Inside Original Fuzz

It's not just what you do but how you do it. We make tools for creativity. 

We believe that the way to embrace the future, and change, is with creativity.

So it's our mission to support and inspire creativity. We do this by making useful products for the creative journey. Products rugged and beautiful enough to last a long time. We do this by publishing a magazine that celebrates artists, explores the creative process, and invites our readers to contribute. We do this by continuously improving the way we work and how we make things.

We strive to consider the longterm impact of our choices, and to give respect and gratitude to our customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and the environment. It's not only about where you go. How you get there matters.

It's as if your favorite magazine, instead of selling ads, sold products that they developed in collaboration with their readers. That's Original Fuzz. We are a vertically-integrated lifestyle brand constantly evolving in open collaboration with our community.

#originalfuzz


How We Started

Music at Our Core
Original Fuzz was founded by two college friends, Zach Lever & Lee McAlilly, who bonded over music. They formed a band and started playing covers on the campus of Wofford College to earn some extra scratch. Soon they were spending summers terrorizing the bar-band scene of Charleston, SC.

After graduating, they moved to Nashville to start writing and recording new music. They made a record and played around Nashville for a while before that project reached its natural conclusion.

Sometime around 2011, Lee and Zach reconnected and started working on an idea for a guitar players' gear bag that would feel like a gym bag, but provide protection and organization for your pedals and cables. With that product, Original Fuzz was born. Music will always be at our core.

Where We're Going

The Creativity Outfitters
As technology rapidly takes over our lives, creativity has become one of our most valuable, and human, assets. But there's no brand solely focused on supplying artists and makers with the reliable gear and apparel they need on their creative journey—the artists, musicians, novelists, entrepreneurs, chefs, photographers, woodworkers, graphic designers, and other creative pioneers. Until now.

Made in Nashville

Think global, make local.
Our products feature a lot of cool textiles from around the globe, and we work hard to ensure that our supply chain is ethical and sustainable. While we might source our raw materials from around the world, everything is made at our shop in Nashville, TN.

If you'd like to learn from our adventures in American manufacturing, check out our blog "Made in Nashville." We're sharing everything we learn about technology, design, marketing, and manufacturing in the 21st century.

Come visit our shop anytime! We love when people drop in on us.


How We Work

 

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not."
- Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

 

Doing great work is a daily practice. We know that perfection is impossible, but it's worth pursuing because the journey matters just as much as arriving. This is our core belief: that it's not just what you do, but how you do it; that the journey is just as important as the destination.

The ways we practice this core value fall into three simple categories: sustainability, creativity, and doing great work.

1. Sustainability

Make products that last

The first step towards sustainability means making something useful and beautiful. If we make something that people want to keep around it won't wind up in a landfill.

 

Example: We use a lot of handwoven Peruvian fabrics. These are time consuming and expensive to weave and import, but they are absolutely beautiful. Each Peruvian textile is a one-of-a-kind piece with timeless style.

Invest in the long-term

Don't sacrifice our brand or long-term goals for short-term gain. In order to have a sustainable company we need to invest in the long-term by bootstrapping, not taking on too much debt, treating our employees well, paying people as best as we can, and investing in our relationships with customers.

Example: We only run two big sales per year because we want it to be a special event, and we don't want our customers to think of us like we're a J.C. Penny.

Be responsible for your by-products

Our decisions have side-effects—such as carbon emissions. It's up to us to take responsibility for them. We should strive to minimize our environmental impact, and recognize that doing this is a process of continuous improvement.

Example: We are intentional about only using materials in our packaging that are extremely easy to recycle, such as craft paper and cardboard boxes. We understand that our packaging and shipping processes can be much more sustainable, and need constant evaluation and improvement.

2. Creativity

Good artists use good tools

The processes and the tools that you use in your work matter. Whether or not the customer can articulate it, the customer can feel the care we put into our processes and tools through our products and their interactions with us. We always assume our audience is as smart as we are.

Example: We use Macs. They are more expensive than alternatives, but the quality of the hardware and software enable us to be more productive. Using a great tool, like a Macbook Air, inspires and challenges us to do better work.

Respect the flow

We value a minimal-interruption culture, and understand the importance of giving people space to think and do their work. There's science that backs to importance of giving people large swaths of uninterrupted time to do their best work. A lot of collaboration can be done through asynchronous communication channels like Basecamp. Meetings are limited, focused, and generate next steps that we can capture in Basecamp and take action on.

Example: We don't schedule any meetings before 2pm. That gives everyone plenty of time to have a distraction-free morning before having to engage in any sort of meeting.

Real artists ship

We don't let perfect become an enemy of the good. We always err on the side of shipping early and often. The sooner we get it out there, the faster we can learn and adjust.

Example: We do our best every month to make an interesting issue of the magazine, but when the deadline hits that month's issue goes out the door. There's always next month.

You are not your work

When discussing things we've made in the hopes of improving them, we don't attach our personal self-worth and ego to the work that we've done. We are all free to have frank, and sometimes critical discussions, about the work because it's just that, work, not a critique of any individual or team.

Example: When critiquing work we've shipped, we discuss the work itself and don't make value-judgments about the person that made it.

Design is not just how it looks, but how it works

Example: When designing a guitar strap, we don't just consider how the fabric looks. We consider how it interacts with different types of guitars, how it feels on your shoulder after an hour under stage lights, what it's like to use it after a year of non-stop touring, etc.

Get real

Work with real mock-ups, prototypes, real data, etc. Don't have discussions and arguments about hypotheticals. Do the next step, then discuss it. Get to something real as soon as possible.

Example: When designing a new product we don't speculate when discussing any change. We make a full prototype with that change to see how it really looks and feels before having a conversation about it.

Example: When discussing the success of an event, we run the numbers so that we account for all costs of doing the event and know exactly if we profited from it. Then we have a frank discussion about the event's success using real numbers.

3. Doing Great Work

We improve something everyday

What about the company is better because you came to work today? We recognize that minor 1% improvements on a daily basis eventually result in huge gains over the longterm through the power of compound interest. It's worth it to slow down a project because you find a problem and need to take the time to stop and improve something.

Example: We've been using google docs for spreadsheets, but Apple launched new collaboration features in iWork that will save time and make us more productive. Even though it will take us an extra hour when working on our monthly review to switch all of our spreadsheets to the new format, we take that time to invest in our long-term productivity.

Example: We're busy shipping out orders and find that some customers are having issues with the size of our boxes. We stop and take a couple of hours to source and order new boxes that will work better.

Punk Rock Capitalism

"Be really aggressive, be really ambitious and you can't have debt. Those are the rules." —Suroosh Alvi, co-founder of Vice Media. Say what you will about Vice's impact on the world and on gentrification in Brooklyn, but they bootstrapped their company from the Canadian welfare system to a company worth $4B. This is how you build a company without compromising your vision or creative integrity.

Example of how we practice this: We have no outside investors.

So what, now what?

It's capitalism. There are no excuses. We do our job or we get our ass kicked! The market doesn't care about who we are, how far we've come, or what we did yesterday. We operate in a global marketplace and we have to do world class work if we want anyone to care. This applies to successes and failures. So what, now what?

Example: When evaluating our sales growth we compare ourselves to the growth curves of some of the best companies of all time. That's why we have an aggressive goal for 2016: grow our online sales 2.5% week-over-week.

Capture ideas & next steps when they happen

We mean this in the sense of David Allen's Get Things Done system. The most helpful idea from GTD is the concept of capturing every idea or thing we need to do in a place that's backed-up and accessible. In doing this we don't waste energy and mental cycles trying to remember to-do lists or the status of various projects. Because we have a safe place to keep things we don't want to forget, our brain is free to solve higher-level problems and do creative work.

Example: Any time we have a meeting, we make sure that the next steps are captured in basecamp. We often keep Basecamp open as we run the meeting.

Everything Has a "Directly Responsible Individual"

This is a concept we learned from Apple. We realize that every project and item on a to-do list must have someone who's personally responsible, or else it doesn't get done. We never assign items to multiple people. That's the same as assigning it to nobody. Just like having a place to capture and save ideas frees up our creativity, so does knowing that someone on the team has an eye on every ball.

Example: Every single item on a to-do list in Basecamp gets assigned to someone. We never assign items to multiple people because that's the same as no-one.

If you see a problem, do something

When you find a problem, stop and fix It. If we see something that's wrong we take it on ourselves to fix it. If we can't, we makes sure to let someone know who can fix it.

Example: Our Instagram bio was recently updated by someone on the team, but you think it could be better. So you take five minutes, log into Instagram, and change it right then and there.

Example: You're sewing a guitar strap and you realize that there's a better technique we could use. So you stop and take a video of it that you share that on the playbook. You make sure to let the other sewers know that you've shared this new technique.

A problem is just space in your brain for a solution

We can't always expect the right solution to come immediately, or during some pre-determined time. Sometimes it happens, but we shouldn't expect that to be the norm. We can be clear-eyed about our problems. It's not a self-fulfilling prophecy to talk about what is going wrong. It's healthy to openly articulate what we need to happen. We are not manifesting negativity. We are just being frank about the obstacles in front of us. This is one of the key benefits of setting goals. A goal is like a flashlight that lets us look out at a few of the upcoming problems that we might need to plan on navigating around.

Example: When we miss our goal for a week or month, we don't spin it positively and lie to ourselves. We are honest with ourselves and we attempt to understand why it happened and what we need to change so that it doesn't happen again.

An idea is just a hypothesis waiting to be proven right or wrong

Sure some ideas seem more promising than others, but they have to be put to the test before we make a value judgment. There's no point in arguing for too long over ideas. We should just come to an agreement on what looks most promising, get it out there, and see how it worked.

Example: If someone in the team believes strongly that a fabric will sell well, we don't waste time arguing over colors and patterns, etc. We'll just buy the smallest amount of that fabric that we can, put it out there in a product as quickly as possible, and see how well it sells.

Paint the back of the bookshelf

It doesn't matter if no one will see it. We paint it because we'll know it's there and that we did a good job.

Example: The hangers that we send to our wholesale customers are a custom-designed shape and finish that matches the hardware on our straps. We didn't buy these off the shelf. We designed them from scratch and have them custom-made.

Keep learning

And we prefer to learn by doing. It's always better to ask forgiveness than permission. Put it out there and get feedback so that you can learn as quickly as possible. Not only are we always learning, but we take the time to share articles and ideas with our team. We actively document new processes in the company Playbook.

Example: We subscribe to podcasts and listen to books while doing production work. When we find an article worth reading, we take the time to share it with our teammates. When a teammate takes the time to send us something, we pay attention to it.

It's way easier to keep a customer than to find a new one

Customer service means having empathy for the other person and doing whatever it takes to ensure they have a great experience with Original Fuzz. Often that means turning something that we screwed up into an opportunity to show empathy, and to go above-and-beyond to make it right. Even if that means giving a refund to a customer using a nasty tone. The customer is not always right, but they always deserve empathy and a quick turnaround time. Truly putting yourself in the customer's shoes is key here.

Example: If your product breaks due to normal wear and tear, just send it back to us and we'll either fix it or replace it for you.

Thriftiness means starting with what the customer is willing to pay for

When prioritizing what to work on, we start with what the customer is willing to pay for, or has paid for, first. We should improve our processes whenever possible if it affects something the customer cares about, but we should place very low value in spending time and money on anything our customers probably wouldn't be willing to fund—e.g. painting the walls in our office a new color, ping pong tables, etc. This can be taken too far. Investing in our space and processes affect our employees and profitability, which always trickles down to our customers. But we should always take pride in being thrifty.

Example: We make sure our customer support queue is cleared out before we work on ordering a new sign for the office door.

Example: We get the order out for the customer that has already placed an order before spending time on a marketing initiative that might bring in new customers.

Example: We always prioritize making guitar straps for customer orders before making promo orders or new product samples.

Inventory is not your friend

Rather than guess what people want in the future we should get really good at at giving customers what they tell us they want. As fast as possible. Reducing the lifespan of our inventory is the single most important factor running a profitable, bootstrapped manufacturing company.

Example: All of our straps are essentially made-to-order. But we don't tell our customers that. We just try to ship every order the same day it comes in. At the end of the day they don't care whether or not it was inventory on our shelf or just raw materials waiting to be made.

Example: We only order enough raw materials for a month at a time. We're always trying to shrink this window. Apple's inventory only ages four hours.

Solve your own problem

In an increasingly connected and technology-centric world, it's crucial that everyone at our company practice and improve their technical sophistication. Those are the skills that allow them to troubleshoot and fix problems with technology on their own. The most useful tool in a technically-sophisticated person's toolbox is the Google search box.

Example: When we first run into a problem with a computer, a website, an app, or some other technology, or really any problem, our first reaction is not to ask someone for help. We google the problem, read the help docs, and spend significant effort trying to troubleshoot the solution, or contact the relevant customer support team. We recognize that we might be slow at solving our own problems, but as our individual technical sophistication improves, the benefits and productivity accrue exponentially across the entire organization.

Your margin is my opportunity

This is a famous quote by Jeff Bezos. We take it to mean that where other people see problems or obstacles to avoid, we see opportunity. By figuring out how to do things other people and companies are not willing to do because they seem hard, we find our biggest opportunities.

Example: Many of our competitors are only willing to use 2" ribbon for the decorative layer on their guitar straps. This saves them a lot of time because they don't have to cut, fold, and iron fabric. We don't do that because being willing to cut, fold, and iron fabric allows us to incorporate a lot of cool textiles and designs that wouldn't otherwise be an option. Sure it hurts our margin, but your margin is my opportunity.

Two is one and one is none

Have a backup of everything that's critical to our operations. One is none and two is one.

Example: We have two sewing machines for a shift. If one goes down we don't have to halt all production while we wait for it to be fixed.

Most of these ideas are not our own. Here's a list of the people and organization that taught us these values: Apple & Steve Jobs, 37 Signals, Jeff Bezos & Amazon, the US Navy, Suroosh Alvi of Vice, Paul Graham and Y Combinator, Seth Godin, Derek Sivers, Gary Vaynerchuk, Alex Turnbull of Groove, Toyota, Clayton Christensen and Horace Dediu, Simon Sinek, Todd Henry of The Accidental Creative, Steven Pressfield, Anne Lamott, David Allen, James Clear, Anton McEwan, and Patagonia.


Our habits & routines

We believe that we have to align our goals with our daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual habits.

Daily Habits

  • Rather than having daily standup meetings we take the time to post what we worked on and if we're blocked on anything in Basecamp.
  • Update our progress towards our weekly goal on the whiteboard.
  • Take the time to share what we learn. When we find the need to teach someone something new. We take the time to document what we're doing via video, screencast, screenshot, or simple write-up with instructions or a checklist. We share this with the entire organization in a shared Basecamp project that we call our "Playbook."
  • Keep the shop clean. We tidy up after ourselves. Keeping our shop clean is crucial to producing a high-quality product, and we all pitch in on this on a daily basis because it's much easier to keep our workspace clean when we're just maintaining instead of doing large cleanup projects.
  • Customer service. We check in on customer services emails at least twice a day—morning and late afternoon.
  • Ship. We pull and ship new orders every day.

Weekly Habits

  • Daily status check-in on Basecamp where we share what we worked on
  • Help tidy-up the shop before we leave for the day
  • Weekly status check-in on Basecamp where we share a recap of our week & any challenges we might need help with
  • Weekly meeting at 2pm on Monday to discuss how we're going to reach our sales goal for the week, how we did last week, and if there's anything we need to get on the same page about or help fix as a team.
  • Schedule meetings for specific reasons as needed. Keep meetings to a minimum.

Monthly Habits

  • Monthly update where we review our financial progress, check in on our key metrics for success, discuss what we accomplished, what went wrong, what we can do better, what we can stop doing, what's on the agenda for the month.
  • Monthly editorial & marketing meeting for planning our content, the magazine, email, and marketing promotions. We brainstorm ideas for the magazine three months out. Discuss how promotions and marketing can line up with product releases and content we have planned.
  • Brief monthly employee reviews so that employees get feedback on their performance and employees can share their feedback on the team and the company

Quarterly Habits

  • Longer version of our monthly update meeting where we think critically about our goal for the year and how we're doing on accomplishing it. Do we need to change our strategy to hit our goal.
  • Sit down review between employees and managers to discuss performance.

Annual Habits

Annual planning meeting:

  • Review final financial performance and key metrics for the year
  • Review how we did in the last year compared to the year prior
  • Celebrate our wins
  • Discuss our mission as a company and how it might evolve
  • Discuss what we could have done better
  • Set a single goal for the whole company for the coming year
  • Brainstorm ways in which we can hit our goal for the upcoming year
  • Update the employee handbook to include the new year's goal and any strategic or operational changes

Our Goal for This Year

Grow our online sales by 2.5% each week of the year.

This is our focus for 2016. Everyone on the team should understand this and we should make decisions and set priorities around this single goal. We believe this single goal is the lynchpin that will drive everything else we want to see across the company in 2016.

At the end of each year we look at what we've accomplished and reflect on what we need to do to "add an extra zero" or reach that next order of magnitude. We'll brainstorm ways to get there and boil it down into a single goal for the entire organization for the coming year. What is the single thing that by reaching for it will transform us into the organization we need to be to reach that next order of magnitude, that next zero?

This year the goal we set for 2016 is to grow our online sales by 2.5% each week of the year.

We believe that having too many goals and priorities is the same as having no goals or priorities. So we only set one goal for the company. We aim to be a functional organization, meaning that we do not work in departments. Each function of the organization (marketing, production, design, etc.) must collaborate with other functions in the organization to achieve our common goal for the year. We're all working together to hit our goal.

Our Longterm Goal

Our longterm goal right now is to add an extra zero to our revenue. For instance, when we were selling $100 per month our goal was to get that to $1,000 per month. When it was $1,000 per month our goal was to get that to $10,000 per month. This is an idea that we took from Sam Altman of Y Combinator, and it's a good framework for focusing your longterm ambitions.

When thinking longterm you should never be looking past the next zero. That will force you to focus on the problems you need to solve and the type of organization you need to become to reach that next order of magnitude. Thinking past this point is just a waste of time.

A Few Notes on Profit vs. Revenue
Ultimately we believe that a company's net profit is the best way measure a business, but we have limited resources and our only focus now is to grow our top-line revenue. That being said, we believe we first need to focus on revenue growth before spending too much time optimizing our organization to extract the maximum profit. So right now we're still focused on revenue growth.

Understanding Terminology
A lot of time things like sales, profit, and revenue are misused. But they have very specific meanings. Net profit is just the money left over after you've paid for everything—the costs for materials and labor needed to make and market your product, a living wage for the founders, rent, computers, hosting, etc. Once everything is paid for what you have left is net profit.

It's a time-tested thing to measure because it tells you whether or not all aspects of the organization are working well. Revenue comes in at the top, then you deduct the cost of goods sold, then you deduct your overhead, and you're left with net profit (also called net income). It measures whether or not your sales are going well, but if you're also serving your customers efficiently.


Our Strategy

Focusing on a single product in the guitar player niche has been the right way to get off the ground, but to reach that next order of magnitude we'll have to change. Here's a roadmap of our strategy:

  1. Continue to improve the quality of our content—magazine, blog posts, and podcast—to continue building our audience.
  2. Redesign our website so that it's faster and tailored to our message and products, not just a generic Shopify template.
  3. Create a new process for designing and launching products quickly. We're going to have to develop new muscles to do this. This involves everything from design, prototypes, photographing and copywriting.
  4. Launch a collection products that align with our strategy of outfitting all creative people, not just guitar players. We have ideas for how to serve banjo players, coders, entrepreneurs, drummers, photographers, world travelers, and more. A broader product lineup is the next step in our product pipeline. These products should align with the type of content that we're creating for our magazine.
  5. Find a software solution to help us manage our inventory better. This will help us sell on more channels and streamline our operations significantly.
  6. Create a tool for our website that allows people to customize our products, such as a "Build Your Own" guitar strap tool.
  7. Solidify our processes so that operations don't go down when key team members need to travel to an event or work remotely. We'll need to have a system of processes with checklists for key functions and these should be tracked and reported during our monthly reviews. Can we do this in a distributed manner where we don't really have a manager, rather all team members contribute and know how to keep the system running independent of one manager?
  8. Create a mobile store and start getting it out to events, festivals and visiting dealers more frequently.
  9. Launch a flagship store in Nashville. This needs to be profitable from the start. Remember the rules of punk rock capitalism.

You might think it's crazy to share this type of information on our website, where customers, competitors, and new startups in our space can copy us. But we don't believe that's a problem for a couple of reasons:

  1. For us to truly succeed we have to find our own unique voice as an organization. If we're doing great work, original work, then by its nature only we can do it.
  2. Our strategy is just a tiny piece of the puzzle, even if someone tried to copy our playbook verbatim, that's just 1% of the battle. The other 99% is how you execute. If our competitors don't find their own unique voice they'll never be able to do great work. So, it's essentially impossible to copy us. We've had competitors try to rip us off and imitate our products, our marketing style, and even our name, but that's no path to great work. Only we can be Original Fuzz.

Tools We Use


Our Influences

While impossible to list all of the artists that we love and have influenced us, these are some of the artists that have irrevocably changed our outlook on the world. We're not trying to "look cool" with this list. We tried to be honest about making this a list of people that have truly moved the needle in our search for understanding music, art, design, writing, and creativity.

Companies

Blogs & Podcasts

Books

Pioneers

  • Andy Warhol
  • Ansel Adams
  • Barry Hannah
  • Bo Diddley
  • Bob Dylan
  • Brian Eno
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Buck Owens
  • Buddy Holly
  • Cy Twombly
  • CCR
  • David Bowie
  • Dolly Parton
  • Emmylou Harris
  • E.T.
  • Etta James
  • Faulkner
  • Frank Gehry
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Frank Zappa
  • Gram Parsons
  • Hank Williams
  • Hemmingway
  • Hunter S. Thompson
  • James Dickey
  • James Joyce
  • James Brown
  • Jane Goodall
  • Jenny Lewis
  • John Belushi
  • John Prine
  • Jonny Ive
  • Kim Gordon
  • Lou Reed
  • Lucinda Williams
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Mark Rothko
  • Matisse
  • Mies van der Rohe
  • Miles Davis
  • Mississippi John Hurt
  • Neil Young
  • Otis Redding
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Patti Smith
  • Patsy Cline
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • Steve Jobs
  • The Band
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Beatles
  • The Clash
  • The Cohen Brothers
  • The Kinks
  • The Ramones
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Stooges
  • The Velvet Underground
  • Tim Heidecker
  • Townes van Zandt
  • Walt Disney
  • Walt Whitman
  • Ween