From Side Job to Small Business

A typical business meeting in the living room.

A typical business meeting in the living room.

I get off the phone with our insurance agent and take a breath. By the end of this hour-long conversation (the third in less than a week) I felt pretty comfortable throwing out terms like umbrella limits, stretch coverage and BPP (business personal property). We've been talking liability with figures that seem unreal, but are explicitly required by contracts we've already signed. 

I spend my next hour chatting with our new payroll specialist. She came recommended from our accountant who has just finished our most complicated tax return to date and insisted on moving our staff to W-2. He and I are in frequent email conversation, dealing once again with figures, to which I am not yet accustomed. 

Phone call finished, I stretch and walk out of my office (otherwise known as the kitchen) and down our hallway of built-in shelves and work desks, collectively known as "the studio". I joke with "the ladies" who spend the better part of every work week helping us build the jewelry that has turned our home into a workplace. Into the livingroom I stride and sit beside my wife and business partner - the Saskia behind Saskia de Vries Designs - for another of our endless business chats: that's where we're at with this, this is where we need to go with that. 

We're pushing into new territory; a world of insurance and payroll, costs and liabilities, contracts and negotiations. The world of small business. 

Six years ago we were both starving actors: fresh off the boat from DC, ready to take on New York and completely without gainful employment. The closest I had ever come to a "real job" was a yearlong stint at an upscale restaurant in Georgetown. Saskia at least had a master's degree and some decent credits to her name; me, I was just taking it as it came. We had recently returned from a year spent traveling across Asia and a late summer wedding in the foothills of West Virginia. We had prospects and dreams, but no clue where they would lead us. 

Life's a funny thing. You can plan and scheme, strive and suffer before falling into a path you would never imagine. Saskia liked making necklaces and her friends liked what she made. She decided to try selling some at the PS321 Flea down the street from us in Park Slope. People liked her stuff and it sold. Next thing you know, she's a member of the theNewNew (EtsyNY's earlier incarnation), making friends, taking advice and suddenly deciding to do a month-long holiday market...with less than two months to prepair. It took a village, but somehow we pulled it together and achieved modest success. Enough so to keep the ball rolling. 

Such is the craft world of NYC; an assemblage of artists and artisans who make it the most dynamic local scene in the country. Where else but in New York can you take a walk on a springtime Saturday and pass by not one, but a half dozen street fairs and craft markets overflowing with talent. Where else can you find a handmade reclaimed wood table next to local designer jewelry while eating pulled pork banh mih and drinking craft beer? Though competition is always fierce, there is a renaissance of artisanship in the five boroughs and a community of amazing entrepreneurs that make a transition story like ours possible. 

Fast forward five years to our home studio and the living room turned meeting space.

Saskia and I agree on the remainder of today's action list. She has materials to order, new designs to work out and a few phone calls to make. "The ladies" - our shorthand for the three wonderful women we work with - have necklaces to close, a wholesale order to fill and new designs to add in Square and Stitch (our POS and Inventory programs). I've got to start writing our newsletter for the weekend, before heading down to the basement, where our landlord Aki has his wood shop and where I am currently installing LED lighting in an oak display case I built for our upcoming kiosk at Turnstyle - a new Manhattan retail location opening next week. Today is my day to pick up the kids from Pre-K and daycare, so I've got to get cracking. I've already got dinner simmering in the crockpot and ready to serve as close to six as our schedule will allow. My new cargo bike is parked out front and with the time it saves in pickup, the four of us should have a few minutes to play before I put dinner on the table. 

Gotta love the cargo bike!

At 5PM we bid the ladies adieu and I hop on the bike, leaving Saskia to put away the business that daily threatens to overtake our 2-bedroom apartment. Coasting down the hill, wind in my face, I can't help but smile in wonder at the life we live. It's crazy and full and sometimes overwhelming. It doesn't follow the traditional rules of status quo by just about any metric of gender roles or career paths. It's a modern, Brooklyn life and one in which I find daily frustration and tremendous satisfaction. It is an endless source of subjects large and small, which I look forward to sharing with you. 

If you'd like to see more pictures of the case construction or other pieces of process, follow me on Instagram. Or if you'd like to read some more random musings, check out my personal blog at www.aforestoftrees.com. More to come next month. 

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