How a grade school art teacher created one of LA's fastest growing companies

by Patrick Hechinger
July 28, 2015
In two years, MakersKit has sold 250,000 DIY kits, raised $1.5 million in funding, and was recently awarded first place at SXSW V2Venture in Las Vegas. Their steady growth has impressed investors and confounded their industry rivals, but a deeper look at their creative roots reveals a passion that continues to drive the company forward.
As a product of the San Francisco public school system, Mike Stone attributes a lot of his success and personality to his art classes growing up. When he heard his former elementary school was shutting down their arts program, he decided to intervene. Already a successful entrepreneur, Mike had just sold his eighth company and committed his newly acquired free time as a volunteer art teacher, going as far as buying the class’ daily supplies. 
During that time he met Jawn McQuade, an elementary school teacher with a shared passion for the creative. The two understood the joy and pride of creating something from scratch and wanted to find a way to spread that feeling. 
“That’s what we’re after — getting people to get creative,” said Stone. “When you’re a kid you’re creative but when you grow up you lose the ‘I can do anything’ feeling and that’s what we want to bring back.”
The duo began teaching in-person DIY classes and were selling out within two months. The classes drew in Google and YouTube employees who eventually inquired about bringing the duo online. 
“We liked to joke that if Google came to us, we knew what we were doing,” Stone said. 
The interest sparked the idea for MakersKit in 2013 and the two bootstrapped the company from Mike’s San Francisco apartment. They created 40 kits including terrariums, hand made soap, and a create-your-own perfume kit.
A year later, they had sold 45,000 DIY kits and published a book on DIY projects. Continuing their string of success, the book scored them a front page spot on the San Francisco Chronicle, leading to a partnership and national tour with Macy’s.
It seemed like the duo could do no wrong.  
But their status as a tech company remained in flux. By only providing video tutorials, McQuade and Stone believed they had found a new way to utilize technology. But when they applied to the TechStars Accelerator, they found out not everyone shared that perspective. 
“They told us that we were really on the borderline,” explained Stone. “Apparently it was a big controversy because half of the Techstars team was against us and half was really for us. And the question kept coming up, ‘How are we tech?’ But we weren’t creating a new form of technology, we were making the best of existing technology in a creative way.”
The skepticism spread to a PandoDaily article that bashed the company’s acceptance into Techstars. The first line of the article read, “When I interviewed the co-founder of MakersKit eight months ago, I didn't think I'd ever talk to him again.” But Stone and McQuade once again got the last laugh — gaining another investor due to the publicity.
The company went on to succeed in the accelerator, being the first of the participants to raise a round of funding. Stone and McQuaid were also introduced to a few of their mentors in the industry including Birchbox CEO Haley Barna and Warby Parker CEO Neil Blumenthal. 
At SXSW V2Venture last week, the company faced the same discrimination. Considered the underdog of the field, Makerskit brought home the first place prize in the Entertainment and Content Technologies category.  
MakersKit now has 50 employees in their LA headquarters and plans to sell over 1 million kits in 2016. They have a new batch of products coming out over the next two weeks and have signed a partnership with National Geographic for a series of kits in the near future. 
But the thriving company has not forgotten its roots. With every kit sold, Stone and McQuade donate a supply kit to a public school to bring their mission full circle —  “To Inspire Creativity in Everyone.”
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