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The Sticking Place

Posted by Lance Atkins on May 25, 2012 2 Comments

We nervously launched Blackbox Case the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. From there, it was off to the races: learning how to make a continuously cool product, learning how to tell you about a cool product, learning how to deal with crazed-Christmas-gift-givers, learning how to run a business, learning, learning, learning. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, many thousands of cases, and a lot of fun. 

Blackbox Case was founded on the idea of hand-making a no-compromise product in America and being damn proud of it. It has worked and it has been hard. There have been struggles with profitability: America is an expensive place to make things. Sometimes making a thousand cases will make you pull your hair out and start swearing. In the end I hope that Blackbox Cases have retained their original soul, their prideful design, and I think they have. Through the struggles, I’ve definitely taken a blow to my idealism of taking the world by storm with a, well, solid ideal. Sometimes it feels like the river is going the wrong way. It’s freeing to tell you that chasing that ideal has me feeling beat down.

However.

You all are in more than 65 countries enjoying Blackbox Cases. We had never made a product before. We learned how to. We were scared shitless launching a new, unheard of product. We got over that. We got a lot of love-letters from you all. We introduced a product so unique it inspired hundreds of articles within a week and many copycats thereafter. We made a ton of mistakes and learned more than possible in a classroom. We risked, went (for) broke, and did it. We brought a product whose design we were incredibly proud of and we didn’t budge.

So what’s happening? Blackbox Case is taking a hiatus. I (Lance) will be moving with my wife to Cairo, Egypt, as she is going to become the world’s greatest first  grade teacher at an international school. As such, I have chosen to park Blackbox Case for now. I’m excited for a lifetime of projects and inventions and it is time to proceed.

We will be fulfilling orders, catching up on orders, and selling/making a very limited quantity of cases for the next few months. If you’re waiting on an order that hasn’t made it to you yet, I am sorry. Those should all be shipping in the next week or two.

Here’s what I want you to hear and I really want future Me to remember: Stick to it. If you are proud of what your life produces that’s worth being stressed over. Failure is scary, so get over it. Take your ego out of and put your heart in. If you’re in it for the money you’re missing it. You need to try “it.” People will think you are wrong but usually they are wrong. You will not get it the first time so get back up. Have fun. Risk.


But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail.” -Shakespeare


 

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Brand You or You Die

Posted by Lance Atkins on November 17, 2011 4 Comments

There’s a lot - a LOT - of articles on how to “brand” your business and yourself. Apparently you’ve gotta do it, or you and your business and your life and your wellbeing are just plain sunk. You need to put out the right vibe to make the people come running...

What if the products - the output - of your life were so you that you don’t have to re-brand who you is? What if the inventions, the ideas, the messages, the friendships that come out of your head were so unedited and so you that they did the branding of you for you?

Man, that would be fun. I could be, like, one person. And I could be who I want to be. It’d be like writing an inspired blog post without having go back and edit it.

 

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Is The Fear On Your Shoulder?

Posted by Lance Atkins on November 06, 2011 0 Comments

Gosh, creating stuff is scary. It might not work. People might tell you what they don’t like about it. In fact, they might even judge you. You might fail, go broke, and end up in the ghetto gutter. What is your spouse, friends, and dog gonna think about you then?

And damnit, they don’t even give you a manual of how to do it. They make everything go wrong and make it difficult and expensive. Creating doesn’t come with an insurance+retirement plan and it sure doesn’t come with a security clause.

It’s almost like you’ve gotta pull it out of thin air. It’s like you’ve gotta get on google, drive to Home Depot, risk cutting your hand off, and risk being wrong. You need to believe in yourself and you really can’t ever stop. The fear of creating will sit on your shoulder and it won’t leave 'till you teach it you don’t care. 

 

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The Knife Maker

Posted by Lance Atkins on November 06, 2011 1 Comment

"I think that some folks getting into the handmade world think that there’s this great opportunity, that the streets are paved with gold. That couldn’t be farther from the truth…

Where the currency is really rich is in community. It’s in the friendships you develop. The fact that you get to do what you wanna do and, for the most part, not be bossed around. That’s where it’s rich, like, in quality of life it’s rich."


Made by Hand / No 2 The Knife Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

 

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Designing Beauty - An Idea Worth Spreading with Richard Seymour

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 28, 2011 1 Comment


What makes an object beautiful? Designer Richard Seymour implores that it's a "gut" thing (and the "gut" feeling is backed up by a ton of work and talent.) If you're interested in the creed of truly good design, This talk is well worth your time. So interesting.

 

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Remembering Steve - and Laser Beams

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 25, 2011 1 Comment


Our world was deeply affected October 5 with the passing of Steve Jobs. His unbending genius and willingness for risk have hugely changed the world we live in. Steve taught us a lot about stepping into the unknown and following a hair-brained idea.

In the 20 days since Job's passing, we've put a lot of thought into how we can learn from his life. We've concluded that it's time to make great art. Let our products, and life, be an artform unlike any other. As a company without a cranky HR department, nor pesky bean counters, we basically have unlimited creative freedom. It's time to go. No time is better than today. And so we press upward.

"You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to somehow trust that the dots will connect in your future. Believing that the dots will connect down the road, will give you the confidence to follow your heart. Even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference." ~Steve Jobs

We're super proud to announce custom laser engraving. As a group of artisans, we're excited to team up with You... yes You to make your case a piece of art. Any Blackbox Case is now your blank canvas. So this is where it gets fun! Let's put your crazy art, logo, name - anything you can think up - on a Blackbox Case. Are you an artist? Imagine a limited art series...
We're thrilled about this holiday season. Orders are piling in, so make sure to order any Christmas gifts now to reserve your spot - (and ensure your boyfriend has a case with your face engraved on it.) We're pressing into exciting new ideas - new inventions - new everything. We can't wait to see where it goes. Oh, and come say "hi" on Facebook, it's a great way to keep up with our daily shenanigans (jumping the belt sander off the roof?)

Here's to the journey,
-Team Blackbox 

 

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Happy Tuesday

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 25, 2011 0 Comments

 

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Duckhunt is Back

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 20, 2011 0 Comments

Stunned! The greatest game of all time is back:

 

 

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I Want To Be You

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 20, 2011 0 Comments

Jennifer Garner struts her stuff past the genius physicist who is watching the new Terminator movie while wishing his fortune was as large as Bill Gates' on the news. The teenage girl adores Kim Kardashian, all the while Kim wishes she could be a girl again. And watching Avatar for the third time leaves your average life feeling bland and boring.

We're exposed to a lot of larger-than-life stories these days. It's tempting to compare our seemingly insignificant life to the grand story of Harry Potter (among others) and be disappointed with our day-to-day.

Remember to also consider your own life a great story. Your life is one worth being jealous of, and one worth fighting for. Yes, it might look different than a Hollywood production, but it is great, all the same.

 

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School vs. The Learner

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 17, 2011 0 Comments

 As a child, my teachers, well, hated me. I didn’t really excel in school. I just put in my time. They told me “you’re better than this,” and “you’re gifted and lazy.” What they didn’t see was that I couldn’t wait to go home and start really learning. Legos, paper airplanes, building my own potato gun, welding, and digging holes all awaited me. The things, and intuition, I learned from that creative space in my life is priceless to me. School was school. Life was learning. Then, some day, it began to change. School is learning and Life is life. It’s as if we reserve a 20 year chunk of life for learning at school, then go out and expect to use that learnedness.

When did creativity become less important than biology? And when did college become the only way to the promise land?

I’m not here to completely rag on school. I think it’s a great thing. But I do think we often use school for our self esteem and a paper certificate more than we use it to learn. I’d prefer to question the system:

  • What if you quit your MBA program and started a business that teaches you how to run a business? Would that be cheaper than your student loan bill?
  • What can you learn by exploring your weird invention idea? (uh... a LOT)
  • What ways were you creative as a child? Where did it go?
  • What could you learn, while having fun, with a stack of books in a coffee shop?
  • What impossible idea do you have that would require you to learn your way out of it?

Maybe creativity, confidence, and curiosity are your new tuition.

 

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That's When It Stops Being Fun

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 14, 2011 2 Comments

Our friend, Bryan, makes an extra income by selling clothing on eBay. I enjoy selling on eBay about as much catching the black death, so I was quizzing him on how he does it and why he enjoys it. I wanted to know why he didn’t expand his operation, didn’t sell more items, didn’t use some extra money to buy more products. His answer? 

That’s when it stops being fun.”

Something clicked for me. He’s found the trick to sustainability... He’s learned how to truly enjoy something. Enough is actually the Best. We live in a culture of BiggerBetterFasterMore and I think, some day in the foreseeable future, everyone’s head might explode. 

We're learning our version of keeping it fun: inventing, good design, bamboo, beers on Friday, new friendships, handshake-deals without lawyer-contracts, writing weird blog posts... And we've found it's now more fun to go to work on Monday.

How can you keep it fun?

 

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Angry Bulgarians Want You To Pick Up Your iPhone

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 13, 2011 2 Comments

 It’s a cool, relaxing Saturday night. With a glass of scotch at my side and surrounded by friends at the dinner table, I’m handily winning (probably not) the board game we are playing. I’m building my railroads to cut off Daniel (making him angry is one of the best parts of the game) and exerting my strategy for total domination. All is right with this world on a dreamy evening.

 Then. It happens like it happens a hundred times a day. I subconsciously disconnect from my friends and board-game-domination to pull out my iPhone and check my email. Why? I don’t know. You do it too. I know you do.

 I’m confronted with an irate, long winded email from a person in Bulgaria who is angry that his package, about a week after mailing, hasn’t arrived. Mentally, I’m quickly taken from my friends and into my head, worrying about someone’s anger. It bugged me for the rest of the weekend.

 So I came up with an experiment. I took my business email account off my phone. If I’m gonna do work, I’ll have to be at my computer. Instantly, I started noticing things: the sky was beautiful blue, a drive in the car became a fun escape again, and I started really being with people more. I now will often turn off my phone for a whole day. The feeling of getting off the hamster wheel is great.

 Technology is here to stay. And yes, I think technology is a really awesome thing.  I enjoy my iPhone and MacBook Air. Hell, we make cases for them. But at what point does technology burn us out? I hear people talking about how they loathe their email and, seemingly, their life. Wasn’t email supposed to be a helpful thing ten years ago?

 Remember when it was okay to wait ten minutes to answer an email or text message? Remember when the stress of something couldn’t electronically follow you to dinner with your spouse? What if you took the Facebook status out of your sunset, the emails out of your crisp-aired morning drive, and the text messages out of your face-to-face friendships?

 We’re big fans of 1) People and 2) Creating really cool stuff that we believe in. But #2 should never be moved to #1… what if your iPhone’s case was purposefully - and beautifully - designed to be a small barrier between your family dinner and your e-everything? Ha!

 

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Customer Service Sucks

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 12, 2011 0 Comments

 After doing some work on taxes a while back, I found that I had been over-billed $110 by TurboTax. I hunted down a customer service rep who fixed the problem. I got a survey from them yesterday and here is what I wrote back to them:

"The lady that helped me was very helpful, prompt, and knowledgable. If you guys don't give her a big ol' raise, you're stupid idiots. I was a little pissed about my TurboTax bill (an extra $110?) and she took care of the error like a bat-outta-hell. She actually made my day and I was happier in the end, after she corrected the problem, than if my bill was correct in the first place. Hooray TurboTaxLady! As for you guys: make your billing more transparent so I don't have to leave you for - gasp - someone else. Thanks!"

I was actually happier after needing - and tracking down - someone to correct my problem. I know, it doesn’t really make sense to me either. But I think, just think, that maybe we all just like having other people around, especially when those other people are enjoyable. Maybe we will change from “customer service” to “People Time.”

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Your Concrete Genius Wants His Swagger Back.

Posted by Lance Atkins on October 11, 2011 1 Comment

You don’t have more time. You’re getting older. You’re giving birth to more children and buying more cars and more houses and more responsibility.


What are you - Yes You - a genius at? Yes. You do have it. You have what it takes.

What do you want to create? A women’s shelter? A whopper-doodad-invention? A community of people that take care of each other? Want to learn how to paint? Dig up your dreams. Big or small, they are equally important.

Your fear doesn’t want you to create. Fear has teamed up with your TV, your job, your broken fridge, and all those little details to keep you going in circles for the next 100 years.

You vs. Fear. Who is stopping who?

Blackbox Case started in my small woodshop. I wanted to make a hardshell wood MacBook Pro case for myself so I could quit crushing my laptops while traveling around. It turned out great. The first one! Then I got to thinking maybe I should make these for other people too! Then fear – my perfectionism – set in. What if one breaks? What if I screw something up? What if I fail? What if people don’t like it? What if…? 

Fear almost killed it. Blackbox Case almost didn’t happen. But we kept going. It was scary as hell and still is sometimes. A mentor from my childhood, Daryl, told me once, “What’s the worst thing you can do when driving your car through a mud pit? Stop. A stuck car is the hardest to get moving.”

What if You confronted Your greatness? What would that look like?


-and please share with us!

 

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Today. Then Tomorrow.

Posted by Lance Atkins on September 27, 2011 1 Comment

 Today, if just today... Go out and give 'er Hell.


 

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MacBook Air Sneak Peek

Posted by Lance Atkins on September 12, 2011 10 Comments

We're not gonna be bashful. These new MacBook Air cases make us laugh. They're simply amazing. The detailed figure of the bamboo. The epic, flawless finish applied by Anthony. The 2 degree "wedge" shape to custom fit the MacBook Air. The crisp laser engraving. Here's an 11" we made for our friend Dave over at Path:






Three days left on our Kickstarter Bamboo Blackbox Case launch! We recently blew through our funding goal and are currently 153% funded. You guys are simply awesome. If you go to bed Wednesday without pledging, you've missed out!


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It'll Suck the Life Right Into You.

Posted by Lance Atkins on August 30, 2011 1 Comment

Running a business sucks. Sometimes you just don’t want to fix that broken saw. The credit card gateway breaks because it, well, just decided to. Wood shows up the wrong size. Fraudsters decide to turn a huge profit on you with a stolen credit card. Nothing works. It’s always like swimming upstream and never just “calm.” You never know if what you’re doing will work, you have to make decisions and stick to your guns. It’s scary and exposed out there.

Then you get an email from someone inspired by your story and ambition. You meet new, like-minded friends every day and see like you’re a part of a growing family. You started something big... then talented and caring people start coming out of the woodwork to help you along the way. You hear how your dreams inspired someone, set them free, to dangerously chase their dreams. Then you look back at the past year: You learned how to run a business and woodwork better and invent and file taxes and hire people and a whole ton of stuff. You grow as an artist, engineer, designer, inventor, businessman, and... person, all at the same time.

I think learning is the greatest thing on earth. Never stop, because the inconvenience of it all is maybe, just maybe, where we find those really great things.


 

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Cardboard Greatness

Posted by Lance Atkins on August 23, 2011 0 Comments

"Having this not look like crap was the hardest part."      

        - Julie Corbett speaking of her company's new cardboard laundry detergent containers.

But isn't that the fun? Taking that difficult thing and failing and failing until you create something great? Thomas Edison kept failing and now we have light bulbs. I don't know how many times experts have told us that, "bamboo won't work for what you're doing." Yep.

 

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Bamboo, MacBook Air, Kickstarter Now Raging!

Posted by Lance Atkins on August 17, 2011 0 Comments

We are proud to announce an entire new generation of Blackbox Cases. The full line of Bamboo Blackbox Cases is now here. And for you patient owners of a MacBook Air, we've got a case for you too!




Through our Kickstarter project, we are preselling all Bamboo Blackbox Cases. Here's the skinny:
  1. Free brewery tours, Colorado Adventures, T-shirts, and hand delivered cases... They're all in there.
  2. We're really, really excited for the new MacBook Air cases.
  3. Cases are preselling for $10-20 less than they will retail for after the project.
  4. Limited edition number set. We're punching the laser-cut leather straps starting with K001, K002,...K999.
  5. There are a limited number of iPad 2 cases on deep discount.
  6. Colors? Natural and Carbonized Brown. The brown smells like hot-n-sour soup when sanding it. Not even kidding.
  7. Project runs for 30 days.
  8. All cases will be delivered by November to guarantee that any gifts are happily under the Christmas tree.
  9. Bamboo is cool. It's a grass. It grows like a banshee. It's sustainable. It's lighter and still super strong. The finish goes on like butter.
  10. Greg made a great video. Check it out to see what we've been up to.



So, what the hell is Kickstarter? It is a project based funding community. You pre-order a Bamboo Blackbox Case (don't forget that free Coors Brewery tour and Colorado adventure) and we, in turn, raise funding for launching a great product. This is our way of making our journey part of the product. We really love what we do and we want you to be a real part of that a part that. It is time to take our operation to the next level. We need to write the CNC programs, order the pallets of bamboo, make these cases more efficiently, and live our dream: produce a high-end, made in the USA, commercially viable product that is also a piece of art...

Welcome to the family, guys. We're pretty proud of this one.


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Dieter Rams: Design Awesome

Posted by Lance Atkins on August 12, 2011 1 Comment

Dieter Rams, a legendary German industrial designer, has been around for a few years. He began designing gorgeous products for Braun starting in the 1950's and is still showing up with great ideas and products.

Rams is the design hero of Apple's Jonathan Ive, the senior VP of industrial design in Cupertino. Jonathan Ive is the artist behind the iPod, MacBooks, iPad, and darn near everything we've grown to love from Apple.


Rams has recently said "Apple has accomplished what I couldn't." and that Apple is the only company truly practicing great design.


Dieter Rams pursuit of design led him to ten principles of good design:

  • Innovative - Rams states that possibilities for innovation in design are unlikely to be exhausted since technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. He also highlights that innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in and of itself.
  • Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  • Is aesthetic - Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products used every day have an effect on people and their well-being.
  • Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  • Is unobtrusive - Products and their design should be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools and are neither decorative objects nor works of art.

  • Is honest - Honest design should not attempt to make a product seem more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It should not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  • Is long-lasting - It should avoid being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even when the trend may be in favor for disposable products.
  • Is thorough down to the last detail - Dieter Rams states that nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance in the design of a product since care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  • Is environmentally friendly - Good design should make an important contribution to the preservation of the environment by conserving resources and minimizing physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  • Is as little design as possible - Dieter Rams makes the distinction between the common "Less is more" and his strongly advised "Less, but better" highlighting the fact that this approach focuses on the essential aspects thus, the products are not burdened with non-essentials. The desirable result would then be purer and simpler.
Here's to you, Dieter.


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