I’m so tired I forgot to title this.

I’m not kidding. I originally published this article sans title. This past week has been brutal. I’ve been getting ready for the craft show and my move to Jersey, and it’s been uphill. Things are mostly running smoothly now, but I’m tired. I just saw that it’s 9:45 and thought really? It’s only 9:45? Feels more like 11:45. So it’s gonna be an early night for me. Tomorrow will be spent frantically packing everything up for Richmond, and Saturday I head down to Philly to drive to RVA with Sara aka girlscantell.

I’ll quit whining and share this artist I found through an ad on Indie Craft Shows:

I have to say I really love Etsy seller (and RIT Chemistry student) beadworkbyamanda‘s nerdy jewelry. I’ve seen a lot of circuit board jewelry over the years, but this is the first that’s been nice enough I’d actually want to wear it outside of the hackerspace. She’s also got some rings which look equally awesome. Almost all of her stuff is sub-$20 which is a steal.


Burning Out

This is what a burnout contest looks like

A couple years ago I worked at a scooter shop. Not a lame electric wheel-around-the-grocery-store thing, but vintage gas powered two-stroke oil burning Vespas. And among many other things we did there, we held a rally which had a burnout contest.

If you are not familiar with burnouts, its when you manage to keep the bike still while spinning the rear wheel furiously (the front isn’t powered). It makes a lot of noise and smoke and is generally the sort of thing boys like to do.

Some Harley guys came to the rally, they were friends of our Snap-On guy. Snap-On is like an ice cream truck but instead of selling ice cream, he comes by and sells you $30 screwdrivers. They’re very nice screw drivers. Anyway, so Snap-On guy brought his Harley friends with their big snazzy bikes.

In what could only be described as a show of supreme manliness, the 3 or 4 Harleys lined up against the curb and proceeded to do burnouts, producing more smoke and noise and burning rubber smell than any tiny little Vespa engine. And I suppose we were all quite impressed. And then flames started shooting out the tailpipe of one of the bikes. He’d blown a valve. That was the end of the burnout contest, and most of his engine.

That’s how I feel today. I’ve been going and going and going, and sometimes just spinning my wheels without going, and today I’m just burnt out.  I’d love to just declare the next few days vacation days, after all I’m my own boss, right? Not so much. Time is my boss, and man is he harsh. I’ve got until Friday to get everything ready for Spring Bada-Bing, a wholesale order I should have gotten out the door today (it’ll go out first thing in the morning, promise!) and another one I need to start on. That’s this week. Next week I have to finish packing up all my belongings and move from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Yeah.

It’s all doable, but I ran too hard to long and now I’ve blown a valve of some sort. The guy with the Harley had to get a friend to come tow his bike home. I’ve got my boyfriend to direct me through the evening: eat, relax, play video games, snack on leftover Easter candy. It’s nice to have someone else to bail you out when all you really feel like doing is pulling the covers over your head and singing lalalalala I can’t hear you to the mountain of work you have to do.

The funniest part about the Harley blow-up to all of us scooter kids was that Harleys are expensive. Blowing up your Harley’s engine is gonna cost a bunch to fix. Old scooters on the other hand are simple; they’re two stroke engines, they don’t really have that many moving parts. You could buy a brand new engine for what the Harley guy probably spent fixing his bike. My business is more like a scooter. It’s not like a web service where you’ve got to maintain 24/7 uptime, and nothing I do is so time sensitive it can’t wait until the morning. So I get away from my burnout-meltdown pretty cheap,  and with any luck I’ll be all fixed in the morning.


Top 10 (or 6) Apps for the Tmobile G1

Last week I finally broke down and got a G1. Of course since I ordered it over the phone to get the maximum sweetest discount it had to be shipped, and just got here yesterday.

I spent most of the day playing with it, although I did somehow managed to get 60+ Tinysaurs packed in that time. I searched online for suggestions on good apps to grab, and found the suggestions to be really lacking. Really, gizmodo? An app to locate cab companies is on your top 10? For as often as I need a cab (almost never) I can just google it when the time comes. Really none of the top 10s I was finding had apps I cared about in the least.

So here’s my top ten list of apps to round out the G1.

  1. Toggle WiFi. It does exactly what its name implies. The WiFi connection can drain the battery a bunch when it’s on and not being used, Toggle WiFi gives you a one-tap option to turn it on/off.
  2. PDANet. This is a combination G1 app and PC app that makes it stupidly easy to tether your PC to your G1’s tasty 3G connection via USB. You don’t have to root your phone and since it’s USB instead of wifi both your laptop’s and your G1’s battery will be happier on long trips without a power source.
  3. ConnectBot. SSH client for the G1. SSH everywhere!
  4. NewsRob syncs up with your Google Reader account (which I’ve just started using in the past couple weeks) and can make articles available for offline reading. So I will finally have something to do on the subway besides play Zuma when I leave my DS at home.
  5. Twidroid is a twitter client for Android. So I can compulsively check my friends list whenever I want. I set it to update every 30 minutes in an effort to curb my addiction.
  6. Bubble. It’s a level. For your phone. We seem to have lost all of the actualy water-in-a-tube levels at NYC Resistor, so it’s all iPhones and G1s to align things. Hey, want to climb our homemade stairs to our loft? Oh, why not?

Ok, that’s only 6. I promised a top-10 list, what gives? So far I’ve only got 6 I think are really essential. I’m still looking fora to-do list (TooDo looks a little too bulky and intense for me), a couple decent games, something to handle my google docs elegantly, and some sort of note/doodle pad. Any suggestions?


Nuts Fear Humans

I’ll spare you the business pontification today to share this sign, spotted at a Dunkin Donuts on Willoughby St.

If you can’t read blurrycam (thanks, phone) it reads:


Nuts and Coconuts have serious allergen reaction to some persons

So be considerate of the nuts and coconuts out there and don’t ingest them if you are an irritating person.


You Know What You Should Do…

Lately it seems like the phrase I hear more often than any other is “You know what you should do…” followed by a suggestion for my business. Or one of my friends’ businesses.

I highly discourage anyone from starting a sentence with that phrase, especially when you are talking to a friend who is trying to build a company/product. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the interest, far from it, but 9 times out of 10 it’s something we’ve heard 50 times before. And more than that, telling people what they should do, even when you’re just offering advice, is annoying.

There are a few ways to avoid this and keep yourself on your self-employed friend’s good side. First and foremost is to refrain from offering unsolicited opinions. If they’ve got that glassy-eyed “oh god I’ve been working 60 hours a day and I still have 100 things to do” look, keep your suggestions to yourself. For the sake of peace. Even if it’s a good idea, the thought of adding one more item to the brainpile might just be too much. If you think you’re really onto something, offer to share them when the person feels up to it. Saying “if you’re interested later I’ve got a couple ideas for you” is a lot less imposing than “hey you should make those blue.”

The second option is to keep just change your wording. Don’t say, “you should…” say,  “have you considered…” The difference is subtle, but can make the conversation flow a lot smoother.

For example, a lot of people suggest that I should sell my Tinysaurs in natural history museum shops. This is a great idea, albeit not a new one. The thing is there are some high barriers to entry for those shops, and without an in through some social networking they’re pretty much unavailable to me. I’ve spent a while researching it and it’s been pretty frustrating. Changing the sentence to “have you considered selling these in museum shops” makes it much less awkward for me to say “yeah, but it turns out its pretty hard for someone at my level to get their stuff sold there.”

“Have you considered…” or “what if you tried..” is handy even if your suggestions are soilicited. It’s a small change in phrase, but can make a big difference to the ears of an entrepeneur who is swamped with ideas and only has two hands to execute them.


Packing Packing Packing

In a little over three weeks I’ll be moving from my apartment in Brooklyn to Jersey City, NJ. This is relatively new information, until recently I’d planned to move at the beginning of June. But plans change and now I’m moving the last weekend in April. Hooray!

I hate packing. I hate packing a lot. Here is my packing “strategy”:
> 2 weeks from moving day: go through everything carefully, deciding what to keep, what to goodwill, and what to throw away. Organize things into carefully selected boxes of like items. Mark clearly on the side what’s in there “Audio Cables” or “Books.”

>  1 week from moving day: get a little lazier about the whole “like items” thing, packing whatever fits together in the box. Start to see boxes of “Shoes, office supplies, some embroidery floss.” Stop actually checking to see if the box of embroidery floss that’s been sitting on the shelf all year actually contains said floss. At this point I also come across items which got separated from the rest of their bretherin, and sit on my desk until I decide whether or not to open the box they belong in.

Less than one week from moving: Flail arms in frustration as remaining items do not wish to be organized. What category does a crochet Katamari fall under? What about this lego sculpture?! Chuck it all in any box. Who cares what it is or why I own it. I’ll figure it out when I get to the new place and unpack it. 9 times out of 10, this box  won’t get unpacked for at least a year, and may never get unpacked.

Since we’re still more than three weeks away from moving, I’m opting for an unlisted option: procrastinate in any way possible. Offer to do favors for people. Have lunch at that really slow place around the corner. Scrub the sink. Catch up on Dollhouse. You know, things I really have to get done today, yup.

I hate packing.

Business, Crafting, Etsy

Quit My Day Job

Etsy has this series called Quit Your Day Job where they interview sellers who left the 9-5 world to craft full time. And yesterday they had a live Virtual Labs chat with one of the quitters.

As someone who has left the stable comfort of a regular paycheck  I’m really interested in talking with other people who’ve taken the plunge about the challenges, surprises, etc. Unfortunately the Storque articles are kind of cut-and dry… I think geared towards newer sellers, so they don’t really give me what I’m looking for.

In light of that, here’s my interview. With myself. Because I’m narcissistic like that. Half of these are questions I find interesting, the other half are things everyone seems to ask.

Tinysaur Assembly

What made you decide to go full-time with the crafting?

It was an accident. I quit my day job in November with the intent of finding another after the holidays and was selling Tinysaurs and other crafts to keep myself occupied. They got picked up by BoingBoing and suddenly I was so busy I had to recruit friends to help me pack and ship orders.

This is actually my second attempt to make a living doing craft shows and wholesale. When I got out of college I was selling jewelry at craft shows. My degree is in metalsmithing. For a number of reasons I wasn’t doing that well. When I got an opportunity to take a full-time job in New York I jumped at it, leaving my jewelry business behind. Which is why it’s a little surprising I’m back at it again; I swore up and down I was done with craft shows when I moved up here.

How do you keep up with demand?

Theoretically by being organized and working efficiently. Lets just say that organization is something I’m working on. Right now demand is at a point where I can get away with being a little scatterbrained, but I really need to sit down and work out a system for all this stuff. I do a lot of running back and forth, which is a time waster.

Are you worried about becoming too successful?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m worried. It’s something I keep an eye on, but I think I’m prepared to scale up if things hit the big time. I spent one day where I did nothing but make Tinysaurs, start to finish. I wanted to see how many I could crank out in a day. I use that as my baseline for when I’ll need to hire a part-time assistant to do some of the more menial stuff like folding instructions.

Do you think you’d have to raise your prices if you hired an assistant?

No, when I first set up my prices I made a spreadsheet with the cost of each product broken out. I estimated how much time I spend making each one and built a reasonable hourly rate ($15/hour for NYC) into the price of each Tinysaur. So if I ever have to hire anyone their cost is already built into the price, and in the meantime I’m getting to keep that hourly rate. So right now it’s sort of like I’m being double-paid. It’s nice.

How do you market and promote yourself?

So far it’s all been word-of-mouth and a few careful targets. I send links to blogs periodically and look for places where it would fit in. I mailed a few samples to some smaller magazines. For craft shows I have some samples I give out as promos. Not just business cards, but actual tiny samples of a dinosaur skull. Some products lend themselves better to sampling than others, but I think if you can come up with a good one it’s vastly more valuable than just a business card with your URL.

So if you’re not buying ads all over the place, what’s the secret to your success?

Having a unique and interesting product. Tinysaur himself does 90% of the work for me. If you’re having trouble getting a good groove going with your business, take a step back and look at your product. Do an Etsy search for it… how many of the results are almost identical to what you make? What would make your product stand out from those? Sometimes it can be as simple as taking engaging photographs. Sometimes you just need to move on and come up with a new design. Maybe even take the time to learn a new technique to put you ahead of the curve.

Good products take time to develop, the first thing you decide to make/sell probably won’t be a showstopper. But you get feedback from people, revise, see what the market’s into, and try again. Focusing on your marketing before you develop a good product is like putting fancy wheels on a car with a dud engine. You gotta get the basics down before you can polish.

The other bonus to continually working on your products is that new products bring repeat customers. And repeat customers tell their friends. And everyone lives happily ever after.

How much time per week do you spend on your business?

Most of it, but I try not to let it interfere with my personal life too much. The week before a craft show I probably work 10-12 hours a day, but most of the time I’m Tinysauring it up for a normal 8 hours.  Taking a break, relaxing, and playing video games is important to keep up the will to wake up in the morning and do it all over again. At a day job you usually have a hostile boss, and you’re motivated by wanting to avoid his/her wrath. But self-employed it’s just you. You’ve got to motivate yourself.

Do you have any other sources of income besides your business?

Yes, I have a part-time work-at-home job which I was really lucky to score. It’s flexible enough that it’s not a huge strain on my Tinysaur time, and gives me the peace of mind to have my rent covered no matter what happens to my business. It’s not a huge chunk of money, literally just enough to cover rent, but it’s nice to have one income stream that’s consistent. Even if Tinysaur gets huge I’ll probably keep it, it’s a nice job.

Is there anything you’ve had to sacrifice to start your business?

There are things I’ve given up, and changes in my lifestyle, but I wouldn’t go so far as calling them sacrifices. I don’t buy new clothes on a monthly basis anymore, and I go to the bar a lot less (which is probably a good thing), but those have been pretty easy to adjust to. And in return I get to spend more time with my friends and boyfriend, do my shopping during the week when the stores are quieter, sleep in when I’ve been out too late,  and generally lead a much less stressful life. I still stress out sometimes, because I am a worrier, and there are definitely many times when I’m not sure I can actually do this. But between those moments of self-doubt I’m really happy.

What are your plans for the near future?

Plans? I’m supposed to have plans? Uh..

Seriously though, I do have some tricks up my sleeve. A friend of mine is going to work with me to get Tinysaur in some local stores, so I’m working on getting all my wholesale stuff ready and organized (line sheets, catalogs, etc). So far I have my stuff in a couple places but I’m looking for world domination!

I’m doing a few craft shows this season, but not really making that my main focus. I’ve still kind of sworn them off, I’m just not outgoing enough to really get into enjoying them. And I have some exciting press features coming up, which will hopefully lead to more wholesale,  more press, etc.

Lastly I’m getting ready to launch my own website with it’s own shopping cart so I can have more hands-on control of my brand. It’s a lot of work, but I’m pretty stoked about it all.

Business, Crafting, lased

Packaging Evolution

My packaging has been through a number of iterations since the first Tinysaur was shipped.
The first was an “Oh no I need packaging” sort of thing, where I haphazardly went to Duane Reade to pick up the least boring paper I could find – which turned out to be construction paper.

I ran the construction paper through a laser printer (as in toner, not coherent light) to throw the word “Tinysaur” on the outside, and then cut the envelope shape out on the laser cutter.2009-01-12 Tinysaur package closeup I didn’t really have a decent method for registration (lining up the print with the cutting) so it took a while. And folding the little envelopes turned out to be a pain.

After having to recruit friends to help me fold tiny envelopes during the holiday rush, and running out of construction paper, I got a little smarter. I started using bags with staple-tags, much easier to cut. Now they look almost respectable.

But they were still not quite ready for a retail-side display… which I realized when I was talking to a purchaser for a chain of museum shops. Oops.

New PackagingWhich brings me to my current matchbook-style packaging. It takes a little more energy than the staple-tag, but feels nice and solid, and gives me plenty of room for marketing copy (uh… about that…).

Next on my packaging to-dos is to redesign the instruction sheets, which I’ve been putting off for a while. Ugh.


PHP Templating with mod_rewrite

There are lots of different methods of implementing design templating in PHP and I pretty much hate them all. So I came up with a new one, which may not be better than the others but at least it’s different.

The template markup is stored all in one file, creatively titled template.php. For organization I stuck it in my /includes folder.

Each content page is in a directory called /pages. So my login page is in /pages/login.php. The content pages don’t contain any calls to the template at all, they contain only the logic/output for that particular page.

The template page is called with a filename in the URL, i.e. template.php?page=login. This little peice of code hangs out near the top of the template page, before any HTML output (but after all the includes for various libraries / any session or cookie handling):

$page = $_GET['page'];

//output buffering is needed so we don't puke the contents of the page above the HTML headers
//Check to see if the file exists
//if so, require it
require  $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'].'pages/'.$page.'.php';
} else {
//if not, returna 404 error
header("HTTP/1.0 404 Not Found");
//store the output of our page in a variable
$content = ob_get_contents();
//empty the output buffer

You need to include the page in the template before the start of  the HTML output or else any cookie/session stuff in the page won’t work. Buffering the output lets you call the script now but not display its contents until later.

In the middle of our template markup, where we want the page content to appear, there’s a simple <code>echo $content</code> to place the output on the page.

Of course at this point if you want your template to show up you have to access everything through template.php. http://www.whatever.com/includes/template.php?page=login is not an attractive address. So I use mod_rewrite to hide it.

Putting these lines in my .htaccess file lets us use nice urls like “http://www.whatever.com/login.php”

RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^(.*)\.php include/template.php\?p=$1 [QSA]
RewriteRule   ^$  include/template.php\?p=index

The first line just turns on the rewrite engine. The second sends anything ending in PHP to the template page. The QSA flag passes the query string along with it, so mypage.php?id=foo will still pass ‘foo’ correctly.
The last line handles the index page redirect for us if they just come to the bare domain and not a particular page.

Additionally it’s a good idea to add a couple lines to not redirect files which are already in our root directory.

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-l

If you are of the opinion that this is a terrible idea which should never be used, I’d love to hear why. I really doubt  I’m the first person to think of it, but I’ve never seen anyone else do it, so I’m wondering if there’s something terrible about it that I’m not aware of. I know there’ll be a performance hit with mod_rewrite, but pretty much every other CMS I’ve seen uses mod_rewrite to make their URLs pretty, so I’m not convinced it’s any worse than the other stuff that’s out there.


Not Yo Momma’s Craft Fair

I spent Saturday vending at Not Yo Momma’s Craf t Fair, and event held at LITM, a bar in Jersey City. It was my first show by myself in two years, and also the organizers’ first craft fair.

Not Yo Momma's Craft ShowThe show was interesting, to say the least. Traffic was good and we ended up staying an extra hour because there were still lots of people around, although during that hour the crowd pretty clearly shifted from people who want to shop to people who want to drink. Overall the crowd wasn’t very spendy, people were balking at a friend’s prices for her prints… all of which were sub-$10. Surprising for a place where the average drink price is $9.

Sales-wise I did pretty well, and hit my target of 10x the booth fee. I nearly sold out of the Tinysaur Deluxe Kits, which was surprising, although I only brought ~10 of them. The checkout setup was a little clumsy… buyers had to get a sales slip, take it to the bar, pay, then bring it back to get their goods. It was a little aggravating to have to explain the somewhat complicated system to each customer, but it worked OK so I guess I can’t complain. Still, I would rather just have everyone pay me in cash. Much simpler.

Overall I’d say it was a success, and a nice practice for Spring Bada-Bing in Richmond next month. I mostly remembered how to sell people things, and got an idea of what was working / what wasn’t.