John Webber – Founder & CEO, Carved

John Webber is the founder and CEO of Carved, a leading provider of wooden cases and covers for cellphones, based in Elkhart, Indiana.

“Carved was founded on a deep desire to define something new. To create a place where natural materials intersect modern technology. To give new life to discarded pieces of wood. To integrate nature with the devices we carry.

When you are passionate and excited about the day’s challenges you approach the day differently. Whether we are simply diving into the production demands, giving an impromptu news interview, climbing on the roof for a morning meeting, exploring our 100 year old building for another stellar photograph or scrubbing the beautiful hardwood floors, we do it because we value working hard and creating something naturally unique.

Technology is cold and ordinary. We love making something that is unique as a product and as an experience.”

How did the concept for Carved come about?
I wanted to get a more unique phone case for myself than what I could find at the time. There were only two companies making wood cases but they cost more than I wanted to pay and took a few months to deliver an order.

How was the first year in business?
Very difficult. It was fun but took a lot of work to get sales moving and get the production process figured out and streamlined.

What was your marketing strategy?
We did a lot of work on organic ranking and paid Google search  traffic. We sent a lot of review units out to bloggers to get them to post about our cases in their review posts.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
After the first six months, we really took off. We made #270 on the Inc. 500 list in 2016.

How do you define success?
Personally, I define it as being able to go home in the evenings and spend time with my wife and family. Having a job that doesn’t significantly detract from that time is a big deal to me.

What is the key to success?
I think you need to figure out what your priorities really are and make sure your actions are in line with what you say those priorities are.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
In the long term, it’s a lot more rewarding to build companies that are actually creating value instead of spending your time just moving money around. It has been very rewarding to look back after six years and see that we have been building a brand that a lot of people really love and have come to trust. We have a great team of employees, most of whom have been here a long time and really love their jobs and our working environment.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Proverbs 12:11: “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”

Various versions of this one:
“Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” – Aldo Gucci

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” – Ben Franklin

What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Traction by Gino Wickman. I’m not sure you need many other books than those to run a great business.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.

I’d say that was the first time when I had to lay somebody off. We had a great Christmas season and had scaled up too fast. Once the season ended and sales dipped back down, we had too many people and needed to let someone go. The person we had to let go was a great employee who worked hard and had learned fast – we just couldn’t keep them on the payroll. It was a more difficult decision than I anticipated and I think it’s because I felt responsible for not being able to grow sales enough to support everybody. Fortunately, we were able to hire this person back later in the year when we were able to keep growing sales.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have a lot of drive to grow my company and do so, profitably. The difficult times make this a lot harder and require us to really dig deep and focus on the long term of what we are trying to build. I’ve found that the most difficult times happen for either people or money reasons. The times I’ve had adversity with people tended to be when I didn’t communicate well enough with them. Learning to communicate better as a leader helps everybody back me up to get through the difficult times. With money, I’ve always tried to grow my companies on their cash flow and with no debt. That enables us to respond much quickly when sales turn down or when we have to make a large investment in machinery or inventory.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
This is what I usually tell people who ask me for advice (with the big warning that I’m still learning a lot myself!):

1) Focus on building something valuable, not just making money for yourself. I heard some good advice years ago that if you want to build a really successful company, you have to first build a company that makes other people money as well, not just yourself.
2) Build your company on its cash flow. It’s tempting to take on debt or loans but if you’re not really careful, they can distract and stress you significantly in the early days when you need to be laser-focused on the company. I’ve also found it really valuable to require that our customers be the drivers behind our growth and expansion, not the other way around. We hire and expand when we have enough customer demand, and thereby sales, to not only justify but also pay for those expansions. We grow slower but I sleep better at night without the stress of debt.
3) Don’t be afraid to hold people accountable for their work.
4) And most important to me, make sure you prioritize family first, for your friends and your employees. Companies come and go, family doesn’t.

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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