Large and small and companies are paying more attention to the detail in things like packaging and it’s becoming easier for anyone to have a defined branded look on physical products.
Lumi is a powerful new way to print just about anything. From premium custom shipping boxes, to rubber stamps and DIY silk screening kits, Lumi is bridging the gap between design and manufacturing.
Stephan Ango, co-founder of Lumi, talks to us about his company and how they are making it easier than ever for artists and companies of any size, make and design awesome manufactured goods.
Pencil or pixel?
It’s like the two sides of my brain. There’s the pencil, it’s like the creative…you know, go nuts and try stuff out side of my brain, and then the pixel side is like, ok, things are getting serious, I’m going to turn this into something real…
Yeah, refine it. Make it precise.
Just before we started recording here, we were talking about this pen that I received that I just got in the mail yesterday. This is a Baron Fig Squire. I’m not trying to advertise or anything but it’s a pretty nice pen.
I used to really like lamy pens. And I love them, there’s one that is designed by…I’m going to mispronounce this…Fukasawa, the famous Muji designer. There’s this really nice triangular shaped ball point pen he designed that I really like.
I promise everyone that we’re not going to make this a show about pens but this is a pretty interesting topic and we were talking about it before we started recording.
When I went to design school, it was really interesting…every drawing class I took started with the teacher telling us, “this is the tool that you will use during my class.” I took a fantastic class about drawing cars and drawing animals and all kinds of things and the guy there…gosh, what pen was that? It was like a micron pen from…I think it was a Stadler pen or something. Anyway, it was a very specific type of pen. And then I took a different class and he would only use the blue Prismacolor pencil. For every class, the teacher was like, “this is, bar none, the only pencil you should ever use.”
Like, in your career moving forward?
Yeah, exactly. But the thing is, every teacher had a different pen so it’s like, which one was the right answer and the answer is whatever you feel most comfortable in. And so, we can recommend stuff all day but if that doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t work for you. But I do kind of like finding those basics. I have…I don’t know if you see…
My notebooks, they’re all the same notebooks right there. I really like that one, that’s a Copic notebook. What I like the most about it is the aspect ratio, I think its five inches tall and eight and a half inches wide. These are nice and thick, there nice and thick and…this is some good podcasting right here.
This is very nice.
Can you hear that? [Flipping pages]
Yeah, I can. [Laughing]
That’s the sound of good paper. I use that one for my main sketchbook and I use little field notes for something that you can hold in your pocket. The point is, find something and if you really like it, just buy a lot of that thing and keep using it. I think that’s the best advice. Eventually you lock in on that set of tools that makes you the most productive and that feels really good. When you get there and you’ve figured out a flow that works for you, you can be very, very efficient.
Yeah, definitely. Give us a little bit of your background and let us know what is it you do and how did you get to where you are today?
I run a company called Lumi and we’re mostly known for…we sell branded supplies. We help basically bridge the gap between design and manufacturing. We sell all kinds of things from cardboard boxes to rubber stamps to butcher paper; all these types of things that you can personalize whether it’s for a creative project or…most of our users are businesses.
Can you explain to us where you went to school, what you did, and what you were pursuing?
I’ll give you the short version and then we can…
You can elaborate as much as you want.
We can explore as much as we want. I was actually born in France. My mom is from California but my dad is French and I was born and raised there, in Paris, until I was seventeen. That entire time, I thought I would become a biologist and so I studied science. My mother is very artistic and so I had always done kind of nerdy, artistic things on the side just for fun. I was always interested in photography and drawing and all kinds of stuff like that but I never really knew that it was a profession that you could have.
You just saw it as a hobby?
Yeah, I saw it as a hobby. I’ve been making websites and that kind of stuff since I was a teenager and then I went to college and studied biology; I got a degree in biology.
Where was this?
Colorado College. I left France, went to Colorado, studied biology, thought I would become an evolutionary biologist or zoologist of some sort…and I still love it, I think it’s really fun. It definitely inspires a lot of the creative projects that I’m involved in but, at some point, I discovered design was a profession. It was really weird and I can pinpoint the specific moment. I was in China, in Shanghai with my family…
Wow, we’re jumping all over the place. [Laughing]
All over the world.
Well, you know, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from traveling. This was a particularly specific moment and I was in the Muji, one of the flagship stores in Shanghai, it was a two story store. And it was at that moment that I realized that every object and place that you go has been designed. I had never thought about that before for some reason. You know, I was looking at a pencil or something…we were just talking about this but, whatever it is, a clock or a mug. You look at it and you have to realize that somebody decided that it’s going to be diameter and this material and this thickness. I was like, oh wait, I could do that. It was like Neo in The Matrix, suddenly everything became…oh, these are decisions that people have made, and that could be a job for me. I had been doing this thing on the side for fun for a long time which is making skins for Winamp and that kind of stuff.
Oh, that is way back.
This was way back, yeah. That was probably my first exposure to UI design, was making skins, and I was just doing this for fun. But back then…I think kids growing up these days are going to perceive this much quicker, everyone will be able to understand this, but back in the nineties, that was kind of a new thing. I could make a skin in my bedroom at home and I think hundreds of thousands of people used my skins. That was so crazy to me. But now, kids probably know that instinctively because they’re streaming on Twitch or Minecraft or whatever and so they can understand that. They understand what making something viral is almost innately which I think is kind of a revolutionary thing.
We’re getting off topic. But anyway, at that point I realized that I could apply the skills that I had learned, like making these decisions on what a button should look like to the world around me…and I actually see a huge parallel to biology because that’s what always fascinated me about evolution and natural selection. It’s like this process of nature adapting itself to the surroundings so, in essence, I saw my path before me. There was this one route where I was studying this process as it exists in the world. I could go out and look at everything that has been designed by nature or I could apply my own [Laughing]…this is more grandiose than it really is but like, apply my own sense of natural selection and evolution to things. Like, how can I take an object and make it more adapted to its environment? How can I make it more efficient, more ergonomic, more beautiful? Like, all of those things and adapt it to its time.
You know, we’ve seen the evolution of what phones look like over the course of almost a hundred years now, and they’ve evolved a lot with the technologies. So what’s possible also informs the shape of an object and so I decided I wanted to become an industrial designer and this was the end of my second year of college. I was at place where there was no design classes really; there were art classes. I found a guy who was in the art department who had some architecture and interior design experience and he became sort of my advisor. I did some independent studies with him and started building a portfolio. Out of that, I wanted to get an internship at an industrial design firm because I thought that that would be the best way to find out whether this would be a good career for me. I applied to every decently renowned industrial design firm in America and was rejected by all of them; forty studios. Everything from the big names like IDEO and Frog and all these people. And they all said the same thing, which was, “You’ve never done design, really. You haven’t gone to a design school. We have people who have just graduated from Art Center or whatever,” like, all of these famous places.
SVA or RISD?
They’re graduates from these places and they want to get an internship from us. Why would we pick you? I was like, that’s a fair point [Laughing].
So I went home, I went back to France where my parents still live and I looked for a job there. And, actually, it was awesome. I got a much better response from the design studios there and I ended up doing a pretty long internship with a company called Flex in the Netherlands. They’re one of the most famous industrial design firms in Holland. They do all the stuff for a lot of the beer companies, they do a lot of interesting stuff with the Dutch Post Office, TNT. They’ve done incredible projects for Tom Tom…they’ve just done a lot of incredible stuff for most of the well-known Dutch companies and other companies around Europe. This was right around the time that iPhone was coming out and we were designing some really cool stuff back then. It was really fun because, as an intern there, I got to sort of jump in on other projects. I was designing, like, a cow milk machine, like, the Ferrari of cow milk machines.
No, I’m serious, it looks like a Ferrari. I think it’s called the Astronaut. If you look it up, it looks like a Ferrari. It’s a robotic cow milking machine where the cows milk themselves. They come into this machine when they feel full or something and they go in there.
So we were making that. This project ended up not going anywhere because basically the iPhone came out; we were designing a touchscreen cooking assistant that you would use. Now, that would just be an app for your iPhone.
I’m pretty interested in that. What was it powered by, was it sort of an AI or…?
No, not an assistant in that respect, just an app where you could save your recipes and go through and perform the recipes as you’re cooking. But now there are apps that do that. We were just at the cusp where that was becoming possible. So we were designing that and all kinds of different stuff and that was really fun. And so, coming out of that, I went and studied industrial design at the Art Center in Pasadena. That was the first time I was moving to Los Angeles and I ended up meeting my cofounder and business partner, Jesse Genet, who I’ve been working with now for about seven years. So that’s kind of how it happened but it was a bit of a circuitous path…I’ve been doing design my whole life, I just wasn’t a professional at it for a while.
And you didn’t realize it at the beginning.
Yeah, I didn’t realize it, that that [design] is a thing that people can get paid for.
Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to talk about the origins of Lumi and your relationship with Jesse and how you guys got started with these really cool projects. I wanna ask you, what influences have you had or has Paris or France…all these different places that you’ve traveled, what kind of influences can you point out that have really helped you as a designer?
I actually grew up in a suburb of Paris called Merdon, which has been around for thousands of years, literally. It was a Gaelic settlement a long time ago and there’s a viaduct in the middle of the city that was built, you know, more than two thousand years ago.
Is it still functioning?
Yeah, there’s a train that goes over it, it’s pretty crazy. You see that kind of stuff all the time when you’re in Europe. There’s stuff that’s around and Paris still has Roman ruins…there are Medieval areas where there are still these wooden beams from old times. You’ll walk through a street and there’ll be bullet holes from the Revolution or something in a wall. So when you walk through the streets of Paris, you feel like you are just one more layer in thousands of years of evolution. Every generation has put their little veneer on top of that city. The Eiffel Tower is an obvious example or the Louvre…I’ll say it the French way just to keep the street cred alive…the Louvre.
Each generation gets to put their own little thing on top of this and some people might see it and say, “wow, this is so disjointed,” but I think it’s just very inspiring. It [pauses]…it begs you to live up to that. It asks of you to put your own layer on top of that and I don’t necessarily have as much of that here in Los Angeles as I do when I’m in Europe.
Not as inspired? You don’t feel as…
Well, it’s just not as old so it doesn’t have that history built in but there’s other things that I get really inspired by here; it’s the landscape, it’s the people, it’s the dynamism of technology…there’s a lot, every place has something to offer.
What are the kinds of things that you’ve noticed Los Angeles has to offer in particular?
There’s two things that I love about Los Angeles: one is optimism and the second one is…I don’t know how to say this exactly…but, the resources. The optimistic part, I think that this is something I gravitate towards because I lived in rainy, kind of depressing places my entire life until I moved to Los Angeles. Paris is a great example; Paris is rainy all year long except for a few months in the summer and it is dark and gloomy and it also has a big city complex. New York is the same way, where everybody is rushing and stuff is happening and everything is very stressful. Here in Los Angeles, it has all of the properties that I like about a big city, like the cultural…there’s stuff happening. You can go see the big acts come here if you’re interested in music or movies.
Everyone comes through.
Yeah, everything comes to Los Angeles, so I like that. But it also has the feeling – and maybe it’s just the weather or I don’t know what it is – but southern California people are so happy and positive and if you have a crazy idea, they’re like, “do it, go do that!” Whereas, if I’m in Paris or other places I feel like it’s like, “why?” I always phrase it as why versus why not. All the places I lived before, it was always like, “why would you do that?” whereas in Los Angeles…
Have you had any resistance from peers or family to come to Los Angeles?
No, and my family’s all very supportive. I think it’s more the general culture around you and I think it can be very straining to have to deal with that all day, that kind of, “why would you bother doing that?” or “can’t you see, there’s something else that already exists that does this?” Here in L.A. it’s like, “here, go for it!”… “yea, why not, let’s do it.”…”how can I help?” And I love that optimism. That is one thing that, at all times, I feel great about in pursuing crazy ideas. The second thing is there are resources to back it up. That’s living in a big city but also, Los Angeles in particular is a huge manufacturing city, and people don’t know this really. Outside of Hollywood, it’s like one of the biggest manufacturing cities for the fashion industry.
Just about anything.
Yeah, it’s like the biggest port in all of The United States so everything comes in through here. We have a few products that we import from China, they come right to the port of Long Beach. We have tremendous resources at our disposal. Basically any crazy, weird idea, we can find someone who’s an expert at that. And that’s so empowering, right? You never really have an excuse not to try something because you can find someone that can help you do it. Whatever it is, there’s someone who’s done that before. So those are the things that I love about Los Angeles.
Absolutely. Back to Art Center. You meet Jesse, and what do you come up with, what do you?
So, Art Center is kind of weird, it’s kind of trade school. You really only come there if you want to be a designer and a lot of people were kind of like me, who came back after having some gone through some other type of schooling and I like that. I wanted to learn to draw, how to build models, you know, what’s the design process. It’s very intense, the class sizes are pretty small, and you’re pretty much expected to work day and night, 24/7, very little sleep.
Especially for industrial design.
Yeah, industrial design… so there’s a product design side and there’s the transportation design. The Art Center is very famous for car designers, a lot of famous car designers have gone through there. As far as I’m concerned, we were doing more traditional electronics and products and furniture and that kind of stuff. Jesse and I started at the same time so we came in in the same class. You just naturally end up spending a lot of time with the core group of people, the ten or so people that started at the same time as me, we just spend a lot of time with them. We just naturally gravitated towards each other because we were similarly, I don’t know, crazy.
Well, you’re all new to the program and it’s that comradery that just kind of happens.
And friendships form, and very intense friendships form because…I can’t tell you the number of people who have left and become couples or have gotten married right afterwards because you just spend a lot of time with each other or become best friends or something like that and Jesse is definitely that person to me; she’s my best friend. We developed that out of just spending so many hours doing homework together. And so when you spend that amount of time with somebody else, you just get to know what they’re interested in and what they’ve been working on. We were kind of rebellious people at Art Center.
So what did you guys do?
We ended up quitting because we started Lumi.
Yea, yea…well, they sort of half kicked us out. Part of it was that they only let you take so many, what they call ‘light terms,’ which are part-time classes.
This is on the main campus?
Yeah, so we were building Lumi and going to school at the same time. You can only take two semesters of part time classes and we kind of ran up against that limit and had to make a choice. Do we go back to school or do we keep making this? So we sort of petitioned to be able to do more part-time classes and they gave us one extra semester and then they were like, “sorry, that’s all we’re going to give you.” So at that point, I was very close to graduating, but I couldn’t let the business…I couldn’t not do that. Both are very consuming so I had to make a choice. I ended up choosing Lumi and that’s when we launched a Kickstarter campaign and started doing a bunch of crazy stuff. I would say that Lumi has had two main phases and I would say there’s the Inkodye phase and then it’s where we are now, which is Lumi.com phase.
Ok, so you started with Inkodye?
That was the first major product?
Yes, for about five years, that was the only thing we did. That has a whole crazy story.
Well tell us what Inkodye is, first.
So, when I first met Jesse, she had been working on this already for a couple years, kind of as a side project. She had discovered this old formula for dye, fabric dye, that’s sort of like and abandoned, chemical marvel that is a photographic dye. So basically, it’s a liquid, it’s colorless when it comes out of the bottle and then when you put it out in the sun, it develops its color and binds itself to the material. The side effect of that is that you are able print photographically on fabric, for any natural material. Whether it’s wood, leather…all kinds of materials. As industrial designers, we were kind of fascinated by that and what could we do with it. Our first Kickstarter campaign was in 2009. Kickstarter was brand new, I mean, it had only come out like six months prior, and just because I’m a nerd on the internet, I had heard about it and was like, “maybe we should do this Kickstarter thing.” We didn’t say anything about Inkodye actually, we launched that we were making leather accessories. We were kind of taking the things that we had learned from doing industrial design and brought it to Kickstarter. There have been like millions of wallets on Kickstarter but I think we made the first wallet on Kickstarter.
Actually, Kickstarter at the time wasn’t really used for physical products…I mean, now it’s a lot of hardware and physical products get made on Kickstarter but it was us and our friends at Studio Neat; they made the Glif and the Cosmonaut. They were pioneers of making physical products through Kickstarter. It was a crazy time and it was completely different from what it is now. Our project was on the home page for sixty days.
The entire time, our project was there for the entire time and we raised like thirteen thousand dollars and it was huge. It was like one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns ever and the founders, Perry and Yancey come to Los Angeles, because there headquarters are in New York, and we had a big party at the end. It was so different from what it is now but it was fun and we got a lot of press just as result of being part of it at the same time because people were like, “there’s this new thing, it’s called ‘crowd-funding’.” They were making up this word at the time; there was no vocabulary for it. So the BBC came to us and the cool thing was, because we knew the Kickstarter guys, they always wanted to recommend, “here’s what you can do with Kickstarter.”…”these Lumi people are an example, they made a dye” or “they made these wallets and a new printing process.” Anyway, we made these wallets using our printing process and then, one thing led to another, we quit Art Center, we started working with other companies, and we made a lot of furniture and different things using the printing process. Upholstered furniture…that was a whole phase for a while.
Really? I didn’t know that.
There’s a lot of cool stuff that we made with Inkodye.
That’s actually really cool.
A lot of people started asking us, can you help us…they would see our furniture and we made pillows and we made all kinds of stuff that was printed with the printing process and they would see it and they would be like, “can you put my dogs face on this pillow?” We were like, “no, I don’t want to do that, but maybe you can.” And at that point we thought, well let’s open this up and make this a tool that everyone can buy.
Yes, exactly. So we designed a kit and we brought it to Kickstarter; this is like two years after our original one and that was huge. We raised like a hundred and sixty thousand dollars and it was amazing. It was so cool because it was just me and Jesse and we had a couple friends who were helping us.
So it was just the two of you that were making these things?
Yeah, and we were just making bottles of dye; it was like homebrew style. We were brewing up batches of this liquid dye that develops kind of magically in the sun in little five gallon buckets.
Hand pouring them into bottles and shipping them to people. We would handwrite the label because we didn’t have enough volume to buy our own labels. Out of the Kickstarter campaign, the second one, we started shipping Inkodye to people all over the world. Instantly, we had customers in a hundred countries and that’s a thing that I can harp on. Now, today, it informs a lot of what we do, but that idea that now the entire world is your customer base is kind of an amazing thing.
Was it a little bit daunting though, at the time?
Well, I think we were lucky because this was the time when ‘Kickstarter is not a store,’ a big blog post came out right around that time. There was some backlash that was happening because a number of Kickstarter projects of hardware were not delivering on time. And it’s still a problem, but it was starting to become a problem right around that time. We were lucky, we delivered everything on time. We didn’t have a problem but while it was challenging for sure, it’s something that is scalable. When you’re making batches of liquid stuff, you just get a bigger vat and make a bigger quantity whereas if you are making an electronics product, now you might have to deal with a complete different manufacturing process. You might have to deal with new components, it’s a much more complex thing.
The majority of it is probably made overseas.
Right. In our case, it was just, let’s just buy more of all the ingredients and mix them up in a bigger drum. It didn’t end up being that hard on that level. There are other challenges, obviously, but it turned out to be okay from that perspective; we were able to fulfill on time. The main thing that it taught me is this kind of thing that is happening today. At one point, when the industrial revolution first started, it was really only accessible to big companies like McDonalds or Coca-Cola; they could use their financial power to make really cheap sodas, make cheap hamburgers, and displace businesses in cities. But, now, I think that there’s this cool thing with the internet. You can setup your business online, you can get a Squarespace site…
Yeah, you can get a Shopify website. This is what we do, we’ve got a Shopify website right around the time all of these things were brand new. Shopify was brand new, you know, MailChimp had been around for a little bit. We were using the square reader and that was brand new, we were using Stripe to process our payments…all these cool services that now, you can use to start a business were coming out for the first time and it allows you to have a business that is instantly global; you have global reach right from the get go. In the old, old days, your customer base if you were a shoemaker, was whoever could come to your store.
Like, right around the corner in the same town essentially.
“If you want to be a vegan shoemaker, you can find a whole bunch of people who are into that.”
Yeah, exactly. Whereas now, you can get much more specific with your idea because even if you had 1 percent of the global population, it would be huge, right? [Laughing] So now, you only need to have a very small percentage of people hear about you to have a sustainable business and that’s incredibly cool. I think it leads to much more of a variety in terms of ideas. If you want to be a vegan shoemaker, you can find a whole bunch of people who are into that.
Especially in L.A. [Laughing]
Well, especially in L.A., but worldwide, that’s the point. I mean, vegan shoemaker, I’m sort of making a joke, although there’s definitely room for that.
My point is that you could take just a very granular thing and build a business around it and find enough people in the entire world who resonate with that message to buy into that. That’s kind of what we did, at the end of the day. Photosensitive fabric dye, I mean, it’s not an idea for everyone. Artists and designers and people of all sorts were interested in it but it’s not something that one hundred percent of people are going to gravitate towards. So we found our audience and we brought the product to retail and designed really cool kits…all of these amazing brands like Urban Outfitters and JoAnn Fabrics and Michael’s, we were in hundreds and thousands of stores. They wanted to buy our products and we brought them to life. We put them in all these stores and along the way, we learned a whole lot about packaging and how do you make this stuff and we built a factory here in Los Angeles where we still make all the stuff. Along the way, we learned a lot about the supply chain…it just grew over time and we just kind of learned as we went. About a year and a half ago, we started thinking about how could we put all this experience to good use and we started thinking about…
You mean experience as in your experience with manufacturers?
Yes, our experience with manufacturers, our experience with supply chain and distribution and getting stuff made. Here’s the real tragedy that we were seeing, was that we had to learn all this stuff to get one product out of the door. We had to learn everything about how barcodes work and how to packing cartons into boxes, palletizing stuff…we had to learn all of that. And we had no economies of scale because we were just making this one product. So all of the knowledge and resources that we built learning that, only had application for one thing. So I started making a podcast talk about it and try and find ways that we could share that knowledge so that other people who are dealing with the same thing…if you kind of believe like I do that now, everyone has this global reach, I think that’s incredibly empowering because everyone can start a small business or even a big business out of their garage or basement or whatever…well, now that means everyone needs to learn from scratch how to ship stuff to everyone all over the world. And the companies like Shopify and MailChimp and Stripe and whatever, they’re each saying, “let us use our expertise in web development, or in dealing with things, to help you take one of those pieces off the table so that it can be easier for you.” We just saw this whole world of packaging and manufacturing as being completely unaddressed. So Lumi, what it’s become…we’ve launched almost exactly a year ago, Lumi.com. So we have Inkodye.com where we sell the dyes and stuff, and now Lumi.com is all about this; it’s all about helping you essentially get the supplies that you need to ship the products.
Squarespace is a good example of a company that I think does this; it helps take some of the expertise and make sure that you don’t make poor decisions. We try to take a lot of that out as much as possible, but in the world of getting physical branded stuff, anything that is in the realm of shipping, fulfillment, and signage. Physical stuff.
You’ve mentioned all of these difficulties that, you know, if you have an idea and you don’t know who to approach or where to go to manufacture something or to package things or that kind of deal…first off, obviously, check out Lumi.com, just a huge resource. I mean, incredibly huge resource; you’re adding products all the time.
Almost every week or two, we’re adding new categories. Our goal is to have everything that you need under one roof when it comes to the supplies and the branded stuff. We also make things like decals, vinyl decals you might use for your wall signage.
Like a storefront?
A storefront, yeah, if you’re putting up a logo of your business and you’re getting started, you can get all that stuff. And our goal is also to scale with you. An example is our poly mailers; so we sell a very common thing that you may get from an ecommerce store, especially if you’re in the world of ‘lifestyle’ and fashion…is like a poly mailer, it’s a plastic bag that you can get printed. Our pricing scale starts at two hundred and fifty units and it goes all the way up to a hundred thousand. So you can get anywhere from two hundred and fifty to a hundred thousand poly mailers printed from us. And we are completely transparent about the pricing. You can see exactly the price breaks at each quantity. And so we have companies at both end of the spectrum; we have companies who are just getting started and huge companies like MeUndies or other people who are ordering tens of thousands of these at a time. Amazon web services is a great example of a company, they do that in the digital world and we’re trying to bring that into the physical world. When you start, as you scale up, we’re going to save you money. We’re going to help you make better decisions about your packaging and, ideally, we’re there for you. And so part of being there for you is having everything under one roof so that you don’t have to deal with the multitude of suppliers and vendors.
What’s fascinating to me is, I hope someday, people will take us for granted, almost. I know how horrible it is to have to deal with twenty different vendors directly when you’re trying to buy. You got your guy who knows how to make tape…we sell gum tape, like the stuff you see on amazon boxes…you know, typically, that’s one guy. And then you have your guy who sells you the boxes. For us, as a company that made dye, we had all the people who made all the different ingredients and so at the end of the day, it might be thirty different vendors. That’s just a real pain point, that’s very slow to have to manage. I just dream of what companies will come about that never even had to deal with that. They don’t even know the pain that we had to go through.
That would be so great if we can help that.
What advice do you have besides the printing on goods? Any advice you would give to someone who is starting, I don’t know, maybe a small little retail business based on their designs…something really cool that they make and they want to sell it to world and people are interested? Any of those obstacles that they could maybe avoid?
I mean, it’s hard to give advice without…
Yeah, without having a little more specifics. I think the first thing is getting started in the first place is really hard. I think, ideally, Lumi is one of those resources that helps you experiment on a small scale. When you’re getting started, there’s obviously a financial burden a lot of times to doing the thing, you know, you have to pay for this stuff. Maybe if you’re working in the world of software it can be different because you can just use your nights and weekends and sort of start building a thing that doesn’t have very much upfront cost. But if you’re building something physical, there’s always some sort of an upfront cost and that can be challenging; we want to help reduce those initial costs. And so my point here is, I don’t know how long how long we have to talk about this, but building an MVP, building this minimum viable product and try and make something that has application. You’re talking about the example of a designer selling their thing, that’s a little bit different because that’s someone probably leveraging…
Their skill or, you know, if they’ve built a following through Dribble or Instagram or whatever it is. They can use that, so you can just start off by selling prints and if you have an audience, you can do that, that’s great. There’s a lot of people who have been successful at that. But if you’re trying to build a product and it’s a new idea, you need to start by testing your assumptions and experimenting.
So how can someone test this potential product, just as an example?
Well, actually, I would say Kickstarter is a great way to do that. Kickstarter challenges you to, first of all…just making the video part…
Does everyone have to make a video on Kickstarter?
I think so. Maybe not, I’m not sure. I mean, you should, you should make a video. In the process of making the video in the first place…there are a couple Kickstarter projects that we gave up on because we couldn’t figure out how to even make the video for it.
Before it even started?
Yeah, well, we were making this thing and we were like, “how do we explain it?” and we realized, as we were developing this thing for Kickstarter, we realized, “this is not a good idea.” [Laughing] So you can start there. Start by trying to explain what it is, and making a video around it will kind of tell you if it’s an idea worth pursuing and you put it up, you put yourself at Target, and if you can’t get the Kickstarter to work, maybe it’s a bad idea, and that’s okay. It’s good to be able to…
To figure it out.
Yeah, to figure it out, to find out that that’s not a good idea. Our friends at Studio Neat that I mentioned earlier have a podcast as well called ‘Thoroughly Considered’; they did a whole episode about this.
Shout out to Tom and Dan.
They’ve done like seven different Kickstarters, I think.
Oh, they’ve done a ton.
One of them recently failed.
Which one was that?
I think it’s called Obi. It was a pet laser pointer toy and it was really fun but, you know, they didn’t reach their goal. They have a whole podcast where they explain what they think about that and what went wrong, you know. I think the end, the lesson to be learned there is, it turned out that there maybe was just not enough demand for this thing and that’s okay, you can learn that. I’m a big fan of Kickstarter but there’s other ways to do that, as well. You can test things with your friends, there’s a lot of different ways.
Or just like you mentioned, for a designer that has a following, let’s say. Based on their work, you could test things out by saying, “hey, I have this little idea, what do you think?” If you get a good reaction, maybe it could be something, right?
Absolutely, put it up on Society6 and if no one is interested at all, then you know, maybe I need to do something different. If people are interested and saying, “Oh, I love this but I wish you would make a screen-printed version of this,” then you’re like, okay, maybe I should do that. That would be a product that you could sell. Now you can start to investigate what it would take to do a run of a hundred screen printed posters of my design. You can experiment on a very small scale like that and say, “Oh, ok, if I spend this much money, I can get a hundred posters screen-printed and then I can sell them for twenty five dollars each.” You start getting into the very classic, “what’s going to be my margin and what’s going to be my cost?” and now you’re in business. Now you’re actually talking about business things and you have the opportunity to make a side income or make it your main thing. One of our customers is Jeff Sheldon from Ugmunk and, I think he’s going to write a big post about this; they’re rebranding the company and we’re working with them on a lot of packing.
Is it a new name or is it a new…?
No, it’s the same name but I don’t want to steal his thunder because I think he’s going to make a big post…
He’s been wanting to refresh the branding.
His story is amazing because it started that simple. It’s just making these little things in a small quantity and, over time, people get into it and he’s built a business around it, it’s great.
He’s built a loyal following…
It started from experiments and every new product is another experiment. There are ways you can start without…it doesn’t have to break the bank, it doesn’t have to be a revolutionary new concept. It doesn’t have to be a new invention, it can just be whatever you do best.
It could be something that’s already out there but you have your own take, right?
Yeah, I think it’s an incredible, best time ever to start a business. Whatever you’re passionate about…if you’re like, “I make the best jams out of all the people I know!” Hey, go make some jams.
Oh, yeah, there’s Squrl right here around the corner and that’s what they’re known for.
You can find your people. Our goal for Lumi is to help you brand yourself, differentiate yourself. If you’re making jam, what makes your jam special? How can we help your packaging look good, how can we help your message get out there in the world of the physical… interpretation of that brand.
What exciting things are you guys working on at Lumi?
When we launched, we launched with a handful of categories like rubber stamps and vinyl decals and silk screens; we’ll make a silk screen for you to print with. Those are all very DIY and over time we’ve scaled up to offer…because, I mean, you’re only going to rubber stamp a box for so long. Eventually you’re going to get to the point where you want to get those printed just for economies of scale. We launched boxes just a few weeks ago and that’s going to become one of the ten-fold categories, I think. First of all, we really sweated the details on it. Don’t get me started on boxes, but there’s a lot of ways you can make boxes and these have the cherry lock dust flaps. I can go into all the details…
Oh, I have no clue what you’re talking about but it sounds pretty cool though.
This is exactly my point, we’ve done all the work and you don’t have to worry about it, these are the best boxes. If you give us a great design, we’ll help you make something and you don’t have to worry about it.
So we’ve launched boxes, butcher paper, tissue paper, gummed tape, packing tape…every main category of what we call supply chain categories, all the things that you need to do your fulfillment are currently the things that we’re focusing on. We’re still mostly in the realm of e-commerce and we want to get it into more retail things. We have a few retails categories like paper bags that can get printed and we want to go into other areas. It’s kind of like the very first question, pencil versus pixel; we’re always one fit in the analog and one fit in the digital. One of the things that differentiates us is, every other company that sells this kind of stuff is a company that’s probably been around for thirty, forty, fifty years or more, and they don’t know anything about software; a lot of them don’t even have websites.
And they’re hard to find.
Yeah, they’re hard to find. Out of any company that makes gummed tape, we’re probably the only ones that have such talented software engineers, easily. We have a really great team on the software side and so our goal is to bridge that gap. If you’re a designer, we want to help you not only create the thing that you envisioned, but show you the constraints of the manufacturing process so that you’re not designing in a vacuum. You’re designing something that can be real and we provide really cool tools for that. We have the editor which is kind of like our flagship thing that we started with which is probably the main way that people experience Lumi. They go in and they can build and design a box and put their logo, choose the colors, see the pricing change as they go, and choose the sizes and all that kind of stuff.
I love that part of it, too.
We’re always working to make that better, so that’s one of the big things we worked on. We’re launching two new things: one, we launched the dashboard, which is this amazing birds eye view of supplies that you are buying on a regular basis, so that once you’ve designed it, you can reorder it. Or if you’re a designer who works with clients or other members of your team, the end goal of your packaging design can be deliverable, which is the dashboard. One of the problems we’re trying to solve is, the designers work often gets sort of messed up by the time it gets to the manufacturer. They’ll hand over their logo to the client and then the client messes around with it or sends it to a manufacturer who doesn’t know what they’re doing. So our goal is to really bridge the gap there and help designers build stuff in Lumi and then hand it off to their client or to their team member, who can then do the ordering and make sure they’re getting the best pricing and all that kind of stuff. So that’s the dashboard, which we just launched. It’s really cool, we’re going to be working on some more content on how powerful that can be. The concierge which is a new thing where, if you don’t know what you’re doing whatsoever and you need some help, we can help you. We just basically give you a form and you can tell us what you need. There are a few parameters there, but you can tell us what you need and you can leverage that expertise that I was talking about. You can ask us, “what is the solution to my problem?” even if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So those are some things that we’re working on, on the software side. And, of course, there are a million products that are on our mind that we want to add to the website.
Very cool, man. This all sounds super exciting and I’m really excited to check out what you’re coming out with. Just full disclosure for everyone, this is the second time we did an interview, because the first time, we had a couple of little difficulties but those have been ironed out. I’m glad we got together again for a second time.
I think this turned out way better.
I think so.
I need to get warmed up on that first one.
You know, it was my fault that the equipment went bad on us but I’m glad because we recorded that two or three months ago and, since then, so much has happened. I feel like we’re in a place now with our offering that is so much stronger and we’re focusing a lot on helping designers, specifically. Again, I keep using the same phrase, but bridging that gap between design and manufacturing. Not making these virtual things but actually making something that can be manufactured. It will make you a better designer to know the constraints and see the making. The whole team is very, very accessible via Twitter; we’re always there to answer questions. If you’re in Los Angeles, we have events all the time where you can come and meet us and talk to us and see the stuff in person.
What do you have up and coming?
Obviously, we’d like to be able to do more all over the place, but if you’re in Los Angeles, you have, especially, a lot of access to us. We have a monthly speaker series and I think those events are on Facebook and we Tweet them out. We’re also very active on Instagram so that’s a good place to find out about them. We are, like I mentioned, doing our new podcast that’s going to be coming out. We are active on our blog as well, blog.lumi.com, where we’re posting every week, whether it’s stories from customers or just advice about branding and packaging and starting a business.
The biggest thing is just, me, Jesse, Rusty Meadows, who runs the product side…we’re all on Twitter. You can just hit us up with any questions that you have about making stuff in the real world and turning your branding into physical stuff. We’re there, we’ll answer those questions right away, as fast as we can. We’re just very passionate about helping designers get those things made. It’s the most amazing feeling, especially going back to the theme of your podcast. When you see those pixels come to life…
That’s the best.
It’s so rewarding because that’s a feeling that you often times don’t get to have as a digital designer. It’s kind of addictive to get to see those things come to life. You don’t even have to be a big time business to order from us. You can buy a rubber stamp for twenty bucks or you can buy a vinyl decal of your logo and slap it on your window or your wall. Obviously, I’m talking about use cases that big companies are using but we’re very…
All across the spectrum?
All across the spectrum. We’re happy to work with any size customer.
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