Names: Mallie Testerman & Stephen “Sven” Jobe
Business: Sven Ceramics
Location San Francisco, CA
Before opening their own ceramics studio, couple Mallie and Sven worked full-time jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sven worked in construction and landscaping, while Mallie, a writer, ran a non-profit. They decided to become full-time entrepreneurs in 2015, and they’ve never looked back.
Sven’s skills with clay had been honed over many years leading up to opening Sven Ceramics, and Mallie’s photography, writing and marketing skills help spread the word about the business and bring in customers from all over the world.
Today, Sven and Maggie sell their elegant, sturdy wares to cafes, restaurants and to private customers. However, they still make time to run an all-volunteer non-profit group that once a week distributes surplus food from local businesses to families facing hunger in San Francisco.
Hi Mallie and Sven! Tell us about your business, Sven Ceramics.
We make custom pottery and ceramics from start to finish. We formulate and create our own glazes and fire all the pieces manually in our gas kiln. We have two primary customer bases, as we make a lot of pottery and custom pieces for restaurants and cafes locally and internationally, as well as some corporations. We also make pottery for the home and for private consumers including commissioned dining sets. We sell our mugs online and at craft fairs, too.
What did it take to turn your idea into a real product?
Sven studied ceramics in school and was determined to turn his knowledge into a business. We combined our own personal talents and invested in the tools and machinery we needed to open a ceramics studio in our backyard. Sven started making the pottery, and Mallie used her writing and photography skills to create a website, open an Etsy shop and build an Instagram following. Eventually, Mallie began helping in the studio. Our skills and roles in the business have evolved along with our products.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were starting out in business?
There are so many things we wished we’d known, yet we wouldn’t have changed any part of this journey. One of the greatest challenges in the beginning was knowing our own value and knowing how much to charge for our pottery -- especially for clients using our pottery in cafes and restaurants. We made a lot of decisions without sufficient experience, and we had to learn from those decisions. We’re still learning today. We never dreamed we’d be where we are now with our business, and every step along the way led to this moment.
What has been most satisfying about starting and running your own business?
It’s immensely satisfying knowing people around the world are serving food in homes and restaurants using pottery we created with our own hands. We feel so satisfied after every successful kiln firing or when we collaborate with a chef to make a new piece, create a new glaze color or pack up a large order and ship it out.
It’s deeply satisfying to come out on the other side of every obstacle we encounter -- and we’ve faced more obstacles than we ever anticipated. At the end of the day, the two of us have designed and created every aspect of this business, and we feel truly grateful for its success.
What has been most challenging or surprising about starting and running your own business?
One challenge we never expected was the multitude of factors that affect our product before it reaches its final form. For example, a change in the pH of the water could make the glaze run and drip off of every single mug of a 200 piece order. There are million things that can keep your ceramics from turning out how you expect. Navigating each new situation has actually changed us as people. We have had to become resourceful, creative in new ways, accepting of all situations, determined and patient. To some extent, these are skills all entrepreneurs must possess.
Entrepreneurs tend to think “differently” from people who work a traditional 9-5 job. Tell us about your “mindset” as a self-employed person.
For one thing, there is no leaving the business behind. You never leave your work behind at then end of the day. You have to invest so much time and energy and thought to make it successful. Sink or swim, it’s up to you. You’re always thinking about what’s next, how to make it better, what you can do that is new.
As an entrepreneur, your business is there when you wake up, and it’s there long after 5 p.m. when the mugs still need handling or the bowls need trimming. Even if it means being in the studio till midnight, you just do it. We don’t mind, because this is our business.
How are you gearing up now for the busy holiday season ahead?
It’s wild how early you have to start preparing for the holiday season. We start planning and making pieces in the summer. Thinking about making mugs for Christmas while it’s July is definitely something we never anticipated! Right now, we’re making pottery to sell online and at a few craft fairs during the holiday season, and we’re also are in the midst of filling restaurant orders.
What do you hope to gain from attending QuickBooks Connect?
We are looking forward to learning! We want to know about anything that can make our business more streamlined, efficient or successful. We’d also like to learn more about expanding our business and taking on employees. We’ve been branching out with the pieces we’ve been making, and we’ll have some new items like ceramic lamps to bring with us. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone in November!
Now it’s your turn
QB Community members, how long did it take you to turn your idea into an official business? What steps did you take to make it happen?
Want to weigh in but not yet a QB Community member? Click HERE to sign up in a flash!