Mark Dwight: Micro-Manufacturing Entrepreneur | Summary and Q&A

November 12, 2013
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Mark Dwight: Micro-Manufacturing Entrepreneur

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In this video, Mark Dwight, the founder of Rickshaw Bagworks, discusses the importance of micro manufacturing and the revival of small factories in the United States. He shares how he relies on a skilled craft workforce and the close-knit San Francisco community to produce custom bags and accessories. Mark also emphasizes the value of making products locally and the connection between the maker and the consumer. He highlights the role of his company in the cycling culture of San Francisco and the neighborhood's contribution to the maker movement. Mark offers insights into the challenges and rewards of being a small business owner and the continuous learning process involved in running a successful venture.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Rickshaw Bagworks differentiate itself from other manufacturers?

Rickshaw Bagworks prides itself on being a small factory that focuses on crafting custom bags and accessories. Unlike mass production companies, they prioritize the expertise and skills of their sewing staff. The team at Rickshaw consists of experienced sewers who demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship. This dedication to quality and customization sets them apart from other manufacturers.

Q: How did Rickshaw Bagworks overcome the challenge of finding skilled sewers?

Initially, when Rickshaw Bagworks was looking to hire new sewers, they ran an ad in a local Chinese newspaper. This ad attracted a massive turnout of 450 people, which made the selection process chaotic. However, from that initial pool of candidates, Rickshaw Bagworks was able to discover and hire two talented sewers. Since then, they have relied on word-of-mouth and referrals from their existing team to find new sewers. This approach has been successful, and they have not had to run another ad since that first instance.

Q: According to Mark Dwight, what is the future of manufacturing in the United States?

Mark believes that there is a renaissance in micro manufacturing in the United States. He sees small, nimble manufacturers as the future of the industry. While he acknowledges the importance of preserving large factories, he anticipates that new manufacturers will emerge in the form of small factories specializing in custom work. These manufacturers will leverage advanced tools and skilled operators to produce high-quality products. Mark sees this approach as a way to celebrate craftsmanship and create a connection between the maker and the consumer.

Q: What motivates Mark Dwight to manufacture locally?

Mark's motivation for manufacturing locally stems from his personal preference and passion for making what he sells. While he acknowledges the social justice and environmental concerns associated with global outsourcing, he is not driven by those issues. Instead, he sees manufacturing locally as a celebration of craftsmanship and a way to work with a team of craftspeople and designers who share his vision. This approach allows him to stay connected to the San Francisco culture, which influences the products they create.

Q: What is the significance of the name "Rickshaw" for the company?

The name "Rickshaw" holds special meaning for the company as it reflects their connection to the cycling culture in San Francisco. Rickshaw itself means "human-powered vehicle," which is representative of the company's focus on bags and bikes intersecting. This name aligns well with the values and identity of the company, and it resonates with the community they serve.

Q: What can be observed about the neighborhood where Rickshaw Bagworks is located?

Rickshaw Bagworks is situated in the neighborhood of Dogpatch in San Francisco, which has become the epicenter of the maker movement in the city. This neighborhood, once known for shipbuilding, now houses a diverse range of makers, including chocolate makers, bread makers, beer makers, and, of course, bag makers. The transformation of old industrial spaces into smaller industrial warehouse spaces has contributed to the flourishing maker activity in this area.

Q: How does Mark Dwight perceive the role of entrepreneurship in starting a business?

Mark highlights that there is more to entrepreneurship than just starting a high-tech company with the intention of rapid growth and acquisition. He emphasizes the importance of being a small business person and focusing on making the business profitable. Mark's perspective diverges from the notion that a successful business must constantly strive for expansion and immense scale. Instead, he advocates for sustainable growth and profitability as the primary goals of entrepreneurship.

Q: What advice does Mark Dwight offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Mark shares two valuable pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. First, he stresses that starting a business will always require more time, money, and effort than initially anticipated. This understanding is crucial to managing expectations and adapting to the challenges that arise. Second, he emphasizes that the business's trajectory will likely differ from what is initially envisioned. As the market provides feedback and the business evolves, it is natural for the company to take on a different form than what was initially planned.

Q: How does Rickshaw Bagworks address the challenge of getting their name out there?

Rickshaw Bagworks acknowledges that one of their main challenges is the lack of awareness about their brand. As a relatively small company, not enough people are familiar with their products and services. To address this, Rickshaw opens its factory to the public, allowing people to visit and witness the manufacturing process firsthand. They actively encourage visitors to take photos and videos, and even share them on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This transparency and accessibility aim to increase their exposure and generate more awareness about the company.

Q: What does Mark Dwight believe separates true craftsmanship from replication?

Mark asserts that while anyone can deconstruct and replicate a product, true craftsmanship involves consistently performing those tasks on a daily basis. The challenge lies in the dedication to continuously creating with passion and expertise. Crafting products day in and day out requires genuine commitment and a deep love for what one does. This commitment sets true craftsmen apart from those who might replicate their work.


Mark Dwight's discussion highlights the significance of micro manufacturing and small factories in the United States. He emphasizes the importance of skilled craftwork and the revival of customized production. Manufacturing locally allows for a stronger connection between the maker and the consumer while celebrating the craftsmanship embedded in each product. Mark also highlights the value of community, as seen through Rickshaw Bagworks' association with the cycling culture in San Francisco and the vibrant maker neighborhood of Dogpatch. His insights shed light on the entrepreneurial journey and the need to focus on profitability and adaptability. Ultimately, Mark's passion for making and working with a team of dedicated craftspeople exemplifies the joy and fulfillment that can be found in running a small business.

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