In a blog post titled “From inception to the Apple store in one year,” Mike Macadaan tells the story of how he turned a handmade leather storage pouch for computer cords into a thriving six-employee business that designs and manufactures clever and handsome tech accessories in Los Angeles.
As creative director at Science, Inc., a Santa Monica company that funds businesses solving everyday problems, Macadaan was gainfully employed. His expertise is digital design, not leather goods. But Macadaan learned to sew from a YouTube video and his DIY hobby was a creative outlet that generated enough cash from Etsy sales to cover “a few dinners a week at nice restaurants.”
But when the product review website Uncrate featured his Cord Taco, Macadaan's iPhone began ringing with Etsy’s “cha-ching” sales alerts like he had won the jackpot. He rang up over $15,000 in sales in one day and a legitimate business was born. Yahoo Small Business spoke this week with Macadaan about the fast evolution of his tech accessories company, This Is Ground.
Yahoo: Why did you start making cord storage accessories?
Macadaan: I’ve been an adventurer my whole life. Packing your stuff and staying organized is riddled with crazy workarounds. I’ve seen women use Ziploc bags to carry make-up and jewelry and guys who use pillowcases as dopp kits. Meanwhile, the gear we carry is personal and precious, and with cords and plugs it’s really expensive. When you access that stuff, it should always be a reminder of how cool you are. The organizers that are out there for tech are kind of gross; they’re usually made of plastic or silicone. The functionality is there, but the aesthetic is not.
Yahoo: How does a digital designer wind up as a leather goods maker?
Macadaan: I grew up in northern California and moved to downtown Los Angeles. It’s inspiring here: you’re in a world of professional designers who have grown amazing careers on their heart and soul. Downtown L.A. is a [makers’] playground. When I came here I felt that energy and had access to tools and materials, so I started to make leather goods.
My main job was developing mobile apps. But on weekends I played around making my own key chains and wallets for friends. One of my friends was doing a desktop makeover for the editor of Refinery 29. She asked me to design something to organize cables. I had eaten tacos the day before. A taco is a simple concept meant to hold in a lot of ingredients. I cut a few leather tacos, tested it out, and when I realized it worked and it was so simple and elegant, I researched and found that I was the first to use the term “Cord Taco” and I locked it up.
I didn’t know it was about to be a business. I was just doing a favor. But I was excited about the Cord Taco idea. My friend said, “Even if you don’t want to start a business, you should open an Etsy shop.” Lo and behold, I started to see dribs and drabs of people coming to buy Cord Tacos. I was cutting them all by hand with an Olfa tool and then putting in a snap.
Yahoo: How did you evolve to full-scale manufacturing?
Macadaan: When Uncrates.com posted the Cord Taco, it was a shocking spike and there went my life for the next couple of months. I was cutting myself making them in my kitchen. It wasn’t sustainable. That’s when I was like, “OK, I should invest in more efficient ways to make stuff.”
Also, my philosophy about being a designer—whether you’re designing mobile apps or physical objects—is that it’s about empathy. People are so passionate about their tangled cords. By that point, people were sending me pictures of themselves using Ziplocs and bread twist ties and they were asking for better ways to store multiple cables.
I went back to the drawing board. I thought about the old-world wraps and rollups that artisans and chefs would use for tools or knives. If you’re a geek, you want to feel like a pro when you unroll this thing, like “look at me, I’m a tech baller, look at my cords.” That became the Cordito for storing multiple cables and your plug. I thought the Cord Taco was good, but Cordito became bigger. So then I started knocking out prototypes for all the expensive cords for smartphones and notebooks.
Yahoo: The business took off with no marketing or advertising budget?
Macadaan: We went over to Shopify to open our own store. The big marketing win for us was that we had great relationships going with bloggers and people in social media. When a blogger or a writer requested a sample, we would get it to them the next morning. If you were to say anything was paid, it was in postage to get things to writers.
Yahoo: How did you fund the business?
Macadaan: I was paying for everything using credit cards; it was all my own investment up to a point. Then a point came when I saw that it required an investment and making it a real company and getting the legal stuff in order. I went to my partners at Science, Inc., and laid out the opportunity. They thought it made sense to bring This Is Ground into Science. In two weeks, that changed the trajectory of the business. Before, it was me just aiming to have the bills paid; it became, “Apple called. They want a meeting and to start selling your product.” A lot of it was who you know. It started to become a real business. We moved the company out of my loft and found a space in the L.A. fashion district.
Yahoo: Your latest product is called The Mod. What’s special about it?
Macadaan: Three months ago we [introduced] the Mod. That’s where all our focus is now. The Mod has been a game changer. I was in a meeting with Apple’s head of retail and I said, “Tell me where you see the trends and where you don’t see current makers delivering.” We started talking about Trapper Keepers, Filofaxes, and ways to organize your daily carry, whether to class or the office or the mountain. No one has really designed one to handle modern gear. I took that as a great challenge.
Apple has designed their stuff to work nicely with magnets, and we had also gone to magnets. I swapped the concept of the three- or six-ring binder with magnet snaps. It gave us the ability to design a way to have room for all your gear and to modify the interior for different persona types – photographers, designers, illustrators, makers, writers, and executives in business environments. We designed 10 different inserts to launch with. Some inserts have technology built in: one has a battery built-in to charge an iPad or iPhone while it’s sitting in the case. You can buy a Mod and specify which inserts you want. I thought the $250 price point would be a bit of a shocker, but people are buying the Writer Mod and three or four different inserts.
Yahoo: What’s next?
Macadaan: We have started going after a bigger vision—a few steps beyond individual cable management. We still do cable management stuff, but our goal is to inspire creativity and invention for modern-day adventurers. And we’re going to open-source the development of those inserts. So the Mod is this organization platform and the individual inserts become almost like apps.
And, so much of what we have done has been digital—introduced online and sold online. But now we get 10 requests a day from physical retail stores, so we’re mapping out our distribution strategy and what it means for our brand.