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Here’s The Story Behind Your Favorite, Super-Cute Keyboards

If you're reading this on your computer, which is very likely, it's also very likely that your hands are draped over a piece of tech that's often overlooked: your keyboard. Think about it, we put funky cases on our smartphones and stickers on our laptops. We even buy headphones in specific colors or designs that speak to our personal style. For most, though, a keyboard is just a keyboard. But, according to keycap artisan known online simply as Tiny, it doesn't have to be.
Tiny, who designs, makes, and sells customized keycaps through the TinyMakesThings brand, is using social media to show everyone that keyboards can be a whole lot of fun. Using clay and resin, she creates adorable keycaps that look like everything from cheeseburgers to The Lorax. Tiny takes custom commissions for sculpted caps and has resin cap sales, but she offers more than a product. You can watch her at work through her frequent Twitch streams, relax to the ASMR vibes of her TikToks, or giggle at the cute creations she comes up with on Twitter and Instagram. Everyone can be a part of her keycap community.
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In this edition of Talking Shop, Tiny talks about quitting her full-time job as a computer engineer to make keycaps as a career. She shares why social media is so important for small businesses and her dream collaborations.
Walk me through the process of launching TinyMakesThings.
I started this as a hobby. Originally, I just wanted to make more cute keycap designs because there was, in my opinion, a lack of cute aesthetics in the keycap world. I wasn't sure if there were other people who liked cute stuff, because the hobby used to be a lot more male-dominated — a lot more dudes. I started off with a challenge where I would just make a bunch, just taking ideas from different areas and seeing what I could make, and I had pretty good feedback. 

I don't think there was ever a point where I felt like I was trying to start a business. It was just people expressing interest. In the keycap community, when you make stuff, you post on the subreddit or on Instagram and people just know about you. There's not usually a big launch, you end up just posting in Discords, nowadays, and Reddit or other forums, back then. You just post things that you make, and eventually, you'll get interest. If people want to buy it, then you run a little mini sale. So yeah, back then, I would just post like, "Here, I made these …" I didn't really start pushing for it being a business until I quit my job. I used to work as a software engineer full-time, and I was doing this on the side. It wasn't like I was making a ton of money. I actually don't even think I was making that much money at all, but I just really enjoyed this. I liked the hobby a lot and the community. I just really liked creating things, and I wasn't getting that outlet at work. So for me, it was more about trying to find something that I was happier doing. 
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In trying to market to more people to get my name out there, I started posting a lot on Instagram and trying to build my audience outside of just the keyboard community. That was a conscious business decision on my end because I think there are a lot of keycap artisans who primarily only sell on Mechanical Keyboard Enthusiasts and within those keyboard forums, spaces, and Discords. 
Why keyboards? Why did you gravitate toward the art of keycap design?
Most people are typing on a keyboard, regardless of their profession. If you're sitting in an office, you're probably typing on a computer and a keyboard. For me specifically, being a software engineer, obviously, I did type on a keyboard a lot, but just even normal, non-technical people, you're probably using a keyboard. So something that you're using for hours on end, I feel like, why not? Why wouldn't you want to make that a better experience if you're spending so much time on it? You can customize it. 

There are a lot of ergonomic reasons why you would want a mechanical keyboard. There are adjustments that allow your arms to rest easier. The typing experience can be improved by making your keys very smooth and soft sounding so you don't have to press as hard. There are layouts that you can have that don't require your hands to move around as much. There are very practical reasons why I think people would want to improve their experience.

But for me, of course, it's also an aesthetic thing. If you're sitting at your computer, or even gaming at your computer, the keyboard is a big part of your space's aesthetic. You can make that cute, pretty, cool, like however you want to make it. It can make your whole space look and feel better, and I think there's actually a correlation between your physical space and your mental space. When you think about it, you just feel better in the space when it's something that you've customized. At least, I do.
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You mentioned you used to work as a software engineer. Has that work experience served you at all in launching and running your custom keycap business?
I think, in general, if you are in a technical role, you do learn how to problem-solve. I think about things in a very engineering way, but the hard part about running a business is the business aspects of it. Nothing really prepares you for that. Maybe one reason I was drawn to engineering in the first place is it's about recognizing patterns, and I think that has helped for marketing. When I'm running my Twitter or my Instagram or my TikTok, it involves seeing the patterns that either other people do that are popular, like the trends, and adapting that to keycaps or keyboards, or what I'm interested in and trying to learn about that. 

It's a lot of learning, and you always have to keep an open mind and learn from other artists who are in your same space or even not in your same space. Posting on social media, running sales, doing logistics for things, and running community management, you just have to learn quickly and be open to learning because nothing really ever prepares you for running a business, unless you're actually running a business.
Since I discovered you through TikTok, I'm curious to hear more about the role that these various social media platforms play in your business.
My personal vision for keyboards and keycap art — and just art in general — is being able to share it with everyone. I'm always happy when people share their stuff and being able to share my work is really important to me. If I didn't really post on social media and only appealed to the hobbyist, I feel like I would still have a pretty decent audience, but I want to share with more people because I just personally really like keyboards and keycap customization. I think this work is really awesome. It's not just about bringing business in. 

I do think in any business, you want to keep advertising and marketing because you want to stay hip and keep growing your audience. But, honestly, posting on these platforms is just fun for me. I actually enjoy being on Twitter because I like looking at tweets from other people and artists. It's kind of a meme-y platform. There are some memes that are so Twitter-specific, so when I post things, I sometimes try to be meme-y or come up with clever captions. That part of it is fun for me and it's not as much work. Although sometimes I can feel like, Oh, I have to post something or I have to make sure that people don't forget about me. You have to be relevant, which can get a little bit tiring, but I really just do it because I enjoy it. Some stuff I post isn't super practical. I honestly think it's more of a, "I am going to share this because I think it's hilarious."

But I do think social media is pretty important for any business that is customer-facing, especially art. You do want to post when you can and often to get as much exposure as you can. The exposure part is a lot easier nowadays, especially with TikTok because of the discoverability that platform provides. I've seen a lot of artists just blow up because of the TikTok algorithm. Compared to maybe even a couple of years ago, if you're on Instagram, you need to build an audience. You don't just get random views or random followers. It was hard to get noticed, but with Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts coming out, platforms are learning that if they want people to be on their platform, give them a chance to be discovered and not have to be established already. So I think nowadays, it's a lot easier. There are a lot more chances to get discovered. You just really have to put yourself out there. I think that's been really good for a lot of smaller artists, or just artists in general and smaller businesses. TikTok has been really big and pivotal in that.
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Do you have any employees or is this something you do entirely on your own?
It is mostly just me. Sometimes I will consult others when it comes to business deals because I have no experience in negotiating or networking. I think I'm also pretty unorganized, so I have someone to check in with and just say, like, "Here's what I'm doing." I do all the streaming, video shooting and editing, and keycap making, but I will ask for help for certain things.
Have you received any funding for the business? If so, what kind?
No, I don't even know how to get funding, or I don't know what that would even involve. It's just mostly whatever I get out of the business, goes back into it.
What has been your biggest business challenge so far?
Balancing scalability and still keeping the artisanal factor. It feels like a lot of people want the caps but can't get them because I don't make enough. There are ways to expand and I'm sure there are ways to mass-manufacture keycaps through some factory elsewhere, but I think the issue with that is if I go down that route, will people still want my keycaps because they're not handmade by me? They'd be my designs, but they wouldn't be handmade. I obviously would not sell them at the prices of something that's handmade, but does that change people's view of me and the brand? Will people think I sold out?

At the same time, if someone really likes my stuff and just can't buy it because there aren't enough, that just sucks. And the bigger I grow my audience, there are going to be more people that can't get it. If I can't scale enough, then I can't really meet the demand of that. So it's hard managing that as any artist who wants to grow but not grow too big. It's a weird balance of trying to still be me, but also make my customers happy and be able to give people a chance to get my stuff.
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On the flip side of that, what has been your biggest business win so far?
Being able to connect and work with brands. For those brands to come to me and be like, "Hey, we saw your stuff. We really like it and we'd love to work with you," that feels like a win for me. I've worked with Microsoft, or technically Xbox, which is under Microsoft. They were like, "We love your keycaps. Can you do something for this game briefs that we're doing for the Gears of War game release?" and I was like, "Oh my gosh, that's so exciting." I worked with Disney. Stuff like that, like being noticed in a bigger sphere, and being able to work with bigger brands is really awesome for me.
@tinymakesthings

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♬ original sound - tiny - keycap maker
What is your ultimate goal with TinyMakesThings?
I have a lot of cartoons that I really like, like Steven Universe and Adventure Time, anything that matches my aesthetic, which is more cutesy and cartoony, and being able to make keycaps for them, like in an official collab, would be really awesome. But I think in general, I just want to make cute things and let people be able to have cute stuff for their keyboard, for their space. In the end, that's all I want to be able to do. And obviously, I need to be able to pay my bills.
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