One year ago we opened the doors to Think Metal. At the time, I was a one-man show, learning the ropes of creating custom items out of steel. We now utilize the skills of 5 people!

I have created about 700 projects on our CNC table in our first year. We reached our 100th 5-star-review on Etsy a couple days ago (ALL of our reviews are 5-stars), and we’ve had 438 sales on etsy alone. I have MANY people to thank for our success and will do so in the comments below!

Limitation breeds creativity and efficiency. If you’d like to read more about business tactics/progress and our time management, follow the link for a more detailed post.

Thank you friends, family and customers for supporting this venture, supporting small business, and feeding my family during medical school. You have my sincerest gratitude.

On business…

Many of my entrepreneurial role models in the big-business world concur that limitation breeds creativity. Obviously, as a father/husband/physician-in-training/business owner, time is my most limited resource. Part of my creative energy is spent developing a more efficient process. My priority at Think Metal is to keep the custom creations alive and the creative juices flowing without sacrificing quality

So far, with few exceptions on large projects, we have maintained a 2 week turnaround time. Customers contact us with ideas, we provide a rendering until the product looks right, then we cut. Some of the projects have required some advanced design skills. While I’m able to complete these designs, I have learned a major benefit to business: Let others be good at what they do. I began contracting out complicated designs just after The Great 2016 Christmas Rush. I let a couple creative designers translate project requests in their own way, and I serve to create the actual piece. Since my time is so limited, this keeps me in the shop that much more. It also provides supplemental income to these creatives. I intend to nurture this process and further develop our efficiency in this way.

In the spirit of ‘Let others be good at what they do’, we’ve had the pleasure of adding on a social media/marketing expert: Kristyn Huang. She is the spouse of one of my medical school classmates and is helping us analyze our business from the perspective of online presence. We grew in 2016 faster than we could maintain online updates(once school started, things became a struggle). She is fighting the hard battle for us and helping us develop a more significant online presence. There are lots of areas to grow here, but I’m happy with the results and potential. Another cool development this year is the googling of “Think Metal”. Seriously, try it. For a long time, our site/profiles did not appear. SEO is far from my forte, but hey, we’re now google-able!  Hopefully as we grow, our brand will continue to earn it’s name for customer service and willingness to create the ‘unThinkable’ .

My brother, Scriven Bernard steps in once in a while to help me analyze our overall process and consider available resources. He put us on to Slack, which I’ll discuss later. Finding the weak links in our process is necessary and valuable.

Etsy continues to prevail as our major source of business. We do have our own store setup through our website using Shopify, and we hope to shift a greater percentage of sales to our site over time. That said, we love the Etsy platform and are extremely thankful to have a strong presence in a fantastic market. We are developing our Amazon store (slowly but surely), and we are encouraging growth on Pinterest and Instagram.

I listen to many business podcasts to stay fresh on ideas and keep moving forward. I recommend: How I Built This(NPR), Making It, Mixergy, Paycheck Rebel, Shopify Masters, The Side Hustle Show, The Smart Passive Income podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show.

Last but not least, my wife absolutely keeps this business alive. Jordan works tirelessly to remain patient with my schedule, communicate with all customers, and send me order requests and information. Her role has proven vital, and our customers are most often thrilled with our “amazing customer service.” She is the current face of the company and excels in her role as a mother, nurse practitioner, extraordinarily patient and forgiving wife, and business owner.

On time management…

“How do you do all of that?” I am often asked. Between surviving medical school, maintaining business, and pretending to have a family life, my weeks never end. Most of the time, I love it. Having so many irons in the fire forces my diligence and intentionalism with my time. Every day starts at 5am. If I’m not designing new orders in the dark at the kitchen table, I’m burning steel and painting in the shop. The outlet is nice, and helps me be more focused when I am studying the intricacy of modern medicine and human anatomy.

We recently turned to Slack for help with team communications. Anyone on our team can leave me messages and I can read them and reply when I have 30 seconds to spare here and there. I approve quotes for most projects this way, and assess logos or requested designs via attached pictures. I fit in the communications throughout my day, and mix in design work when possible.

I utilize Trello to keep track of individual projects. During our finals last semester in school, we had 90 orders pending. On top of medical school, I was in the shop 30 hours per week. On the day of my final, I left campus and went to the shop to pick up 47 packaged orders. The post office was booming (Dec 19), but we survived semester one and the christmas rush. Trello allows me to have each project and it’s details in a specific list. As a project develops, it moves from New Order to Design, to Cut, to Paint, to Paint Drying, to Ship, to Done(my favorite list). I have found no better way as of yet to keep track of 90 orders, including sizing, design, paint color, due dates, and more. The benefit of these lists is obvious. If I have 30 minutes to spend, I can hop on Trello and access my design to-do list instantly. If I have 2 hours to spend in the shop, I already have a task list ready to go.

Overall, year one has been incredible. We are continuing to refine our specialties, but continuing to explore new creations as well. I am fascinated at how one product sparks inspiration for another, and how those inspirations branch off into new creations themselves. It’s never ending, and we never tire of developing the new and improved. Off into the unknown of 2017 we go!

Do what you love, love what you do. Thanks for inspiring me and keeping me going. Cheers from the Think Metal Family.

Seth @ Think Metal