Beta end, back to beta

The most interesting comments about the pencase beta came from two completely different sources.

The first assemble, still going strong.

One of those sources is a fellow Long Beach Con artist alley table neighbor Tony Brescini. The other was a six year old boy.

Tony mentioned that the pencase might be a little bulky for the amount of stuff it actually carries. He’s very right in that I designed the original to carry very little.

That came from years of watching the artists around me. The 80/20 rule with regard to artists tools doesn’t apply at all to the studio. But outside, at the coffee shop, at lunch, on a smoke break – artists are one tool dominant. Sure, some artists brag about how many tools they lug around and use.

At that point you’re I’d encourage you to seek therapy as it sounds like hoarding syndrome.

One of the biggest compromises I made designing the pencase regarded the belt clip. I had thought about making it detachable which would make the pencase much slimmer overall, but also a bit less convenient.

It’s interesting to note that the pencase was used as part of most people’s already crowded carryall strategy – backpacks, toolpacks, pencil cases and knick knack cases. I think fewer than half of beta testers used the belt clip even though one of the first surveys indicated nearly every tester wore belts.

The other tester, unofficially at least, was 6. The best test of any product is whether it survives a 6 year old. This one instantly opened it, and tried to pour put its contents on the floor. Perfect. Test.

I really wanted to use a cap or latch to secure all the slots in the case – something to prevent 6 year olds from flinging myens everywhere, but also totally mature people as well.

This morning I had a few ideas about where to go next with the design. The primary goal is still to get to a design which carries two pens or pencils and their respective refills or helpful accessories.

Lastly, I delivered the last beta model unassembled to someone I know has good finishing chops. This was always a possible delivery strategy for people who wanted to customize the case but in a way I didn’t have to print or redesign per user.

I also used a unique filament from Protopasta which can polish to an almost steel like quality. Really interesting stuff and very clean results. I will definitely keep this stuff in mind for future projects.

Talk is cheap, but good conversation is priceless

The Pencase project might need to take a sharp turn.

I was joking last week that the price range for the final product would likely need to take a huge drop because, well, artists are broke most of the time. I know. I am an artist. I was young and broke once.

Part of me has to call bulshit. But that’s too harsh a word. Let’s say I have to call put a mistake in the judgment of value.

It’s a classically argued economic idea – what value does and object have to a market? If it’s a new product, the answer the prof says, lies in its ability to solve a problem, fill a need, or create more value, etc.

Elegantly ambiguous. Kind of like tautologies, that came around in a big fat circle of logic. I kind of like the idea that the value of any object lies in the story it has.

A US treasury note only costs a fraction of the paper and materials it’s printed on, but the number printed on it makes the difference between eating a steak or cereal for dinner.

What’s the value of the pencase? To me, part of it lies in the conversation it starts. Last night, I met with some old friends and made some new ones. Even in a technologically astute crowd as it was, they still get a kick out of seeing something 3d printed.

What does that have to do with printing money? Its 3d printed, right? Kinda.

I asked a particular question on a survey to some beta testers. Did anyone ask you about the pencase while you used it? It was meant to determine if, as an object, it had value outside of purpose.

What am I more curious about is the content of those conversations. There’s value there. The more you talk about any object, the more valuable it can become to you, even when the first one was free.

Now, how much would it be worth to you if you wanted to replace it?

If the pencase wasn’t worth enough conversations, maybe it isn’t worth 25 bucks. But if it keeps people talking, I think it’s proven it’s value.

The dropoff

I realized this would happen.

The analysts always break down the various statistics of business failure with restaurant stories. Appropo since everyone needs to eat but stupid because no one NEEDS to always eat out. But hey, in popular culture, it’s as relevant as breathing.

One line and already a classic, the first and basic material cost analysis cor the pencase.

The saying you know goes that X number, percent or whatever of restaurants fail within X amount of time. But a lot of them fail to record the relationship between what kind of restaurant, when it started, other similar restaurants that DIDN’T fail in the same time period, and other relevant qualities.

Remember when they said an eye for detail was important on that job posting? Too bad an eye FOR an eye for detail is what’s missing.

More importantly, the statistics of customer interest and behavior around new products or ideas are, well scarier. Just the basic statistic of media should be enough to scare off anyone from trying to sell something on the internet.

At least one popular Internet marketing agency states that open rates for emails, clicks on banner ads, and “likes” on anything that is obviously an ad or business has fallen into less than 1 percent figures.

Think about that in terms of small projects like the pencase and you would be right to think that every popular metric is very low. And that’s before I’ve even technically made 1 sale.

The truth is I had made a simple calculation. I knew the pencase was not a mass appeal object. I knew the potential customer had two qualities which frustrate marketers – they were very high in interest and engagement but also highly frugal. That’s their polite way of saying cheap.

That’s not meant as an insult but I did make a bet on the highest possible qualities of that audience. I might publish the spreadsheet I made of the variables I knew I could calculate to make the pencase a worthwhile product. Right now, its tipping into my worst case scenarios – high engagement, but low budgets.

I know many a stalwart designer has butted against this wall. People like Jobs would have said they don’t know what’s what but I got some really smart folks to sign up for this program. I set a path for the pencase into the wheelhouses of a particular kind of person I like to think.

The next step if to make sure that the qualities which make the pencase an interesting and desirable object aren’t lost in the search to make it profitable.

Program stall, aka tax time

So. Tax time. Fan? Yes? No?

Two prints, different printers

Depends on the refund? Yeah, me too.

But when it comes to living as a creative, people I have known tend to completely miscategorize their expenses. I get it. You want to get as much as you can back from the government. Fair point.

I feel the same way, and recently I have added the many varied expenses of 3d printing to my tax deduction list. Its not a lot of money, but it has added up over time.

Between simple materials, filaments, tools and other consumables I spend a few hundred dollars every year on things related to 3d printing.

Since I can write off a small portion of my power bill, the increase in electrical usage over time has been noticeable. During the late summer months,  when I am prepping for Long Beach Comic Con, I have always tried to have a new figure or project done. The power bill during this time will increase at least 10 to 15 percent if both printers are running.

Again, its small, but I have plans to increase output in the future – both in capacity and quality. So tracking some of these numbers even a little bit is going to be more important financially.

Anyway, onward and upward.

Carbon 3d and me, I hope

I’ve never liked resin printing.

I know it’s higher quality and resolution in many respects to fused filament which I am now very comfortable with.

The truth is I can be a terrible clutz. Too many resin printers require a resin bath system that begs my more tremoring moments of un-coordinated-ness to crash and burn. Or splatter and splash.

All joking aside, I love the Carbon 3d technologies. If you have never heard of them, one of Carbon’s chief advantages comes frome speed. The system doesn’t require the requisite peeling and settling issue of many DLP and SLA printers.

Put very simply, Carbon’s method brings resin printing closer to the image many people have in their heads about what they would LIKE 3d printing to be – something close to the speed of printing in 2d.

But as close as we’re getting to something the public has the patience to endure, the more it feels as though people are waiting for something new when it comes to 3d printing.

A few companies like Stratasys, Makerbot, and Pinshape have all announced cuts, layoffs or even closures. Carbon’s promise is balanced by its cost, the main barrier to buying a 3d printer even for fun to many on the cusp.

But I can hang in there. I want to see where all this goes. It’s a physical world, and even though we have way too much “stuff” already, I want to be a part of the story of making better stuff tomorrow.

No you can all go back to watching House of Cards. 🙂