Balancing a Business with a Baby and a 9-to-5. Meet Vintage Lighting Maker Dan Cordero!
on July 20, 201710:13 AM Updated July 20, 201710:13 AM - last edited September 09, 201709:59 AMSeptember 09, 201709:59 AM by LeslieBarber
Dan Cordero is an Emmy award-winning video producer and a new dad based in North Carolina. In his limited downtime, Dan repurposes vintage lights and sells them on Etsy.
The journey from hobbyist to business owner has been gradual, but he’s finally on the brink of taking his business full-time. We spoke to Dan about inspiration, lightbulb moments and the challenges of running a successful business while also caring for a newborn.
What inspired you to start creating repurposed vintage lights and selling them online?
My day job is as a filmmaker for product development firm Edison Nation, which provides engineers, designers and resources to turn ideas into tangible products. I work alongside highly creative people and many of them are good at working with their hands. Until recently, I only made things on computers.
I started tinkering around in the workshop after I learned how many lightbulbs are thrown away in the trash. I played around with a couple, connecting them with coax cable and suspending them from the ceiling. Everyone seemed to really like what I made, so I spent more time in the workshop refining my ideas.
I’m inspired by Edison Nation – not just the team, but by Thomas Edison himself – so my work is centered around lightbulbs. I love the vintage industrial look and breathing life into beautifully nostalgic Edison bulbs.
Who was your very first customer?
The first thing I sold was an old bell jar lamp to a customer on eBay. Back then, I only had a few things for sale. I’d sell one piece and start making another. Selling on eBay let me quickly test whether people would be interested, since bidding windows only remained open for a week. It was exciting, too! Seeing my products spark bidding wars was satisfying to watch.
When I’m making new pieces now, I try to make replicable designs in case demand is high, but it’s getting trickier to source raw materials. I spend my weekends treasure hunting at flea markets and yard sales, but vintage pieces are much more popular these days and it’s getting harder to find what I need.
When did you know your business was going to work?
A year after switching from eBay to Etsy I realized I could actually make a decent income from this endeavor. Now I’m in a position where I can dedicate more time to my business.
If I had to choose an exact moment when I knew this was going to work, it would be when I sold a lamp to an NFL player's mom who wanted a gift for her son. She said he had everything, but that my lamps were unique and she knew he'd love them. It validated my efforts, giving me the confidence boost I needed to continue.
What has been the biggest surprise in starting your own business?
I don't think I realized all the different responsibilities I would take on as a one-man band. Making cool lamps is the fun part, but there are so many other parts that I need to think about to keep this ship sailing.
The hardest thing for me has been keeping on top of customer service because sitting at a computer to answer customers' questions is so time consuming. That's tough when I have a full-time job and a young family to think about too.
How do you price your creations?
First, I jot down the total cost and man-hours it takes to produce the item. Then I add my percentage of profit.
I consider other variables too, like whether I enjoyed making the product. This is a labor of love, so if I don’t enjoy making something I’ll charge more for it so it’s worth my while.
When I started out, I got excited by the prospect of wholesaling. But those buyers expect such a big discount that it crippled me financially. If I’d known I’d be wholesaling from the beginning, I’d have put bigger margins on those products.
One problem with e-commerce is that buyers can find out how I priced an item initially so I feel like it’s too late for me to increase my prices now.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Squeezing in hours to complete orders around a full-time job is a balancing act, especially with a newborn. I spend two-and-a-half hours before work sending out orders. I have a Redbull to get me going and I prioritize pieces based on when they need to ship the time it will take for painting, gluing and dying. I finish by packaging orders with bubble wrap.
On weekends I allocate six or seven uninterrupted hours to the business, sourcing parts and sketching new ideas. Products take about two weeks from ideation to creation.
On Sunday evening, I get orders ready for FedEx collection on Monday morning.
If you could go back in time, what is one thing you’d do differently when you were starting your business?
I’d come up with a better business name. Once you’ve started out with one, it’s hard to switch because your brand has already developed an online presence.
I wanted to call my business something unique, but didn’t know what. My sister suggested "Into the Filament" and "Cordero Lighting," but I decided to use my name because I wasn’t satisfied with anything else.
If I was choosing a name now, I’d select something that reflected the work I produce more accurately.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I want my business to grow so that I can start working part-time at my day job. I’m at the point where I have to jump off the ledge to see if it will work, which is something most small business owners will have experienced.
I’d like to know how to manage my work/life balance. Making this a success is going to require 110% of my effort, but I’m recently married and my wife and child are the most important things in my life.
Does anyone here have tips for effective time management?
I might need to employ someone to help out with things like answering emails and shopping for inventory, but is there another way?
I'd love for your input!
Can you help Dan out?
Dan is juggling a 9-to-5, starting a new business and life with a newborn. If you've been there, share your tips for effective time management right here.