October’s interview features Morgan Doherty and Natasha McRee from the Austin-based Wexel Art Displays.
Wexel Art frames are an innovative, easy-change way to display photos, kids art, signs & more with powerful magnets & floating acrylic.
Check out the full interview below:
Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves, your backgrounds etc.
Morgan: I have a real desire to see better design in the world. Harmony brings me joy. I strive to incorporate great design in my work, but I also seek it out during my play time. I love going to galleries and museums for a dose of fine art.
Natasha: For as long as I can remember I have watched my mom build her company, by starting with a flea market booth selling turkey roasters, to a multi-million dollar cookware company whose products are found at Crate and Barrel and Williams and Sonoma. Having that entrepreneurial spirit in my bones and 2 boys who were making lots of art and school projects was the catalyst to starting Wexel Art.
What’s the story behind WEXEL? How did it all start?
Natasha: Morgan and I had collaborated on several design projects and one hot Texas afternoon I asked Morgan to help display her kids art in a meaningful way that was also easy to change. I loved the contemporary look of floating acrylic.
Morgan suggested pairing the acrylic with magnets so that artwork could be changed out without having to take anything off the wall. Neither of us approached the project with the thought of starting a business.
Morgan: Friends kept asking Natasha where she bought them, so we figured we were onto something. The magnet frame was the first project launched in 2010 and after 10 years of determination, blood, sweat and a few tears we have built an incredibly thriving profitable business that sprung from that one hallway conversation.
Were there any great obstacles you had to overcome early on building WEXEL that come to mind? What have you learned from that experience?
We created the Wexel concept in the depth of the Great Recession of 2009. In other words, there was no money or investment to be had. We had to bootstrap the whole thing for the first few years before a bank would take us seriously. In fact, we even ran a Kickstarter campaign, so we could afford our first laser cutting equipment.
Since then we've faced all kinds of "growing pains" but what we learned from those early lessons is that if you are willing to roll up your sleeves, and you bring your passion with you, you can move those huge obstacles.
Could you share with us your creative process? From an idea to a product one can order from your online store, what does that process look like?
Each member of the team contributes in a special way. We complement one another. If Natasha brainstorms a new idea or an improvement on an existing product, Morgan has the technical know-how to noodle with the physical engineering and prototyping to help bring it to life.
It takes several rounds of prototyping to determine whether we are onto something. Once we find harmony between design and function, we take baby steps to launch that product. Usually it's rolled out in small batches in test markets so we can get feedback. Our customers get to have a lot of say about the final product before it goes into mass production. We value their input because they are in the trenches using our products every day.
Where would you like to see WEXEL 10 years from now?
Morgan: I see Wexel as a household name for home decor. We will be a go-to resource not just for displaying art, but also for discovering new art and artists. I'd like to see more home accessories in our collection as well. We've always been "Small & Mighty" but we will need to grow our team accordingly!
Natasha: Morgan's vision 10 years from now sums it up perfectly. That's mine too. Our new art initiative is creating a platform for small independent artists to showcase their work at a national level. In 10 years from now, we will have empowered artists and designers to featured on a national scale.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a new brand or an online store?
Identify your target audience and listen to them! You might have an amazing idea, but it takes a happy customer to turn your idea into a success. You never know where that next brilliant idea might come from, and you need to be open and flexible. But you need to balance that with the confidence that you are calling the right shots, and the passion to know you will do whatever it takes on the good days and the bad.
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses- and build your team around that. One of the things that makes Wexel successful is that each of our team members brings complementary, different skill sets which makes for a well-run organization.
Last but not least, as a Mom and an entrepreneur, what does a typical work day look like for you these days?
Morgan: I have a toddler so I hit the ground running around 6am. 7:30 I jog baby to school. Work starts between 8:30-9, and I go hard for about 8 hours. I'm in charge of dinner when we all get home, and my favorite part of the day is playing and reading before bed. I used to be a night owl, but now I rarely make it to 10pm. I want to note that the demanding emails never stop. But I really try to compartmentalize that, so when I'm with my family I can give them all my attention.
Natasha: Both Morgan and I are hands-on mompreneurs, so no two days ever look the same. My boys are teenagers, so the parenting challenges are different than with a toddler, which makes my yoga practice increasingly important! We built our company to provide flexibility in the work day and empower our team to find a healthy balance between family, hobbies and work.