Leaving A Career In Design And Marketing To Start Making Handmade Custom Knives

$2K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Humble Blades
from Austin
started October 2015
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
6.35M
alexa rank
6.55K
followers
market size
$664B
avg revenue (monthly)
$47.3K
starting costs
$42.5K
gross margin
50%
time to build
6 months
average product price
$30
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
E-Commerce
best tools
Canva, Instagram, Facebook
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
31 Pros & Cons
tips
9 Tips
Discover what tools Christopher reccommends to grow your business!
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Discover what books Christopher reccommends to grow your business!
Start A Handmade Goods Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Chris Sofia and I make handmade custom knives in Austin, Texas. Mostly Chef Knives, I like the idea of thinking that my products and effort will create a situation where I’m invited to dinner, but now and then I make something that will guarantee an empty seat…

It’s the most romantic passion-filled set for failure conception you can imagine too. With no knowledge of production, manufacturing, or even how to make a knife, I spent my last unemployment check and purchased all the wrong materials to make some terrible knives, but something about the process pulled me in a way I’d never been pulled before, and in a way, I’ve always dreamed of being moved. Follies and hardships aside, every day has led to new challenges to overcome, developing physical skills.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My background is in marketing and graphic design, I hate sitting still, and I’ve always been interested in knives, swords, medieval arms, armor, etc. So I thought making a logo and a website and getting a few products on the page would be a great way to make a new marketing/design portfolio. It would showcase me as more than a designer, but rather a small business creative sherpa, taking client’s concept to completion of anything.

Very quickly, I felt the pull to make this more than just a sales pitch for my next interview, but a viable career path, with options to grow and scale a business, and finally be my own boss, I’d have several opportunities to do so in the past but it’s an odd way to describe it, but I was interested in the work, my heart wasn't in it and I felt I was self-sabotaging every time because I knew deep down it’s not what I wanted to be doing.

With the knives, as ugly and terrible as they were, the feedback was positive with the early work, I felt I could do much more, and much better with more discipline and a strategy so I leaned into with all I had, partly because I was interested in everything, but mostly because I sort of felt I was always holding back for reason, and I have never truly submitted to an idea, and this was something I never even questioned while allowing to consume me.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

My products are 100% handmade and bespoke, which in itself is a process, many facets, many wrong ways, many right ways, you must simply attack the corners, stay present, and always move the needle. Over time, repetition and feedback have allowed me to challenge each detail of the design, and take it from a functioning piece of art to an actual purpose-built product.

Of all the efforts, I’ve found the most return on Social Media. I think my narrative is more visual, so photos are the way to do that. I’ve sold my process, and my development as part of the overall tone just as much as each piece of inventory.

I have about 15 designs, most of my process is fairly whimsical, they just simply take what they take. Despite all the templates for all my designs, Two of them I’ve gotten to a stage of “product” meaning I feel it is perfect, I’ve got an appropriate production plan, that can be communicated and done by the appropriate personnel, and the entire process is smooth and can be calculated into a weekly production. It helps to pair these more time committing projects, the gamble is if they will or won’t sell.

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As far as development, there were initial concepts or aesthetic principles that I was attracted to, over countless design versions and feedback. Many principles are present throughout my work but you can really get a sense of the refinement with every new project. Some people don’t understand why I don’t automate or sub out initial stages of the production process. While I am not opposed to it, it’s only until recently that I felt I’ve reached the product and process required to produce and maintain standards that have been achieved. The brand itself and scope have developed too. There seem to be three tiers of activity: customs, inventory, and merch. Customs, the limit is the budget, that’s where I really flex as an artist.

A big part of my brand is concept and intangibles. It’s what adds to the overall value but can’t be pinned down. The idea of perpetuating progress is one of the biggest intangibles. I love the idea of putting “good” up against “better”; “good” has a grounding, and is a standard, yet it is finite and has boundaries. “Better” is ever-expanding.

I did not do a Kickstarter, I had no investors or seed money, I purchased my first equipment with my last unemployment check. I chose deliberately to take the hardest path I could think of. If I failed, I wouldn’t hold it against me because of the odds and I’d be happy to reintegrate into the corporate world, If I endured, I’d be successful not despite the hardship, but because of it.

I wanted to break this wild, defiant part of my character that I found I couldn’t escape with my current skill set, and it was affecting job security. “yes sir” is just simply not me.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Starting the business seemed simple - it was 2015, I was on hiatus from a marketing and design position in the marketing field, you need a logo, a product, a website. That was the easy part, the next 5 years would be a very long and hard journey that ultimately needed to be done by myself. I had the idea of the brand, but I needed the legacy of work and experience to develop not only the product but the discipline to produce the product.

The time developing the physical talent also helped me get a good chance to observe the nature of the biggest thing I learned was to always answer everyone - I do a lot of business through social media, and there are many situations where people have cited my accessibility or relatability as one of the factors in their purchase.

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Honesty and authenticity through craft & customer service, one on one customer time taking their needs and fulfilling, answering every email and every DM. It’s exhausting but I see it as investing in future lifetime clients, by keeping the communication channel direct and open you create a situation where a customer knows you’re real, you create a relationship, at some point and time there’s going a situation where this prospect wants to fully engage in the brand with a purchase, and if the communication like exists, then I’ve found that the hardest part of initiating the ultimate sales conversation is over because we already have an established pattern of response.

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I think have been a great way to establish a connection with customers, I am not trying to sell them a knife, I am trying to reside in the top position in their brain so when the time comes (wedding, graduation, birthday, promotion, etc), THEY will choose to enter the sales funnel. It is a luxury product, Mercedes salespeople don’t talk about MPG, they talk about the way the leather makes you feel good. I like that approach because if someone is going to commit to a purchase with me, they are choosing to invest in the premium of their efforts, and we want to celebrate that, not compare that.

Of all the efforts, I’ve found the most return on Social Media, Instagram in particular. I think my narrative is more visual, so photos are the way to do that. I’ve sold my process, and my development as part of the overall tone just as much as each piece of inventory.

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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Scaling is where the future is - I have always wanted to be not just my own boss, but someone who is a true leader. The sacrifices and transformations required to identify, launch and maintain a handmade brand, I feel have given me an invaluable perspective to both sides.

The future has been deviating as much of my spirit to the development of my business skills, and I have committed to the development of the craft. Constant growth is the goal, to take challenges and absorb and grow.

Often I feel that What I did 2 weeks ago is affecting how my brand operates today, so a lot of forward-thinking and preparation scenario thinking will help you adapt and grow.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Make a work schedule, add an hour to it.

Avoid business with family.

Friends will do business with you, but it is not their responsibility to sustain your dream.

If your asshole doesn’t pucker when you send an invoice you didn’t price it right.

TAKE MENTAL HEALTH DAYS

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What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Instagram absolutely for its daily updates and reach. The website with eCommerce (Really Simple Store) has allowed me to not only invoice deposits and balances but manage products. It’s a portal that allows me to charge anyone anything at any time and that versatility has been invaluable.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The Book of 5 Rings. This a strategy book, I believe what I am doing is not a knife endeavoring but rather putting a stop to the vulnerability of who I am, eradicating doubt and building confidence, I’ve built a lifestyle where I can monetize my thoughts and provide for myself without depending on anyone. So in a very goofy and abstract way,( which is totally me) I’ve managed to identify and apply a lot of these ideas to my daily life. And 5 years in I get to see the efforts taking a more tangible form.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

“Be Prepared…” I like that, be prepared to fail and continue, be prepared with the right bandwidth for the projects you’re taking on.

Often I feel that What I did 2 weeks ago is affecting how my brand operates today, so a lot of forward-thinking and preparation scenario thinking will help you adapt and grow.

Stay focused on the macro, but mind the details, for they are the resolution.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I have been developing a curriculum, for a coworker to assist with production, ultimately take over 80% of the work and start doing more project management as well as business development and custom projects.

I have a fantastic individual with talents, ambitions, and aptitudes that are all in line with what I think is necessary, so it will be fun to grow his skills and responsibilities to a point where his position can use hourly bottleneck assistance, grow from there, and so on.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Christopher Sofia,   Founder of Humble Blades
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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