Big Feelings from the CEO
Apr 18, 2019 • Alex Matisse
A heartfelt letter from CEO Alex Matisse.
We say it sometimes at the end of a very long day.
We say it as hulking machines we don’t yet know how to operate are moved into place and wired up. Or we say it after an exuberant night of celebrating with our staff of nearly 60—up from 12 just 2 years before. We asked the question when we opened our first store in Asheville, and asked it again when we opened our second in Atlanta, and then again when only 12 people came through our doors over the course of a particularly slow week this February.
We said it last November—“What are we doing?”—when our clay supplier sent us only half our order and told us that they could no longer keep up with our burgeoning demand, and we thought we would have to send everyone home because there was no clay to form.
We said it when we signed the lease on what seemed like an unfathomable amount of production space, and I said it last month when I looked around and saw that in a year we’ll have outgrown it. “What have we done?” Connie and I say to each other late at night, engulfed by the domestic mayhem that two toddlers are capable of inflicting—we exchange blank stares, engulfed by mountains of unfolded clothes and a sink full of dishes. Drained and depleted.
I say it on the mornings I manage to get out of the house by 7, on a day when Connie’s in charge of daycare and preschool drop-offs. I’m at the office and the sun is just hitting our building, and the white brick glows and our logo pops, and the parking lot is empty except for Michel who has been here prepping clay since 5, and the coffee is already on. I sit at my desk and clack away happily at my keyboard while my friends slowly arrive and settle into the day's work.
When I sit down with every member of our production team and tell them, one by one, that we need to tighten things up, work smarter, work faster, and leave behind that small country pottery—where we drank tea under the apple trees during lunch and recited poetry in the morning—and start acting like a real manufacturing company with time clocks and break times and Lean and 5S and TPS.
I say it when—after a year of not having mugs and working on iteration after iteration of the handle, trying one process, then another, and then another—the handle still isn’t perfect and we have to go back to the drawing board. And, when 4 months later we release them again and they sell out in minutes, then go a little viral from a mention on the Food Network, and the New York Times wants to feature it in print, and we get a call from a major broadcast television program saying they want it for a Mother’s Day segment, so our investors ask on the phone late at night, why can’t you just make more of them, and I think to myself, “Yeah, why can’t we just fucking make more of them?!”
And, I go in the next day with my mind on fire, and I realize that anything we do will take energy from somewhere and someone else, and we don’t have a machine that is pumping these out, and it’s real people and they are learning so fast but some just started a week ago, and even if we could get a machine we’d still have to figure out how to get the handle design to a place where an individual could put more than 60 on in a day, and then I remember we’re switching clay in a week and none of us really know how that will work out and what new problems it might cause, and even the new clay we just spent 8 months developing is having supply issues and I look back out across the plant floor and I think again of what would happen if we just ran flat out of clay and had to send everyone home. And I think to myself, “What the hell have I done?”
We have not chosen the easiest route. We are not the Warby Parker of pottery—as much as journalists like to lean on that line. We can’t flip a switch and make more overnight. All we can do is show up every day and try to make more than we did the day before.
In the end, we commit to two things above all else: our people and our process.
If you are reading this because you found us in this most recent barrage of press and if you cannot buy the thing on our website that you came here for, I hope you will take this simple invitation: please join us for this ride and know that we are listening to the market; but just as importantly, if we want to be here in 100 years, we have to listen to ourselves, too.
From our home to yours,
CEO and Co-Founder
Hey, don’t sweat it. American culture is WAAAY too accustomed to getting what we want NOW! (Please send me one mug via drone in 3 hours). There is a balance and sometimes things can embody something of greater value if harder to acquire, something we had to save up for some time or something we had to wait until it was custom made for us by special order. When Utah was discontinued, its value increased in my eyes as its was thus for a season the gone like the fall leaves.. There is, though, the lure of going too far towards the corporate in the name of more, faster, bigger, better. The wisdom is to recognize the difference and be at peace with the line one has drew in the Carolina clay.