Looking to build a 21st century DIY media empire? The rags-to-not-yet-riches story of Jawn McQuade and Mike Stone, the co-founders of MakersKit may have written the instruction manual.
“I sold my stores and we put 100 percent of our efforts into MakersKit,” wrote Stone in an email. “That date is also when Jawn stopped being my employee at the stores and we became co-founders of MakersKit.”
The two entrepreneurs met when Stone, a 29-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology alum, hired 24-year-old McQuade to be the general manager for Stone’s now shuttered San Francisco chain of clothing stores, indieindustries.
The pair began giving in-store tutorials on how to make different craft projects as a way to drum up business for the fledgling company, but soon found that the tutorials were selling better than the clothes. Popular with the San Francisco startup set, McQuade and Stone soon found themselves doing tutorials for companies like Google and Yelp.
“That was when we got the taste of becoming a tech company,” says Stone. The company decided it would package the most popular tutorials and sell them as kits. Instead of including instructions in the kit, the two co-founders decided to link to online videos that walked customers through the projects.
“It’s helpful that we have competitors. They expose people to being creative,” he says. Stone’s MakersKit also focuses on a different segment of the market. “All of our competitors are trying to take over this market of young, female makers, but we’re trying to take our product to the mainstream,” he says.
That mainstream approach was enough to attract investors led by Tribeca Venture Partners, with additional commitments from Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Mesa+, Greycroft Partners and Gary Vaynerchuk through his Vayner RSE investment vehicle. The capital gives MakersKit a $6.5 million post-money valuation.
From mason jar herb gardens to soap-making, lip-balm making and candle-making kits, MakersKit products appeal to a broader audience, says Stone. “About 40 percent of our customer base is male.”
Given the company’s emphasis on video content, it’s also no surprise that television networks like A&E also have put in calls to meet with the two founders.
So far, MakersKit has sold 45,000 kits in a little over a year at around $25 per-kit. Stone expects the company to more than double that figure in 2014. In addition to the online and retail presence the company has through its own site and its brick-and-mortar retail partners, MakersKit also has collaborations with other web-based vendors like Birchbox and Zulily.
With the new capital, the company is pushing ahead with plans to open a public workshop space from its Los Angeles headquarters and build out a community space on its website, where customers can share their projects.
It’s all part of a business plan to fulfill some lofty goals. “We want to be the next Martha Stewart, but the cool version, with cool guys doing it,” says Stone.
For the recent Techstars graduate, everything seems to be falling into place, and Stone credits his time at the accelerator for much of the company’s broader ambitions and greater focus.
“[Techstars] shifted our thinking and our business overall,” says Stone. “Once we got into Techstars, it gave us a chance to come up with a plan and figure out what separated us from all of these competitors.”
With the Martha Stewart mantle up for grabs, Stone feels there’s space for a new player in the multi-billion-dollar hole she’ll leave in the marketplace. “People don’t really have another brand that comes to mind after her. All of our competitors are also trying to be the next brand. We wanted to accelerate so we don’t miss our opportunity.