By Charmaine Cheung | Stories from the Storefront
Stories From the Storefront turns the spotlight on the bold, passionate small business owners who put the work in and never stop chasing the dream. Founder and creator of Karst Stone Paper, Kevin Garcia, is revolutionizing the stationary space with ethically sourced workplace tools. His most popular product? Beautiful stone paper notebooks. We sat down with Kevin to hear more about his journey as a small business owner and entrepreneur. You can follow Karst Stone Paper on Facebook and Instagram.
Charmaine Cheung: Tell us a little bit about your business. What motivated you to get into this kind of business?
Owner, Kevin Garcia: It’s actually quite a long story, but I’ll give you the short version. I come from a background in medical sciences, and after studying for about six years, I got a job. I was earning great money and thought, “Well, what happens now? Why am I not happy?” There was something there that I had to explore, so I left my job and took a dive into my own business. I went through two businesses before I started Karst. I don’t regret doing them. They were essential to my progression with where I am now. Essentially, I started Karst when I was traveling, and I had come across some material that was made from recycled stone, which we use now. I had the idea of turning this material that was, at the time, only used for food packaging, I thought, let’s make this for consumer goods — for example, notebooks. That was the first instinctual move in terms of the product, and the rest started and snowballed from there. We took something that was just an idea — I was working out of my living room, and I still remember very clearly. Now, we’ve been going on for two years, we have a small team, we’ve got our own office, and things are starting to move quite nicely. There have been a lot of ups and downs along the way, but I’m loving every single moment of it so far.
Wow, that’s awesome! It sounds like there have been quite a lot of twists and turns, but what’s been the most unexpected part of starting or running your business?
There are quite a few things! Obviously, it’s the required level of work. I think a lot of people underestimate the sheer amount of work that’s needed. Also, you might have a great product and you might have a great team, but at the end of the day, if you’re not making those sales then nothing really matters, does it? The ability to get your product to market and turn that product into dollars is what drives the business forward. One of the things that has always been difficult is the finance side, and QuickBooks has truly helped me open my eyes to the finance side. We’ve now got someone in-house who helps us with that. He’s made a great transition, helping me understand expenses, taxes, cash flow, and projections.
Going back to our product, the core of our business focuses on sustainable workplace products. We make notebooks, and we transform recycled stone into simple, functional, beautiful notebooks. This is driven by a lot of our core values, which I believe in personally: design, sustainability, productivity. We try to bring these together to inspire people to create more, and at the end of the day, do it responsibly. I try to push that onto everyone who comes in the house, and it resonates with everyone, including our customers.
Right, and you gave us quite a big timeline there, but do you have any further points to add on how your business evolved since you started and how you’ve adapted to it?
Yes, I started from home, working by myself, thinking I could do this alone. One of the things I quickly learned was that getting the right people in, or the right friends or mentors along the way, really helps move you forward. That was overlooked from the start, and I’ve definitely got a tight grip on my network. My mentors and business partners have been the biggest drivers in moving the business forward and evolving us into the next stage.
We also started in an industry that wasn’t there. Now, we’ve got a few competitors, and most would say that’s a bad thing, but I think it’s really good to see that I’ve started this industry and people are jumping on board. I’m not on this journey alone. It’s actually been a positive impact on us to have competitors because it’s sort of kicked us into gear, and we’re moving much quicker now to get to the next level.
That’s really cool! So I guess that takes me to my next question. What is the next level for Karst, the next milestone to cross?
We’re going through funding at this stage, to scale Karst and take it to the next level. We’re pushing very hard on the retail portion of the business, so the B2B market is quite huge. We provide a lot of products for other businesses and customized goods, and we’ve just been featured for TED Talks this week in Vancouver. We’ve partnered with them to provide all the products for the attendees, and we’re working with a few other big businesses. That’s been the focus for us in the coming year.
How would you define success? I know different stages of success mean different things: financial freedom, more influence, time with your loved ones, and creative expression. I’d love to hear what success means to you and why.
It’s always changing, depending on where you are in your current life situation. I think for me at the moment, it’s about happiness and relationships — those are vital. In terms of freedom, it’s about the freedom to work on the things that make you happy. It’s about working on the product, the innovation that helps drive the company forward, and ultimately, this gives me the freedom to really enjoy working on the business. I guess that’s the cliche saying of “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work another day in your life.” It’s not all the time. The reality is that you’ve got to work on a lot of different segments to get the whole bicycle working.
That’s true! You did mention earlier how important it is to have a good mentor to keep you on track and take you to the next level. Is there any other advice that you would you give to an aspiring or budding business owner in the early stages?
Building that initial network of people who are like-minded and have a similar vision of success as you is important. To meet people who have done the things that you’ve done and want to achieve really helps you get an engaged perspective on what needs to be done.
I also think reading is important. I didn’t go to business school, but I read as much as I can along the journey. I remember reading Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek,” thinking, “Wow, I can do this!” This was the instigator that sort of got me started, and I’ve never stopped reading from that day.
Also having an internal team has been pivotal and always thinking long-term. This is something I’m working on now. We always get a bit frustrated when things aren’t happening as quickly as they should, and then we look at the bigger picture and think this is five to 10 years of planning, and we’ve got a lot of time here. Things do take a lot of time, and we always look at our competitors, indirect competitors, and other businesses and think, “Wow, how did they get there?” Then you realize it’s been 10 years, so we have to think more long-term.
How do you want your customers to feel when they’re online, looking at Karst, or leave your office after a meeting?
At the end of the day, I want to build a respectable brand. I want customers to love the products they buy from Karst and feel proud to own them — the products should make their day. Most of all, we run by our values. We inspire them to create more and, in the long-term, do it responsibly.
Meet author (and QuickBooks employee!) Charmaine Cheung. Charmaine is an account manager on the QuickBooks accountant channel in Toronto, Canada. She has several years of experience in the fintech industry where she was the business development manager for early two stage start-ups.