Back In The Day™ I went to college with a kid named Lance Atkins. We shared many interests, including eating spaghetti every other Wednesday night. We were also lab partners in Machine Design, “an introduction to the principles of mechanical design [where m]ethods for determining static, fatigue and surface failure are presented.”1 We had fun. And we then we graduated. Lance declared his retirement from engineering and then went off to go fly planes — which I find interesting considering I work for an aerospace company and which Lance blames on Top Gun.
Then Lance had a crazy idea:
What do you want most? Start a business? That pretty girl on the subway? Ride a wild ostrich? Believe you want it and do it. We promise, the freedom is wonderful.
As Lance noted though, “…There is one caveat to your dreams, though. You have to risk that which you fear most: failure. So we set before you our risk. We have been working so, so hard to perfection. There are jobs that have been quit, money invested, and a few cuts and criticisms along the way.”2
And thus was born BlackBox Case, a better, stronger kind of protection for MacBooks, and “a product of curiosity, experimenting, and the hard work and obsession of some friends.”3
Andrew: First things first, I remember a very distinct comment from you the day after graduation where you declared that you had retired from engineering (having just graduated with a Bachelors in Engineering, Mechanical Specialty). Does this mean you’ve come out of retirement?
Lance: Aha! You may have caught me… I definitely am using my engineering skills. I’ve always been a builder, so I guess Blackbox Case is a natural extension of that. I enjoy that I get to be an artisan, craftsman and businessman, as well as engineer. Variety is the spice of life, you know.
There have been a variety of cases for MacBooks: neoprene sleeves, hard-shell plastic coverings, shoulder backs. Your case seems pretty unique, though maybe not the first to use wood; what was the motivation to create a different kind of case and what sets this case apart from the rest?
My laptops have always had a rough life. I just hated how they would get abused and develop cracks after a year of traveling around in a backpack. So I guess the idea started with a hardshell case that could isolate the laptop from that compression abuse. The next priorities were light weight and aesthetics. I checked into many materials, costs, and even did some finite element analysis to calculate what it would take to protect a computer from everyday life. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by wood, specifically oak, and it’s perfect properties. It’s stiff, light, and hard but not brittle. As a bonus, it’s pretty darn cool looking.
Is this case just for show or does it actually provide protection? What happens if I drop the case with my MacBook inside?
I’ve already talked about the “crush” protection it provides in a bag. We also expect a MacBook to survive a drop much better inside of a Blackbox Case. The case may be harmed, but a bicycle helmet breaks to protect your head, too.
Right now, the only way to get a BlackBox Case is through BlackBoxCase.com. Do you have plans to expand your distribution channels? Might we see the BlackBox in the Apple Store (online or brick and mortar)?
For now, we will sell only online. We may go retail in the future, but for now we are most concerned with turning out really amazing handmade MacBook Pro cases. We have a few tricks up our sleeve too. New products, new materials, you never know…
BlackBox Cases are currently made in Golden, Colorado, which I’m sure has an effect on the price. Will BlackBox Cases always be made in America?
Yep. We wouldn’t have started it here if it won’t stay here. I love the idea of employing local and buying local. I love designing products and the smell of sawdust, so I think we shall keep it that way.
15 Percent, that’s an awesome idea, one which I really like…almost more than the case itself. Tell us a little more about 15 Percent and what you hope to accomplish with it?
I think giving is, for me, a great way to let go of something I hold onto too tightly. It has the opportunity to do some creative good in this world too. We are challenging everyone to give us feedback about where the money should go, because we want this to be a community effort. What do I hope to accomplish? If we are to dream big, I want to give away $100,000. I don’t know where yet, that’s where you readers come in. I’ve done a lot of studying on the side effects of big money donation, so we seek to give to programs that are set up with wisdom and sustainability. Maybe you know someone who needs a hand up?4
Who else is on Team BlackBox? What’s their story?
My main man is Anthony. He was formerly a professional hardwood floor guy. He’s the chief of production. Austin used to work construction and is a web developer. We have also teamed up with some old friends to make this happen. Evan is a graphic designer, Mike is a business guru, and AK is a videographer. I have been really surprised at all the help and counsel we have gotten from other people. They’re coming out of the woodwork! (pun?) We’re having fun and learning a thousand things a day.
Oh, awesome — I love Anthony, he’s a good guy! Lance, thanks so much for sharing about BlackBox Cases, hopefully I can stop by next time I’m in town (some guy I know is getting married). And while I don’t have a MacBook (yet), you can bet I’ll be talking with you when I do get one.