My name is Nate Mell, and I am the founder / CEO and lead designer for Felt+Fat, a ceramic design, and manufacturing studio based in Philadelphia, PA. As a founder of a small business, I wear many hats and do many things on a daily basis! On any given day, I might be working on a big sale, designing new products, fixing a broken machine, developing new processes, or managing HR for my staff. I do a lot.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
Not making a decision is a decision in itself. I spent many years wanting to make the best possible decisions, and often that meant never making one because nearly every choice you face is an imperfect one. Once you commit to making decisions, owning them, and adjusting/learning when that decision was a failure, you find that your personal growth will increase tremendously, and you’ll get better at finding the right path.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
One great mistake I made for some time was not giving my staff enough ownership over their work and permission to fail. As a founder who has their hands in the creation of the product, I found myself often micromanaging when I should have been giving my team the tools they needed for success. This meant I spent way too much time in the weeds, which meant the business itself couldn’t grow! It’s still a struggle, but I do my best to remind myself of this lesson over and over again.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
Currently, the hospitality industry is running on very old models, from tipping to how restaurants procure goods. I believe that procurement specifically is moving away from the old school model where big distributors have a near-monopoly on goods to one where any given restaurant owner will be able to communicate more directly with producers, be it, farmers or plate makers. This is already happening, but I believe in 10 years, the landscape of distribution will be totally turned on its head.
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Be cost-competitive. This doesn’t work for western manufacturers. A race to the bottom in pricing will always mean you lose, and cheaper, foreign manufacturing wins. You cannot compete with their prices so don’t try. You have to make great, innovative products and lean into your cost; there is always a market for quality, ethically produced products.
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
I’m better at saying no to folks asking for me to give away products for exposure. Your time and creativity are worth something, nothing is free, and without any kind of guarantees, you’re likely to die of exposure.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
I’m not a big fan of self-help, instructional books myself. If I am reading, it’s generally biographies or fiction. I would recommend the biography of Alexander Hamilton, though, talk about an ambitious life!
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
Think about how you actually want to spend your day-to-day while pursuing your dream. Realize things generally take much longer than you think, and if someone promises you immediate results, they are likely just selling you something.
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
“Be here now.” – Ram Dass
My personal website, https://www.nathanielmell.com/, or email! Nate@feltandfat.com