DODOcase sells millions of dollars worth of bamboo cases, precision routed on a pair of CNC machines. In its 10,000-sq.ft. San Francisco production operation, laser machines cut holes to exacting tolerances in those cases.
While DODOcase might not think of itself as a wood products manufacturer, it is actually among the larger firms in the country, with millions of dollars in sales. Founder Patrick Buckley was 29 when he launched the business in 2009, on a hunch that high-tech iPad lovers would like an elegant, low-tech protective wrap for their machines.
Entering a competition at Shopify, Buckley developed his DODOcase, a wood back with a bookcover front. Buckley spent several weeks learning to operate a CNC machine at TechShop in San Francisco, then went to work. When DODOcase netted a reported $1 million in sales in 90 days – they sell for $60 and up at online stores – Buckley and partners Craig Dalton and Mark Manning began manufacturing in earnest. CWB caught up with Buckley to talk to him about the venture into woodworking.
CWB: Patrick, why do consumers want to wrap a high tech iPad in a bamboo case?
I think it is largely the emotional experience of feeling something familiar in your hands. We all grew up holding books in our hands. We all have a nostalgic connection to that experience and it just feels right even now with newer technology.
CWB: In starting your business, you tested the DODOcase product idea at Shopify – what kind of feedback did you get?
Shopify was a great tool for us to get an e-commerce website up and running in under one day. To drive our first customers to DODOcase.com we did some old fashioned feet-on-the-street marketing, handing out flyers at Apple stores the day the iPad launched. Within months we were selling 1,000’s of cases; we took that as a sign that people really loved the DODOcase.
CWB: How was DODOcase’s design adjusted as a result of Shopify feedback?
Because we launched our iPad case on such a short time frame we had a lot of improvements along the way. Over the first 18 months we probably redesigned the bamboo tray 10 times for an improvement in the strength of the design by over 230% and a reduction of 80% in material costs.
CWB: Working with bamboo, how does it perform in machining or gluing?
Bamboo is tricky to work with for a couple reasons. It dulls tools incredibly quickly, even if you are using carbide. I have been told that is because bamboo is actually a grass (not wood) that grows in very clay rich soils and so sucks up a lot of silica (think beach sand) and this dulls tools. Bamboo also splinters easily and so you have to machine it carefully or you can scrap a lot of pieces.
We choose to work with bamboo despite these challenges because of it’s eco-sustainability properties as well as because of the strength it offers as well as its lightness.
CWB: Do you test different bamboo sources? Or other species?
No; the bamboo partner we work with has been great. We have looked at some other species but nothing we found matched bamboo’s strength-to-weight ratio.
CWB: Why manufacture in-house versus outsource and assemble components?
It is important to us to be able to make improvements to our product quickly. Having the production in-house we can make changes and improvements whenever we want. It has also been important for us to launch new products quickly as Apple or Google release new tablets and phones. We can usually be in production in 1-2 days from the time we have a physical device.
CWB: Are you binding in-house now?
Yes we are. In addition to our woodshop we have a full book bindery, silk screening studio for our cases and a sewing shop for our line of sleeves and wallets.
CWB: Are consumers more apt to order custom one-off designs, or off-the-shelf?
Both! We have found that 30-40% of people want to personalize or build a custom case when ordering online.
CWB: Did your team have background in manufacturing?
I was trained as a mechanical engineer but never applied it to manufacturing; Craig worked in bike industry sales; Mark previously worked with factories in anti-counterfeiting systems. Needless to say, none of us had ever built a factory.