Matthew Burnett CEO & Co-Founder

Matthew Burnett is the CEO and co-founder of Maker's Row, an online marketplace connecting American manufacturers with designers.

Employees

7

Location

Brooklyn, NY

Industry

Manufacturing

Founded

2012

Social

It is no secret that there has been a hike in foreign manufacturing of American products—”Made in China” dominates the furniture in our homes and the labels on our clothing, but what is the experience of working with factories overseas really like for American businesses?  It’s not without its significant challenges, the sheer distance between you and your product creates a design and quality disconnect, and an obvious gap in your ability to fluidly communicate with your manufacturers. Still, numerous business owners take their manufacturing to countries in other time zones and it is often due to a slew of misconceptions about manufacturing in America being more difficult and expensive. Maker’s Row is attempting to dispel these misconceptions and shift the manufacturing paradigm back into domestic hands by providing a seamless way to connect product developers with manufacturers at American factories.

Matthew Burnett, founder of Maker’s Row, once subscribed to the “Better in China” philosophy when he was designing watches, but found that he was struggling to oversee his product to the degree that he wanted to and was operating on a schedule that was unsustainable.  He thought of the idea for Maker’s Row after he started to manufacture goods for his leather business domestically.  The idea is genius: In addition to providing a thorough education on manufacturing to developers (every step from creation to management), Maker’s Row brings 10,000 factories together on one easily searchable platform, presenting developers with all the information that they need to make the important commitment to a manufacturer.  Additionally, they have created software through which developers can manage and make changes to their tech packs, keeping the process close to small business owners and alive through all stages of production.

Maker’s Row is an important player in an industry shift—America is taking manufacturing back and by keeping the process closer to home, small businesses can, in turn, stay closer to their product and its quality.  The win for small businesses is clear, but the win for the economy is even more substantial.

Bond Street had the chance to sit down with Burnett and learn more about his journey to the founding of Maker’s Row, recapturing American industry and fueling small businesses in the process.

Maker's Row

Bond Street

What’s the 30-second elevator pitch for Maker’s Row?

Matthew Burnett

Well the concise pitch is that we’re the Alibaba of the West. We see the opportunity for the United States to be placed on the global stage. I think the Internet has kind of walked all over American manufacturing, favoring  a lot of foreign production and low-wage labor.  Right now, you’re beginning to see the tides turn, and designers are starting to opt for a faster turnaround time.

Bond Street

Tell me a little bit more about your background and when you first kind of became interested in design.

Matthew Burnett

I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. My grandfather was a watchmaker. I grew up in his shop. He basically built me a miniature desk beside his, and I learned how to take scrap metal and create little widgets and reassemble watches—all that sort of good stuff. I fell in love with how products worked. I went to school at Pratt to study industrial design, and shortly after graduating, started designing products for Marc Jacobs, DKNY, and a few other fashion house brands. In 2007. I started my first watch company and was doing everything primarily overseas in China. I did that for about three years as a small business owner. But,  when you’re producing a product halfway around the globe, it’s just really challenging to keep up product quality. That’s really what led me into my second business which was a leather goods line, where everything was manufactured hyper-local. I was doing wallets, bracelets, handbags—and everything was sourced in the New York area: I was getting the leather from Queens, the hardware from the Bronx, and it all was assembled in Midtown Manhattan.

 

I also began helping a number of my friends who wanted to start their own product company, showing them how to find American manufacturers— I quickly recognized that there was a huge void. I mean, when you’re looking to produce products in China you have Alibaba, Global Sources. When you’re looking to produce products in the United States you have Yellow Pages, Print Catalogs, and really high, overpriced consultations.

Bond Street

Do you think that growing up in Detroit impacted your outlook on American-made products?

Matthew Burnett

Absolutely. My grandfather migrated as part of the great migration to get to Detroit for Ford’s $5-a-day wage. So, I understand this from a personal perspective…my history has been intertwined with American manufacturing for generations. And, I mean, you can see it in Detroit—you can see how being the epicenter of automotive production can create not only a city, but one of the biggest cities—at that time—in this country. But, you can also see that the loss of manufacturing can really devastate it.

Bond Street

Since you were making things from a young age, do you think you kind of always wanted to be an entrepreneur or was there a moment when you decided, “I’ve going to own a business one day”?

Matthew Burnett

I think that they were two separate ideas at different times of my life. My grandfather had me really involved from a young age in production. Obviously, he owned his own business, and he always told me to own my own business. And as a kid, you can’t really grasp why someone would say that to you—it’s just like, “Okay, noted”.  But it just so happened to be where fate kind of led me, and now I feel like I understand what he was saying. I couldn’t be happier because I think that Maker’s Row combines two things that are really important to me: manufacturing, and also small businesses. And that’s who I really sought out to solve the problem for: small business owners.

Bond Street

You told us a little bit about what sparked the idea for Maker’s Row. What was the process like of getting entrepreneurs and manufactures to sign on for this new service?

Matthew Burnett

Right.  So, I knew that both sides had a really challenging time finding one another. It’s a chicken and egg problem: if you go after both at the same time, it’s going to be really challenging—and often times ineffective. I decided to create a home for manufacturers because a lot of these businesses had no sort of online presence. Even if they had their own website they had incredibly poor SEO.  I also already had a network of manufacturers that I was close to, and they reached out to a lot of their friends, and so it all grew very organically.

Maker's Row Matthew Burnett

Maker's Row

Bond Street

Can you just give me a quick overview of exactly how Maker’s Row works?

Matthew Burnett

I think the easiest way to explain Maker’s Row is by breaking it down is into categories. First is education: we show you how to manufacture products through our Maker’s Row Academy. We do videos—we show you exactly what it looks like and how to manage that whole process. So now you know how to create the product. The next step is you need to find the manufacturer. So we connect you. You plot out exactly what you want to create, and then manufacturers will be able to reach out to you, and you’ll be able to reach out to manufacturers, to be able to see if they have the right turnaround time, price, etc.

 

And then finally you can manage that whole process using our software. And I think that’s a huge game-changer for our customers…because prior to Maker’s Row, designers were faxing tech packs. And the problem with that—aside from having to use a fax machine— is that these are living and breathing documents, right? So things are constantly changing in these specs and you want to be able to have a real-time view of that.

Bond Street

What is your most popular industry or the most popular items being manufactured through the platform?

Matthew Burnett

Oh, it changes almost on a monthly basis. I was going to say that one of the more popular ones is handbags. And handbags are pretty broad; I mean, anything from purses to bookbags.

Bond Street

You’ve obviously taken a very entrepreneurial path, but looking back at the early days you used to do a lot of making itself. Is that something you miss? Do you ever feel like you aren’t able to like create in the same way you used to, or is it just a different type of creation?

Matthew Burnett

Yeah, I think you just answered it. When it comes to design, I mean, I’m historically a product designer, but at the root of it, I’m a designer. Designers set out to create solutions for problems. And so in many ways, I feel like I’m scratching the same itch with a different tool.

 

But, I do miss products.  I’m a watch guy, I love watches. I think I have probably over a couple hundred watches at home…

Bond Street

Wow.

Matthew Burnett

I mean, well, it’s not just mine. My grandfather, since he was fixing watches; people would give him watches, and he collected a bunch of watches through the years.

Bond Street

Do you still make watches on the side?

Matthew Burnett

Are you kidding? No, this is a mission and this type of mission calls for every ounce of energy that you have.

Maker's Row

Bond Street

What do you think the future of American manufacturing looks like?

Matthew Burnett

Well, there’s external and internal things that are happening in the United States. I think that there’s a certain political climate and there’s also what’s happening overseas…I think that the appeal that foreign or overseas manufacturing once head is starting to really deteriorate; where people are starting to favor turnaround times—and you can’t have faster turnaround times than producing right next door, or even within the same country. If you’re producing something overseas it could take 30 days for it just to get over to the United States; because of clearing customs and the shipping time on a boat.

 

I think that it’s more risky, obviously, to do these mammoth size orders—especially for a small and medium-sized business. It makes a lot more sense for businesses to be able to project and fulfill within the fastest time possible. You see small businesses turning industries on their head, and I think that one of those scenarios is with what’s happening in fashion; you used to have two different seasons Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer.

 

Now, you see these large fashion houses are having to turn out products much faster just to be able to keep competing. Small businesses are able to hit the market faster—especially by producing domestically. You have product in hand, and you are  able to test the market much faster than anyone else would.

Bond Street

So would you say that’s probably one of the biggest advantages to producing domestically?

Matthew Burnett

That is hard to quantify, especially because I think that no language barrier is a huge advantage with manufacturing domestically.. You come to find over the years it’s much more of an art than it is a science. And so it requires an understanding (or a language_ that both parties have in-depth experience in using, right? I think that the language barriers, the time zone differences—I was waking up at 3AM in the morning when I was producing watches, because I was on their time schedule. So I think that my health is happier, my body is happier…

Bond Street

Sleep.

Matthew Burnett

Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to have to be on that type of schedule until I have kids. So I think that altogether there’s a small book of advantages as to why larger companies—intellectual property as well—would want to start producing product in the United States.

Bond Street

And kind of on that note, what do you think every entrepreneur should know about manufacturing domestically? Is there any information that business owners don’t know about, but should?

Matthew Burnett

Good question. It depends on what level you’re at. I think that American manufacturing is going to come back in a really big way—but in a very different way that I think people were expecting maybe five or ten years ago. It’s not going to be the same industry cities dedicated to  these behemoth factories. I think you’ll see the rise of micro-factories. Eventually they’ll start to scale, but, I think that you’ll begin to see these micro-factories—with lower head counts—who will be able to operate efficiently due to technological advancements.

Bond Street

What is the five years’ vision for Maker’s Row?

Matthew Burnett

We’re trying to build the tools for creation for the future. I think that we’re trying to be able to facilitate more opportunities for the factories to be able to manage the production process for SMBs. And a big part of this was education and just the connectivity of the two communities. We’re going to start developing more tools to be able to help that process along faster.

 

Every tool that we bring to market is essentially to make the process of production easier and faster. If it’s not doing one of those two things, you’re not going to see it anytime soon. We want to be the complete suite of production that you would need as a SMB, but also just the number one way for you to be represented and to be a part of the community—if you’re a factory, you will just need to be on it.

Maker's Row

Bond Street

You have two different communities and two different stakeholders that you’re working with. Is the value prop different for both, or is it similar? And how are you building a holistic Maker’s Row community?

Matthew Burnett

I would say that we’re advancing the manufacturing community by giving them a place in which they’re able have a seat at the table when brands are looking at what options they have. And for the brand we serve as just a starting point; we are the starting point. Before you go to Kickstarter to fundraise for your product, before you get a Shopify account to sell your product, you have to create the product, you have to create the prototypes; you have to test the market.

 

We are the genesis of a lot of small business creation. And I think that there’s a lot of opportunity in that because no one is really touching those very first steps, but they’re crucial. There’s a much higher barrier to entry, and I think our service—which is solving that— is going to help push out thousands and thousands of SMB a year, while helping  them scale.

Bond Street

Is there a lesson you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Matthew Burnett

You just have continue to have the big picture in mind. I think that it’s very easy to get caught up in minutiae. The first company that I started took me at least six months to get to market—which was really long, especially because my expertise is product creation.

 

You really have to keep that bird’s-eye view of the big picture, and the big problem that you’re solving. I hate to say this as a designer, but sometimes people spend way too much time just thinking about their design, rather than just getting it out there and seeing what consumers think .

Bond Street

Why is buying American-made products important to you on a personal level?

Matthew Burnett

I’m always flipping this notion on its head because I really think that people blame the consumer. But I like to go to the root of the problem, and I think that what you see, with apparel for example, is that 90% of these products are not made in America; so, I’m trying to fix that from the supply side.

 

So why is it important to me personally? I think that this goes back to my grandfather’s day. There’s a time in which you could see fashion that was coming from Chicago. Chicago had a very distinct look as opposed to Miami or LA. Everyone has their own style, and I thought that was amazing expressions of the communities who reside there.

 

I think the big-box store—I love the convenience—but it’s like one solution fits all. And that’s not good from an aesthetic perspective, but also, for communities, especially those that are  underrepresented.

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