Creating Physical Products with Brad Dowdy and Nock Co.

How I Built It
How I Built It
Creating Physical Products with Brad Dowdy and Nock Co.

Sponsored by:

Brady Dowdy is a podcast, manufacturer, and most important, pen addict. I’m a big fan and Brad and everything he does, and in this episode, we’re wading into very non-techie waters. Brad and I talk about what it’s like building a physical product – from prototyping to manufacturing. It’s a fantastic conversation and I definitely learned a lot. I like it so much, that we did a bonus episode, for Patrons only. Hear more about that in the show! I think you’ll love it.

Show Notes


Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Buit It! I’m SO excited for today’s episode for 2 reasons: I’m a big fan and Brad and everything he does, and we’re wading into very non-techie waters here. Brad and I talk about what it’s like building a physical product – from prototyping to manufacturing. It’s a fantastic conversation and I definitely learned a lot. I like it so much, that we did a bonus episode, for Patrons online. I’ll talk more about that at the end of the show. But first, a word from our sponsors.

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And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, I am honored to have The Pen Addict himself, Brad Dowdy, on the show. Brad, how are you?
Brad: Hey. Good. Thanks for having me, Joe.
Joe: No problem. Thanks for being on a show. I am a huge fan of your podcast and generally your recommendations. When I need to stop spending, I have to stop listening to the shows for a while. I’m glad to say that I’m regular listener again.
Brad: Well, thank you. Thank you. Yeah. I understand being muted from time to time. I’m okay with that.
Joe: We’ll be talking about Nock Co. today, but I first heard of you through The Pen Addict podcast, which I think precedes Nock Co. Is that right?
Brad: Yeah. The Pen Addict actually turns 10 this month…actually in a couple weeks. That blog will have been around for 10 years.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: Yeah. It’s crazy.
Joe: That’s fantastic. Then the podcast has been going for a few. Three, four?
Brad: About five years.
Joe: Five? Wow.
Brad: Yeah. We just recorded episode 284. We try to go once a week. Yeah. It’s been a good run and all these things allowed me to build the thing that we’re going to talk about today.
Joe: Yeah. That’s fantastic. Why don’t we jump right into that? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what Nock Co. is and how you came up with the idea?
Brad: Yeah. I started writing a blog called The Pen Addict, which we mentioned, about 10 years ago and it was just kind of my journey to share online about finding good pens and stationary. That’s been a passion I’ve had ever since I was a little kid. I’m in my 40s now, so this is a lifetime thing for me. A lot of people can relate to being lost in their office supply cabinet at work or in their school supply store, things like that, trying to figure out the school supplies to have and all those types of things. I’ve always been more than a little bit interested in finding the really best tools for me to use. I started writing about it online.
The blog grew. About two years ago, I was able to actually leave and do it full-time. It’s my full-time job now, the blog and Nock and the podcast. A few years into my blog, I don’t know maybe five years or so into the blog, people started asking me, “You should make a pen. Make your perfect pen. Make that thing that you really, really want and we’ll all buy it because we trust your judgment.” I was like, “Well, that’s a little scary.” I never felt comfortable doing a pen because I thought there were a lot of good pens on the market and I couldn’t add anything, but the one thing I did find lacking was a pen case.
I just kind of did some general digging around what pen cases do I like? What style do I like to carry? I couldn’t really find those things for me. What fits Brad’s style perfectly? Those things weren’t really out there. Then all of a sudden I got a package in the mail one day and it was a pen case made from nylon and had some pockets stitched in there and a letter from a guy that said, “Hey, I read your blog. My friend makes cycling bags and I told him he should make you a pen case because it sounds like the things you like in a product are the things that he knows how to make. He doesn’t know anything about pens, so I told him how to do it, but here. Check this out.” I was like, “Oh my.”
Joe: Wow.
Brad: We might have a thing. I said, “Yeah, I need to talk to your friend.” Nock was born from almost a random chance package in the mail and it just so happens I live outside of the Atlanta, Georgia area in Macon, Georgia, about an hour and a half south of Atlanta and this guy who makes the bags, who’s now my business partner, Jeff Bruckwicki, he lives in Atlanta, so we were close.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: It wasn’t like a cross country relationship. We started exchanging emails. I said, “I like the style of product you’re creating. I know what to make, you know how to make it, so let’s talk and see if we have a thing.” We met up together at a Starbucks like halfway between us. Neither one of us knew each other from Adam hardly. We had to send pictures of each other, you know? It was like a Tinder date or something. We had to get the pictures to make sure we’re going to meet the right person in the Starbucks because I got to go up to someone and say, “Hey, do you make pen cases?”
Joe: Which is super weird if nobody knows the context.
Brad: Yeah. Not a normal icebreaker.
Joe: Right.
Brad: Yeah. We sat there for a couple hours. I sketched and we talked. I gave him some examples of what I liked. He said, “Okay, let me take this back home. I’ll play around on my sewing machines, see what I can come up with.” A week later, we met back at the same Starbucks. He basically dumped out a duffel bag worth of samples on the table. We said right then and there we had a business. That’s how Nock was born.
Joe: Wow. That’s amazing. I mean it’s very cool,

the connections that you can make through your blog and then you have a business that’s seemingly doing very well. You guys make a lot of fantastic products.

Brad: Yeah. The whole idea behind Nock was different aesthetic for kind of a new fountain pen or pen user. It’s not a fountain pen product necessarily but when you say fountain pen, you think of old and stodgy on your grandparent’s desk or something like that and need leather goods to store them in. Well, that kind of market’s pretty saturated in the pen business. The leather goods, well, I’m into backpacks and I like carrying things like that with different storage options and different colors and nylon materials. That was the whole idea. It was basically to make a nylon, like basically a mini backpack for pens. It was something that I wanted so I hope other people wanted it and it turns out that they did. It’s been a good run. I guess we’ve been doing it about four years now, maybe close to five. Yeah. It’s been real good.
Joe: Nice. Yeah. I can certainly vouch for that stuff. I’ve got a few of your cases, most recently the nine seed A6 sized case.
Brad: Yeah, yeah.
Joe: For my Hobonichi Techo, which I also learned about The Pen Addict.
Brad: Yeah.
Joe: Finally, I’m using the Kaweco AL Sport as well.
Brad: Yeah. I like the clip on those pens. They make it look so cool. It’s a cool pen to begin with. I rave about that pen probably obsessively a little much. It’s definitely one of those one of each type of things for me and the clips make them look really cool.
Joe: Yeah. I love the size and posting the cap is a very important thing for me. I love my TWSBIs but most of them you can’t post the cap on.
Brad: Yeah, because they make the gigantic.
Joe: Right. Right. Cool. Anyway, now we’re geeking out about pens here. That’s all right.
Brad: Yeah. It’s kind of what I do.
Joe: Yeah. Now you started on Kickstarter. Is that right?
Brad: Right. Right. Jeff and I decided we wanted to start a business. We think there’s a thing. We knew that this wasn’t, okay, let’s open a storefront and have a retail business type of business. This is a let’s see if we can sell products to this community and how should we start this? We basically decided on, okay, what do we need to get this started? Jeff had two or three sewing machines already. We had the availability at his job back then to use a cutting table to cut fabric, but we needed a couple of additional machines to do different types of stitching. There was some hardware investment that we needed to make and then of course material investment. Kickstarter at the time seemed like the best way to get our idea out there. It kind of helps validate it. If it bombs completely, we’ve only lost our time. Right?
Joe: Right.
Brad: It took off. It was a shock to both of us. It definitely set us off into the Kickstarter panic of oh my gosh we’ve sold too much, which is a nice problem to have, but when you’re just two guys and you’re sewing everything in the bedroom of Jeff’s apartment, blowing up the Kickstarter wasn’t actually on our radar. I think we had like a $5,000 goal to hit because one of the machines we wanted to buy was like $1,500. Then we needed some material, so we had a pretty low goal. We just wanted to get the stuff we need to make the cases.
Joe: Right.
Brad: We ended up doing $78,000.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: And ended up having to make, it was around 6,000 cases we had to make.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: We were a little bit behind on that Kickstarter.
Joe: Yeah.
Brad: That definitely opened our eyes. We were like, “Okay, we thought we had a thing and this kind of confirms it.” This was our test. I don’t know if we passed or failed because it took a while to make all the cases, but everyone loved the product. They loved seeing it, they loved hearing about it, and once they got it in hand, they love using it. Then we were able to move on from there.
Joe: Gotcha. If I recall correctly, you guys were pretty communicative in the whole process, letting people know what was going on. I know that you and Myke on the show talk a lot about Kickstarter projects. I want to ask you about research and I’d like to focus it on creating the Kickstarter because there is a lot front loaded to make a good Kickstarter project, right? What was the research process like there?
Brad: I was lucky that I had some friends who had run “big in our world” Kickstarter campaign. Dan Bishop with Karas Kustoms was very vital in helping me understand what I needed to do, what I needed to put together for this first campaign. A lot of that was just I had already backed several other campaigns so I learned from them how to do it as well. Dan’s help was very important to me in just kind of keeping me off the ledge. You can get very overwhelmed starting a first Kickstarter project, especially if you’re kind of taking a risk like we were. Even though the downside was not bad at all, but it’s nerve-racking to put yourself out there and to say, “Give me your money and I’ll give you something in about six months.” Right?
Joe: Right.
Brad: That’s a nerve-racking thought process. Building through that, we definitely made some mistakes in retrospect and how we did it, mostly around the number of offerings we had at the time. We offered all the things.
Joe: Right.
Brad: In the end, we would’ve better streamlined, even if it took money off the bottom line to have a more streamlined process. That was a huge learning experience. Just having friends that have done that before, I was lucky in that aspect I guess. I was already part of the Kickstarter backer community so I knew kind of how the projects ran. That was the biggest thing, just being involved and then having some friends I could reach out to and ask questions. Now when I have friends that want to do the same thing, I always raise my hand when I hear someone saying, “Hey, I’m about to start a Kickstarter. Does anyone have any tips or tricks?” I was like, “Hey, I’m glad to help.” I want to pay that forward and help other people out and avoid some of the pitfalls that we had and answer just some of the basic questions about getting it started because it can be intimidating.
Joe: Nice. Yeah, absolutely. Especially if you do have a big project that kind of blows up. I feel like I were to approach that, I wouldn’t think this is going to blow up. I’d be pretty skeptical that I’m even going to meet my goal.
Brad: Yeah.
Joe: The idea of scaling is not necessarily something I have in my mind. It’s just kind of getting it done, but clearly you’ve weathered that storm a little bit.
Brad: Yeah. We’ve gone out and we’ve done some other Kickstarter projects since then. When we’ve launched a larger product like instead of a smaller pen case, we launched a small slim line briefcase product. Well, that’s a larger in scale type of manufacturing, larger physical good. I was totally comfortable launching that project because I knew it was going to be refined before I even pressed any buttons. I knew the pledge levels were going to be locked down and I was going to be comfortable with it no matter if they went crazy or not. Yeah. That experience, you only get it through having those experiences. I guess I’ve done, I don’t know, five or six now total. Not all have been at the scale of the first one. The first one was a big one. It gets easier every time. I’m actually a pretty big fan of Kickstarter and what they do for people like myself. I mean it helped us start a business flat out.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Now you don’t do a Kickstarter every time you’re going to launch a product though, right?
Brad: No, no. Product wise, we’ll launch most of it just ourselves on the site. If we do a large physical product, so the Lanier briefcase, it was maybe five or six times in a physical size different from one of our small pen cases that holds three pens. This whole a 13 inch laptop and an iPad Pro. Just the cost to get that project underway was a lot more than a normal pen case. Most of our projects, we just prefer to launch them directly on the site, but we’ve always had a goal to do a backpack. We’re not even close to doing that, but when that comes to be, that’ll be an example of where we’d go to Kickstarter first. I have three new designs in the factory right now that won’t be launched on Kickstarter because they’re smaller. I can afford to pay for them upfront type of thing instead of needing a huge, huge nest egg up front. That’s where Kickstarter helps very much with that cash flow.

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Joe: Nice. Now I’d love to get into this. This show has primarily had tech people on it, specifically people in the WordPress world. That’s kind of where I am deeply embedded. I want to talk about the physical products, but I’d be re missed if I didn’t ask, you have your online shop, what is running your online shop?
Brad: Squarespace.
Joe: Squarespace.
Brad: Squarespace stores. My blog has been on Squarespace for … I tried to figure it out the other day and I stopped in the middle of it. It’s since Squarespace 4.
Joe: Okay.
Brad: I’ve been a Squarespace customer, so that’s what probably, five or six years I’m guessing.
Joe: Yeah.
Brad: Sorry about the WordPress thing.
Joe: No worries. I suspect…No offense to the WordPress people but I suspect it would’ve taken you a lot longer to get your shop set up on WooCommerce than it would have on Squarespace.
Brad: Yeah. Yeah. That was four years ago too so things have changed during that time.
Joe: Right. Yeah, absolutely.
Brad: It was just a simple straightforward shop system. It allows us to manage the shipping, integrate all the shipping things, integrate all the taxes. One of the things you don’t think about when you’re starting a business with physical goods, well, if I ship it within my state, I got to charge taxes. Well, now I have to build in all these tax rules in my platforms. Those aren’t things I was prepared for.
Joe: Right.
Brad: I want to make pen cases, not set up 7% taxes for Cobb County. You know?
Joe: Right. 7%? Wow.
Brad: Yeah.
Joe: New York is expensive at 8, I didn’t think anybody was close to that.
Brad: I have an IT background and those types of things are simple. When you’ve played around with computers enough like I have, I mean I was an Unix engineer for almost 15 years.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: Computers were my first love, my first job, if you will.
Joe: Nice.
Brad: I’ve kind of done a 180 since then.
Joe: Yeah. Man, I don’t think I knew that, so that’s very, very cool.
Brad: Yup.
Joe: Nice. Now let’s actually get to building the product. What is the process for creating? Let’s say you’re working on a new case. What’s the process from start to finish?
Brad: Yeah. We’ve actually done this recently. The process for Jeff and myself is kind of the same. One of us will have an idea. Generally, I’ll have the idea first because I’m dealing with stationary a lot more than he is. He’s still into the manufacturing world and actually the cycling world. He welds bike frames and things like that.
Brad: I’m knee deep in the analog stuff and it’s like, “Hey, this tool would be good to do this thing.” We’d sit down and we’d sketch it out. We do drawings. We have rolls of fabric and sewing machines in our workshop. We’ll start with drawings and sketches and brainstorming. I’ll say, “This is what I want in a finished product. Technically, how would you do this?” He’d show me. He’d sketch it out. We’d work on some measurements. We’d say it needs to fit this length pen or this size notebook. How much depth does it need to have? We do all of this on paper and just talking and sitting together. Then we’ll go right from paper to cutting fabric. We’ll lay out rolls of fabric, get out chalk. There’s no 3D modeling, there’s no CAD, there’s no digital modeling of any of our products. We’ll get out a ruler and tailor’s chalk, sit on the floor, and cut out a pattern with scissors on the floor.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: It’s a very old school way, but this is a physical good. We’re not selling a digital good. We’re taking this physical fabric and then we’ll have … He knows how to determine how many panels we need for a single case. You know, it’s sewn in panels. You have a front, a back, an inside, all these little parts that you all have to put this puzzle together to end up with a single case. We’ll cut out all the panels. One case could have eight panels, one case could have 20 panels. It just depends on the pockets and the zippers and all these things. He knows how to do that. Take them over to the sewing machine, he’ll knock it out. We’ll look at it. We’ll look at the finished sample. That process could take us one to two hours.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: It’s reasonably quick.
Joe: Yeah.
Brad: I’d say that’s reasonably quick. I can come up with an idea and have a sample the same day and then I take it home and I just start using it.
Joe: Gotcha.
Brad: Our product, not the product cycle, but the creation of a product regardless of whether it ever goes on sale or not, comes out pretty quick and then I start using it for quite some time. It just depends. I’ll know real quick this is working as I imagine it would or it’s not. Let’s change this. Now we have a pattern already. We have the dimensions. Here’s the one we need to change and we’ll iterate on a second pattern and make that second case. I’ll start testing everything out. If that goes well, we’ll make a handful of samples, 5 or 10, send them to people who we trust that have been our customers for years. We started a feedback group of our customers that we can send, that we know just won’t blow smoke at us.
Joe: Right.
Brad: They’ll tell us real feedback. It’s taken a while to get these type of people together. We send them out to them and have them rip them apart, have them use them, do things that we wouldn’t consider doing them. We have this whole prototyping phase. Once that gets down to it, we finalize the product and then it goes to the factory. We use a factory in the U.S. to help make all our products now. In the beginning, we made everything by hand. Jeff made every single case. Fortunately, we grew enough to where we had to make a decision. Do we want to be our own factory and have all this equipment and all this overhead and all these people to hire, or do we want to find a contractor that can help with that? We went the second route and that’s a long story we can get into too, which I’m glad to share. Yeah, that’s kind of how the product cycle happens. Our ideas come to life really quickly, but then it takes a while for them to actually get to a physical product that we sell.
Joe: Gotcha.
Brad: I was going to say that could be like six months to a year.
Joe: Right. Gotcha. I would love to hear that factory store. Let’s save it for the end. It could be like a bonus part of the episode.
Brad: Gotcha.
Joe: I mean as somebody who is pretty deeply embedded in the digital space, the best thing I make with my hands is Lego and I don’t even do that particularly well. This is very interesting to me. It’s a whole other thing.
Brad: Oh, trust me. Yeah. For sure.
Joe: The thing that you mentioned about real feedback, I mean that’s super important. I’ll send a thing I designed to my friends and family and they’ll be like, “Yeah. It looks good,” but I have a mastermind group of a few friends in the same space who I know will give me honest feedback because my business is riding on it.
Brad: Yeah. That core is very important. It doesn’t have to be big, two or three people that you know will tell you, “Joe, you’ve really screwed it up here and this needs to be fixed or you need to consider that,” as our feedback group will attest to. We don’t always listen to them, but we do know that most, I mean 99% of the time, it’s like that’s the feedback you need. That’s the feedback that’s important. When you have a physical good that you cannot up and change tomorrow with a line of code, it’s extremely important.
Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. You’ve grown to contract out to a factory. Do they also do the shipping? Well, no, they actually don’t. I know they don’t. Do you guys do the shipping yourself or do you have drop shipping or anything like that?
Brad: We do all the physical shipping and the reason why we do that is we’re very particular about the quality of our products. It’s hard to let these products go out of your hands completely. I have a roadblock with that to never seeing the product before they hit our customers’ hands. I want to verify every single product that I ship before I ship it.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: It’s more work for us, but that’s work I’m glad to do because it makes the customers happier. Way more often, they happen to have a package arrive, the tag’s missing or the tag’s on backwards.
Joe: Right.
Brad: Things just happen in manufacturing.
Joe: Sure.
Brad: Two pockets are flipped from the way they’re supposed to be. It very rarely happens, but I don’t even want it to happen once.
Joe: Right.
Brad: Jeff and I will take the time to have all the products shipped back to us once complete and then we ship every single product after inspecting it again and then sending it out. That’s a very important thing for us. I’ll never say never to fulfillment, but I’m very uncomfortable not seeing the final product before it hits our customers’ hands.
Joe: Yeah. I mean that makes a lot of sense. You’ve built your name, I feel, on quality. When I bought the nine seed case … Is it nine seed? Am I saying that right?
Brad: It’s the A6.
Joe: A6. Right.
Brad: Yeah.
Joe: The A6 case. I had a price in mind. It was more, but I was willing to pay that because I knew that it was quality. I know I’m going to get something that I’m going to have forever.
Brad: Yeah, yeah.
Joe: Or the better part of forever.
Brad: Yeah, yeah. That’s important. It’s mandatory for us.
Joe: Yeah.
Brad: We’ll get into that more how much of a challenge that is, but quality is number one for us because it’s a smaller item, so any kind of flaws or defects really stand out. You can hide things in a large backpack, right?
Joe: Right.
Brad: If this one stitch is crooked, you’ll never see it. If the stitch is crooked in something we make because a lot of it ends up on Instagram, you can see it real quick. I’ve emailed people. I’ve said, “Hey, there’s something wrong with your case. Let me send you another one,” from a picture I’ve seen.
Joe: Wow.
Brad: They would’ve never even noticed, but it’s just one of those things that really bugs me and it’s really important to me is the quality of our finished product.
Joe: Yup. Well, that instills a lot of trust in customers. I can certainly vouch for that.
Brad: Yup.
Joe: You will do a prototype. If you don’t mind answering this, how many of those prototypes never see the light of day?
Brad: Oh, probably half of them or more.
Joe: Okay.
Brad: Yeah. I have a whole stash full of stuff that doesn’t make it. We’re at a point now where if we can introduce three or four new things in a year, like a new shape, that’s an enormous number. If it’s two, it’s probably pretty good because we want to make it worth something. We don’t want it to be a slightly different version of something we already have. We want to make it useful on its own. That’s not always easy when you’re coming up with products. We don’t sit down and say, “Okay, today is new product day and we’re going to write this song today.” Right?
Joe: Right.
Brad: The song just has to come to us naturally and say, “There’s a use case for this. Can we do it differently than anything else we’ve ever made and is it worth our time and money to do this?” A lot of those things, we have a lot of unfinished songs, if you will, that are stacked up in my closet. I go back and look through them from time to time, like these are really cool, but I wouldn’t want to sell this because I’d sell very few of them and we do something already that’s close enough and better. Yeah.
Joe: Gotcha. When you do come up with a new product, do you do any market research, evaluate? Do you have a good idea of the reception it’ll get when you launch?
Brad: Kind of, sort of. That’s a tough question. We do what feels right to us and included in that feel right is what my perception of its reception in the marketplace is. I am lucky enough to be able to live my entire life in the stationary world for a job, so I’m on top of these things all the time. I don’t necessarily go out and solicit feedback from retailers or the general public on an idea that we’re creating, “Do you think this would work in the marketplace?” Unless it’s something really out there and really strange, I trust my judgment enough, I think, for the most part and have enough experience to kind of know what’s going to work. Then at the same time, one of the core things that I think makes Jeff and I a little bit different from a lot of businesses is we do it because we want to use it. Even if the market doesn’t necessarily receive it, if we’re pretty happy with it, we’re going to run with it because we think it’s cool.
Joe: Nice.
Brad: We’re in a position to be able to do that. It’s just us two. I don’t want that to sound stubborn or egotistical or anything like that, but if we weren’t having fun doing this, we wouldn’t do it. I want to make things that I want to use and hopefully other people like them. That’s a lot of our philosophy.
Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. I love that. I mean a lot of the people on my show have said that they created this because they were scratching their own itch.
Brad: Yeah, totally.
Joe: It just so happened that other people also wanted it.
Brad: Yeah. I mean when it comes about naturally like that, you know you’re kind of on the right track.
Joe: Nice. That’s awesome. I’ve got just the last couple of questions because we kind of close out the main show and then get to the bonus. We talked about transformations as far as the factory goes. Have there been other major transformations since you started Nock Co.?
Brad: That’s kind of been our biggest challenge. Our growth has been the biggest challenge and the roadblocks to that growth and we’re still going through that right now. It’s been nothing but positive since we launched the company and then trying to figure out year over year over year to do a better job and make more cases and sell more products is endlessly challenging. I have no answers for that or I have one answer and two more questions that you can never completely catch up.
One of our biggest challenges was getting into retail. It’s something I really wanted to do because there’s a lot of niche stores that sell pens and paper goods. I thought our case was cool and all of our customers love it and I wanted to have more exposure in different outlets. Getting to the point where we could meet our direct customers’ needs that buy directly through us and be able to send hundreds of thousands of units out into the wild at the same time, man, I’m still trying to figure that out. We’ve gotten better at that. We’ve worked on that, but that transformation is still ongoing. It started about a year ago we finally got into retail. Actually about this time last year were our first retail orders.
Joe: Nice.
Brad: It’s been almost a full year and we’re still working on that, still trying to figure that out.
Joe: Wow. Man, that’s wild. That’s probably a whole other conversation that could be had too.
Brad: Yup. Yup.
Joe: With that, what are your plans for the future? Without giving away anything, of course, what are your plans?
Brad: Sure. We wake up every day and we just want to make cool stuff. If that involves one thing next year or 10 things next year, we’re going to do it. I just sent off three products for prototyping, like the final prototyping after we’ve designed. We like being creative. We like doing things people don’t expect. We make colors of our cases that people think are the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen, but they’re awesome and people love them. We put pink and light blue and green together and make a case out of it. The old people who are used to their black pens and their leather cases want to know what these fools are doing. Man, it’s fun.
We’re going to keep expanding our case line. Like I said earlier, we eventually want to make a backpack. I don’t know if it’ll even be next year. That’s a long term goal. We want to expand our paper goods. We make really, really good notebooks that I don’t think get enough out there in the world, so I’m going to work on that, getting those marketed better because they’re really, really nice, really good paper. Our index cards, it blows people’s minds when I tell them what’s our bestselling product. It’s three by five index cards because you can’t find good ones. We charge a lot for them. They’re expensive to make compared to something you buy at Office Max.
Joe: Right.
Brad: But it’s what stationary nerds want. We’re expanding our note card line as we speak, so that’s always a fun project to work on. I love our paper goods. Those will keep growing too. Yeah. We’re working on all the things slowly but surely.
Joe: Man, that’s awesome. I have a fun story. You’ve probably heard this from other people. I was at a WordCamp, that’s a WordPress weekend conference. I ran out of business cards but I had your three by five index cards on me and I just wrote personalized messages and then my own business card on them and I started handing them out.
Brad: Nice. That’s awesome. We do get stories like that and as a matter of fact because of that, we actually make business card size note cards now. They fit a standard business card size holder. That way you have your cards and some blank ones if you need them.
Joe: Very nice. I dig that. I’m on your site right now. Are those the petite?
Brad: They’re called the petite. Yup.
Joe: Nice.
Brad: They’re traditional U.S. business card sized dimension.
Joe: That’s fantastic. I’m definitely going to have to pick some of those up.
Brad: Yeah.
Joe: Before I ask you if you have and trade secrets for us, that’s always how I close out the show, I have a couple of quick fire questions.
Brad: All right.
Joe: Hopefully, they’re quick fire. Can we expect any cases that are going to be like that Pen Addict orange? I didn’t see any on your site. I was just double checking, so maybe I missed it.
Brad: What was the question again? Are we going to see any orange?
Joe: Any of that Pen Addict orange, yeah.
Brad: We get that all the time and you are going to see it sooner than you think.
Joe: Awesome. Very cool. I think that’s my favorite color, so I’m very excited.
Brad: Yeah, me too.
Joe: Nice. What is your current favorite backpack?
Brad: Oh, gosh. That’s an awesome question and this is going to be a totally unfair answer, but it’s the truth. It’s a backpack that’s discontinued and no longer made. There was a company out of Australia called BOgear. They make killer backpacks. It’s the one I carry. The model is called the Bullpup. They just stopped manufacturing last year. They’re rebranding themselves, going to do a different thing. That’s the one I carry all the time. Then my second probably most carried bag is a TOM BIHN Aeronaut 48, which is closer to a duffel. It’s essentially a carry on bag, but it does have backpack straps. It’s not a day pack, it’s a travel bag.
Joe: Gotcha.
Brad: I travel enough with Nock now. We go on the road to pen shows. That’s my primary bag. Those two bags are basically my road warrior bags.
Joe: Very nice. I will be sure to link. Well, I’ll link both in the show notes, but you can definitely pick up one of them still at the time of this recording at least.
Brad: Yes, yes.
Joe: Awesome. Now do you have any trade secrets for us?
Brad: You know, I saw this question, and I thought about it and there’s no super neat little secret. We do things like hidden secrets that people find. On the bag of our tag is Nock in Katakana. We like to hide things like that. People will have their case for like a year or two and say, “Hey, I just flipped this tag over. What’s this thing on there?” So, it’s neat to have little Easter Eggs like that for your customers.
Joe: Yeah.
Brad: Yeah. By the way. The trade secret for me is being honest with myself and being true to my beliefs, regardless of what’s popular or what the common theory is out there. If you don’t feel that’s the right thing to do, then don’t do it. You don’t have to be like anyone else. Just be yourself. That comes out in the finished product. People realize that. When people say, “Oh wow, this product is really good,” or, “This product is polished,” or, “Wow, I haven’t seen the construction detail like this.” That’s not because someone’s technically adept, it’s because they really care about putting that thing together. I mean that’s the biggest tip I can give on building any kind of business, don’t matter if it’s hardware, software, physical goods, anything. You have to 100% believe in what you’re doing and then you do it regardless of what other people say.
Joe: Awesome. I love that. Definitely words to live by. It’s follow who you are, believe in what you’re doing. I absolutely love that.
Brad: Yup.
Joe: Cool. Well, I’m going to close out this part of the show. There will be a bonus available with the next part of our conversation somewhere, whether it be just sign up for an email list or whatever. Brad, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Brad: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. This was fun.
Joe: Thank you very much. Until next time, get out there and build something.

Outro: Thanks again so much to Brad for joining me and for the excellent conversation. If you enjoyed the conversation, you’re in luck! In the bonus episode, Brad and I talk about what it was like choosing a factory. You can listen to that over on the show’s patreon. It’s available for anyone who pledges $5 or more.  That’s over at

Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! And they recently rolled out Managed WooCommerce Hosting too. They are at  If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at And finally, if you need amazing event management for WordPress, checkout Event Espresso over at

For all of the show notes, head over to Finally, If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us!  And until next time, get out there and build something!

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