There's a line that separates artisans from manufacturers. It varies industry to industry but those who cross it describe the telltale sign similarly. One night you go to bed a hobbyist and wake up a manufacturer, having spent a sleepless night wondering how in hell you're going to make more.
Game on. Welcome to manufacturing.
We spend millions to make this path easier for some. In technology and healthcare, we incubate and fund ideas before anything's made. The business landscape is dotted with Think Atomic and Techstars and Innovation Center of the Rockies, an incredible ecosystem that provides a lifecycle path where an idea is vetted, business planned, funded, prototyped, market-tested, and mentored before anyone is asked to buy or manufacturing bottlenecks are encountered.
But there's a larger and equally passionate ecosystem, thousands of inventors, designers, crafters, cooks, and homebrew artisans with limited resources or expertise. They're also eager to make a business out of it, but for this group it's a harder path. Manufacturing's a pain point for many.
Increasingly business is finding a way -- credit a widespread maker and manufacturing revival -- and this week an important service will be available to fledgling small businesses seeking enhanced manufacturing capabilities. Etsy, the giant online sales outlet for homemade, crafty products announced the launch of Etsy Manufacturing, a new platform, as the New York Times described it, that "grew out of a realization that many Etsy sellers wanted to grow, but were having trouble finding manufacturers willing to take on small orders from untested business partners."
Etsy's inviting manufacturers to the craft party. "Starting Monday, Etsy will invite manufacturers to apply to list a profile, complete with pictures, on Etsy Manufacturing," the Times wrote. "'Etsy will review those applications based on a set of criteria,' said Amanda Peyton, and Etsy executive, 'including how much the manufacturer makes in-house and how much it outsources itself.'"
Etsy's not the first -- Techstars graduate Dorian Ferlauto launched BriteHub to match industrial designers with manufacturers -- but it's easily the most newsworthy given its size and potential impact. Not for industrial giants but for the wave of American-made products over the horizon.
Will the current community of contract manufacturers benefit from registering on Etsy? According to the Times, the "site now lists over 32 million items from 1.5 million sellers and generated $1.93 billion in sales last year." It's conceivable that some manufacturers will find small-batch orders from a tier of products poised to become the next BB-8.
More likely Etsy's move will advance the maker and manufacturing revival by encouraging even more collaboration between businesses in the manufacturing supply chain just beginning to find one another after decades of finding partners overseas, in Asian factories or European fabric and materials markets. And growth will result. It's not a game changer; it's a game enhancer.
But if Etsy works to connect more small businesses, directly, only good things will happen. It won't take long for the next ProBar, Voormi, Lizard Skins, or New Belgium to emerge. In a fascinating report by the National League of Cities -- Four Ways City Leaders Can Boost Entrepreneurship and Propel Economic Growth -- the number one recommendation was to 'Build Connections.' The report suggested:
While capital constraints represent one of the primary challenges to entrepreneurs, research has shown that public venture funds and local incubation centers result in little to no benefit to entrepreneurs. Instead, cities should focus on fostering local connections among entrepreneurs and businesses. These local connections, as opposed to national or global contacts, are vital to an entrepreneur's success. Focus should be put on events that cause entrepreneurs to think and act together, building a robust local ecosystem.
We couldn't have said it better, though we tried.
Connect the players and let business find the way. And rest easy in the process.