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Meet Sebastian and Melanie Flores of OctoGifts in North Atlanta (Alpharetta)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sebastian and Melanie Flores.

Sebastian and Melanie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I have always loved making cards and gifts for people. I enjoy finding fun and surprising ways to use ordinary things, like cardboard and paper. When I was in 5th grade, I had a friend who would make excuses to go into the kitchen every time he came over. I would always find him with his hand in the candy jar.

When his birthday came around, I knew exactly what to give him: his own working candy dispenser. I looked all over the internet, but I couldn’t find any how-to videos. So I designed one myself. I found an old candy box, a paper towel roll, a plastic sheet protector, and an empty water bottle. I got to work, cutting and gluing, until I had something that I liked. I put a piece of folded cardstock on the back and wrote a message inside. The next day, I brought it to school and gave it to him. I will never forget the look of happiness on his face when he opened his gift.

Fast forward to 2019. I was 13 and wanted to earn some money for a drum set. I had tried selling my artistic creations in the past, but I only had one customer (thank you, Aunt Cynthia).

Then I had a realization. Since the candy dispenser card was such a hit, maybe other people would like it too. I redesigned the card in a heart shape for Valentine’s Day and made it entirely out of cardstock. The first design had a few flaws, but I had proven that I could make a working candy dispenser card out of paper. After a few prototypes, I had something I felt proud of.

I took some pictures of my candy dispenser card and listed it on Etsy. Within 12 hours, I had sold out of the first batch of machines. I added another batch, and those sold out as well. People started messaging to ask when more would be in stock. That’s when I knew I had something and I asked my mom to help me grow my business. Between then and Valentine’s Day, all my free time was spent making these cards.

Since then, I’ve sold almost 200 units and shipped to 20+ states. We’ve launched our own website. I have a couple of patents pending now. Last fall, I was honored to make Atlanta Inno’s 25 Under 25 List.

I’ve also expanded our product line. I have been working with my mom to come up with new designs based on different holidays. Our best seller is a customizable classic gumball machine. It’s available both fully assembled and as a DIY kit. Our kits are targeted to 8-12 year olds, but people of all ages enjoy them. One customer bought a kit for her elderly mother. It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle or LEGO set together.

We love it when people send us pictures of their cards. One of my favorites is of a dad and his son building a card together. I also got a really nice email from someone who had read about OctoGifts at school, which was great to read.

It feels good knowing that I’ve helped make people smile from coast to coast. We’ve come a long way since the days when Aunt Cynthia was my only customer, but I’m grateful to her for believing in me from Day One. I’m also thankful to my parents and my brother TJ for all their support behind the scenes.

Has it been a smooth road?
This journey has definitely had its challenges. When we first got started, we went through the Customer Discovery program at Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), which is a startup incubator. I felt a little out of place since I was so young and our business was low tech compared to everyone else’s. However, we stuck with it anyway and I’m glad we did.

The point of Customer Discovery is to talk to a LOT of potential customers about the problem you’re trying to solve and learn how they currently work around it. It can save you from wasting time and money creating something that no one needs or that no one will buy.

The people at ATDC said that we should interview at least 100 people and that they should ideally be strangers because friends and family tend to tell you what you want to hear. That all sounded daunting.

I was secretly hoping my mom would complete all 100 interviews, but she said I had to do at least some of them. My brother and I both swim competitively, so she suggested we take advantage of swim meets to get interviews done. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it definitely came easier to my mom.

We changed our business model thanks to the Customer Discovery process. Many parents told us they wanted more hands-on activities and less screen time for their kids. They also hated buying “throwaway cards” that you read once and then toss in the trash. Handmade cards and handwritten notes were more meaningful. So, we decided that our flagship product should actually be a DIY kit instead of a ready-made card.

Starting our business was exciting, but a lot of hard work. We had to develop our product, test the kits, and submit patent applications — all while dealing with a health scare in our family and juggling schoolwork, band, swim practice, and robotics club. Sometimes I had to take a break and do something purely for fun.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
An OctoGift is a keepsake that is fun to make, fun to give, and fun to keep. It is much more than a card. It is an experience. We give you and your child an opportunity to create something special together that makes everyone smile. We take pride in the quality of both the product and the experience.

Our website says our cards are “designed by a kid for kids of all ages,” but you don’t need to be young to enjoy them. Last month we sent an OctoGift to a lady for her 96th birthday, and she loved it. Most cards end up being recycled or thrown away, but people keep ours and display them. They make great conversation pieces.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I feel like our city is an excellent place for a business like ours. There are amazing maker, tech, and entrepreneurship communities here in Atlanta. We have found great resources and mentors at ATDC, Decatur Makers, the Georgia Small Business Development Center, and Tech Alpharetta. I would 100% recommend starting a business here.

Pricing:

  • Classic Gumball Machine Keepsake (Fully Assembled) – $19.99
  • Classic Gumball Machine Keepsake (DIY Kit) – $14.99

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
North Fulton Business RadioX, Trinidad Flores, Melanie Flores, Sebastian Flores

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