Looking Back - a year in review



As small business owners, it's easy to keep plowing ahead. By the time we traversed the holidays and took a deep breath, it was time to jump back into the to-do list. By mid-January, 2016 already seemed miles away. But when your day-do-day as a "maker" looks more like a personal assistant checking the inbox, sending invoices, and mailing packages, it's hard to feel like we've accomplished anything substantial at all.

That's why we took the advice of Fizzle Co, neglected the to-do list a bit longer, and took a cold hard look at 2016. The purpose was simple: We want to carve a notch in the doorpost, take a step back and see how we grew. Next year, we'll repeat the process, comparing our notch from the year before. So what stood out in 2016? 





In February, Becca and I were both asked to speak about our research and work at the University of Tennessee's yearly TEDx event. Becca's talk about "Soil Science, Soul Science," covered her experience in rural Haiti and the importance of thinking about development work from the ground up (literally). My talk was about the rise of Hipster Entrepreneurs and the Maker Movement. 



My interest in the Maker Movement circuitously led to working with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Rala, and ultimately applying as a team to the Etsy Maker Cities Summit


The Knoxville Maker City Summit was packed with guest speakers, group sessions, and most importantly, 300 individuals who are passionate about what they do in Knoxville. We were blown away by the enthusiasm and energy in the room. Mayor Rogero christened the first Mayor's Maker Council, which will tackle issues surrounding small businesses and manufacturers in the city. 



After running Native Maps out of our home for two years, we were beginning to burst at the seams in our 200 sq ft renovated attic studio. We found a great space close to home in a historic building with other artists. The new studio affords separate spaces for designing, printing, and shipping, and most importantly, it gives us the ability to bring additional help into the studio.


In addition to 5 new cities, this was our first year to add a new product line. After hearing so many of our customers ask for framing recommendations, opening up a frame shop was a no brainer. We worked closely with Smoky Mountain Vintage Lumber to prototype and manufacture our Reclaimed Wood Hangers, and we put together a handful of other framing options, all for $40 and under. 



In 2016, we fell short of some goals. For example, we wanted to design a new city every month. Shooting for that goal made us ask some hard questions. How do we set the foundation now for sustainable growth? What kind of space do we need, not only now, but in the future? Where do we invest, and where do we cut back? We may not have had a productive August on paper, but we moved studios, leading to a very productive Fall. The new studio is an added cost, but now we can order supplies by the pallet, saving time and money. 

Other goals far exceeded our expectations. When we attended the Etsy Maker Cities Summit, we had no idea that 300 people would show up to our Knoxville Summit 4 months later, eager to connect to fellow solo-preneurs and get inspired about their work. We're really looking forward to what 2017 will offer the Maker community in Knoxville. 

After carving our notch in the doorpost this year, we feel both fulfilled and grateful. Knowing that 4000 maps went to new homes means that our small business actually works, but it could also be better, and we'll be switching some things up in 2017. The predominate feeling is gratitude that people find value in our work, and that we get to keep doing it.


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