Ethical Ecommerce Interviews: Karst Stone Paper on the Importance of Building the Right Team

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We spoke to Kevin Garcia, co-founder and co-CEO of Karst Stone Paper (who’ve just launched a beautiful new website: take a gander!). After encountering stone paper while travelling in Asia, he figured out a way to turn it into beautiful, sustainable stationery.

What inspired you to start Karst?

It started back in early 2016 when I was travelling through Singapore and Taiwan. I came across this relatively new material which was made from recycled stone waste and claimed to be ‘treeless paper:” I was immediately fascinated by it.

At the time, it was mainly used for food packaging, because of its waterproof properties, but I knew I could turn it into stationery. But it was complicated, because the properties of stone paper are completely different to regular paper. The fact that it’s waterproof means every single aspect of the manufacturing process is affected: we have to use specific glues, inks, and binding methods, and after years of testing, we’re still constantly improving the process.

So our products take a little longer to produce than regular stationary, but we pride ourselves on creating better quality products that have a longer-lasting impact on our consumers.

Tell us about how you grew Karst at the very start, versus how you find and engage with your customers now.

Our first ever sale was from the first ever email we sent out! I’d collected a few emails from some direct advertising campaigns.

Nowadays we use the standard advertising channels, like Facebook and Instagram, but because the marketplace and consumer behaviours are changing, we’re exploring some different avenues this year, like Paid Affiliate networks and Tik-Tok ads.

What are the biggest challenges Karst has faced?

Building a business is like jumping out of a plane and building a parachute on the way down: or at least that’s how I feel!

The biggest challenge for us has been finding the best talent to help us grow and build out our team. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish with a few key people, and so we’ve taken our time to make sure we hire people who are excellent at what they do and fit in well with us. We have staff in London, Los Angeles and Sydney—three different time zones—and it can get quite challenging managing such a diverse team. Software is key!

Tell us about the tech you use.

Shopify has been our base platform since day one, I think it’s perfect for any ecommerce store that’s just starting out. Slack has been a great addition to the tool kit: it’s essential for any comms both internally and with contractors or agencies. We also use Klaviyo and Front for email, and Asana for tasks.

The dark horse of the toolkit has to be Figma: it's been the most effective piece of software for us during the pandemic, as it’s allowed our design team to collaborate at super speed.

Tell us about partnering with other organisations to reduce your environmental impact.

On top of removing plant materials from our production process, we wanted to make sure each sale actually contributes to reforestation efforts: that’s why we partner with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for every notebook sold. We also work with Carbon Neutral to ensure that our company’s entire carbon footprint is being offset. So OTP helps us contribute globally, while Carbon Neutral is in our own backyard, so to speak.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in ecommerce?

To run a business, you don’t need to be the most brilliant person with the most innovative idea with the latest gadgets (although it may feel like it sometimes): you just need to build the work ethic. There will be failures and mistakes every single day, and some will seem like they’ll end your business there and then. But even in these moments, if you have the conviction and stamina to work on problems little by little, your business will be a success.

Another piece of advice: before outsourcing for help, try your best to make sure you have a working understanding of every part of your business. Whether it’s marketing, accounting or web design, learning the very basics of every part of your business really helps you feel more in control and able to set the direction, plan, and budget effectively.

What do you think the future will look like for ecommerce?

The future of ecommerce is going to be driven by AI and VR. We’re already seeing huge advancements in consumers ‘experiencing” the product digitally with VR at Apple stores, and the new Yeezy Supply website. The next step forwards will be replicating the in-store buying experience as closely as possible online, with customers being able to manipulate a product and view it from all angles, open it, and so on. We’re actually looking at bringing in a few advanced concepts into our new online store, like product builders with 3D renders.

Tell us about a piece of art that has inspired you!

I recently read the biography of Robert Iger, the former CEO of Disney (The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons in Creative Leadership), in which he writes about his visit to Pixar Studios in its early days and how much impact that had on him creatively. It’s amazing that a studio as small as Pixar was able to produce extraordinary creative content that surpassed Disney’s expertise. Pixar had the right team, led by the right people, doing the right things. Anything is possible with the right people around you.

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