Friday, 15 March 2013

Tea and a Chat with Michael Schienke - Vorbild Accessories

Today I'm having tea with Michael Schienke, who designs and makes luxury phone cases.  Pull up a chair, pour some tea and listen in as we chat about his business. 

Hello!  Good to see you, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink?

Tea please. Black, no sugar.

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

First of all, thank you for having me. We set up Vorbild Accessories over a year and a half ago, after having started an architectural practice before, called Vorbild Architecture.  I always was a fan of iPhones and I was looking for a phone case for myself.  I couldn’t find anything on the market I liked, so I began to think about designing my own. 

What inspired you to start your creative business? How did it all begin? 

I am an Architect and used leather on a lot of projects and love working with it, as it is a luxurious and versatile material.  Thanks to my experience in the profession, I decided to approach designing an iPhone case the same way as if I was working on a luxury apartment.  When using materials in elegant interiors, the most important are the quality of finishes and logical and well-executed details.  The final outcome has to be more than just a sum of individual elements.  When designing the cases, I used these as a reference.

Almost all leather cases on the market are either made of two pieces of leather sewn together or out of plastic covered in / attached to leather.  In our case, the iPhone cases are designed, so that leather follows the shape of the phone.  Consequently, the phone lies even better in your hand and feels so much better!

How has your business changed and developed since it started?

In order to maintain the same level of detail throughout the whole manufacturing process, I studied artisan leather techniques and consulted with experts in the field.  To realize the design, I needed to reach out for traditional techniques, that are now used by very few remaining artisans.  It is also important for me to keep both production and sourcing the materials as local as possible.

Since the initial design, we went through a long process of prototyping to perfect the case.  We also worked with a big selection of leathers and pin pointed the ones that were suitable, as, for various reasons, not every kind of leather can be used.

What are the main ways you promote your business?  Which methods have been the most successful for you?

As always, it is word of mouth from existing customers. Social media however has helped a lot to create a bit of a buzz. We use our website and Etsy for selling. LinkedIn also helped.

What’s your workspace like?  Can we have a sneak peek?  And do you have any workspace organisation tips for the rest of us?

For collecting ideas and displaying them in an intuitive fashion, I use MindNode. A large A0 printout graces one side of our office. The rest we try to keep clean and free of clutter - that is the idea at least. There are always lots of leather samples lying around, our first boxes and some early case prototypes too.

In the team, we use the iPhone and iCloud tools to the max - Reminders, Calendars, all shared. I also particularly recommend Daylite and Billings, very helpful. Sometimes I use Merlin Project Management - helps to set out long term goals.
I can go on about this - please stop me when it gets boring ;-)

What are the best and worst bits of running your business?

Without judging if they are the best or worst - it depends on when you ask me ;-) All of it takes time. Forget about your 9-5 day. I love the planning ahead and setting myself deadlines, and steps - I have become better in making them more manageable and realistic over time. I love talking to people, even if the products are in the background. People want to work with people they like, so relationships are key.

The absolute best moments are when you see something you have just imagined being made. Immediately after this moment comes the realisation that there is much more to be done and new ideas come to mind, but it is great to cherish this moment.

I like to surround myself with some of the items I designed in my workplace - I can always look around to quickly remind myself how far I have already come.

What other small (or not-so-small) creative businesses do you admire? 

I am very grateful to Apple, but I also admire the small product designers and architectural practices who have taken the step to do it on their own.

What tips can you give to others who run (or hope to run) a small creative business?

If you think you have found an idea which no one else is doing yet, keep at it and be persistent. Stay cool and weigh out the pros and cons, make sure you have the time to do it. Very early on I got influenced by Anthony Robbins’ books - the single most important tip I would give to anyone is NEVER EVER leave a new project you have just planned without doing that first step towards realising it. Even if it is writing an email, or making a brief phone call. Don’t think you will make profit very soon though - invest in your idea and be patient with the rewards. They will come, don’t worry.

What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future? 

We are looking into partnering with other companies to create joint designs and also to expand our manufacturing. Step by step though ;-)

Finally, where are the places we can find you online if we want to partake in a little friendly cyber stalking?


Thanks so much for stopping by – it was so nice to be able to take the time to chat with you. 

Well thank you so much for having me. Next time you’re in London - drop me a line!

Thanks Michael! 

 If you'd like to be featured on this blog, we can have a chat over some virtual tea (and maybe virtual cake too, if that would make you happy) too.  Just email me for more details. 

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