Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Settlers of Catan was my first board game that wasn’t a basic Hasbos game life Monopoly or Game of Life. After each game I played I would go online and see in new content was released. Eventually, I came across Etsy and the many sellers who 3D print custom components for Catan. I didn’t think much of it until New Years 2020. I was looking through Etsy and thought that I could do what they do. I figured I knew a little bit of modeling, how hard could it be? I looked at different 3D printers and tried out a few before settling for a Prusa MK3s 3D printer. From January to March I learned how to 3D print and model using a program called Google Sketchup. I failed my way to success. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. I would go to work, come home, then stay up until past midnight working on my idea. The idea I had for Catan, was to have each player have their own Ancient Civilization themed pieces. I started with 8 of them; Aztec, China, Greek, Rome, Portuguese, Vikings, Egypt, and Saracens. I released it in the first week of April. What motivated me was my wife and future daughter. She was born on October 8th, 2020. I wanted to create an additional income source for them.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
I continuously design new products and planning to expand what I sell. I have to 3D print the orders, clean them, package, and send out. The reason my product became a bestseller so quick is that I design them based on how a 3D printer works, every fraction of a millimeter is counted for. After the model is done I prep it in a program called a ‘Slicer’ here I make sure the setting I set work with the color I am printing. Different brands of filament and even the same brand but different colors require slightly different settings to print flawlessly. After the print is done, I clean and torch them, this solidifies the print making it more sturdy and ads a shine to it. As a business owner, I have to make sure my SEO is up to date and that I’m ranking high for keywords. My next step is to go on Social Media and expand my brand there.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
My best selling product is my Custom Catan Civilizations Pieces. They were designed with Google Sketchup. I chose the civilizations based on a game called Age of Empires, after which I spend a lot of time studying those civilizations so I could design something that best represented them. They are made out of PLA, plastic. My product stands out because it does a great job of representing ancient civilization architecture. In addition, I do not compromise quality when 3D printing. I own the best consumer 3D printers and I perform maintenance on them frequently so that all my prints are flawless.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
The best thing about being an entrepreneur is having the ability to scale my business. A job has a cap on how much you can make. As a business owner, I am paid by ambition and my ability to create products that impress people. There is nothing easy about being an entrepreneur. If it was easy, everyone would do it. When I first began I averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night. When things get difficult which they do, like printers breaking, I remember why I do what I do. It’s for my family.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
I sell to board game enthusiasts. Specifically to people who play Catan. While I am expanding the selection of custom things I make, Catan is still my biggest seller. I learned how to properly title tag my product, which helped me show up organically in search. I also advertise with Etsy. I believe that having a great photo also boosts sales. Before this business, I knew nothing about photography. I learned by taking and editing over 200 photos. While I am satisfied with what this business has achieved in less than a year, I still have massive plans for the future.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
Create a good product, preferably an original idea. Offer lots of customization and #1 have an impeccable customer experience. This means also respond to questions/concerns as soon as possible (I respond in less than an hour) Include a thank you note, handwrite their name if you can. You can even send them a thank you message on Etsy. Also, create a positive experience for when your customers open the package, a little bit of colored tissue paper goes a long way.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
Early on I had a good amount of sales in a short period of time. During the time my one and only printer broke. The wire that heats up the nozzle broke off. I quickly ordered the replacement parts which would take 3 weeks to come and went out and got a new 3D printer. Needless to say during my first few months I owned 6 different 3D printers. I would definitely consider myself a risk-taker, I resented that experience so much that I ordered 8 Prusa printers from the Czech Republic, I currently own 12. This helps me complete orders extremely fast.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I look at different board games, the lesser-known ones. I plan to make my own board game soon. Playing historic video games, like the Age of Empires and Assassins Creed gave me some inspiration. I would say when designing a product, I write a story that goes with it. I want my product to work and seem like it fits the theme. My designs have little details scattered around.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
We do ship internationally, I use Etsy labels for domestic shipping and USPS post office for international will be switching to a service called PirateShip soon. For domestic shipping, it takes about a week for the customer to receive their package, I go to the post office every other day and sometimes daily. I don’t mind because it’s a ten-minute drive. I offer shipping on orders over $75. This is because I offer highly competitive and even cheap prices compared to other sellers. When offering free shipping on low priced items, the sellers include the shipping cost in the products price, hence it is not really free shipping. We package most of our products in boxes and some in mailing packages. We have 3 sizes of boxes, perfect for our bundles.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
A+ service. People love having a personalized experience. Create an experience for them. Do not take the cheapest route and hope all goes well. Everything we do in our business is intentional. Reach out to customers if you are unsure of something about their order.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Find your WHY. Why do you do what you do? If your reason isn’t strong enough, you will quit when things get tough.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
I would define business success as Freedom. Freedom has a large price tag attached to it. Success is living life on my terms and not having a boss to answer to.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
When I wake up, I go check on the 3D prints on had worked at night and then start new ones. Then I go to work, after coming home I start new prints if previous ones were done. The clean, package then send out the orders. In the evening I work on new projects and product ideas. This is a typical weekday.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
The biggest impact on profitability is the number of products I have. I have a handful of bestsellers on Etsy, so I’m maxing out Etsy traffic. I plan on continuing to make custom board game pieces and components and sell as fulling 3D Printed board games. I later want to make cookie cutters and cake toppers (with my wife)
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Test out an idea, if it works then go all in! Don’t wait. It was a huge financial risk to invest in 12 printers, the wife wasn’t quite on board with it but now she wants more!
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A huge risk requires commitment and patience.