Anniversaries are a good time to reflect on where you were, and how you’ve grown during a stretch of time. It’s Halloween, which happens to be one year to the day since I started my job at KerfCase. It’s been a year full of challenges, growth, and lots of pretty trees, and I thought it would be fun to recap that year, and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
It was the fall of 2016, and there was a lot to celebrate. I had just gotten engaged, my band was playing some new, fun venues in Pittsburgh, and we were rapidly approaching the end of a contentious election, where surely a period of non-political peace would follow! I was also getting worried.
I was working as a temp at a hip Pittsburgh tech office, working on a lot of cool data science projects with people around the world. But temps could only be used for a limited time, and I was running out. Looking for my next job turned out to be harder than I thought, as my working experience was very particular and scattershot. Since leaving school (with an extremely marketable Religious Studies degree), I’ve done work in sales, tech support, graphic design, data analysis, and a lot of odd jobs, mostly in the service of giant tech companies. I was looking for something that would let me do a lot of different work, and at a smaller company where I might be able to leave a bigger mark on the business than I could at a firm that employs 100,000 people.
Since I am a millennial, I found the answer on Reddit. “[HIRING] Production Assistant”, read a new post on /r/pittsburghjobs, a site I visited daily and increasingly desperately. Some of the qualifications desired:
- Attention to detail
- Does not get bogged down in details
- Must be able to lift up to 50 pounds
I received my offer with three days left on my temp contract, and said goodbye to all of my coworkers dressed as Bojack Horseman.
Moving from a large company to a small company is a jarring transition. Large companies tend to be made up of large teams of hyperspecialized employees, each responsible for one task and overseen by a manager who oversees their operation. KerfCase was made up of a handful people who did absolutely everything. I was able to make myself immediately useful doing the manual tasks my coworkers were too busy for: sweeping floors, folding boxes, sanding hundreds of cases. Eventually I stepped up to become the point person for a number of tasks, and soon settled into a comfortable niche in charge of many of the company’s operational areas: customer service, shipping and order fulfillment, social media, content marketing (hello!), and process management.
A SCARY GIFT
The most enduring lesson from this past year is that an open-ended job is a gift, albeit a scary one. Very rarely was I asked to take charge of an area of a business; I simply kept doing something that needed to be done until it was clear that I was the go to guy for it. I think that this opportunity to grow unchecked is something truly precious in a world where so many jobs are limited in scope and duration. This freedom to define my role was extremely liberating after years of jobs with a limited scope, but it also introduces a terror that’s almost existential: if I can be and do whatever I want, what’s good enough? Is it my fault if the company doesn’t make a billion dollars next year? How do I take on a helpful but not prohibitive amount of tasks, and where do I find the proper balance to enjoy my work, stay sane, and maximize my impact as a worker?
I’m told that what I’m experiencing is a small taste of how it feels to be a small business owner. This past year I’ve gained a lot of respect for small business owners who carry the weight of their enterprise on their shoulders. Ben, KerfCase founder, has lived this life for four years, and maybe I’ll ask him in a future blog post how he keeps all of his plates spinning.
Perhaps my epiphany that my job scope is scary, and the fact that it is Halloween, are connected somehow.
IPHONE FEEDER FISH
It’s been fun to watch the march of technological progress and its effect on our business. In years past I got the new iPhone jitters directly from the source: in June of 2010, I sold my first iPhone 4 to a happy fanboy who had waited outside the Apple Store I worked at all night. Going on the yearly journey, from months of speculation, to eagerly awaiting the keynote, to binging on tech specs and first impressions, to late-night preordering, to receiving (or delivering) the latest megagadget in all its glory. There’s a fun rush to the whole thing, one that for me now is tinged with nostalgia for my early twenties.
Now we look to new iPhones with a mix of excitement and dread. “Will it be cool?” becomes a secondary concern to “Will this work with our cases?” When you derive so much of your revenue to accessories for a constantly changing product, something as simple as the Pixel 2's squeeze function becomes a life-or-death . One year ago, I arrived amidst a frenzy of orders for the new iPhone 7. With minor changes to the form factor compared to the iPhone 6s, the 7 gave Kerf an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief and completely redesign our cases. I got to see how that process works when we expanded our offering to the Google Pixel, and all the work that goes into measuring, prototyping and iterating until a perfectly fitting design is achieved. We get excited about new phones, but we also get ready to spend a few frantic weeks doing all the leg work necessary to support them.
This September was my favorite Apple keynote, not for the items presented (that honor goes to the Apple Watch keynote of 2014), but for how it was spent. I dragged my computer setup into the shop, where while Apple was announcing the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X, we were simultaneously performing production work on our cases for the week and updating our website to incorporate all of the info we were learning. I was writing copy, Dagan was coding it in, and Ben was sketching out production timetables and strategy. I’ve never felt so connected to a team, or so proud of the work I was doing.
It's a long way from Halloween 2016, but it's been a great year, and I know that the upcoming year is gonna be a doozy. So happy Kerfiversary to me, happy Halloween to you, and feel free to reach out if you’re curious about our quirky little company and the product we sell We’d love to hear from you.
Phil Giammattei likes to wear lots of different hats. Formerly employed at Apple, Google and Oracle, he loves applying his technical knowledge to making the best possible custom wooden phone cases. In addition to writing the Kerf Blog, Phil’s duties at KerfCase include customer service, sales, production, shipping and fulfillment, and anywhere else he can be helpful. Reach Out to say hi and find out what choice cuts we have in stock!