Monetizing ‘Made In The USA’: Makers Row Founder Matthew Burnett On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

This is one in a Moguldom original series that shines the light on the founders featured on MogulWatch, a comprehensive list of startups that have received venture capitalist funding. Find out how much money they have received from whom, and news and data about their company. 

When Donald Trump threatened in 2016 to impose tariffs on goods imported from China, many consumers and brands grew concerned.

Not Matthew Burnett. The CEO and founder of Maker’s Row in New York City, Burnett’s company was already established as an online marketplace and resource to connect American designers with domestic partners that can help them develop and manufacture their brands right here in the U.S.

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Made in the U.S.A. is not just a slogan anymore, but an intentional effort by numerous companies to reverse offshoring manufacturing jobs. Better technology and improved access to it have helped some companies manufacture more products in the States.

Collectively, lean manufacturing, automation, productivity, and innovation are the highest ranked enablers of re-shoring, according to  Industry Week.

Maker’s Row is putting many of these practices to work for its clients and engaging with manufacturers in North America who use these organizational characteristics and can support small businesses.

I love the way small pieces can make something big happen. — Matthew Burnett. The CEO and founder of Maker’s Row

Since launching in 2012, Burnett has helped more than 100,000 brands produce 2 million-plus products. His clients range from small startups to global companies such as Staples and Target.

Burnett took his knowledge and experience working as an accessory designer with Marc Jacobs and DKNY — as well as his botched product line experience working with an overseas manufacturer — to help founders with no expertise in product development create and launch their brands domestically.

Photo credit: Maker’s Row

Burnett and his fellow co-founders, Tanya Menendez, and Scott Weiner have received support from U.S. Senator Cory Booker, recognition from the White House during the Barack Obama Administration and support from notable investors such as Alexis Ohanian, Carmelo Anthony, and Joanne Wilson. Maker’s Row has raised $2.5 million in capital through the help of Kapor Capital, Expansion Venture Capital, Index Ventures, Comcast Ventures and others.

Getting backing from notable tech investors and entrepreneurs — Alexis Ohanian, Carmelo Anthony, Joanne Wilson (investor, and podcaster) — they are cornerstones in tech in the New York area. To be able to have their support and backing has continued to be some of the biggest wins we’ve had. — Matthew Burnett. The CEO and founder of Maker’s Row

Matthew Burnett spoke with Moguldom about Maker’s Row’s beginning and where it is going.

Moguldom: Why did you start Maker’s Row?

Matthew Burnett: My grandfather was a watchmaker back in Detroit, Michigan and my grandmother was a Rosie the Riveter. Coming from the Motor City, I’ve always been around manufacturing. I love the way small pieces can make something big happen. I went to New York to study design at Pratt (Institute School of Design), and there, I started designing watches for Marc Jacobs (fashion designer), DKNY, a bunch of other fashion house brands. I discovered then I wanted to start my own watch company because working for other fashion companies, I didn’t feel fulfilled as a designer. It wasn’t that sexy career of creating whatever you need and whatever you want. I felt like the best way to do it would be able to start my own company. So in my senior year, I started designing my own products. A large extent of my products were being manufactured in China. I did that for about three years. It was fantastic to be able to see my ideas come to fruition, to see these products created. But, I recognized manufacturing on the other side of the globe was inefficient for me as a small business. It’s not the red-carpet treatment when I was working with the other large brands. Plus, I started having language barrier issues and time zone issues.

You must make sure that the folks that you’re bringing on board have the same or similar value systems — not the same opinions, not the same viewpoints on everything, but the same value system. — Matthew Burnett. The CEO and founder of Maker’s Row

Moguldom: How was your line received?

Matthew Burnett: My first order failed in the department store. It got botched from overseas. I think that was a significant turning point for me where I felt like I was gambling way too much on manufacturing overseas. I decided to start a local-based brand where all my products would be produced super-locally. The leather design, bracelets, wallets, book bags, handbags, all came from Queens. Everything was assembled in midtown Manhattan and was just a subway ride away, which was fantastic. I was able to build the product alongside people I was developing relationships with and the quality of the production grew as well. As I scaled up, many of my other friends were wondering how I was able to produce products in the United States because they had never found manufacturers to produce at a small scale. So I began to help a number of my friends out as a consultant helping to find the manufacturers for them. I was helping them through the whole design and manufacturing process. Ultimately, I got together with a group of friends, and we decided to create an online platform around it.

All you have to do is have your ears open to your community to be able to create new ideas. — Matthew Burnett. The CEO and founder of Maker’s Row

Moguldom: Obviously, you moved your consulting into a much larger scale. Are you still doing any design work yourself?

Matthew Burnett: I’m not doing design work currently, but it’s an exciting space to be around manufacturing and being able to help some friends develop their product. If you look at the spectrum of the brands that we work with, we work with students from Pratt, FIT, MIT, and Cornell. We exist in the curriculums at these schools, which is something that I just found out a few years ago, that some professors were using Maker’s Row background and information in their courses. We also have some of the biggest brands in the world from Target to Staples that use Maker’s Row to find manufacturers to be able to produce products in the United States. That was one of the biggest surprises for me. Because you would think that if anybody had access to this information, had access to these manufacturers, it would be the larger companies. As I would come to find out, a lot of these larger companies have been outsourcing so much they didn’t have a complete network of manufacturers to produce products here.

Moguldom:  What are some notable wins for Maker’s Row?

Matthew Burnett: We’ve gone to the White House to participate in the first Maker Fair during the last administration, which was a dream-come-true for me. Now, for the business, I think it was also a big win for the company, but I don’t know if you could quantify how big of a win that was for me personally. For Maker’s Row, I would say getting backing from notable tech investors as well as entrepreneurs from Alexis Ohanian, who is the co-founder of Reddit, NBA player Carmelo Anthony and Joanne Wilson, investor, and podcaster. These notable individuals are cornerstones in tech in the New York area. To be able to have their support and backing has continued to be some of the biggest wins we’ve had because it’s all about the team. To be able to have people that are backing you, that are heavy-hitters themselves, has been a win I still celebrate to this day.

Moguldom: How much capital have you guys raised?

Matthew Burnett: We’ve raised about $2.5 million.

Moguldom: What are your thoughts on building a good team?

Matthew Burnett:  I think it’s about the culture. You have to understand what type of culture you’re looking to cultivate and grow it in a manner in which it’s very decisive and very deliberate. You have to be willing to learn from mistakes because you’re going to make them as an entrepreneur. You must make sure that the folks that you’re bringing on board have the same or similar value systems — not the same opinions, not the same viewpoints on everything, but the same value system. You must know you’re all fighting towards the same goals. When you have that, and you have people on board with the way you’re building, you can go really fast, really quickly with a pretty small team.

Moguldom: How do you keep the creativity flowing to make sure you’re doing the best services for your clients and creating the best products for all of these brands?

Matthew Burnett: We’re working alongside product-based businesses where these entrepreneurs are investing mortgages, and putting in their nine-to-five money to be able to start their first company. So there’s an immense amount of creativity that’s coming from this community. All you have to do is have your ears open to your community to be able to create new ideas. Before they get to fundraise, before they get to sell a product, they must have a product. We are there in the bare early stages helping them put those pieces together to create a product. They’ll come right back to you and say, “Thanks, we were able to find the educational content, we were able to find the manufacturers, we developed the product, now how do I sell?”

Moguldom:  How does your platform work?

Matthew Burnett:  Brands pay a subscription cost of $35 per month. If you’re serious at all about starting a brand, that’s going to be easy. That’s the entry point. However, we offer additional services to be able to help brands develop their product as well. Many entrepreneurs in product-based businesses fail before they produce their prototype. Our platform gives them a chance to succeed. Our customers can find manufacturing partners and learn about the complexities of manufacturing which — if you go it alone — can leave you high and dry pretty quickly. We try to arm our entrepreneurs with the tools they need and with reputable factories to be able to develop their products.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Maker’s Row?

Matthew Burnett: Many brands think the first place they should look if they want to create a product is going to China. I think a lot of the advantages of producing in China are starting to change on the global scale. You’re starting to see many brands looking for closer distribution channels because of speed to market. You’re also looking at tariffs. I think what we’ve recognized from the businesses we’ve worked with is that brands want to be able to beat competitors to market. The best way to beat your competitors to market is to be able to produce closer to your end consumer.

So, if you’re an American company and you’re manufacturing in China, you can’t always be the first to market. Sometimes, it is better to manufacture overseas. But we focus on those categories where it is advantageous for brands to look in and compare side-by-side domestic production versus foreign. Keeping all of this in mind, we’re expanding our industries.

We just launched a web series with the city of New York. The web series is huge for us because one of the major things we do is we tell a story. — Matthew Burnett. The CEO and founder of Maker’s Row

Right now we have apparel, furniture, and packaging. What we want to do is go deeper into those various industries. For example, with apparel, we started by just offering access to the manufacturers, and now we are becoming much more of a helping hand in the development of products, so brands have less weight on their shoulders. When you think about an entrepreneur just starting, they must be the head of sales, marketing, operations, shipping out of products. There’s a variety of things to do and the more you can take off their plate, the better relationship you’re able to have with those brands.

We’re expanding more of our services to help support brands’ needs. We just launched a web series with the city of New York. We have partnered with NYCEDC, the Economic Development Corporation of New York City, the Deputy Mayor’s office, as well as Google and Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). We’re interviewing entrepreneurs, fashion designers and industry stakeholders, like the president of CFDA, Steven Kolb. We’re also interviewing the Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (New York City). We’re talking about manufacturing as it exists in New York and the advantages of a brand developing a product here. The web series is huge for us because one of the major things we do is we tell a story.

Moguldom: You are incredibly upbeat and passionate about Maker’s Row. How do you stay motivated and driven?

Matthew Burnett: There’s one thing that sounds like a beauty pageant answer, but it’s real. When you see that brands can create products with you, and for years they’ve been working and trying to find manufacturers, and they weren’t able to find them, fulfills me. When you see the success stories come through your platform. When you see brands come back to you and they say, “I produced a product,” and they’re showing me the product, they’re showing me the quality of the product, you get inspired. You think, “How long would it have taken someone if they didn’t have these pieces to be able to create these products?”

Moguldom:  Is it the people you work with that motivate you and give you this passion?

Matthew Burnett: I start with the customers, but it’s with the Maker’s Row team as well. I have an extremely driven, intelligent team that is extremely collaborative. My engineers work on products as well as become involved in the entire process. When you have people that are hungry and ambitious and driven for the similar goal, you stay motivated and passionate and always strive for success.