Founder Kevin Mako has approached product development with a turnkey approach spanning design, prototyping, and manufacturing.
MAKO Design + Invent is the bridge between inventor and invention.
In high school, Mako had the entrepreneurial spirit. He had multiple business ideas floating around before he graduated. “I had the young hopes and dreams of being an entrepreneur,” he says.
The initial MAKO Design concept was simple: create a company that helped inventors, small businesses, and startups create products. “‘How do I help small manufacturers, inventors, and hardware startups to get from their idea to their first completed production run?’ That was the core of the idea.”
After studying at the Ivy Business School in Canada, as well as at Hong Kong University to study supply chain management and manufacturing, Mako was in the unusual position of needing his own business to create his own business.
“I was struggling to get my own invention idea developed,” he says. “Back in the day, as a startup, as a small business, as a home inventor, it was very difficult to get a product designed, prototyped, engineered, and into production. Extremely difficult.”
So, he dove in headfirst. By 2007, he was fully invested in seeing his own creation come to life. “That’s when I made the decision where I would create the firm that enabled small folks to get a world-class-designed product from a sketch on a napkin through to their first production room. That idea, that model, is the same idea I had back in high school that was incorporated at University; it’s the exact same business model we operate today.”
Operating out of offices in Austin, Miami, San Francisco, and Toronto, MAKO Design has changed the startup world not just by its ability to create a product but to help shape and sharpen concepts before they reach production. The company manufactures out of North America, Europe, and Asia, depending on the project.
With a team of in-house specialists that span every step of the creation and production process, MAKO offers product design and development, industrial design, mechanical and electrical engineering, prototyping, manufacturing, and patenting.
Challenges: MAKO is not in need of a bone-rattling shift from its initial business model. No current challenge triggers the panic button. “Where we are, I’m really not trying to change much with our company. We’re a company that is perpetually improving incrementally. We’ve never pivoted, so we aren’t in the boat where we’re shooting for major change. We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and do more of it. “We are very fortunate to be kind of leading this small niche industry of product development for small folks and we just want to do more of it,” says Mako.
But, one of the biggest challenges remains helping small businesses, manufacturers, and startups to keep realistic expectations, he notes — a challenge that has existed since day one. Flattening a dream to make it attainable is not the easiest task. “We get to start with businesses from the early, early onset. Our job is really to make a quality product, which most often means keeping it simple, especially if they’re on a limited budget. But, one of the biggest pain points of a hardware startup is feature-creep: you want to be everything to everyone.”
Managing feature-creep has also consistently required a clear and concise understanding of what a small business needs from MAKO. “That is where we had to redesign the design process: how do you make it expedient, how do you develop a quality product, how do you help a startup with all the pieces they don’t fully understand, and how do you work with someone who doesn’t have in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, or electronic engineering services? We needed to rethink the entire process of how a design agency serves that customer.”
Opportunities: MAKO Design has already started to invest heavily in startup education. Mako himself has made it a focus of his time and efforts. He sees startup education as the next component to his thriving business. “There’s a lot of work we’re pouring into education. We run the industry’s leading podcast — The Product Startup Podcast — which is part of a whole education initiative, where we’re helping startups.
“We’ve got over a thousand blog articles on our website, numerous white papers, a number of partnerships, and I’m pretty much doing a keynote a week these days,” says Mako. “We have a lot of stuff in and around education to really help the startup world go from sketch to successful product business. That, I think, is still largely untapped.”
Needs: MAKO’s needs are directly tethered to the strength of a small business: flexibility. During the pandemic, MAKO experienced supply chain disruption the same way countless other businesses and industries did, but adjusting to a pandemic world was much, much simpler due to its reliance on tech and overall malleability. “We were very fortunate because we were so tech-enabled and had such a high priority on using tech to ensure efficient quality design that we just flipped a switch and essentially worked from home overnight,” says Mako. “There was obviously disruption with supply chains, but they’re minor because again, on the design side, we have the ability to swap out the components, or change things.”
For MAKO, prioritizing flexibility has re-emphasized why working with small businesses makes sense in the first place, and what is needed to continue providing excellent service, he adds. “I think now more than ever, it’s important to be nimble in your design and to be nimble in manufacturing. Again, it comes back to ensuring quality and reliable design from the onset, and having the team there so that if the market changes, if there are supply shortages, you can find the best solution to smooth over that hiccup.”
Notes Mako: “While giant corporations are moving a tanker ship to pivot, small companies can do this very very quickly — especially if they have a powerful team behind them.”