David Blake: I’ll Say Lack of State Income Tax [In Texas] Is Very Nice – Employment Laws Are More Employer Friendly Than Other States

David Blake of Spirit Pieces.

Tell us about yourself?

Hello, I’m the owner of Spirit Pieces. I started this lovely business back in 2015 in memory of my Grandmother to create more beauty and art from the experience of losing a loved on.

Prior to starting Spirit Pieces I was a senior software product manager and also had an event photography business from 2002-2008.

My undergraduate was Biology at Binghamton University and I have a MBA (2010) from NYU Stern School of business.

What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you? 

More than anything else to always test your assumptions and not be dogmatic in your approach to business.

The market will tell you what to do if you listen, but you always need to be listening as the market is always changing.

If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Accept you’re not always going to be right and mistakes will be made.

It’s part of the process. Early on I would beat myself up whenever I made a mistake and it made me more gunshy than I suppose I needed to me. Now I just take the attitude every mistake is an opportunity to learn.

A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?

There was a time, before I hired staff, where I was working 70-80 hours and was definitely tough back then to balance. It’s easier now, though there’s still a lot of mind-share going into the business – that’s something I need to work on.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

I’m a big believer of listening to the customer, so many of our products come from repeated asks for a particular item (like a memorial wave.) I’m also a very early user of Etsy so I do pay attention to how they are doing things.

But generally I don’t follow the leader with what other companies are doing – most companies are unique enough they need to find their own way.

What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?

We’re in a small space, but for those in it the competition is pretty fierce. We focus on handmade memorial items and work with multiple artists, so we’re able to provide a wider selection than single artist stores.

We’re also fanatical in providing wonderful customer service.

How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?

Sales are, well, they are what they are 🙂 The deathcare market is brutal due to the paucity of the network effect.

Our customers love our products, but how often do they know someone else who died? I honestly would tell other founders to find other ideas; not many companies in our space are successful.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?

I had an issue back in 2018 where I had a single employee and we weren’t getting along. I was in a bit of a catch-22 in that if I wanted to fire I was going to be stuck with a ton of work and likely lose a lot of money.

It wasn’t until I moved to a bigger office and was able to hire 2 employees that problem resolved. As such, make sure nobody in your company is irreplaceable.

What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in Texas over other states in the US?

I’ll say lack of state income tax is very nice 🙂 Employment laws are more employer friendly than other states.

Are there any disadvantages of operating our business in Texas?

I’m in Austin so right now it’s cost-of-living.

I’ve had to give two cost of living raises to my employees as Austin is so expensive, and that’s even before inflation if factored in. Plus the political climate is certainly a negative in my view.

Texas has a pretty diverse population. How have you found the quickly changing demographics have impacted your business? Have you got new opportunities? Managed to expand your business into new areas?

For us this really hasn’t had an impact as we sell nationwide.

It is often reported that, in Texas, politics and business are intertwined. Have you noticed this? Has it impacted your business?

This hasn’t yet impacted our business except for a few customer comments.

However the pending legal issues with social media not being able to moderate content will impact us if Youtube and Facebook (and others) stop being able to operate in Texas.

With rising prices across Texas (and the US as a whole) have you been impacted? Do you have a plan for dealing with inflation going forward?

We’ve had to raise both our prices and the benefits to our employees. It’s not ideal but there’s no way around it. That or we start losing money.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years with your business?

I would like to see if we can do better in selling international and within industry.

And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?

Take a look at the various companies in the space and see what they’re doing. A great way to do this is to look at the NFDA convention and go through the various exhibitors.

This is a very detailed cross section of the market and will give you a good idea of what’s going on.

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