Their Pottery Caught Our Eyes, Their Philosophy Grabbed Our Hearts & Their Growth Intrigued Our Brains
Coffee is very important to me. I mean, my Twitter screen name is “👨💻☕” so we’re talking identity-level important and by extension, any coffee-accessory must be up to snuff. I’m not a snob, just deliberate. And that intentionality has caused an exploration of drinking vessels. Size, durability, aesthetics and heft. Don’t give me a pinkies-up tea cup. I want a mug.
Several years ago that search brought me to East Fork, which at the time was having trouble keeping their Instagram-famous mug in stock. “Out of stock” is usually enough to cause me to surf onward but there was something especially compelling about this product. A mailing list sign-up was all it took and next time the mug became available, my inbox was populated and my curiosity fed. And it was worth it.
If Phase 1 was now completed, Phase 2 brought me deeper into the company’s story, courtesy of a podcast hosted by one of our portfolio companies. I heard Alex Matisse tell East Fork’s history, started clicking around on their Instagram feed and reading Connie Matisse’s blog posts. Oh, and I kept ordering mugs. We now have a dozen+ (they’ve since solved inventory issues).
Through their newsletter I saw milestones and setbacks. Fits and starts. Questions debated about how much they could, or should, embrace growth — remember this all sorta coincided with peak D2C hype. It was notable to me that they wanted to grow, but creatively, sustainably and in a manner which benefitted their entire team and local community, not just the founders. This resulted in pushing employee pay up, investigating the biases in their hiring process, being thoughtful about a limited number of brand collaborations, and using their scarcity/collectability to drive charity fundraisers. I’m a believer that where you spend your dollars and your time is the best illustration of what matters to you. Everything else is just words.
We probably would have just let the relationship at Phase 2 (happy customer largely unknown to the company outside of a CRM database row) if it wasn’t for my friend Margaret Stewart. Mags and I worked together previously, having very proudly stole her away from Marissa Mayer’s consumer group to run YouTube’s Design and User Experience team. Years later we maintained a relationship, albeit it most digital (although we got to celebrate their wedding anniversary with a hoedown and my wife went up in a hot air balloon with her recently — those are separate posts). So it wasn’t that I was surprised to hear from her a few months back, just more that she was sharing an unexpected opportunity: did Caroline and I want to invest in East Fork? Margaret had just joined their Board of Advisors and invested herself. And this started Phase 3.
As I dove into chatting with Alex M, reviewing their plans for the next few years and understanding what (if anything) they hoped to get from me besides capital, it seemed, like their mug in my hand, a great fit. I mean, how can I not love a company with a Twitter bio of “We make pottery in the Blue Ridge Mountains and are highly opinionated.” And so earlier this year we added “shareholders” alongside “customers” and “fans.”
It’s always a privilege to have the ability to back people, projects and companies which we care about. We invested because we believe in their product, support their mission and are equally convinced it’s a great business. If you’re not yet familiar with their pottery, dinnerware and more, I invite you to check out East Fork’s website, and begin your own Phase 1. Who knows where it might head….