How to quit your day job and find success with niche laser cut products
Robert Overstreet was once a mild mannered IT consultant with a passion for cosplay on the side, but thanks to some clever design thinking and effective use of the Ponoko Personal Factory, his Akujin Corps Etsy store has turned into a serious full-time business.
Akujin Corps specialises in laser cut acrylic glasses for cosplay enthusiasts. The designs are inspired by the dynamic characters from various anime, comics and other media – a wildly creative culture where everyday boundaries blur with fantastical action and adventure.
Let’s take a look at Robert’s journey and reflections on his laser cutting experience with Ponoko.
How did you get started as a designer and seller on Etsy?
To be honest I do not recall how I found Etsy. I expect it was mentioned somewhere while looking for alternatives to eBay.
What was the inspiration behind your product?
I started going to conventions in the mid-1990s. As cosplay started becoming more common over the next few years I noticed a lot of Vash cosplayers did not have glasses or had poor replicas. I searched online and found the official movic replicas selling on eBay for $150-$300 and the poor replicas selling at about $90. I bought up a few pairs of similar looking glasses and modified the arms and started selling them for $20 on eBay. I did not make a lot, but I made enough to afford buying more glasses to modify as well as my anime, comics and games.
What led to you try Ponoko?
Before I found Ponoko my products were very limited. I mostly worked with existing products that I purchased modified, then resold.
In 2012 I discovered Ponoko. Now I could design and cut acrylic and started making unique designs instead of modifying existing products. When business started picking up in late 2013 I had to choose between working full-time in IT for the county or my glasses. Certain circumstances came up and I put in my two weeks notice with the county and have been making glasses since.
What are the top 3 things you love about Ponoko? Why?
The simple design requirements, the great customer service, and a fairly decent number of materials to choose from.
The design requirements are easy to understand and work with in inkscape which is free. Files can be created saved edited without expensive software or conversion.
It is not unusual for me to receive product and let it sit for a few days before I need to assemble a piece from the lastest Ponoko delivery. Sometimes I find my acrylic parts are damaged under the original paper by the manufacturer. When I contact Ponoko about this issue or other issues like product broken in the mail or cut in the wrong color which both very rarely occur, I never have any trouble getting in touch with Ponoko’s customer service who quickly arrange for a replacement. The number of materials to choose from in acrylic alone is pretty great. I have only run into a few instances where color limitation was an issue and in those cases Ponoko was willing to help me with a custom order.
How did you make (and sell) your glasses before Ponoko? How is this different from your Ponoko process?
From 1996 until 2012 I worked with existing products modifying them to create new products. I believe I had about 17 unique products until I started working with Ponoko. After the discovery of Ponoko in late 2012 I went from making a few different products to hundreds of unique items in less than a year.
How long does it take to go from: (i) idea to design; (ii) design to prototype; (ii) prototype to product; (iv) product to first customer (or media attention)? How do these 4 speeds compare to doing this without Ponoko?
With Ponoko, From idea to design takes an hour or two, and design to prototype takes about a week. If the design works out I also end up with a product at this point. If the design does not work out I am looking at another hour or two fixing issues with the design and another week waiting for the revised design to be delivered. Once I have a new product listed on Etsy I usually have my first order within a week. Without Ponoko or a similar service my business does not exist.
What advice do you want to give to other designer/sellers?
Do not take criticism and feedback personally, but do not let people walk all over you either. Customer service is important but you should expect to be treated respectfully by your customers as well.
So now that you know the story behind Akujin Corps, you can find the current range of laser cut cosplay glasses on Etsy.
If you’re inspired by Robert’s success to try laser cutting your own products, head over to the Ponoko Personal Factory and start making today.