Maker-Entrepreneurs: Wealth vs Control in the Artisanal Economy

I have a keen interest in the maker movement. In fact, being a maker is what inspired me to pursue a masters in entrepreneurship. Like many makers, I did not intend to start a business. I began making felt flowers as a creative outlet after the birth of my first child. In the beginning, my focus was on creating the flowers, not selling them. Making flowers was simply something to do, a hobby. It was only after my husband questioned why his office was covered in felt flowers that I pondered trying to sell them. I applied to the farmers market and Heartfelt Flowers was born.

SONY DSCI did not consider the dilemma of wealth versus control that Noam Wasserman brings up in his book The Founder’s Dilemma. I made my business decisions week to week after my children went to sleep. In the midst of my third summer at the farmers market, I began exploring the issue of scaling up in hopes of creating more money. Little did I know, I had come face to face with the dilemma of wealth versus control. I could not make  more money unless I could make more flowers, and I simply did not have time to make more products. I wondered: Could I make them faster? Could I teach others how to make them exactly as I do? How do I keep my designs from getting copied? If someone else is making my flowers or using my designs, does my product loose its story value?

The questions that came up for me as I considered the wealth aspect of my business is not all that uncommon in the realm of the artisanal economy. Anthropologist Grant McCracken studies American culture and the connection between culture and commerce. McCracken has a series of articles on his website that address the concept of the artisanal economy. In his article The Artisanal Economy and the 10 Things that Define It, he describes the cultural components of the artisanal movement. According to McCracken, consumers of the artisanal movement have a preference for small batch, handmade, all-natural products. These products are unbranded, yet personalized by the maker. Consumers feel as if they are purchasing the story of a location, a product’s simplicity, and/or the maker’s authenticity. Artisanal products are not clouded by the large corporation and its manufacturing, but seen as simplified and transparent in their production and marketing. And finally, there is an ego driven sense of connoisseurship. Artisanal products are often perceived as more sophisticated by consumers.

Think about the kind of vendors you meet at your local farmers market and your motivations for shopping with them, and you will have a pretty good understanding of the artisanal economy.

I highly recommend reading McCracken’s two-part article “The Artisanal Economies.” In the Part 1, he interviews a shop-owner who embodies the concept of artisanal products. And in Part 2, he interviews a farmer who makes an unlikely trade for a service required on his farm, showing how valuable an artisanal product can be perceived because of the story behind it.

As you can see, the maker movement fits squarely inside the artisanal movement. Consumers feel the worth of the handmade object is connected to the story or meaning behind the object. This brings me back to the founder’s dilemma. I believe the makers dilemma poses a double dilemma.

An entrepreneur is charged with deciding between the worth of the business and the importance of control over the business. But a maker-entrepreneur must also consider how worth is connected to the story of the object.

Seeking more wealth may forfeit the meaning of the object, because it may lose some of the artisanal qualities consumers value.

Choosing control may forfeit the value of the object because the maker is limited by the manufacturing of the product.

Touching on Wasserman’s parallel concept of being king or being rich, I’d like to talk about the maker-entrepreneur motivations. According to a study entitled The Maker Economy in Action: Entrepreneurship and Supportive Ecosystems in Chicago, New York and Portland, “the firms that maker-entrepreneurs build from products they create often emerge from deeply held values, whether defined in terms of attachment to place, a response to changing norms of work, a sense of social and ecological responsibility, or new ways of relating with the material world.” If this is true, then it is possible to believe that maker-entrepreneurs view themselves as both rich and king because of the inherent value behind their motivation for creating. By the way, this study was the first of its kind to analyze the maker economy. Since then, interest and participation in the movement has grown exponentially. This study focuses on  “bags”,(Etsy, craft fairs, and pop-up shops), “bites” (food trucks, craft beer, and farmers markets), and “bots” (apps, tech, and internet tools).

Finally, returning to Heartfelt Flowers as an artisanal business, and the choice between wealth or control, I have chosen control for the time being.However, in future endeavors, I believe beginning with this choice is a significant step to creating a business worthwhile.


5 thoughts on “Maker-Entrepreneurs: Wealth vs Control in the Artisanal Economy

  1. I really enjoyed reading your piece, Joy. As an artist-healer I’m in a similar dilemma in that part of the value of the work I do is that it’s me doing it! I believe the key for myself and likely for you too is in trust. i recently had a similar conversation with a friend that is part of a family run artisanal business. They want to expand but it’s difficult for them to even think about incorporating people that are outside the family as employees. It’s important that if/when you decide to expand that you teach your techniques to someone you trust to treat them with the love and care that you have. PS your flowers are beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your post. I believe it is important for an entrepreneur to have a generalized idea what he wishes to accomplish when he is planning his venture. Strategy dictates that a path is established for what the objective is to achieve. If a person is seeking wealth a different path is chosen than a person what wished more control. I say that is in effective overall strategy. However, it probably is not wise to lean too far to either extreme. There will likely be times when a moderate stance will be more beneficial to the overall objective though it is contrary to the current belief. Sometimes it is wise to take advantage of a situation where one’s wealth is enhanced without giving up control. One can be flexible and focused simultaneously.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your experience of filling up the house as the reason for pursuing your entrepreneurial direction is pretty common. It seems that many businesses are launched because someone has run out of space for their passion. I know someone who enjoys picking up shells and creating pretty pictures based on the shells. I can already see that she needs to start thinking about selling them. There just isn’t any room left in her house.

    Regarding the central theme of your blog, I completely agree that this is a fairly common problem. I see a couple of potential solutions. There probably are components of the process which do not require creativity and which would allow you to still create a unique and interesting product. This would allow you to increase sales without harming the value of the product you want to see produced. As production grows you would then need to acquire assistance in terms of marketing and distribution.

    My second idea would be for you to support other artisans in their endeavors. No doubt you have built some business skills which could help them achieve their goals as well. By working together you could both create a unique product and streamline some of the cost and effort involved. Hopefully, that other Artisan or group of Artisans would pay you something for your expertise.

    Good luck with your endeavor. It’s great to see something pretty brought into the world.


  4. Joy,
    Great post! and Oh. My. Gosh. I need you to make me some felt flowers – like that picture. I’m in LOVE! Pretty please with a cherry on top!!!!

    I loved how you made this generic blog topic specific to you and your business. Great job! I enjoyed reading it, and I opened new tabs with pieces by McCracken.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great idea! Maybe you could make money from teaching others your craft. Not everyone will make it the same way. For instance making quilts, there is a group of ladies that make quilts but they all have a unique way or a certain thing that they add to show that it is theirs. There may be something that you add or do to each Heartfelt Flower arrangement that no one elses notices until you point it out. Like, stitch your initials underneath a petal or a leaf to show that you made it. I am intrigued by the research that you have done on the Maker-entrepreneur and am going to have to learn more about McCracken.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s