This week, we spoke with John B. Stewart about his entrepreneurial journey – from being a student from the US spending his foreign semester in Stuttgart to starting his company F(ph)resh in Germany.
John, as an American, you came to spend a foreign semester in Stuttgart, finished your studies here and then decided to stay and start your own company in 2012. What was your motivation to start your business in Germany and not in the US, the poster child for building a startup?
Germany is all about quality. If something is built here it must be a standard German quality. Seemed like a good place to start. Having grown up in America, as any person does in a foreign country they notice differences. In terms of entrepreneurship I considered that a good thing. So I decided to stay and see if I could find some interesting gaps.
What were the challenges and obstacles while founding your startup F(ph)resh in Stuttgart?
I quickly realized that not only was the language a barrier but learning the cultural tendencies as well. Though I may consider Germany a small country compared to the USA, it is very large regarding culture and differences. Stuttgart is different from Berlin and Berlin is different from Munich. The sooner this is learned the better. Additionally, though it becomes better now, finding startup information was very difficult to find in this city.
Looking back on two years of doing business in Germany, what would you do differently? And what would you like to see being simplified for founders in this country?
The first thing that I do differently is listening. To my customers, partners, and anyone willing to listen to the F(ph)resh story. When we start a business, we are very close to the idea. It is very difficult to take critiques from others with an open mind. In order to create something of value I realized I needed to listen more. The helping other and the customers who like our products are the reason I and Severin do F(ph)resh. So shouldn’t we listen to their needs?
The process of starting and more importanty testing of ideas needs to simplified. Currently, it is very difficult to even test and idea without much monetary and time investment. I think this stalls true innovation.
Since a few months, you have Severin Bandera as your business partner on board at F(pH)resh. How did your entrepreneurial routine and focus change since then?
Severin is a very smart guy. The fact that someone of his quality believed in F(ph)resh enough to join was an amazing asset. Basically together we create the vision. It’s my job to be a dreamer and it’s his job to make sure we stay grounded. Somewhere in that middle is the perfect combination. We work on finding the middle every day when coming to the office.
You released the second edition of your F(ph)resh) watches recently. Could you tell us a bit more about it and the process which led to it?
With every product F(ph)resh releases the goal is to get better. We have listened to our customers since the inception of the brand. Through this process we came to the discussion to begin producing in Germany. The design and quality is at their highest level yet and it is a more sustainable process. The watch bands are done from different types of fabrics. We source from over produced materials that are normally wasted from other brands. Many of them local. The manufacture of the watch face is in Pforzheim. My F(ph)resh journey began there so we thought it would be a good place to start new. Since we give time, the campaign site is www.GiveTime.To. Stays true to our overall mission.
What are your plans for the future? Where do you see F(ph)resh in five years?
F(ph)resh has always been here to produce great feeling through design and great projects. On the wall in our office stand the words “Create a more educated world.” This is the corner stone of our philosophy. So in five years imagine have a Nike or Addidas that every sale is directly connected to a social change. Big goal but even if we are one tenth of that size, we will be creating a lot of world change.
Thanks a lot for these great insights, John! All the best for the future to you and Severin!