November 17, 2019
Clockwise from left: Kurt, Joyce, and Aycan on set
A big part of Revival is understanding histories. We appreciate the origin stories of things: the rugs we sell, the people who make them, the traditions and cultures which formed them. So in honor of our two-year anniversary, we asked the four people who founded Revival to talk about its beginning. Below is part one of our brief, and conversational, history.
Preface: Ben, Amber, Joyce, and Kurt met while living in Seoul in 2015. At the time the idea for Revival began, in early 2017, Kurt and Joyce both lived in Istanbul, and Ben and Amber had just gotten married and moved to Oakland, California.
Kurt: It started with a Facebook message from me to Ben.
Joyce: At that time I was working remotely, flying back and forth between Istanbul and Seoul, and I started bringing rugs back to Korea in my suitcase, because people would ask me to bring them. Some family members there had furniture businesses, cafés and stuff, so we started to fulfill those casual but not insignificant orders.
I realized I was making more doing that than what I was doing at the time, which was working in beauty. So I thought I could do that in Korea, selling rugs b2b. And Kurt was like, we should do this as a business.
Kurt: When I messaged Ben, I was like, look, I’m sourcing rugs for Blueground (Kurt’s full-time job), these prices are amazing, do you think we could also sell in the US?
Joyce: We saw that even in Turkey, the land of where rugs are made, there was a large gap between retail availability and what the wholesale price could be, given different data points.
Kurt: Ben was on his way to his honeymoon in Switzerland. He and Amber stopped by my apartment in Istanbul and I was showing them these rugs. And they were looking for a rug, too.
Ben: Amber looked at thousands of rugs for our apartment. The pricing was bad, and things took 3 months to make. Nothing seemed worth it. Why would we get something custom if we’ll move eventually? We finally bought this vintage shag rug on Craigslist which shed like crazy, and which we had to get rid of when our daughter was born. She was gonna eat all the fuzz.
Kurt: We kept talking about it and I was like, can you find some businesses who want to sell these rugs? And he was like, maybe we could go directly to the consumer, because of his experience with Brooklinen. We just kept exchanging ideas.
Joyce: Ben was really like, this is a great idea, I think we should do this together. Initially it was just Kurt and Ben who were eyeing the US market. That was February of 2017.
Amber: Ben was at this tech startup and was like, maybe I should be all-in and independent.
Ben: I was working part-time to pay the bills, but having these weekly calls with Kurt.
Amber: Eventually I said to him, look, if you really want this to happen, you aren’t gonna half ass it! I’m not letting you do this so you can keep working for this company part-time.
Kurt: So I put in some money, Ben put in some money, we raised some money from friends and family. And with it we bought 200 rugs.
Joyce: It was like, buy as many rugs as you can, fill these different containers. Go go go!
Ben: It was an anxiety-ridden year. I had raised money for the company...the existential pressure of your reputation is on the line, other people are trusting you with their savings.
Kurt: It all started with us just like, visiting stores. We decided to begin with a Kickstarter, and spent a month planning it. Joyce recommended Mike to shoot the video, so he and Ben came to Turkey and we went around Anatolia filming.
Kurt + Ben in the field
Ben: 3 days before our Kickstarter was set to launch, they rejected our application.
Amber: Ben and Joyce were so mad, but I was like, what? Let’s just DO IT. This is so much less complicated! It was kind of a blessing in disguise. I just shop online a lot, and I’m on Instagram a lot, and I felt like there was potential to just do it that way.
Kurt: A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into it at the beginning. We realized we needed someone full time to lead the Turkey operations, because I had a full-time job. So at that point we found Aycan (Revival's Head of Turkey), who’s my childhood friend. We’ve been friends since we were 7 years old. We went to the same primary school, secondary school, high school. Then he went to medical school and I went to engineering school.
Joyce: Everyone brings something different to the team which is what makes it so nice. Like Aycan being a doctor. For a whole year it was just me and Aycan. We were so lean that Ben never came to Turkey. We spent seven, eight, nine months working on everything. Basically Aycan was filling the roles of everyone we eventually hired, and Kurt was helping out with whatever else needed to be done. It definitely created a very close bond within the team.
Kurt: So it’s me, Aycan, and Joyce in Turkey, taking care of sourcing.
Ben: Meanwhile, Amber was pregnant, working full-time, doing ALL of our customer service, designing the brand voice and style, and building our website with html.
Amber: It was all my free time. My PhD essentially got put on hold.
Amber + laptop
Joyce: Amber had just had a baby, was doing her PhD, and going back to work. She was doing ALL the customer service stuff, which requires so much dedication and energy. She would come home from work and have to deal with her child and answer all these customer service emails. We were small but everyone tried to do as much as they could.
Amber: All along I felt like the customer service element had to be first in class.
Ben: And you built that! That ethos has carried on. The templates, the practice.
Parts II and III coming soon!
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