This week in our Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Jason, the bearded, peanut-butter-loving creative behind Burton & Levy!
LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?
Jason: My inspiration was this question: “Can I be an effective boss and community leader?” I’ve been a maker, a teacher, and administrator, a coworker… Then I ran into this question head-on, and my answer was to start my own business.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Jason: The cornerstone of my business is eye-catching, gorgeously-made products. I aim to fulfill that every day.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Jason: I founded my business on beard combs. I’m growing my line of grooming tools, also adding in apparel and lifestyle goods. When I say “lifestyle product” I mean “object to add beauty, function, and care to everyday life.”
LBC: Where can we find your products?
LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.
1) Wake up
2) Emails and light social media work over coffee and breakfast (usually oatmeal)
3) Errands to buy materials, pick up/send packages, take care of whatever I can “out in the world”
4) Make it to the studio by 2pm to finish and package combs, process orders, work on designs, perform email and social media follow up.
5) Dinner at home with my boo!
6) Usually an email or two, even though *technically* the workday is over.
LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
Jason: Be flexibile. Can you take critical feedback to improve your designs? Explore products you never thought you would? Focus on what’s working and not just on what you want to work? Can you be patient for results?
Be a great boss. I’m so enthusiastic about this – and very challenged by it! Adopt realistic methods. Plan achievable outcomes. Think, “How can I learn? How can I teach/empower? *Celebrate* all kinds of successes. Be patient about mistakes and learn from them. Collaborate or delegate when it means the best results. *Communicate clearly.*
Be honest with what you need. Do you need to satisfy a design obsession? Build your portfolio? Augment your income? Structure your free-time? Get some attention? Get out of a bad job? Overcome insecurities? Challenge yourself? Profit is a mid-term goal, not an immediate one. Weigh in all the risks, benefits, and opportunities when starting your business.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Jason: I have a bunch of tactics that I use in different combinations:
- List my tasks, including easy ones. Complete all the easy ones and feel accomplished.
- Stay moving; take a “break” by doing simpler tasks (construct packaging, apply labels, clean the finishing station…)
- Listen to music that’s energizing – Listen to music that says “it’s ok, you’ve got this.”
- Read and re-read inspiring words, as often as needed (the Martha Graham one below is a perennial favorite.)
- Call my best friend Sarah and say, “Please tell me I did _________ just right”. And she does, and it feels great.
LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.
Jason: My best business decision: identifying a weakness and then getting help for it. I envisioned a regular schedule of blog content, but I wasn’t sticking to my calendar. I contracted someone to help share the load and keep the blog full and fresh. The content is engaging and diverse – our collaboration is much more than the sum of its parts.
LBC: Please share one obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?
Jason: I work with a production company that cuts my designs out for me, using files I make myself. I’m trained as a jeweler – that means I have some pretty specific quality standards! When I wasn’t getting the results I needed, I did everything I could think of to get to a solution: I communicated my needs in emails, over the phone, and through pictures; I contacted different members of their sales and production team; I asked for confirmation letters and samples all along the way. I might represent a small business, but I know my money is worth their best services. I didn’t stop until I got the results I needed to make an exceptional finished product.
LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?
Jason: I have goals in this area! I want to become involved with the Ruth Ellis center for homeless LGBTQ youth/young adults. I also want to work with the literacy program at the Detroit Public Library. I’ll post updates on how I get involved!
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
1) My group of friends. I know (and make it a point to know) makers and entrepreneurs who can either give me information or refer me. If I can contract work with them, so much the better!
2) My website. I use Shopify, but pick what has the right look and functionality for you. Think of your website as an actual “place” – it’s specific, it’s proprietary, it’s experimental, it’s on-brand, it’s HQ, it’s a reason to be proud.
3) The internet! Google, youtube tutorials, Indie Retail Academy, Shopify forums, Maker Mentors, and Gnucash forums to learn the mechanics of bookkeeping.
LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Jason: Within the next 3 years, I plan to:
- Be represented by 40 retailers (brick-and-mortar and online combined)
- Have an employee who works in production at least part time – work officially with a philanthropic organization local to Detroit
- Proudly offer new products! I’ve estimated I’ll have 7 collections by year three, up from 3 current collections. The basis of my goal is to serve a broad range of hair types (and bring unique, fun style while doing it.)
LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.
Jason: Spoonfuls of peanut butter. When the mood strikes, I can go through a jar at an alarming rate. I don’t actually feel guilty about this, though I do have to contend with a peanut-buttery beard!
LBC: Tell me a few of places on your travel “bucket list”.
- The badlands of South Dakota
- Angkor Wat in Cambodia
- The Bristlecone Pine Forest in California
- The Lalibela Rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia
- New Zealand
LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?
Jason: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urge that motivates you. Keep the channel open.” Martha Graham To Agnes DeMille
Thank you, Jason, for sharing your talent with us! We absolutely love your work and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for Burton & Levy! We’re cheering you on…
Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!