Where did 2014 go? No, seriously. It was January, the entire year was literally just ahead of us. With hope and promise in our hearts, we put our heads down and got to work; when we looked up next, everybody was drunk and ringing in twenty-fifteen already. We went an entire year without a single post on ye olde blog. Crap.
So without further stalling, here's an entire year's worth of blog posts nicely congealed into a concise and densely packed spicy blogwurst sausage. All the same good blog stuff without the hassle of extra reading.
Like so many startups, we started this endeavour out of our home, the very creative name for our headquarters came easily. We live in a bungalow. Boom BungalowHQ.
Kids, that's called being clever.
Operations started out in an extra bedroom in our basement. Within weeks, we slowly took over the entire basement then extended it to the rest of the house. It quickly outgrew our home, but we couldn't find anything affordable until a tiny miracle fell into our laps. We moved into a defunct industrial kitchen. Boom, KitchenHQ was born. There's that cleverness again.
The name is a little misleading because the kitchen extended into a 20,000 sq. ft. empty warehouse. The extra room allowed us to have multiple projects running simultaneously, along with games of catch and soccer.
This year, we'll be moving again as KitchenHQ and the rest of the building has been sold and we need to load up the wagon and find a new HQ.
Since the beginning, we've always had the good fortune to work on special projects with like-minded individuals near and far, last year was no exception. Together with our buddy and talented architect, Michael Simon, we took on a project we have never done before. We designed and constructed a custom exhibit and viewing magnifiers for the Museum of History.
This year, we'll have 2 major collaborations that have been brewing for over 2 years. We can not wait to finally unveil them.
Last year, we reviewed our product line from the beginning and we took out a big red marker. The column of products or ideas that we killed was extensive. Lots of design casualties. We decided that we needed to hunker down and focus on the products that were worth pursuing.
This was done for 2 reasons, our Urbanwood maps continued to grow in popularity and we knew that we had to expand the line at a much quicker pace. We had a few other lines that did well and we needed to throw a lot more of a marketing effort towards those designs to see if they would also experience the same growth as the Urbanwood. We'll be putting forth the most effort towards Urbanwood, but we'll be also making small batches of new designs to simultaneously reuse offcuts from larger projects and quench our creative spirit.
Following suit to a trimming of our product line, we did the same with shows and events. We were much more selective by using 1 single question: Will it be worth being away from our sons? If we thought the answer was yes? Then we'd do it. We've done a lot of shows between Ottawa, Montréal and Toronto.
Last year was also the first year we returned to the big leagues. In 2010, our first show ever was the New York International Gift Fair in NYC (now NYNOW), 4 years later we showed both the Spring and the Christmas One of a Kind Show in Toronto. The days were long and the crowds were huge.
For 2015, we'll be making a return to the local shows that embraced us as well a couple of new events outside the city. Check out our Roadshow Calendar to catch us in person, we'll be adding to it throughout the year. We're also excited to announce that we'll be organizing an event later this year as well, more on that in another post.
A few emails, text messages and pics are starting to come our way since the 25TH. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It's such an honour for us to be a part of your Christmas/Holiday celebrations. People happily picking our goods for their loved one and their loved ones loving their gifts. The same holds true throughout the year, whether it's for a special occasion like a birthday or wedding; or just for no special reason at all. We really love hearing from you.
Here's an example of one of those messages from a customer that gave her father an Urbanwood of his birthplace (across many oceans and many continents):
"Dude he LOVED IT. He was silent when he saw it, he was holding back tears..."
THIS MAKES OUR HEARTS EXPLODE WITH JOY. Thank you for reminding us why we're doing this.
Two thousand and thirteen is starting to approach its final hours for those of us on this side of this wacky ball of gas and mud. We're no different from anyone else, we start to reflect on the year that has whipped past. It was a great year for us with lots of ups and a few downs. The next year will bring some big changes for us, of which we will certainly share with you.
Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who have supported us for the past couple of years. We're not talking about just purchases, every little gesture is greatly appreciated.
Lots of love,Chrys & Dom
There are two very big reasons why we were keen to join in.
One. The Holiday Assembly is the brainchild of Melanie Yugo and Jason Pelletier (as seen below) of Spins and Needles.
For a few years now, they have been a real force of creativity in this fair city of ours. They have thrown countless events & workshops that help the creativity of others to take flight. They're one of the best things humans that has happened to Ottawa.
Two. As a family, we love the Museum of Nature, we're card carrying members. Having attended Museum Night (where 50 museums are open after hours) in Amsterdam before, I love that this Ottawa institution was trying to disrupt the norm a wee bit. Unfortunately, we have yet to attend until now. Congratulations to everyone involved, it was a great night.
Moments before the doors open, I grabbed my buddy Stoyan, my iPhone and a pushcart and we caught some of the final prep as hordes of Ottawans make their way to the event.
A couple of months ago, the ladies behind Victoire approached us with a simple question.
"Would we be into designing a window display for the shop on Wellington?"
Katie and Regine have created something really special in Ottawa, they have a keen eye for design and fashion and they are very active in supporting our community. Even though our schedule was (is) over-extended, It was an easy decision.
After a couple of brief chats over a "concept", they gave one final direction.
"We trust you, do what you do."
Those words are at once wonderful and daunting and they can lead to an absolute glory or a fantastic disaster.
So armed with the trust of two creative people that we respected and our usual lack of time, we forged ahead.
Enter 'Feathers of Confederation', it was an inkling of an idea we had a while back. Its genesis was very typical of our process. It went pretty much like this:
Dom (flipping through William Notman's 'Portrait of a Period'): You know what, these dudes look like well-heeled birds.
Dom: Yeah, check out Sir John A. Macdonald.
Chrys: Yeah kinda...
Dom: He's more like a Feather of Confederation..hehe..ha...
Chrys: Good one.
Dom: We should do a series. Replace their craniums with a beak and bird noggin...their provincial bird heads! Genius.
Chrys: Ya we should.
Dom: Is it a stupid idea?
Dom: Is it is weird?
After a couple of completed portraits, other things pushed this little weird project to the upper-upper deck along their other weird idea cousins waiting to be baked completely in the production oven.
Instantly, we thought this window display would be a great excuse to blow some dust off this concept. The window was to be dressed for November, as part 'Support Local' month. The concept came from a quick observation, but it was also a fun absurdist's take on the men who amalgamated this land of ours. When you think of Victoire, you think of a slew of strong women, so the contrast of all boys club seemed like a perfect juxtaposition.
So there you have it, we had a rationale—now, do we have the time to pull it off? Having no time to think about failure is sometimes even better that having ample time to plan and think accordingly.
Here's ho we didi it. Look at said Father, find their aviary doppelgänger, punnify name of genetically modify said father.
Special thanks to our homies Neil who helped out with a bunch of portraits, and Yan who helped fabricate the steel frame; we wouldn't have hit the deadline without them. Oh yeah, hire them for all your design/dev needs.
Rinse and repeat 35 times.
Oh yeah—at the last minute—we decide to take a couple of those portraits and make some velveteen throw pillows.
This post has been long overdue. Last November, we were crazy lucky to be a part of something pretty special. We were approached by a friend and the founder of Fancy Boys, Martin Gomez. Gomez and I (Dom) first had met in design school more than a decade ago. He wanted to throw an event. So, we wanted to bring some things that we loved—good things—together and see what would happen. It became a beautiful creative collaboration that culminated into a great finale.
This is what went down.
We approached Beau's All Natural Brewing Company located nearby in Vankleek Hill. We asked if we could make a special batch of brew to coincide with our event. We pitched an idea making a Tacolot-inspired brew...and we bring the Antique Skate Crew up for visit...and can we do this in the next couple of months?
Steve, TIna and Jordan from Beau's said, "Yes, yes and yes."
The name 'Road Rash' came within a 5-minute chat with Jordan (Beau's amazing Creative Director) that same day. Beers, tacos and skateboards.
It was perfect.
This is the video our buddy, Guillaume Lebel shot when we transformed the Beau's brewery into a skatepark for a day.
This is the photo shoot by Andrew Szeto.
Fuck e-vites. We designed and made beautifully-etched personal invitations.
This is the party invite.
Fuck email. Gomez and I picked a diverse group of people (some friends, some strangers, all talented hard-working people) that we admired and inspired us by doing great things in Ottawa. One afternoon, we picked a route from East to West then we showed up at their door and invited them.
We just gave them a time and a place, no more info than that. Our guess was that if we picked the right people, that would be all they needed to be curious enough to show up.
This is how we invited people.
This is the setup.
This is 150+ people having some fun.
Good Things was ambitious and we far surpassed our goals. But we wouldn't have achieved anything without the following people.
Jon Reilly-Roe (Tacolot)
Aaron Cayer & Team (Antique Skate)
Steve Beauchesne, Jordan Bamforth, Christina Stuewe, Matthew O'Hara & the entire team (Beau's All-Natural Brewery Company)
Briana Kim (Café My House)
Michael Farber (Farbs Kitchen)
Adrian Salamunovic & Nazim Ahmed (CanvasPop)
Martin Gomez, Neil Madagzia, Darcy Aubin, Robyn Bascombe (Fancy Boys)
Chrystale Ladouceur (N-Product)
And finally, thank you to everyone who came out that night. Thank you for the constant support and inspiration.
We're into movies, it's a fact. Cinema, film, celluloid, talkies, flicks, silver screen, motion pictures; however you like to classify it, we love it. The only thing better than watching a good flick is watching about 10 of them over the course of a few days surrounded by the talented people that make movie magic. And all this flurry of activity to raise awareness for some great causes. Pretty cool..haha, get it? Park City...skiing...snow? Never mind.
When an opportunity of a lifetime came knocking. We kicked the door open.
The "Eco Hideaway" Music Saves Lives Lounge at Sundance this year brought together musicians and (up and coming and veteran) entertainers to the Stein Erikson Lodge in Park City, Utah. Together, everyone was there to support Music Saves Lives, a great organization that unites music and entertainers in an effort to bring attention to great initiatives such as blood donation drives and organ and marrow registration.
Here are some of the stars who attended the event rockin' their Decksters. See the entire album on our FB page.
We were more than happy to be associated with such a worthy cause. It looked like everyone had a great time.
Unfortunately, we couldn't attend the festival ourselves. They say timing is everthing. Although, we both have dreamt of going to Sundance, we had no plans of going this year. Our involvement with Sundance came out of the blue about a month before the event. We were contacted via Twitter by Gotham Chandna (@gothamc) of Cloud21 PR, he was a fan of the Deckster and asked us to participate. Being total fan-nerds of Sundance, it was (sort of an) easy choice. How this came into being is a testament of how business is done these days.
First contact via Twitter, brief meeting via Skype, 90% subsequent communication via DMs and email. A first for us for sure, we still prefer sealing deals in person with a solid look in the eyes and a firm handshake. Gotham was a pleasure to work with. He made the process smooth and worry free, a consummate professional. We would readily work with him and his team again.
Unfortunately, we had already planned to be in NYC the following week, we were in full prep mode for our first industry trade show, the New York International Gift Fair—we'll be adding a blog post on that later. As a small up and coming company, we only had the budget for 1 major event this year. So this is still the closest to Sundance we have ever been. By proxy is better than by nothing right?
Sundance and the "Eco Hideaway" represents so many things we feel passionate about, a film festival that showcases indie films and talent, and a fun event that is intrinsically linked with music and charity. That's a win all around in our books.
When we mapped out our course for the company and our designs, we had a very clear perspective on the colours and materials we wanted to use. We were methodical in this process, because in the world of physical product manufacturing, one has very little control. So, we focus on what a small company like us can control. We can only stay resilient to our values.
We have ideas, good ideas—but, can those same ideas come to fruition under our main goal of producing them in North America? We had a little checklist in our heads. Each idea, no matter how big or small needed to be vetted via that list.
Case in point, we always wanted to offer non-leather, vegan options for our fans and customers. But it quickly became obvious that sourcing rubber or plastic in North America wasn't feasible for a small company that wanted to make small production runs. We have witnessed a strong community of makers who have help add upcycling to the everyday vernacular. So naturally, we went down that route.
We hunted. We gathered. We found a partner.
Mountain Equipment Co-op is a Canadian institution. They're in the business of making people active and happy, which you can witness when you see the faces of their customer shopping in their aisles. When we approached them about our idea, they were more than receptive.
It has been a slow process (6+ months in the making) but today we launched our Re:Class line for Deckster. We have taken their unwanted backpacks, inner tubes and tires and made high-end timepiece band options. 3 in total, two of which are 100% vegan. We collected the materials and our great manufacturing partner in Montréal takes them, cleans them, cuts them and then handcrafts each band with artistry and care. The results have achieved our goal of being both top-shelf in aesthetics and more sustainable in its genesis.
So instead of wasting away in landfills, those same items will now grace fair wrists near and far. Pretty cool, no?
This has been an especially proud and rewarding product release. We never thought that our path would be a straight vector from A to B and clearly it hasn't been. If zig-zags are the only way we can stay true to ourselves, we wouldn't want it any other way.
Watch the clip and skip all the wordy/paragraphy parts.
The board game Snakes and Ladders is a great metaphor for the life of an entrepreneur. A simple roll of the dice and your path can dramatically change in an instant. The following is a little tale that involves a (fortuitous) ladder.
May 11th was a Wednesday, ordinary in almost every way. I had just finished a late shift working on our 8 month old startup the evening before and back at my day job with a little 4 hour nap in between. Throughout the day, I had noticed some mention of a little Shopify (our platform) contest on Twitter. Didn’t register at all.
Day swapped places with night and I found myself back in front of my laptop punching in for another shift at the mom & pop shop that is our company. In between emails to suppliers, corp blog posts and refining our product packaging, I glanced over to my Twitter stream to notice a reminder tweet from @accordianguy (né Joey Devilla) that the Shopify contest was closing at midnight.
The time was 11:15 pm.
This time I clicked. Win a 45 min Skype session with Gary Vaynerchuk, add your best lesson learnt as an entrepreneur in the comments and best one wins. Gary is a busy man. He does this, this and all of these. Did is kind of a big deal.
‘Sure, why not’ is sometimes one of the most compelling reasons for action. So I added the following comment:
<< Discipline, it applies to every facet of entrepreneurship (and life really). Selecting a set of values and staying true to it. Crafting, nurturing and sharing your brand narrative. Knowing your comfort zone and making a call to jump out of it. Making promises to customers/employees/supply partners and following through. Perfecting a product/service and knowing when to release and iterate. Assembling the right people who share a culture of discipline.
Being completely exhausted and replying to the last few customer emails. Being utterly consumed and realizing that it’s time for family and friends. Having discipline is the common thread. Hard to do but always rewarding. >>
I clicked ‘submit’. The page refreshed, but my comment didn’t display. Hmmm. Moderation maybe? Server congestion? Just to be safe, let’s try this again. So I repeated my actions and clicked ‘submit’ again. This time the comment displayed. The time was 11:43 pm.
By the next morning, I had forgotten about the contest until a fateful email from Team Shopify dropped in my inbox a couple of mornings later. ‘Good news, we selected your comment as the best in the Win a Power Session with Gary Vaynerchuk Contest!
Shut. The. Front. Door.
I didn’t even have the chance to tell my wife and business partner that I had entered the contest. Suffice it to say that we were pretty ecstatic about the turn of events. This opportunity cannot be measured in any typical fashion. Huge.
The Skype chat was to take place the following week. How can we possibly organize our thoughts into a coherent structure so we can maximize this 45 min session without just peppering him with questions? Opportunities like this just aren't common—Gary was a person in high demand, his typical audience fills auditoriums. We decided that the best route was a casual conversation; just enjoy the experience for what it was. When the meeting time was finalized, my wife couldn’t make it since we still worked full time. 1 on 1, just me and Gary V. Breathe, be cool, and don’t talk too much, repeat.
Then came the familiar Skype ring.
Our conversation lasted longer than the scheduled 45 min. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable conversation. It was authentic. And it was game changing experience for me and our company. Five minutes into the chat, you quickly see firsthand Gary’s passion for business, and more importantly his passion to help build other businesses. Instead of a Q & A, it became a brainstorm session. He listened, and then he sprang into action. First, he cracked the window open for us, then he left us a key under the doormat and finally he left the key in the ignition with the motor running.
He introduced us to some really key contacts, along with sharing some very direct and applicable advice, all of which are invaluable; but after the chat he emailed me with a simple tip that really resonated with me.
‘Try to offer your services to these new contacts also, don’t make it just about you.’
This struck a cord with me. When you’re a startup, you are so hungry for a break of any manner (a review, an article, a purchase order, etc.), you forget that it’s still about relationships. What can you do for them also? Building a business and building a relationship are similes.
Having someone like Gary like our product and company philosophy is mind-blowing. He is exposed to dozens of ideas, startups and brands every day. It has definitely given us fuel to keep plugging away. Long nights and long roads are still ahead, but this experience has giving us a big lift. In keeping with the Snakes & Ladders analogy, on that eventful day Gary Vaynerchuk was our escalator.