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New Online Marketplace Launches for Manufacturing Jobs

By Emily Peagram 04 Jun 2020

Alex Burn, founder of Need It Made, shares his motivations behind starting an online marketplace for making physical items

What is Need It Made?

NiM is an online auction site for manufacturing jobs. It’s a marketplace where anyone can upload a project they want to have made and anyone who can make it – whether a company or hobbyist – can bid to complete it.

How does it work?

If you want something made, then you, the customer (‘service contractor’), fill in the project form on the site. You can upload pretty much anything, from sketches you might have, a written description, CAD, drawings or a video. Registered manufacturers (‘service providers’) see the uploaded projects and choose what they would like to bid on. During the bidding process, manufacturers can dialogue with you to clarify their understanding of the project. Once the bidding time frame is over, the customer can look at the bids and the standardised profiles of the manufacturers and choose who suits them best.

NiM also offers customer security because we hold the payment until the customer has received the item and confirms they are happy with it. And the manufacturer can be confident because they know the customer has paid before they start the work.

Why would someone use it?

For simplicity: to get more quotes for the single action of uploading their project once. For financial security: because they don’t know where else they would start looking otherwise. To find the manufacturer they feel fits the story they want for the item.

Do you envision it being used more by companies or individuals?

In these beginning stages, I see it being picked up more by individuals and small companies, but ultimately there is no reason why larger companies wouldn’t use it. The manufacturers are offered standardised profiles to complete on the site, and so a large company can sit equally alongside someone working from their kitchen table.

What is your relationship to manufacturing and making?

I qualified as an engineer around 10 years ago from Brighton University. Since then I have been working for a well-known British engineering company across the business – reliability, engineering for manufacture, concept design and testing. In my spare time, though, I create my own work. Some of my projects have included hand-cast handbrake covers for drift cars, plastic buckles for backpack webbing, and counterbalanced desk lamps. I took evening classes to become a British standards MIG welder, which has been put to good use welding cars over the last few years. So I’m familiar with all sides and scales of manufacturing from the global company to the garden shed on the weekends.

What brought you to creating an online platform when it seems like you’re a physical creator?

I came up with the idea of NiM precisely because I’m a physical creator. I just always found it difficult and time consuming to find the right manufacturer for the item I needed – especially affordably, if it was a one-off. I just reflected on what the longest, hardest bit of my making process usually was, and it was always finding someone to make the thing that I needed at a good price, and in the UK, or even better, local to me in Bristol.

What has been the hardest thing about setting up this auction site?

In these early stages, there is a chicken-and-egg situation because the site needs two different types of end users to engage. To sign up at either end, someone needs to see a lot going on at the other end. This is one reason why there is no monthly fee to use the site. We want to make it really easy and obligation-free in order to get as many people as possible using the site.

What is the future for NiM?

I want to see NiM become the Amazon or eBay of manufacturing. Both of those platforms are places where anyone can find pretty much anything they want and anyone can start a business. I want NiM to be a marketplace where anyone can get anything made.

On the other side of it, NiM is a marketplace where you can start a business, a safe platform on which you can earn money from a skill or hobby you have.

What do you hope to achieve through NiM?

There is a lot of talk in the manufacturing world about going digital, with the term generally being used in regard to the machines making the items streamlining the manufacturing processes. I’m interested in creating a digitally smooth marketplace that focuses mainly on how customers and manufacturers find each other and through which the demand and supply of manufactured items can flow from maker to customer at any scale – from people working at kitchen tables to global manufacturing facilities.

You often hear that craft skills are dying, that ‘we don’t make anything anymore’ but that’s simply not true. I want to create an easier way for customers to find manufacturers and vice versa. Currently you type into Google what you need, and begin a long trawling process – it’s time consuming and clunky. NiM streamlines that process and connects people up.

The lockdown makes a great case for the NiM marketplace – many items that are made in manufacturing facilities in cost-effective economies could equally be made locally in people’s homes, garages, or sheds. The NiM platform brings all of these locations together allowing them to compete on a level playing field.

To become a manufacturer or customer, you can register at needitmade.co.uk

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