Imagine It, Make It

In this Q&A, Joel Johnson, inventor, innovator and co-founder of BoXZY, discusses the power of expanding the maker movement.

Small business owners Joel and Justin Johnson want you to build more stuff. The Pittsburgh-based brothers have formed their business on a simple premise: Just about anyone can make virtually anything from almost anywhere.

BoXZY is a cube-shaped machine with rapidly changing parts: a CNC mill, 3D printer and laser engraver.

Think of it as a “fab lab,” or small-scale workshop, which enables you to cut, engrave and print objects out of wood, plastic, stone, aluminum, leather, plastic and other materials. You can do it all from your desktop without the use of expensive manufacturing facilities or industrial tools.

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Here’s a simple business premise: Just about anyone can make virtually anything from almost anywhere.

The possibilities for innovation, says co-founder Joel Johnson, are limitless. “This is a machine that inspires its own use. You see it, and you know you can make what you want to make.”

Check out our interview with Joel below, part of Longitudesweek-long focus on small business:

Longitudes: What inspired you to create BoXZY?

Joel: My brother and I had been trying to create a portable power device, and we ran into a common problem: It was just too expensive to make our product to scale.

Back then, there weren’t a lot of options for smaller-scale manufacturing. You could make one thing at a time, or you could make 20,000 things on $100-million machines. Neither option was acceptable.

BoXZY is a makerspace in a box, a device that transforms really easily into a CNC mill, engraver and 3D printer.

Longitudes: Do you think that some people find BoXZY too intimidating? It’s a lot of tool!

Joel: It’s important to me to help people feel capable. I’m inspired when I see people grow and develop outside of the range of what they think is possible. Most fabrication tools focus on one user set: the person who grew up taking shop.

A lot of people don’t have as much experience with machines and might feel inept. They don’t need to. This tool allows you to see possibility.

Fabrication tools aren’t inviting to people who don’t feel tech savvy. I’m trying to get past that pain point. I’m working on a prototype now that is more intuitive. Your machine needs to pitch itself and inspire its own use. Its design needs to convey to a customer: You are the right person to use me.

Our next iteration points away from the machine to what it makes. The machine will be almost transparent.

 Longitudes: Who are your customers?

Joel: The product was designed for hobbyists who wanted to do professional level productions at a smaller scale. But we quickly expanded that customer base.

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UPS can enable a small company with limited resources to engage in logistics.

When we started this company, we didn’t expect to sell to customers like Google, Audi and Industrial Scientific. In fact, the first time we found out that Google wanted our product was when we were packing it up for them and noticed the shipping label.

Since then, we’ve sold to a lot of big companies all over the world.

Longitudes: What are you reading that inspires you?

Joel: The Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design by Don Norman are great. I also like Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini and Design Driven Innovation by Roberto Verganti.

Longitudes: You’ve talked about the positive aspects of developing new technology and new tools. What worries you about the future?

Joel: This machine can be used to make things that help people or hurt people. That danger is concerning. When tech becomes a status symbol, you have group pathology. When technology is used to be creative and collaborative, when it’s available to more people, it tends toward the peaceful.

Longitudes: Describe your relationship with UPS. How has UPS changed the way you do business?

Joel: What strikes me most is its presence. UPS can enable a small company with limited resources to engage in logistics. I like that its people get right in there and can bridge that lack of experience.

Joel Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BoXZY.

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