One of the best professors I've ever had once told me: "Nothing is difficult, it just takes time." In the past 4 years, I've had the opportunity to not only build my own brands and pursue projects, but also having companies hire me to do it for them. It took way longer than I realized for my life to start making sense, and even though its still all over the place I like to remember how the most impacting events happen. It always seems to be a mixture of being driven, being prepared, and being at the right place at the right time.
When I was 14 years old, I got this Taig lathe that basically changed my life. I asked my parents for it for my birthday because I was huge into yoyos and I wanted to try making some. My parents didn't even know what a lathe was. If you're like them, it is essentially a machine that grabs onto a piece of round material and turns it with a motor. You control a fixed blade mounted to a bed via x/y dials and cut the metal into whatever you want. I spent hours on that machine making pens, yoyos, rings, spin tops. I was obsessed. Anything that was round I've probably made (there's probably a phallic joke in there somewhere lol). It taught me so much about machining. I spent hours on the web reading about how to use this thing. After a few years of experience on that machine, I ended up taking on my first production project, by modifying 15 of these plastic yoyos I bought and sold them to some of my friends online (they were plastic Duncan FHZ if anyone cares). I put a bigger bearing in them with recessed silicone, so they would spin like 5 times as long as stock. I was 14 years old back then - I did it for fun and made a few bucks. It was exciting, but I didn't think much of it at the time. Looking back at it now, it kind of set me up to turn out the way I did, even though that was more than 10 years ago.
Throughout highschool, I worked a few really shitty minimum wage jobs (A sketchy pizza place and a grocery store with questionable work ethics to name a few) and focused my attention to what was back then the biggest project I ever dreamt of. There was this Car and Driver article that said "If you're a guy (or gal) who thinks Vin Diesel is a girly man, this car is for you." Being a skinny Asian kid, I defintely didn't think Vin Diesel was girly by any means, but I still wanted one - A 185HP VTEC Honda engine powered Austin Mini just sounded insane. I didn't have much money at the time so the only way I could get one was to build it myself. At the end of highschool, I was working so much that I spent more time working than in school. I remember going into the guidance office at school, and them warning me that I wouldn't graduate if I missed anymore school (I skipped like 25% of the days or something insane - stay in school kids.) I didn't care though - just after I graduated I bought my first car. It was a bone stock Rover Mini.
College was all about cars. I loved cars - they were my passion since I was born, earlier than any other memory. I decided to pursue "Automotive Power Technician" - the general public knows it as auto mechanics. I loved that kind of stuff - I remember waking up extra early so I wouldn't miss class. I'd go home and work on my car, then go to school and learn about what the hell I was doing. Long short, I did finish my car - it even got a huge feature in a magazine just before my 20th birthday. 185HP in a car you can lift up is no joke - it was a monster. If you care you can check out the entire documented build thread here. (Spoiler alert: 5 years later I sold it to fund other projects, including launching the Item Project. Oh well.)
I graduated with honors from the Automotive Service program. I had an 90 or above for every class except for this business class we had to take. I hated it. I nearly failed it - I thought business was so stupid. I pictured people in business suits talking with their stupid business jargon. I wasn't that. Half the time my hands were stained in car oil. Its still the same today when I wrench on stuff - my sister makes fun of me for it. I've now run a couple pretty successful small e-commerce business, one of which has been my full time job for the past 3 years. Life is funny - never say never. Something clicked and like a domino effect it just all came together.
After the Automotive Service thing, I ended up deciding I wanted to pursue University education instead. You know - with Asian parents and all. They all want their kids to be doctors, lawyers or engineers. I spent a full year to upgrade my bad highschool marks to even apply. Then spent a year in university realizing I hated it. During those years, I still worked on these random side projects. I built a Prusa i3 3d Printer out of instructions found online. When I started 3d printing for people online, that was when I started my very first e-commerce business. I remember making my first $1000. Ask anyone who has started from scratch - they will ALWAYS remember their first $1000. I later moved onto bigger projects and it kind of died for a few years. In December 2016, Fluid Print Dynamics was set up as a non-profit website where hobbyists and students can print their own Yo-yo for fun.
After a year and a half of University, I dropped out. Well I guess I didn't technically drop out - I had a pretty good standing with my marks and all. Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better for leaving. Regardless, I left Canada and backpacked Europe with all that money I made with my 3d printer. Europe changed my life. Not in that superficial way where you are inspired for a month and then forget about it. No - it changed me in a way where I didn't realize it made any impact until I looked back on it years after. The nomadic freedom of living out of a 15kg backpack was something that penetrated my core. I could write a whole blog just on that topic alone.
It led to all sorts of stuff. The yoyo thing stuck around through the years because of my friends, and it led to Luftverk, my ultra - high precision titanium yoyo company that sells yoyos for $500+, which I've flown half way around the world to help optimize the machining/assembly process (The image above shows a 1 of 11 Titanium/Stainless steel yoyo with MSRP of $580USD. All 11 sold out in 2 minutes, read about it here). It led to SKYVA, a plastic yoyo that has more than 7000 units currently sold world wide (well, likely more by the time you read this). I filmed a video on the entire development process you can watch here. Actually the story behind the SKYVA is worth telling. I carried around one of those 3D printed yoyos while I was backpacking (printed on the same printer I built in university), and by accident I left it at a friends house where I was staying. I was kind of pissed that I lost it - but a few weeks after I left, one of his friends who was an established yoyo professional saw it. He told me he planned to start his own company to demo at highschools, and wanted me to design some of his higher end aluminum yoyos. The manufacturer in China contacted me and together we worked pretty closely on his products. Two years later, the manufacturer directly asked me to come to China and help design, brand, and distribute an affordable plastic yoyo that anyone could buy. I pushed the idea that just because something is cheap, doesn't mean it can't be beautiful - one of the things I strongly believe in with the Item Project. The yoyo has now gained a sort of cult following in the niche yoyo community.
I built a 3D printer back in university for fun. Then I left something I printed on my friend's couch. These two very random things lead to an incredible opportunity which generates an income that allows me to live more comfortably as a freelancer. You just never know with life.
That is pretty much the important bits of my background. There's tons more, but I'd end up writing a novel. Half the stuff is random chance, but that's how life is. You are on this giant ship that you can't really stop - but you can sort of steer it if you try really hard to. That's how building a brand from scratch works too. Its not just this website. Or this blog post. Its everything that happened before. It was that first lathe I got when I was 14, it was the VTEC Mini. It was the dirty pizza shop I worked at, and the 3d printer and the yoyo stuff, and everything in between. All those life lessons has allowed me to taste that little glimpse of success with each project I take on, and experience tells me where the red flags are.
The biggest take away I can think of is that once you learn how to learn, you don't need an institution to teach you things anymore. I figured that out in university when YouTube was teaching me advanced calculus better than my prof was - and I didn't need to pay for it! Nearly every skill I have gained from running an e-commerce business has been learned online - just by putting in the effort and time. Anyway, everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for you. I'm glad I found what I was good at early on in my life and just built off of that. An intimate first post I know - but an important one. Ill leave you with two important quotes that sums up my life so far:
"you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." - Steve Jobs
And more importantly:
"Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...." - Dory from that fish movie.