An interview with Alice Taylor, co-founder of MakieLab

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry ? How did Makies come about?

My and Jo (my co-founder)’s backgrounds are in all-digital media; my previous job was Commissioning Editor, Education at Channel 4 (a fully digital job), one of our national broadcasters, and Jo is one of the UK’s best digital media producers. We would routinely be found at events to do with children’s digital media: Digital Kids being one of them. I was there in 2010, and it was colocated with the US toy fair. Digital and Physical, so close and yet… so far apart, still.

I wondered whether it was possible to translate the digital items, characters and goods I was seeing onscreen into real, physical products, the likes of which I was seeing upstairs at the toy fair. 3D printing seemed to be an interesting bridge…

I went home, sketched some dolls (avatars!) and had one modelled, which I sent to be printed at iMaterialise. A few weeks later, a large marionnette turned up, eyeless and bald. But I had printed a doll, and it had cost me 220 euros. Later, I showed Jo. Hmm, she said. This could work…

So we founded MakieLab, and got cracking.

What are Makies?

Makies are customisable, one-of-a-kind dolls that are made individually for each customer. We do this using a blend of digital customisation tools, 3D printing, and traditionally-manufactured parts, plus direct online shopping and shipping.

Makies are the first 3D printed toy at retail, meaning they’ve passed toy safety certification (EN71) and carry the CE mark, the Lion mark and are safe for children 3+.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Hah, I wasn’t allowed dolls as a child! I think it’s partially why I’m in tech: I was given LEGO, and computers, and Meccano. I played a lot of videogames. And this is why we want Makies to encourage making and building and creating: it’s so important that kids are encouraged to build and create, and especially that we encourage girls into STEM (science, tech, engineering, maths): our Western culture is very prohibitive to girls when it comes to tech, and we need to change that from the ground up. Look to Asia, where the majority of engineers are female...

What inspires you?

Kids! My daughter, Poesy (7) is my daily inspiration. My neighbours’ children, Achille (10), Eden (9), Elliot (8) and Leonie (6) who we’ve known since birth, and who rock around in a little gang, playing music and building things together.

Plus a daily inspiration is all the women out there changing things for the better, from Siobhan Reddy (Media Molecule, aka Little Big Planet) to Debbie Sterling (Goldieblox) and the ladies behind Sugru, Roominate, AdaFruit Industries, Go Go Girls, A Girl For Our Time, Let Toys Be Toys, and more.

How does MakieLab work?

We do everything live! Which means, updates ship to the website weekly, if not daily. The team (of 12) comprises talent ranging from game design and development, web design, product design, plus manufacturing and assembly, customer service, the gamut. We do everything end-to-end in our Workshop at the end of Brick Lane in London’s East End.

Every week, new orders come in; we have the basic parts printed, then we assemble and ship out to wherever the Makie is going - all over the world, but mostly the US at the moment. The whole process takes 2 weeks from order to shipment.

What’s the hard stuff, and the easy stuff?

Manufacturing is hard. SO hard. Even with new tech like 3DP, we still have supply chain and logistics, assembly, QA, safety testing and certification, customer support and management, all that jazz, and that’s on top of building and maintaining retail (online and offline) and our customer database, plus the manufacturing software and servers. It’s a mammoth task.

The easy stuff? Knowing why we do what we do :) The team are so dedicated, and shipping Makies daily is a total delight. We love seeing what our customers do with their Makies, and how delighted they are with them. In two years, we have had, I think, only two returns, a “statistically zero” result.

What’s next?

Whatever the customers and data tells us to do. There’s so much we COULD do… more games, customisable clothes, furniture, different products, a smaller doll, more hair, you name it. But we respond to data and experiments, so that’s what guides us. I think it’s safe to say that you’ll be seeing more accessories, more customisation and more secret surprises coming out for Makies pretty soon, though!

What trends do you see in toys or games?

Customisation - the ability to somehow at least name your toy, if not more. Tech wizardry: where the toy will interact in some way with the environment: AR, or colour changing, or voice activation, etc. And lastly, apps & games. Tablets are the #1 “toy” for kids, and it seems that a presence there at least is pretty necessary, though it remains to be seen what the best “monetisation strategy” is for mobile with kids.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

Instagram! Couldn’t live without it. We try to ‘gram some of our dolls as they leave the workshop, and we also regram pix taken by our customers. It’s a great social channel, and so rich in visual reward. We love it.

What could you not live without?

Other than my cofounder Jo, and our amazing team? Coffee. Running a startup is madness. I haven’t slept for 3 years :-)