SerialBuilder: from Lego creator to entrepreneur
Nicola Stocchi, aka SerialBuilder, has transformed his childhood passion for Lego into a shared design project and a job: which goes far beyond that of the Lego Creator and involves other young people, with a dedicated marketplace. Here’s how he did it.
Nicola Stocchi is 27 years old and has a very cool nickname: SerialBuilder. The nick perfectly describes what has now become his job: creating projects that allow others, Lego enthusiasts like him, to build very intricate characters from video games or comics using Lego bricks.
In order to sell these projects, SerialBuilder has also created a dedicated market place, where designs are protected by an anti-copying system and where other Lego creators can upload and sell their work too. All this the approval of Lego directly from Billund.
What set him apart from other creators from the start?
The initial stroke of genius: going digital first. Hence developing the designs using software and moving into bricks only on a later stage.
This choice brings numerous advantages, including: not having to limit yourself to existing pieces for creations; the possibility – in the design phase – of modifying a model from the inside without having to dismantle it; making even radical changes in a very short time; knowing in real time how many and which pieces are needed for creation and calculate the price; optimizing it for the end customer.
But how did Nicola Stocchi become SerialBuilder? We asked him.
How did your passion for Lego begin?
“Like many, I became fond of this world as a child, playing with the sets I received as gifts. However, not having the possibility of receiving many of them, it became boring to be limited by the bricks of the sets. I wanted to try building other sets or characters from the comics or video games I loved but couldn’t due to lack of materials. So, around my 16th birthday, I looked for an alternative way to achieve my goal. And I found it online.”
Do you mean you’ve moved on to virtual Lego bricks?
“Exactly. From internet searches I found a free 3D CAD program created by Lego. The program, which already included various Lego pieces and some sets, helped me develop the ability to design my first robots starting from virtual bricks. Little by little, as time passed, I became better and better at making the character more similar to the reference I started from: that is, comic book and video game characters.”
What makes your Lego projects different from other creators?
“I would define this type of design that I chose (which starts from digital and not from bricks) as completely unusual.
Those who know Lego creators know perfectly well that most tend to create products starting from manual experimentation with the brick. However, I have never had excellent skills in this field.
For this reason, what I do with Lego is completely different: I start from a software to get to the manual. Which brings the advantages we have already talked about. And some disadvantages: such as the impossibility of testing the structural stability of a project (which however is met by experience) and the need to order the pieces once the project has been completed, which often involves long waits.
But I don’t want to take all the credit. Despite my skills, without the contribution of Gabriele Zannotti, Art Director of the Premiata Fonderia Creativa, the aesthetics of my works would not have been what they are”.
How did you get to know an Art Director?
“Always online. It was 2015, I was looking at works on FreeCad, a free platform for 3D modeling, where among other things I also shared my projects. While I was browsing I saw Gabriele’s works and was impressed.
I contacted him for advice and he immediately proved to be very helpful. I proposed to him to create some renderings of my characters and from that moment on we have never stopped working together. I would define this initial phase as more of a style or aesthetic exercise. Everything changed when I realized that it wasn’t satisfying to stick to the digital result, as I wanted to know if it was really possible to build the creatures I invented.”
What were the difficulties in making your designs real?
“The biggest difficulties were in the practicality of the model, since it was not designed step by step as happens in Lego products. To solve this problem, I approached other Lego enthusiasts who, unlike me, had already understood how to get around this obstacle.
In particular, I formed strong bonds with some American YouTubers who were impressed by my projects and, in fact, were also my first buyers.
They advised me to create PDF files with instructions for using the bricks, so that the product became as modular as possible. In other words, to design the many small parts that would then need to be assembled. In 2018, again in collaboration with these guys, I started selling my first characters. This, in short, was the beginning of what later became my job.”
What drove you to become more independent in this activity?
“It was a multitude of factors.
First, I was hyped because someone – American YouTubers – had shown interest in me.
Furthermore, they wanted to buy one of my products to sell on their site, and I would get a percentage. If I think about it, I admit that the emotion of the moment did not help me evaluate the offer. In fact, I could only think about the proposal that had been made to me, which for me was not reduced to a monetary income: it represented the possibility of sharing the work I loved and meet other fans of the fantasy genre along the way.
Among other things, it was also my first finished product that included a PDF illustrating the assembly and this made me proud, even then, of my skills, as I slowly learned to use the different programs.
From then on there was a short collaboration with those guys, as I soon realized that it was not beneficial for me. All the work I did in that period was never recognized as mine, but there was always talk of a division of money and work.
Furthermore, their product purchasing system did not guarantee any protection. In fact, I discovered that many of my works were stolen and resold on other sites such as aliexspress.
This is to say that they were not sites exclusively for Lego lovers, but sites that sold and sell everything. Therefore, I decided to break away from it and create my own sales site.”
How did you start your own business and how did you protect your creations?
“It wasn’t actually planned. I never thought about the possibility of extending one of my passions into a real job; and I had no entrepreneurial skills.
So, in short, my business was born from a series of events: the first contacts with other creators, the first sales, the first disappointments and stolen works. Especially the latest events, even if they marked me at that moment, helped me to walk on my own two feet, pushing me towards independence.
This situation made me notice the potential of the projects, because essentially they are easy to replicate with instructions; therefore I understood that they could become a profitable job, which today is my only source of income”.
Your works are sold on a marketplace you created, MocBay. How did you choose this sales method?
“Going back for a moment, to before the intuition, I remember that I was only interested in continuing to share my creations and so I found out about how to create a website.
However, I soon realized that an online site was not a suitable tool for selling this type of product, as I once again found myself without protection: a file downloaded from the internet – just like a photo – can be shared with others, even if it is a purchased product.
At that point I felt frustrated, but I never thought, despite these problems, of quitting.
I started to find out about the safest ways to sell a product, until I discovered that there were ways that prevented me from taking screenshots and having the file on my PC.
These systems are also used in apps, such as WhatsApp or bank accounts, which impose blocks to protect customer privacy; in this way, since it is not possible to overcome these blocks, the user can only interface with the app.
In 2021 I dedicated myself exclusively to developing the marketplace, inserting these two fundamental characteristics for the protection of projects and getting ever closer to the entrepreneurial world.
The marketplace, called MocBay, was supposed to be used to sell my MOCs, an acronym for My Own Creation. However, I couldn’t launch the site before opening a VAT number.
At the end of 2021, after having resolved all the necessary procedures, the site became reality. Subsequently, in 2022, I met Gabriele Gabbi who would become my social media manager, who helped me a lot in managing the Instagram profile.
At that precise moment I realized that I had two very important figures at my side, the one who managed the social media and the one who took care of the renderings; but only later, making new contacts, did I notice that more and more people became essential to the creation of the characters.
In fact, everything that is developed now is different than before, when I was alone, since the project is developed by group work, in which each member takes care of a part. Nicolò Cirillo has also recently joined the team for graphics and animations made on Blender.
To date, MocBay is not my brand, in the sense that I am not the only one who uses it as a creator.
Given my experience, I didn’t want other young novices to suffer the hard knocks that had happened to me, even though I recognize that they got me to where I am now. I wanted to make it accessible to anyone who wanted to sell products like mine, without having to worry about the rest.”
So what does the site offer? And do you see yourself as an entrepreneur?
“The site features the profiles of all the creators and their works. Once you have found the product of interest, what you can purchase are the digital instructions, which can be consulted indefinitely only on the site, since no downloadable file is released on your PC. Furthermore, you get: the list of bricks needed to build the MOC and a guide to purchase the missing bricks on the Bricklink site.
Then, after the project is finished, it is uploaded to the site with rendered images and reference dimensions; in this way no information can leak out, since they are photos that I also use on my social page.
How profitable is your business?
“Thanks MocBay I have a safe and consistent income, however, everything I have achieved, in terms of work, does not make me feel like an entrepreneur, or at least not completely. I would define myself as a hybrid figure. I feel that I am both an artist and a designer, as the projects express my personal tastes, and, at the same time, I design my characters to make them practical and easy to reproduce for the buyer.
In the last two years I also had to become an entrepreneur, but out of necessity, to understand the issues related to the VAT number and finance. Yet, inside me I feel that I am above all an artist, as I never thought of creating something that would sell, but rather something that I liked first and foremost.
I believe that making models with bricks must be something pleasant and not forcing, because even those who buy them notice the commitment to detail. Usually, this precision is especially pleasing to adults. In fact, the company, in recent times, has started to take a different direction, addressing topics suitable for this target. They are mainly based on creating a moment of relaxation, something pleasant and not too playful, thus creating non-dynamic, but more sculptural models.”
What relationship do you have with Lego?
“I never thought about contacting them about what I create, but I had the opportunity to have a conversation with them. There were some free positions for the design modeling role and I was curious about the opportunity; so, I contacted them to find out more.
In the end, they were enthusiastic, because they had gathered several creators whose potential they already knew and I didn’t go unnoticed either.
However, I hadn’t yet achieved the level of performance they were looking for, in fact, during the practical interviews I didn’t feel good at all. It wasn’t the requests, but the imposition of carrying out the work using manual skills.
I was aware that their approach was completely normal, in fact most creators start from the brick, but as a matter of habit, I use a different method and therefore I felt in difficulty.
After this experience I still remained in contact with some members of the company, in fact, I was recently asked for advice by the staff in Copenhagen. They were looking for someone who had entrepreneurial experience for a project that is under development.
Beyond this occasion, I don’t think there will ever be a collaboration, since they tend to develop works only with those who work for the company.”
What are your future plans for the business you created?
“First of all I have to evaluate the app that was created following the site, which still has bugs and we are not sure that it is completely safe. After that, I would like to ask other designers/creators to insert their works on the app, a bit like what happened with MocBay.
As for my personal projects, I would like to bite off more than I can chew, meaning I would like to test a segment of the market for Lego kits. So, I will try to develop some kits with the original Lego pieces and sell them; also in this situation I have a collaborator who will help me in the development of the project.
For the moment these are my priorities, but I don’t rule out anything.”
Read the Italian version of this article on DesignAtLarge.it.