Like all great products, Meridian Maps started with an idea.
Arun Krishnan and his brother had purchased a laser engraver from China to make parts for small electronic kits they planned on selling online. The machine was delivered broken, and Krishnan had to rewire it to get it working again. Manufacturing of the kits was eventually outsourced, and the laser cutter was stored away in his NYC garage and sat dormant for some time.
Krishnan’s good friend and business partner Vladik Kofman had always had a personal interest in maps and cartography. One day he suggested they use the precision and accuracy of the machine to create a layered topographical map of their local area out of wood. Their first map was created in about a week, and after seeing the finished product, they realized they had the potential to sell more of these woodcut maps online. Another friend came up with the name Meridian Maps and the pair were lucky enough to find an available dot com domain of the same name. A custom map Kickstarter campaign was launched and after raising nearly $3,500 more than their $10,000 goal, Meridian Maps was officially in business.
Both Krishnan and Kofman have backgrounds in software development, and previously partnered up to create their first company together, an app development team called Prime8. Together they went from writing apps to creating maps, to creating apps for their maps. Each custom-made map starts with the pair plotting out the desired region and features (i.e. rivers, streets, etc.) on a professional mapping program. This process alone can take a few hours. Next, a vector file that’s readable by the laser engraver is exported and each of the layers are separated (usually into six) to ensure there are no intersecting lines or elements on top of one another. Then the layers are cut, glued, pressed, and repeated until they’re all completed. After improving their speed over time, they’ve been able to produce a completed map a day.
Most Meridian Maps customers purchase them as thoughtful gifts for others, whether they request the state someone grew up in, a route ran during a marathon, or the airport where a pilot’s license was obtained. They make a stunning piece for any home or office space, as each map is uniquely personal to every recipient. One of the more complex requests Krishnan and Kofman have received was for a 7” x 3” dining table map of Westeros, the setting of the book series and TV show Game of Thrones. It was so large it had to be cut in three separate pieces and wouldn’t fit in their garage. Another client requested a laborious twenty-layer map, which they eventually talked down to sixteen.
Despite a successful second Kickstarter campaign for frameless “floating” single-layer maps that raised nearly $16,000, one of the biggest challenges Meridian Maps faces at this time is keeping the business itself up and running. Custom work is a very time-consuming process and not very profitable as a long-term business model, the pair explained. They’ve started producing larger quantities of the same maps and have considered selling on Amazon, but are still figuring out how much customers are willing to spend on them, as well as how long each would take to produce.
Regardless of the challenges, Krishnan and Kofman still find inspiration in every map they produce. Neither has any idea what the final product will look like until it’s completed, and after hand-layering each one, seeing each finished piece inspires them to continue and make more. For many, using machinery such as a laser engraver can seem pretty daunting. When asked what advice they’d give to someone who may be hesitant to get started, Kofman exclaimed, “Cut! That’s it! If you know how to use a printer, you’re not too far away”. It may sound intimidating, but according to this duo, once you have access to a laser, it’s all just a matter of going for it, tweaking the settings, and experimenting until you get it right.
It all goes to show that anything is possible when you have an initial idea, that spark of inspiration that can change everything and create anything. These two entrepreneurs are a prime example of showing the world what’s possible when you combine machinery with technology and creativity.
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