Break Through is a series about making.
Making discoveries, making a difference in the community and making the world a better place. It’s the stories of startups and inventors who are developing products that have social value by solving real world problems. It’s about artisans and entrepreneurs who have broken through the mold to live their best lives.
Listen to Episode 1: Mark Brandon, Destined Goods
In our inaugural episode we speak with Mark Brandon, founder of Destined Goods, a custom drink-ware company based in Philadelphia, PA. Mark is a NextFab member that runs his business completely from a private project space on site.
Mark Brandon: I’ve been a member at NextFab since November 2013. However, I just started this venture, just about the beginning of 2018. I had been working on some prior projects. One of them was a party game, called Slushin’ Roulette. I did a Kickstarter and then ended up putting that on the bookshelf, and reorienting my time. So with Destined Goods, what I make and design and produce – home goods, specifically drink-ware; everything I design and make is here out of NextFab. The two components I primarily work in, right now are ceramics. So I do all this slip casting next door in my studio, which is also part of NextFab. It’s a warehouse space that they run out. I also do leather work, as well, so I have some equipment for that that I do out in my space as well as utilizing the laser engravers.
Ron Bauman: What did you do before you started here at NextFab and making things?
Mark Brandon: So I’m a mechanical engineer. I went to Drexel University. Graduated in 2013
with my mechanical engineering degree. All three co-ops as well as four, five years after graduation I worked in the petroleum industry. So I was a retail engineer for Sunoco, and then actually at the beginning of 2017 they did some restructuring of the organization and so,
Ron Bauman: As corporations want to do….
Mark Brandon: Yeah, correct. Exactly. So there were some re-locations. So some of the regional departments end up getting dispatched, including the engineering department that I was part of. So I was ready to get another job. I was networking and working with different vendors and clients that would get me back in the industry basically, just so we can keep that steady income and whatnot. In the meantime, I was already moonlighting, I guess you could say working on this at night, between here on the engineering design part of the products, as well as at the Clay Studio on 2nd and Race and Old City so I could get that straight weeks experience.
Mark Brandon: So as it was getting to the point where they were letting people know, “Hey, you’re laid off, thank you for your time basically.” My wife said, “Hey, instead of getting another job, you’ve wanted to have your own company since the end of college basically. But why don’t you take this as a sign to go head first into it and do it full time. We’re at a good position in our relationship where we’re already married. You just have rent. We don’t have kids. We have the financial flexibility to take this risk.” So it’s not the sort of thing I would have volunteered us as a couple to do, but having her support really, just knowing that she was confident enough in my ability to do it, made me confident in myself to try it out. So that’s how I started doing it full time.
Mark Brandon: So my last full day at Sunoco was my first full day at Destined Goods.
Ron Bauman: So you’re just done with Sunoco and on to Destined Goods? How did you come up with a name for Destined Goods? Was it destiny?
Mark Brandon: Yeah, that’s exactly it. So I really wanted to come up with something that conveyed the message that I wanted behind the whole thing, which is interacting with your favorite people, your friends and your family. So I was thinking things along the lines of heirloom and legacy. And then it was a shower moment. We were talking about how the whole layoff process and the way I got into this full time. I was kind of destined, to get something to push me into entrepreneurship full time. So Destined Goods just ended up making sense.
Ron Bauman: Do you feel like you always had an entrepreneurial sort of bone, like bug, or?
Mark Brandon: So I think the maker bug was always an innate partner with me for sure. I was always making stuff. I guess to use the cliché, I was that lego kid. I was always doing designs and whatnot as well with different product ideas and character ideas. But as I got into college, I started getting that entrepreneurship bug as shark tank was getting popular. I’m a huge fan of the profit now as well.
Mark Brandon: So as I saw the opportunity and commercialization, and as I was realizing with my corporate job that I’m not the biggest fan of reporting to bosses. I like to be able to make the shots. Not that I can’t work in a team situation. But when I can’t agree with, the decisions coming from the top, it’s difficult to go nose to the grindstone on something. So being able to get that opportunity really drew me into the entrepreneurship field.
Ron Bauman: To sort of be your own boss, sort of that characteristic is very and probably the most common trait of entrepreneurs.
Mark Brandon: Absolutely. At the same time I feel like my head’s always spinning with different marketing ideas and different creative partnerships that are not only for my own business, but for other companies just from hearing a few minutes of what they do. And so having the design and the marketing aspects, it just made sense to jump into entrepreneurship.
Ron Bauman: Are you from the area?
Mark Brandon: Greater Philadelphia area. I say South Jersey and then people try to correct me, even though there’s really only North and South Jersey ’cause it’s not the beach South Jersey, it’s Audubon. So, I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but we moved to South Jersey, my parents and I when I was less than one year old. And then I grew up the rest of my life and Audubon, New Jersey, which is right over the Walt Whitman Bridge. So, 15 minutes away. Both, I have two younger brothers, they grew up in Audubon as well. My parents still live there. Both my parents went to Drexel for chemical engineering.
Mark Brandon: So we’ve got that engineering bug in our genes. So that’s where they met. So they say that we had a choice to go somewhere else, but we all ended up going to Drexel. ‘Cause it just makes sense. It’s a good level-headed university. If you go, you get a really good batch of people that are well rounded, which fit well with my friend group from high school. So, I felt comfortable there. And then the co-op opportunities are just fantastic as well.
Ron Bauman: Yeah, the Co-op is great there. So did you do the two-year four-year internship?
Mark Brandon: I did the five year program with three, six month internships. So all three of those I did at Sunoco in their Engineering Department.
Ron Bauman: So I was going to ask what drew you to mechanical engineering, but I think you already answered it at least with __.
Mark Brandon: Well it’s funny I say that.
Ron Bauman: Sounds like it’s in your blood, in your genes a little bit.
Mark Brandon: Sort of is that, I say that my parents had the reason I didn’t do chemical engineering, but that’s just me being a brat. So really the mechanical engineering is because it’s really diverse. You get a taste of all of the different fields, which works well with me because I sort of have, like topic ADD. So if I tried to focus on just chemical engineering and just refining or processing of that, I would get bored. But with mechanical engineering, like Destined Goods, is also an example of the fact that I could take a five year degree from a university, and apply it to an art form. Because I use the CAD and the CNC experience and thinking through the material science that I used. So, that’s really what drew me to it is the diversity of it.
Ron Bauman: So, you go through Drexel, you end up at Sunoco for a few years, not really digging the corporate thing. You start to have these ideas, and you ended up … What was the root of that inspiration that said, “I’m gonna start, making these other things, and I’m going to start making these products that are potentially bringing friends and family together,” talk about that inspiration.
Mark Brandon: So I think it all kind of exploded in my senior year. And maybe that’s because it was the culmination of where I was actually at the point that I was comfortable enough to make the products. I had had an idea to do an automated drink dispenser, like an automated bartender or robotic bartender.
Ron Bauman: So I’m sensing a theme with your products.
Mark Brandon: I guess as my wife puts it, if I had two products senior year that I was working on. My senior design project, which was in an automated bartender, and then the party game, which was called Slushin’ Roulette. I think it was the second term of working with senior design I started jumping into Slushin’ Roulette and working on that as well. And that incorporating electronics also. So I basically shoved in Arduino into a shell that looked like a revolver chamber, like Russian Roulette.
Mark Brandon: So I started developing that product. That’s actually the first product that I worked on when I joined NextFab. I try to Kickstarter and then a bookshelf that, like I mentioned earlier. So that’s really where it all just started to kick off because, I felt really confident in my ability of fabricating, and I proved to myself, “Hey, I actually can make these things that I think up. What’s the next thing I can do?”
Ron Bauman: What is the next thing?
Mark Brandon: Well, not to jump the gun. I actually worked on Slushin’ Roulette for several years, did
the kickstart in 2016 here, and then took a little bit of time off. I also had my wedding coming up in 2007, 2016.
Ron Bauman: Gotta get that right.
Mark Brandon: Yeah.
Ron Bauman: It’s also documented.
Mark Brandon: Yeah, she’ll kill me. So that led me into joining NextFab. I joined here and basically my routine was wake up in the morning, go to work as early as possible, get here at like six or seven, stayed till they were closing. They usually kicked me out the door. 10 o’clock at night they were like, “Come on, we want to go home too.” And then sometimes I’d stop at the gym if it was open late enough and then I would go home and just continue that rotation as much as possible. And it was good because I didn’t have any external pressures to do anything else. I could really dive into the project. But it also gave me the opportunity to learn a lot of different skills, that helped later on with this venture. Just soft skills as well as software skills with illustrator, web development, things like that. 3D printing laser cutting, CNC, all of it kind of came together to help out big time with this one.
Ron Bauman: So you have this side, that dedication to being here and you’re here from open to close at NextFab, you had a site there. Talk to me about really what’s driving that passion? Is it just that urge to make it and work with your hands? What’s really driving that dedication and that passion that you have?
Mark Brandon: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. So I think just as much as I love to design products and iterate my products. At the same time, I want to see the fulfillment part of it. I want people to own them, enjoy them, and love it to a point that they become an ambassador. So until I get to that point, and I won’t stop at that point, that’s really that driving factor. And I continue to want to make my product better and better. So that on the tail end of it, on the consumer usage part of it, it just becomes even more of a wanted product essentially.
Ron Bauman: So tell us a little bit more about how NextFab has sort of helped you get to where you’re at right now with Destined Goods. And we know that you’re one of the members and companies here that use more than one department. So talk to us about the integration of the different departments and how NextFab helps you sort of navigate through and kind of charter help, charter success.
Mark Brandon: There are two big things that NextFab provides that really make this a much faster, experience for me. The first one being, the person, part of it. So all of the different experts in all of the different expertise that would take me four or five lifetimes at a minimum to attain. If there’s a particular skill set that I want to use, there’s at least one or two people that are near expert level if not expert level. And so not having to take several months, but several hours to get to something that I want to do. It makes the design and iteration process so much faster.
Mark Brandon: So it helps with time and money. Obviously. The other thing too, the cost prohibitive part of all of the tools. If I wanted to start my own shop, and I’m sure I would come up with something, but I don’t know. Like off the top of my head I really don’t know because it’s such a unique space. Having all of these tools that cost tens of thousands of dollars to obtain. It would really be prohibitive to do it on my own. So having access to them on day one, just affords me the opportunity to design and produce at a level that would take much longer. So it really is a competitive advantage from that standpoint.
Ron Bauman: So we know about all of the making that happens here, we know about the product-ization of somebody that can come in and with a project, make a coffee table or you could build an automated robot. Tell us about the entrepreneurial aspects of what happens here at NextFab.
Mark Brandon: So I know, for me the biggest benefit of the entrepreneurial aspect and having other companies that are incubating here are working their day jobs here is, the motivating factor. So if it was just me and the rest of the place was, or if I was in my own place, let’s say, and it wasn’t a community space. Admittedly it would be a bit harder to motivate myself to be just pounding out work all day long and then possibly all the way until midnight. But knowing between 2019 and having other businesses that are producing and manufacturing.
Mark Brandon: As well as upstairs in the community space and even in the metal shop, in the wood shop. Seeing people that are working just as hard, makes you not necessarily muster up that competitive spirit, but at once you to be your best entrepreneur. Because you see other people doing it as well. So that really helps. Also from a networking standpoint, there are so many people that know people, that it grows your networks so quickly.
Ron Bauman: Yeah. And I think you have that, you still have the common, at least for the time being, you have that commonality of the small batch manufacturing that you hear about so much. And you know with making making a comeback and bringing manufacturing back to the United States, and to this region in Philadelphia specifically. Which, we were the wood shop of the world, Philadelphia was referred to at one point. And it’s great to see all of this, reemergence, of people making things again. And I think, with the small batch manufacturing allows for a lot more customization.
Mark Brandon: It does.
Ron Bauman: So talk to us about sort of how that plays into to Destined Goods and the things that you make.
Mark Brandon: Yeah. So it’s funny that you say that. At first when I started Destined Goods, the idea of it came from, we did a destination wedding slash honeymoon in Cancun, Riviera Maya Mexico. So when we were at the first resort, we sell these random bottles. I didn’t know what they were, I thought they were vases or something. Come to find out it tequila tasting at the Cantina. It was Tequila decanters. I’m like, “Those are cool.” Come the honeymoon. They were pitching them to every couple. They are like, “Hey, do you want to try some? Don’t you want to buy one?” And then finally by the end of it I said, “That would be a really cool memento to commemorate the wedding.” And it being in Mexico and the honeymoon and everything else. And the thing was super ornate. It was beautiful. And, the whole week of the honeymoon my wife and I were talking about how do we get a passive income lifestyle so that we can do what we see other couples doing here.
Mark Brandon: We were talking to one couple, they were a cold cut distributor from New York. And they were like, “We come down here three times a year.” And we said, “Man, if we come down here once every five years I would be fantastic. So good for you.” And so when we came back and we’re looking through the thank you notes and everything else and opening up cards, I look at jokingly put it at the top of our entertainment center like a trophy. The bottle, and I said, “I’m going to keep that forever because I’m going to remember the wedding.” Although the Tequila is going to be long gone, within a year. But at least I’ll have the bottle to remember it forever. I’ll keep filling it with the other tequilas.
Mark Brandon: And then I thought, I’m sure there are millions of other couples out there want something that could commemorate their wedding, commemorate their first child, commemorate a promotion, anything like that. Even if it’s not necessarily a Tequila, it could be some sort of a spirit. So it got me thinking on the decanter style. And I didn’t want to do what everybody else does, which is crystal and glass decanters. I wanted it to be more ornate, like a vase. So I was thinking, maybe wood turning. And then I looked at that company I got the decanter from, and they said it on their website they do slip casting ceramics. So that’s how I got into the idea of slip casting.
Mark Brandon: Pivoting back to the Slushin’ Roulette idea, I did a Kickstarter. I didn’t raise enough money. The difficulty was not that the product costs a lot. It wasn’t, it was 80% margin if I sold it. The difficulty was the minimum order quantity that, resulting we needed me to raise $70 thousand to make zero dollar. $30 thousand for tooling and molds for the injection molded parts. And then $40 thousand for the cost of goods, to get that minimum order quantity. And then you come up with $70 thousand. So that’s obviously what the Kickstarter is for. And that’s make zero dollars, basically. Obviously to have some extra inventory to make money off of, cause it’d be 100% profit, at that point. But still that’s a big nut to crack. So when it came to Destined Goods, I wasn’t integrating that lesson learned. But what I was trying to do was, because the inspiration was make it passive income. My priority was make it outsourced as much as possible.
Mark Brandon: So I was using crowdsourcing for logo generation. I found a guy on Kickstarter that makes ceramic plates. I asked him how he gets them made. He said, “Here’s a guy I talked to, he’s a broker for a Chinese manufacturer.” So I just said, “Hey, I have this idea for bottles. What would the cost be?” He said, “It’d be a few dollars each. How many do I have to buy? 2000.” So not that it’s a ton of capital, but it was an idea. I had no idea if anybody wanted to buy it. So for a little less, but still $10 thousand dollars I could end up just sitting on ceramic bottles forever to garage. I didn’t like the idea that, I said, “You know what? I’m getting that bad taste in my mouth just like I did with the Slushin’ Roulette Kickstarter and overseas manufacturing.”
Mark Brandon: And then the maker in me started coming back out and I said, “You know what? For less than what that inventory costs could be, I could buy all of the equipment to start my own ceramic shop.”
Ron Bauman: Let’s talk about some of the people in your life that have inspired you, that have helped you get to where you’re at today.
Mark Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. My dad was always a hands on guy. Maybe not necessarily a master carpenter or plumber or anything else, but he was able to get the job done. So, I was lucky enough that he would always allow me to help him out with it. So I could at least get that experience of seeing what you can do with your hands.
Ron Bauman: Did you work on projects together when you were a kid?
Mark Brandon: Yeah. We worked on a lot of different projects. They got me the 30 and one radio kit from radio shack. So they quickly and kind of like,
Ron Bauman: Nudge you that way?
Mark Brandon: They sort of tried to nudge me into the engineering realm and an electronics realm, which I’m really appreciative of. They were random things. They would start getting me soldering kits. So, there was like a little robotic spider you put together, you solder the board together, to get everything to work. Just so, I didn’t know what I was doing. They read the instructions, but at least they kind of introduced me to the concepts of it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what it was. But I think one of the larger projects that I took on was when I got into wood shop in high school, that’s when I really had a love for making things. So, at first it was basically, “All right. Everybody makes a shelf.” It’s wood shop one intro to wood shop, you’re making a shelf or you’re making a paper towel dispenser. And then you get into wood shop two and three where you make your own things.
Mark Brandon: So, I was able to start pulling from the project books. I could make a really cool revealed dovetail table with an ash top and walnut legs. That came out awesome. I was starting to incorporate different finishes, so using India ink to do a cherry finish. So, I think that’s when I started getting an appreciation for sort of a modern blend of matching. Not stark contrasting materials, but different type of materials without making them look super embellished, letting them be their own material. But by combining them, getting the cool sense, and I think that came back with Destined Goods with the ceramics and the leather and the wood and the metals. But my wood shop teacher, Mr Loughlin, was really cool sounding board.
Ron Bauman: I was just going to ask, did you have any teachers that specifically influenced you?
Mark Brandon: Yeah. Absolutely. He did big time. But my first project that I ideated from scratch and created with the help of my wood shop teacher and then actually help with my dad as well, was in sophomore year I wanted to make my own basic guitar. Worked out really well. It didn’t sound the best, because I’m not a luthier. But it worked.
Ron Bauman: Do you play? Are you a musician as well?
Mark Brandon: I haven’t touched it in a couple of years. I’m just a hobbyist. I don’t know how to read music or anything. I more so liked making it. I like playing it as well, but just as a hobby when I can.
Ron Bauman: Who else do you draw inspiration from?
Mark Brandon: So from a working standpoint, my wife is a huge inspiration, and she didn’t pay me to say that.
Ron Bauman: That’s a good answer. I was going to say cause this will be made public at some point. Exactly.
Mark Brandon: That’s the opening line of it. But she’s probably the hardest working person I’ve ever met. But, for me, even though if I get home and I’m exhausted and I don’t want to do some of the administrative stuff. When she’s on the couch next to me, and she’s got her laptop open til 10 o’clock at night, and it’s hard for me to say, “Hey, I’m going to turn the TV on even though I have stuff to do.” So it just keeps motivating me.
Ron Bauman: Sometimes it’s like another competitive theme that’s emerging here.
Mark Brandon: Yes. I mean it’s a little bit of that, live to work. And we both want to have more of that work life balance lifestyle. But, at the same time, it’s kind of integrated into our bones because we do enjoy what we do. And even though sometimes we do need a break here and there, it’s hard for us to not do that around the clock.
Ron Bauman: Yeah. I think one of the most important things for entrepreneurs is to really be able to connect their passion, to what they’re doing and to their purpose. And really infusing that, not only into your business model, but into your brand and everything that is involved with what you’re doing and what you’re making. So, we find that passion really becomes, what are you good at? And how do you want to spend your time? Where do you like to do? And what are you good at? And then that at that intersection is where you find passion. And then that’s what, if you can connect that to, your life’s calling and make that your life’s calling, then you know what better way to spend your days and your time. So that’s awesome. What’s the future look like for Destined Goods?
Mark Brandon: I want to grow from a talent acquisition standpoint. As well as I guess you could say, a fabrication warehouse standpoint organically, as the business finds the need for it. So, as I start getting larger orders, and it makes more sense to me for me to have laser independence, and buy my own laser cutter because if I have an order that is tens of thousands of dollars for our corporation as I’m working towards. It makes sense to get a laser cutter that’s a couple thousand dollars because the ROI makes sense. And then it helps me grow. I have different product ideas that the cost is a little bit high because I have to use a community laser cutter where I’m paying for the machine time. But if it’s a machine that’s already buried into my overhead costs, I can get the product costs down as well. So then I can start expanding my product offering as well.
Mark Brandon: I could start doing some cutting boards, and coasters, and some other home goods. I want to do wall furnishings as well. And then things that are outside of home goods. But I could go on and on about it. I have to stay focused a little bit on what I’m offering for the time being.
Ron Bauman: That’s great. So where can we find Destined Goods?
Mark Brandon: So Destined Goods I sell on my website @ destinedgoods.com, and all social media. I guess the popular ones, Facebook and Instagram, I have Destined Goods as well. So that’s the easiest way for people to find it and that’s where the store is as well.
Ron Bauman: Awesome. Any other favorite Instagram accounts?
Mark Brandon: I like following NextFab because I get to see what people are doing.
Ron Bauman: Good answer. Good answer.
Mark Brandon: I think it’s #NextFabMade.
Ron Bauman: Yes, that is the primary hashtag. Well it’s great to see how NextFab has played a role in your success. Last question, what’s the best advice you can give to budding entrepreneurs?
Mark Brandon: So if there are things that you don’t feel competent in, don’t feel like you have to be turning your wheels and figuring it out yourself. Feel comfortable reaching out to other entrepreneurs. Rather makers or there kind of one in the same most of the time. Because a lot of the time, they know where you’re coming from, they’ve learned those lessons. It doesn’t have to necessarily be an investor or a coach. It could be somebody who has their own business. That’s kind of the best source. And that’s what really helped me out. Is just reaching out to other artisans and other people who started their own company.
Ron Bauman: That’s awesome.
Mark Brandon: Yeah.
Ron Bauman: Well, Mark, thank you for your time. We wish you the best of luck with Destined Goods. We look forward to seeing you around the shop here at NextFab and until next time.
Mark Brandon: Thank you very much.
Ron Bauman: Alright. You got it.
Ron Bauman: Thank you for listening to this episode of Break Through. I’m your host, Ron Bauman, serial entrepreneur, founder of Milk Street Marketing, and NextFab member. To learn more about how NextFab can help you make your ideas come to life, visit nextfab.com and be sure to follow #NextFabMade on social to see what our members are making!