Jake Eshelman curates a popular blog dedicated to discovering and sharing stories of contemporary artisans and creativity called Procured Design. In addition to writing about what he finds inspiring, Jakes has also launched his own venture called Side Project Skateboards an online pop-up shop limited to eighteen hand-crafted skateboards built from choice American components and reclaimed hardwoods. The Big Plate asks Jake a few questions about his latest startup and what he’s planning next.
The Big Plate: What is on your plate?
Side Project Skateboards: I’m continuing my work to develop and improve Procured Design. I am also a full-time “studio assistant” for my fiancée, who is a visual artist working towards her master’s degree. Of course, the skateboards are ongoing, and on Thursday, I am headed into the recording studio to work on a demo of some music I’ve been writing for the past couple years. I’m pulled in all sorts of directions!
TBP: We have featured folks that have employed pop-up stores for their on-line businesses but never a start-to-finish pop-up business. What inspired you to build a company with a finite number of products?
SPS: It comes from different places. The main reason is I wanted to do something that I felt very passionate about. Ultimately I don’t want to limit myself to doing just one thing. I have a wide variety of disparate interests which in some ways is a blessing, but it can also be a curse. I don’t want to devote everything to just making skateboards, so I figured this would be a good way to indulge in that while still leaving room for all the other things I want to accomplish.
More conceptually, the idea came about over the last two years while working in the art industry. I have a background and interest in printmaking, both as an artist and a budding collector. If you are familiar with printmaking, many prints have a limited edition – a finite amount. There is sort of democratization about it: a print can be disseminated to different people. But at the same time I like that there is a cap to it.
TBP: How do you keep startup costs in check given that you need to recover your startup expenses rather quickly?
SPS: To be honest, we’re eating a lot of beans and rice (laughs). From a business standpoint, this may not be the best approach. My personality is such that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and I’m all in. This was a large leap of faith for me to spend all our money to procure all the materials, set everything up, get domain names, etc. But I think that I am very fortunate in that my fiancée and our families are very supportive of me taking these risks. My hope is that everything sells out. If not, this has been an incredibly valuable experience for me nonetheless, and I’m very grateful for what I’ve learned.
TBP: Any plans to use Side Project as a “frame” to place other new and interesting one-time products?
SPS: Absolutely. One of the things I am considering is opening an online boutique. My vision is to curate what I like from people around me – artisans, fashion designers, things of that sort. Also, I envision working with these people to develop new products. If I could have a platform through which to do that I think that would be perfect.
TBP: What types of technology do you utilize to make the retail side of Side Project come alive?
SPS: At this point, the biggest thing for me would be a site called Big Cartel, which is an online e-commerce site similar to WordPress that allows for an unlimited degree of customization. They have templates, but you can build [an online store] from the ground up. I think that option is valuable in order to build a cohesive and distinct brand experience behind what you are doing. Many times you really like someone’s product, but then you go to their website and it is really disappointing. Their site may not jive with the overall aesthetic of what they are doing, or any number of other issues like that. So that control was very important to me to be able to pare everything down and keep it in line with a minimal contemporary aesthetic.
In addition to that, Instagram was interesting for me as a marketing tool. Because of the nature of this project, it is not necessary conducive to setting up an Instagram account to prolong and interact with the audience or potential clientele. Because people are always on their phones, I thought it would be interesting to set up an Instagram account to specifically post the [Side Project Skateboards] lookbook and product images. That way if people are out and about, they can easily view these images on their phones and share them with friends. I haven’t seen temporary account like these in action before, so I thought it might be cool to try it out. It’s been wonderful so far!
TBP: Are there other entrepreneurs/companies out there that you draw inspiration from?
SPS: In terms of this project, I am really inspired by a leather worker in Dallas named Barrett Alley. His work is wonderful. The whole point of this venture was that I was inspired by a do-it-yourself attitude that my father-in-law told me about from the 1960s. Coming up from nothing, kids would go into their parents’ garage, get their dad’s power tools, take the wheels off their skates, and screw them on a plank of wood.
I was also inspired by my interest in men’s fashion. There is a utilitarian emphasis – at least with the stuff I look at. Labels like visvim [visvim.tv] for example. They take a lot of traditional crafting methods and techniques into a very contemporary and innovative setting. I think that translates very well into what I am trying to do with these skateboards.
TBP: One thing you would do more/less of, if you build another startup?
SPS: I think I am still learning, flying by the seat of my pants so to speak. In that sense, I might have done a little more research. However, looking back I am not sure I would have been better prepared regardless. Real world experience is usually my best teacher, and life’s too short to prolong what you want to do by over-preparing.