Forrest Gump, is a box of chocolates. A dream deferred, says Langston Hughes, is a raisin in the sun.

Creating and marketing nonsensical products

Big Think Strategy — a book from marketing maven Berndt Schmitt — continues this line of reasoning. What are the seemingly unrelated ideas we can pull together to inject new life and meaning to a brand?

Schmitt likes to rip up magazines to mix the metaphors.

The Big Idea is a card game you can play for the same effect:

big-idea

Game theory + chaos theory = idea generation

The deck of cards features nouns and adjectives. Mix and match the cards, then try to market and pitch the resulting wacky products — Erotic Chowder, Mentholated Shampoo.

Sumana H. — intrepid marketer when she wants to be, and a previous interviewee — brought my attention to this game, by way of her pitched ads for these nonsensical products:

  • Edible High-Priority Chowder, to cure anxiety of choice at the salad bar
  • Herbal Natural Chainsaw, strong enough for a logger but made for a hippie
  • Networked Beer, to ensure you never feel like you’re drinking alone [Ed. note: Isn’t that what meetups are for?]

Cheapass Games, the cheeky manufacturers of this boardgame, challenge your marketing wits: “Do you think you’re the marketing whiz who can talk the public into a Perforated Kilt? Then you’re ready to play The Big Idea!”

[Note: Cheapass Games is an indie-nomics enterprise on its own, noting that most games are overpriced and generic. Dice, pencils, plastic parts — “these generic bits and pieces can account for as much as 75% of a game’s production cost, and that cost gets handed to you.”]

Not just a game: wacky product/service combos in real life

These (seemingly) nonsensical products — and services — are the wave of the entrepreneurial future folks! Just scroll through the list at Springwise.com, a running tally of new business ideas just ridiculous enough to work.

Like this, my current favorite — a mashup of current obsessions:

kogibbq

Written by @hellopanelo

March 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Craftwork vs. Kraftwerk

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Knitters and hackers have a lot in common — crafty, with an activist streak.

They like to work in groups. Radical groups are best! And they make stuff. A little this, a little that, nothing in particular, sometimes just what’s on hand.

They’re into collective tinkering.

Where does our city make room for such tinkering?

Local knitters can stitch ‘n’ bitch at sewing collectives in the Garment District.

Meanwhile, local hackers have a home at NYC Resistor, a shared space in downtown Brooklyn. They work on shared techy projects, and give themselves job descriptions like:

“Instigator with video trigger finger”
“Breaks things to fix them”
“Gameboy musician and crowd control”

Basically, you get to play around with laser cutters, 3D printers, and other machine-bots that turn your digital concepts into physical realities. See the action at Thingiverse.

For now, the tinkering is just that — whimsical projects for cityscape rings and googly-eye organizers. As the community learns, though, the open-source knowledge could propel the projects in a number of directions.

Like electronic knitting machines 🙂

All this tinkering costs money though, thanks to astronomical NYC rents. To offset the building costs, Resistor uses its space to host classes. If you ever need to take a class on DIY Printed Circuit Boards or an Intro to UNIX, check out their course listings on Eventbrite.

Written by @hellopanelo

February 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Posted in crafty, DIY, hack