How veteran elementary school teacher-turned-entrepreneur Danny Montoya used collective creativity to bootstrap his new woodworking studio.
The Butterfly Joint
By Sarah Virginia White | Photography by Smeeta Mahanti
Danny Montoya is the founder and lead instructor at The Butterfly Joint, a woodworking studio for kids located in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. In the workshop, kids ages 18 months and up strap on mini-aprons and get to work with Japanese hand tools to learn the traditional joinery techniques that Montoya mastered at the elbow of his grandfathers (both hobbyist woodworkers).
With his wife and Red Tricycle Bay Area editor Erin Feher — or “Red” — as cofounder and director of marketing, and 2-year-old daughter Orion as inspiration, Montoya, 38, launched a Fundable campaign that raised more than $53,000 for his new venture, and opened his doors a mere four months later with a weekend workshop for dads and their kids, in honor of Father’s Day.
It was a fitting launch, as becoming a father motivated Montoya to start his own business in the first place: Having taught elementary school for 15 years in San Francisco schools, he and his wife were preparing to welcome their first child when she miscarried. Says Montoya,
“When Red had the miscarriage, that was kind of the first time in my life that I had that kind of moment of, ‘What am I doing? Am I really happy doing this?’”
“It jarred us both. We just looked at our own lives. Because we were such planners — when we were planning on having that first child, we just assumed, ‘Oh, it’s going to be like this, maybe we’ll have it during the fall, then I can have my summer off, and then I’ll take my paternity leave.’ We had this whole plan. And that plan just got thrown out the window. We didn’t have any control. So that’s when I decided to actually take control of my life. I didn’t want to have to show up to a job anymore. I wanted to figure out something else.”
He decided that whenever they got pregnant again, he would make sure that he could be with their child for at least the first year. He quit teaching full time and dove into his former side gig, a woodworking business called Key&Kite. Meanwhile, he developed his business plan for The Butterfly Joint. He had three main goals: direct his own career, incorporate his love of teaching and woodworking, and create a space where his family could spend time.
Montoya with daughter Orion, 2, and wife Erin Feher, who as the former editor in chief of California Home+Design magazine and current Red Tricycle Bay Area editor, leads the successful marketing efforts for The Butterfly Joint.
So far, so good: His wife often writes from the shop’s front desk while Orion naps in a playpen in the back of the studio. The initial classes and summer camps were packed, and Montoya has expanded The Butterfly Joint schedule to include parent-toddler classes as well as adult classes.
Here, the 6 steps that Montoya took to bootstrap his business
- Have clear priorities
Montoya started The Butterfly Joint to spend more time with his family, so anything that took him further from that goal was problematic. He put in a few weeks of late nights before opening day, but remained focused on his main goal of building a family-oriented shop.
“I wanted to figure out a way that I could work, still be with my child as much as possible, and also offer her something that she wouldn’t have otherwise. I want a place where my wife and my daughter can come whenever they want — my daughter can take a nap here, and when she’s older, she can come here after school. You have to make sure you have your priorities straight. I did this to be with my family more, and it’s working out so far. It’s still the most surreal, fun thing to me when Red and Orion show up here. Orion knows this is our place. I don’t think most people have that — most kids don’t go to work with you. But that’s what I wanted.
2. Get a mentor
Montoya took advantage of free business courses through his local Score chapter, which matched him with a mentor who could review his business plan and offer advice.
“My background is in early childhood education — I have zero business experience. I’ve always been good with money, so I knew I would be fine as an entrepreneur, but I wanted to know more of the ins-and-outs of finance, like bookkeeping and making sure there were no surprises. After I found my mentor at Score and met with her a few times, I felt pretty confident because she liked my business plan right away, and she was blown away by how organized I was.”
3. Explore all financial avenues
Montoya had planned to fund The Butterfly Joint with a bank loan. But after fellow Score entrepreneurs brought up crowdfunding, Montoya settled on Fundable, a site that would allow him to raise capital for an open-ended project (versus Kickstarter, for example, which focuses on end-to-end product creation). A key element in his successful campaign was a final “Push Party” at a local bar, where donors in attendance won raffle prizes donated by dozens of Bay Area businesses.
“I figured that if I didn’t successfully raise the money through crowdfunding, it wouldn’t really be a big deal, because I would just go to the bank like I had planned in the first place. So to me, it was a can’t-lose situation. It took me three months to create the campaign, including making the video, kids’ aprons, examples of some of the products, and the writeup. I also didn’t want to try to raise a crazy amount of money, because I thought that would turn people away. After crunching all the numbers, I realized $50,000 was actually kind of low. But to me, $50,000 is like a billion dollars. I kept the cost down by doing things myself: breaking down walls, plumbing, build-outs. I’d never broken down walls before, but I knew I could do it. I definitely didn’t have the money to hire someone.
When we had our final push party, I reached out to a lot of people that I’d heard about, read about, knew, or who did anything in a similar vein — creators or makers. I approached them and explained what we were raising money for, told them I really liked what they do, and asked if they would be willing to donate something to our raffle. We met so many people that were excited for something new to come along, and that was uplifting. Crowdfunding is a pretty amazing thing, and I think it’s much more powerful than people realize.”
4. Leverage your network to boost reach and share skills
The most important element of Montoya’s success was his ability to network with friends, colleagues, and other creative types to spread his campaign and supply needed skills (offering woodworking design, help with promotion, or good, old-fashioned admiration in exchange for their help). He started at home, by enlisting his wife and co-founder, Erin Feher — a veteran editor in design and parenting — to direct his marketing and help with campaign materials. He asked his college friend, Ronnie Buders, to help him paint his shop’s roll down, a request that grew into a collaboration with famed neighborhood graffiti artist Sam Flores to create a striking storefront. And from contacts resurrected during his crowdfunding campaign, he lined up a bookkeeper and electrician for The Butterfly Joint.
“I had the emails of all of the families that I’ve taught over the last 15 years, so I started with them. A lot of them had kids in high school or college, but they shared my campaign with all of their friends. It was the ultimate compliment.
I also gained a lot of resources during crowdfunding. I mentally took tabs on everyone and what they are good at, and then I’d say, ‘I’m going to be doing this thing, I’d really love your help.’ One of my old skateboard friends from college is an electrician, so I told him during the campaign that I wanted him to be my electrician. And my friend, Heather English, was becoming an accountant and bookkeeper, so I asked if I could be one of her first clients.”
“Any person I asked for help was super willing. I felt like I was joining this group of like-minded people in the city that are doing all this rad stuff and are super passionate about what they do, and they’re really excited for other people to get in the game, too.
5. Think cooperatively — not competitively — during a creative enterprise
As soon as Montoya registered his business with the city, he was added to a competitive-intelligence website called Owler that pits businesses against similar companies in their market; that competitive spirit was antithetical to the type of community-focused shop that Montoya wanted to build, and he made sure his business entry was removed.
“I was just like, oh god this is the worst, this is what’s killing the city. Here I am living this weird fantasy of asking these amazing creative people for a little help, where they’re really getting nothing in return except the little publicity that I can offer. I was like, “Look, if you help me out, I will blast everyone I know with your cool thing that you’re doing, I’ll put your logo up — I’ll do whatever I can do.’ The whole world isn’t about crazy competition and trying to put someone out of business. If it were, it would have been really hard for me to pull this off, because I’d be trying to do it alone, with no one rooting for me and no one interested in what I’m doing. That’s what was so amazing about making these connections.”
6. Prepare for every task to come to you
Montoya based his startup costs on his ability to do most of the work for The Butterfly Joint himself. He had held side gigs as a DJ and woodworker during his years teaching elementary school, so he was already used to testing his entrepreneurial limits, but running his own business brought a steeper slope to his learning curve. He’s fine with it.
“I answer all the phone calls, I field pretty much all the emails, I do the website, I clean the toilets. I do everything. But I never do something that I know I can’t do. You always know what you’re capable of and what’s a little beyond you, and this studio, when I thought of it, I knew it was right up my alley. I have a good work ethic, and I don’t expect anyone to do anything for me.
“It’s been pretty rad to see when you have something in your head and see it start happening. It’s pretty crazy. But that’s what I envisioned. I want to do projects that kids don’t normally get to do. And in a weird way I want the adults to be kind of jealous.”
Originally published at www.sproutling.com on August 10, 2015.