Making It: Startup Advice from the Founder of Porcelain & Stone

I first met jewelry designer and maker Kimberly Huestis over dinner and drinks in Boston. I, and the two other women we were with, found ourselves keeled over in laughter by Kim’s stories and refreshing outlook on life. Somehow, Kim seems to perfectly straddle the line between “zany creative” and “successful artist” mixed in with a lot of business savvy. 

For these reasons, I thought she would be the perfect entrepreneur to feature in our new “Making It” series. In the interview below, Kim shares her thoughts on starting a business and making it as a maker. 

Tell us about your background. Were you always a jewelry designer? What prompted you to start Porcelain and Stone?

I grew up in Vermont. I used to skip rocks along the lakefront and hammer at stones, trying to find out what they looked like inside. I eventually got into rock sculpting and (strangely) that turned into a more formal education in architecture. I like to know how things work. My professional background is in 3D graphic design and animation, environmental consulting, as well as building design.

There was never a strong intention to become a jewelry designer. I had always made my own jewelry since I could never find anything to wear (due to skin sensitivity issues) or not feeling like the piece was unique enough to want to buy. Who wants to wear what everyone else is wearing? Apparently, even as a tomboy-ish kid, I was interested in fashion and didn’t even know it.

Starting Porcelain and Stone all happened in about a week in the summer of 2012. At first, I didn’t know if I really wanted to do it, or if it was possible to do full-time. I spent a vacation at home while taking time off work, and in that one week, I got interest from two boutiques who wanted to sell my jewelry. I realized it was something I couldn’t see myself not doing. So, I jumped in with both feet… which seems a bit crazy now! But, it was the best decision. I should have had the guts to do sooner!

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What have been some of the biggest challenges in starting your own business?

Confidence and wondering if I’m not wasting my time on the wrong things. Lacking confidence is perhaps the toughest thing to deal with because everything else can be figured out with a little problem solving or work-around. I’ve realized it’s never very productive to place energy in worrying or anxiety. It’s normal to worry and not always fantastically believe in yourself. But it’s better to acknowledge the feeling and move on.

I love setting small, very achievable milestones that eventually lead to greater goals. It’s good to feel like you are making progress when things aren’t exactly laid out in front of you like a predictable road map.

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You’ve been able to get some pretty amazing press (most recently British Vogue) — how did that happen? What tips do you have for getting media attention?

Everyone will probably hate it if I say, oh, by accident! But there I was, minding my own Instagramming and Twittering business…

I believe in sharing your day-to-day via social media. It isn’t even about entertaining others — I think of it as a little “maker” diary of my day. It’s recorded proof for myself that I have done something, anything, with my day while involving my love of porcelain and sculpting. I focus a lot on sharing what happens in my studio or what I’m up to at work in a visual, story-telling way.

That focus, I think, is what prompts potential customers into deciding if they like the content I’m sharing. If they do, then they end up subscribing to get more! I have social media to thank for not only giving me a small sense of community support, but also for connecting me to fantastic writers that will feature my work.

The simplest tip I can give is: show off what you’re doing, and make your content interesting. I believe HubSpot coined the term “remarkable content.” Don’t always post fluff. It’s transparent, and humans are smarter than that. Share the things that you actually care about sharing and consciously consider the intelligence of your viewers. Communicating clearly is great, but so is having a little fun!

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What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned from this venture?

You don’t need to read books or go to school to be a maker / start a business. It’s more important to talk to others and hear what they have to share. Learning from others is a great way to set up your expectations in a responsible way while protecting your business, and possibly your emotions.

People frequently call my business “my baby,” but I don’t think of it that way. It’s a project that I am infatuated with, but I don’t recommend your business being your life. I like that my life includes my business.

I love the startup culture, most especially on the product/artisanal side of things. The tech scene is great, but there is a greater focus on money that seems to consume most ventures once they take on investors. I’m more in favor of bootstrapping. I prefer creating a self-sustaining business that grows in response to my consumers’ needs.

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If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of designers and makers, what would it be?

Don’t sacrifice quality or integrity. You have something you believe in — find your target niche and help them find you. There is a slippery slope in lowering your prices again and again, and it can be very enticing in the early stages when you’re desperate for sales. It is very easy to price yourself out of business if you fall into that trap.

Set high standards for a quality product, make strategic decisions that allow you to grow, and balance your financial growth along with it. I spent time learning to price my products correctly from the very beginning. I did not want to be confused with plastic or base-metal makers.

Even when your designs get knocked off, focus your energy on being a top product and there will be no confusion as to what your business strives to provide. People can copy, but they will always be one step behind you. Focus on creating a strong brand, because that is what draws people to you. Are you trying to compete with Target or are you aiming to be something special?

 

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Kimberly and the Porcelain & Stone online shop can be found here.

[Photo credit: Porcelain & Stone]