Isaac Dushku made a fortune selling maps this year
When the pandemic hit, many of us started DIY house projects or bread-baking. Isaac Dushku, on the other hand, learned to make real-world maps reminiscent of the kinds found in fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings. “Ever since I was a little kid, I always looked in the front of books at the maps. I always had one hanging on my wall and I thought, man, no one’s doing this for real-world locations,” says Dushku.
The desire for fairy-tale-like maps of real-world locations, and the boredom of quarantine, inspired Dushku to start creating the maps he would have loved as a child. “I drew a little map of Utah and posted it on Facebook just to test the water and to see if anyone thought it was cool,” he explains. “I wasn’t even planning on selling it. But someone said, hey, I’ll buy that. So that’s what really launched it. I spent the entire lockdown just drawing maps.”
Dushku quickly found out that his idea was more than just a hobby, though, because as soon as he announced that the maps were for sale, customers started pouring in. Now, just 18-months later, Dushku has built a full-on business, Lord of Maps, that brings in a whopping six figures of revenue. And while Dushku never anticipated mapmaking to be his entrepreneurial big break, he’s not surprised that maps are a product that resonates with people.
“Maps are things people can nerd out about unlike any other type of artwork. People can look at a map for a long time,” he says. “Especially if it’s a place they have a connection to, it takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes a personal piece of artwork they can put on their wall that represents them.”
Currently, Lord of Maps offers hand-drawn maps of all 50 US states as well as 15 other countries or regions, though Dushku has plans to expand his offerings to every country in the world. “The world has close to 200 countries and within every country, there are homes that people feel proud about. So the way forward is just more maps. Our plan is to have international distribution in strategic places around the world to process orders for Europe, parts of Asia and Africa, and South America so we can operate smoothly across the globe.”
Though starting a business has been an overall learning experience by itself, Dushku says one of the most surprising things about the industry is how much demand varies by region. Some state maps drive huge amounts of revenue, while others get very little interest, and he’s been surprised about which state maps are most in-demand.
“It’s kind of a cool glimpse into people’s state pride,” Dushku explains. “Oregon is by far our most popular map. There’s just so much Oregon pride and Pacific Northwest pride. But Illinois has sold almost no maps. We thought maybe it’s because there are no mountains and people like the mountains on the map, but Indiana, which has no mountains, does great. It’s interesting to see who loves their state and who doesn’t.”
After drawing dozens of maps, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but Dushku says that he really likes his rendition of the African map because it was a “blast to draw” and has given him an opportunity to give back. “Africa is like the coolest place in the world. It has these incredibly large deserts and dense jungles,” he says. “We use [map proceeds] to fund a charity called the Malaria Consortium. Any time someone buys the Africa map, [proceeds] go to supply kids with malaria medication. We’ve donated over $10K from sales of that map alone.”
Even though map-making has turned into a major business for Dushku, he’s happy that despite it all, making maps has remained a fun hobby. “I totally enjoy it,” he says. “I thought it was going to get old for me, but there’s something therapeutic about creating something beautiful and learning about other countries.”