THE BRICK YOURSELF STORY
The First 3 Months
The history of Brick Yourself is perhaps relatively brief but despite this its short life has been punctuated by a series of exciting, innovative and inventive moments which it is my pleasure to share here.
After only a year and a half, it’s already difficult to imagine a world without Brick Yourself. The idea has already been cloned overseas (however poorly) and the whole concept seems to be riding to further prominence on the back of the great Lego growth wave which is currently sweeping in cascading torrents over the global marketplace.
From my own point of view since this has been such a dominating force in my own life for a solid 18 months it does become difficult to imagine life without Lego design but I guess it’s a pretty skewed perspective.
Nevertheless such a time did certainly and to properly retell the Brick Yourself story we need to begin before the beginning.
Looking back it has already been an amazing adventure and I feel compelled to share the story that has been told so far with you if you’re not aware of it so far.
BEFORE BRICK YOURSELF
A Time Before Brick Yourself
Looking back over the last 18 months it’s safe to say that the Brick Yourself experience has already been one amazing adventure. It’s a story I feel compelled to share with you but just before we come to that, some background about me and Lego design.Like many Lego designers I began playing with Lego at an early age and then picked it up later as an adult.
To put it simply, my love of Lego was powerful as a child and hasn’t really diminished as I’ve returned to it as an adult.
Like many adult Lego enthusiasts (AFOL’s) my attention was brought back to Lego when the Star Wars range was first released and haven’t really looked back. Small original designs that I sold online helped pay for the collection I began to amass and in 2010 I attempted to go professional with a business called Brickaholic Productions which specialised in designing small sets and figures based on pop culture, primarily with Lord of the Rings custom sets as the official Lord of the Rings range had yet to be released by the Lego Group.
With the official LOTR release by Lego and after several issues with ebay the business closed down before it had really begun (even with the preceding 6 months of furious development) and I was left quite broke and scratching my head.
I’ve never been one to give in easily and the Lego ideas filled the back of my head while I further pursued my then current career as a professional close up magician and finished some post-graduate studies in philosophy.
Despite this I was struggling to find reliable employment (since philosophers these days are unfortunately not in high demand) and though I had had the idea of making Lego figures of people for a while the idea was slowly developing only the back of my mind and i’d not really given it a conscious thought for a few years after the failure of the first Lego business. Whatever happened though I was strongly motivated to not further add to the world’s problems by becoming another lawyer which is what i’d originally studied and wanted to pursue before realising that the law might not be the best profession in making the world a better place.
I met my partner in Sydney and followed her back to France in early 2015 where we spent 6 months touring around the UK and parts of Europe. I busked from town to town and perhaps it was all the peripatetic wanderings from the trip but when I returned to down under halfway through the year the idea of creating a custom Lego business was one again firmly fixed in the forefront of my mind.
And so at the end of August in 2015, only a few weeks from returning to my first trip overseas I decided to see if this idea had any merit.
THE BIRTH OF BRICK YOURSELF
I booked a small market stall in Glebe and created a small event, open to the public on Facebook where I offered to make people as Lego figures or to make figures of people they knew as gifts. It was planned towards the end of September. My collection had been retrieved from storage and though I didn’t have anywhere near the collection that the business has now, I believed I had a sufficient amount of pieces to do a a few of my mates if anyone was to turn up.
I’d made my parents and a couple of close friends and family as Lego figures previously and thought the whole thing would make for an interesting day out. I thought that if it showed potential then it might be worth seriously developing a business that could be launched in 6-12 months time. Unfortunately the response to the ad forced the development of a business in 6-12 days.
I was totally shocked. By the end of the first day 50 people had said they’d come to the event. I was thrilled of course but I was already starting to worry about how i’d make 50 different people. By the end of the second day however, close to 800 people had checked the ‘going’ box and I was starting to panic…
THE FIRST EVENT
A couple of friends helped me develop a website and short term business plan while we worked on quickly developed a logo and even more importantly the name “Brick Yourself” (who I have to credit my good friend Wesley Gorton with) for what I was doing. Ordering forms and ways of dealing with the potential numbers of orders had to be developed as did the customisation process and a billion other things besides.
Of paramount importance however was the securing of a sufficient amount of pieces for the event. I spent every cent I had ordering parts in from overseas and a fellow designer from Melbourne flew up the night before the markets with extra supplies.
All in all, by the end of the first week more than 5000 people had said that they would be attending the event and I was elated and terrified all at the same time till the day of the event itself.
The parts arrived in due course and I desperately enlisted the help of several friends to come and deal with whatever was going to be thrown at us on that day.
I am and will be forever grateful to Wes Gorton, Chris Czinner, Caine White, Sam Nishanian, Carlin Hurdis, Marie Ismay and my brother Patrick for all the help and support they provided that day and to Wes, Chris, Caine and my partner Noemie for all the help they gave before and after that day in helping to turn an idea into an actual operational business (in a marketplace that didn’t even really exist before that) in a matter of days.
I distinctly remember that day. It started with waking at 5 in the morning and going to pick up a 4 x 4 with Caine who had just flew in from Melbourne and was probably just as exhausted I was at time.
The vehicle was borrowed from another friend and could only be picked up at the ridiculous time of 6 if we were to get to the markets on time.
I distinctly remember meeting the owner of the markets at 8 a couple of hours later, bleary eyed and doggedly excited trying to pay attention as he explained the various precautions they had taken to deal with 5000+ people should they arrive.
The first customer came just after 8 even though we weren’t due to start till 10 and she was stoked. From thereon in though madness ensued and I remember little about the day other than frantically trying to coordinate people waiting to get to the design tables so they didn’t have to wait in the queue. I remember getting two solid three minute breaks over 8 hours or something and everything else was chaos, Lego and people.
Perhaps as many as 3 or 400 people turned up to the actual event and we probably were able to make about 100 figures on the day. We considered this wasn’t a bad effort considering i’d only ever thought a few of my friends would show up and they’d only buy something to support me. But this was something more obviously. People genuinely wanted to buy it and the dynamic energy which gripped most of the day particularly around the design table is something I’ll never forget.
The ridiculously long queues on that famous first day.
Some people queued for 2 or 3 hours and were still wrapped that they were able to get in and have a play.
It was soon apparent that the idea had merit. There was something genuine yet something raw about what we were offering as well as something distinctively unique. Throw in fun and creativity to the mix and it’s not too difficult to see why Brick Yourself became an overnight success.
However as exciting as this all was, it was also the beginning of some real problems. As I realised (but had not grasped fully) at the time, much of the next 3 months would be spent in damage control. We’d only just started and had no systems in place, no long term vision or strategy, no idea about how this business could scale or any of the resources that an established business had the luxury of drawing from. I had no suppliers or relationships with other businesses and i’d just been inundated with orders I had no real idea how I was going to fill.
Some of our very first customers, very happy at being ‘bricked’!
Between the end of that September and Christmas I worked non-stop, developing systems, business ideas, completing orders, corresponding with over a hundred different customers without any software or organisational process, just juggling everything in my mind. Every cent was reinvested to make sure we had stock to meet the immediate orders and to allow the business to be able to start to slowly grow and scale.
I moved the business into a dilapidated, ramshackle shed in a friend’s backyard in Turramurra and virtually lived in it for three months while the business began to slowly develop.
By Christmas 2015 I had scrounged and scraped and designed till I was blue in the face, using every tactic I could think of (both for designing figures and creating a business from scratch) and coming up with new techniques if nothing existed that worked.
I guess in those early months of any venture of this sort, you’re either going to sink or swim, and I think for myself (and those blessed friends who selflessly lent their time and energy) we managed to paddle hard enough and for long enough that the business began to float by itself. Processes began to be introduced which reduced the crazy amount of hours that needed to initially be invested and the business began to derive its own credibility and traction as the orders started to be filled.
At the beginning of 2016, we’d caught up with the orders and gotten as many as we could out before Christmas. It had been 3 months since Glebe and we hadn’t looked back. The business continued to grow gradually but steadily and the frantic pace, much to my relief had begun to subside. The year ahead was to be full of its own adventures and pitfalls but we’d survived the crucial birthing stage and lived to tell the tale.
I felt it was an amazing achievement particularly how many ‘planned’ businesses go bust in their initial stages. It was a significant step forward in any event and the following 12 months would prove to be even more groundbreaking and exciting as Brick Yourself continued to grow.
Daniel Hitchings – Brickman Dan