Craig Caesar joined TechShop St. Louis last year with a straightforward goal: He wanted to learn how to use the shop’s laser cutter to make parts for an electronics kit that his company, MakerMakers, uses to teach kids about computers and programming. But after taking his first class at TechShop, things changed.
“The light bulbs just starting popping all over in my brain about the different things I could do with access to that technology,” Caesar said.
Inspired by the possibilities, the former technology consultant and Microsoft strategist is rethinking the way he views his career. Instead of working for another company to make a traditional salary, he’s designing products to use in his own company and to sell directly to customers.
One of those products? Geckos.
Using the shop’s laser cutter and some wood, Caesar created a tessellation of identical gecko-shaped cutouts that fit together perfectly, like a puzzle. His design was inspired by the work of M.C. Escher, whom Caesar has long admired for his ability to use math to portray the world in disorienting ways. He thinks TechShop has made it easier to take a personal interest like this and turn it into a practical business idea.
“Never in a million years would I have said I’m going to be cutting lizards and selling hundreds of them someday in my career,” he said, describing how he’s using Etsy.com to sell his designs directly to customers.
The geckos are just one of the projects Caesar’s developed at TechShop. He’s also etching brewery logos on beer bottles with a laser, transforming two-dimensional business logos into eye-catching three-dimensional objects, and developing a one-of-a-kind chess set, to name a few projects.
Caesar compared his business pursuits at TechShop to the craft brewing industry — the product might cost more, but it’s unique and made with passion.
“There’s a segment of our economy now that really likes that,” he said. “You have this market that’s really hungry for cool stuff.”
It’s that hungry market that’s enabled a few makers at TechShop St. Louis to make some remarkable profits recently, and Caesar believes it’s only a matter of time before someone strikes on an idea that’s worth millions. He hopes it’s one of his.
What projects are you working on now?
I am working on several prototypes for other people as well as my own projects. For example I’ve designed a Raspberry Pi touch tablet enclosure and developed software for conference room management. I just finished a very unique chess set design.
What does a typical day at TechShop St. Louis look like for you?
Recently I have very specific cuts lined up so I check in, get materials out of my locker, set up the machine and cut. At other times I’ve spent time on the shared workstations working on designs or refining toolpaths. I typically have conversations with other members and dream consultants. It’s always interesting to see what other folks are working on and share what I’m working on.
Besides access to equipment, what are the benefits of working within a community like TechShop?
It’s interesting to see what other people are working on. The community is very collaborative and folks are always willing to offer suggestions. I have access to many skillsets that complement my own. For instance I don’t do any metal work but have been able to incorporate metal components in my prototypes that other members have fabricated for me.
Where would you like to take your career from here?
I plan to continue developing prototypes for myself and others, and licensing or selling my designs. I also plan to help others develop their ability to envision, design, and fabricate products. I will open a light manufacturing facility this quarter and begin laser cutting products at scale.