By Nathaniel Caird, Natty Industries
I started Natty Industries because I noticed a gap that 3D Printing could fill, or rather lots of tiny gaps. If you wanted a doorstop with your logo on it, or dice with your initials, you had to buy them in large numbers.
The whimsy that leads a person to Google something like, "custom clothes peg" is killed within a few clicks when they read the phrase "minimum order of 10,000."
You've probably heard a lot about the potential of 3D printing, from printing jet parts to body parts. But you've likely heard less about its potential to change the way we do business - turning raw materials directly into products; cutting out the middleman, warehouses and transport costs.
It seemed clear to me: A business that could sell tiny batches of branded merchandise had the potential to become an invaluable asset to small businesses, startups, pop-groups and charities everywhere - and no one else was doing it.
Why was no one else doing it? Surely any idea I could come up with would have been tried and tested by much smarter people than me?
Maybe that's it - I don't think a smart person could have come up with this idea. It's far too over-complicated, difficult and silly.
Custom clothes pegs? Pfft.
Like many startups, the sheer number of unanticipated complications was the hardest part of getting my idea to work. It turned me into a Willy Wonka-esque recluse, surrounded by colourful reams of plastic and buzzing machines.
Natty Industries is split into two halves: The half where we work closely with brands to create merchandise, and the half where customers personalize gifts, choosing their own colour combinations and inscriptions. Creating a distinction between these halves while keeping business continuity has been a challenge.
Using the ecommerce platform Shopify has helped a lot. Its incredible flexibility has allowed me - having had no web design expertise - to create an online store with myriad products and customizations.
Oh yeah, almost forgot. Before you can do all that neat, revolutionary, techno stuff you've got to have some cool products that people will actually want.
So here are my top ten:
1. Custom dice
A great example of one product finding many niches, we've had people from humble board game designers to a large financial institution (that will remain nameless) buying our dice. Plus, you can have them 8-sided, 12-sided, even 20-sided. Just don't blame us for the next financial crisis.
Ever felt the pain of realizing you've just smashed your expensive glasses? Never again. The idea is that you buy a few of our super cheap frames and if you break them, you just pop out the lenses and put them in a new pair. Much cheaper and less hassle than buying new frames and lenses every time you sit on them. You can mix and match the arms making your own colour combos. What's more, they look great.
Coat buttons; jacket buttons; shirt buttons... I love the idea that a young emerging fashion designer can have all the non-fabric parts of their garments (buttons, toggles etc.) branded, just like the big names do. I may have gotten carried away with this idea. (I have replaced all of my buttons with our own brand.)
5. iPhone Cases
A phone case is like a blank canvas everyone carries around in their pocket. There are so many possibilities for customizing them - simple text, logos, maps, musical notations, constellations... It's a great product to go up against traditional manufactures. If your band wants to sell phone cases as merchandise, they only have to buy a few to test the waters. If the cases sell, you can buy more. This lessens the risk of having a load of outdated phone cases in a box in your garage.
6. Plant Pots
3D printing still has a lot of places left where it can leave its mark. Gardening is one of them, and plant pots and plant labels are just the start.
7. Poker Chips
Having your own branded gambling chips for poker night = win.
8. Clothes Pegs
As far as I can tell, we're the only store in the world where you can purchase a one-off clothes peg with your name on it. Never stop whimsically Googling (see above).
9. Door Stops
One of the great things you can do with a 3D printer is turn something totally boring on its head. Nothing is duller than a doorstop, but nothing is more extravagant than having one custom made. Especially in pink and teal.
10. Guitar Picks
We use them as business cards. They're way cooler, way more memorable, and when you give them to people they say, "Really? For me?"
This year, Shopify's Build A Business Competition is bigger than ever. Shopify is giving away more than $500,000 in cash, prizes and mentorship in its fourth annual competition. Contestants create a store and try to sell the most in their category for a chance to win $50,000 and a VIP trip to NYC to meet their mentor.