Eric Edelson profile picture

Eric Edelson

CEO, Fireclay Tile

What’s the background to the business? Fireclay as a business is an amazing story. Paul Burns founded the company in 1986. It was originally 4 partners and started as a small, artisan hand-made tile manufacturer. Over time, the partners left but Paul has continued. His driving desire is to make beautiful product for people – when they want it, how they want it.

Initially, the business wasn’t hugely successful. Paul is an amazing creator so he always focused heavily on product and less on the marketing and sales. Although the company did grow during the housing boom of 2004-2007, it was still small. I met Paul through a friend’s father, whom I had helped on a side consulting project. Paul’s business was going through some significant financial challenges, and I thought I could help.

My focus was to clean up the business and focus on stability first, then growth. It involved making tough decisions, barely getting by and living literally check-to-check, but since 2009 we have grown 6x and gone from 23 people in California to almost 100. We manufacture just outside of the Bay Area and have showrooms in San Francisco and San Jose.

We are, hands down, the most exciting brand in tile and maybe even design. We work direct with the customer and are focused on making beautiful, locally manufactured tile, glass, brick and hand painted products. In fact, we recently scored 89 out of 100 on a net promoter score – higher even than Southwest Airlines and Apple. Customers who love quality will love our product.

BUSINESS BRIEFING

Business goal for the next 12 months: On the numbers side, we would like to exceed a combined $2M in sales in a month – $1M each for residential and commercial.

We are also focusing on solidifying our company culture, which is equally important to us. We focus on being creative and collaborative and are a fun mix of people, from the people who manufacture the product to the sales and design professionals. As a company, we are very reflective of our founder Paul – humble, honest, bright and open. In fact, we have full transparency around our financials and performance.

We also want to focus on recruiting strong people, since they are the lifeblood of what we do. We want people who are obsessed with customer service and excellent product.

Advice you wish you had received: Actually, I did receive the advice but I wish I had followed it! The advice was to raise more capital than you need. The business has been undercapitalized; we have had good moments but it also continues to create stress on the organization. We have had one round of financing to alleviate that.

Best business decision: Going direct to the customer. In 2014 we pulled out of the wholesale model and built an online customer oriented brand, which catapulted the company into a new level of growth. We have really turned the company around and significantly expanded the larger opportunity.

Toughest business decision: It’s always when we have to terminate people, including one of my friends last year. These are good people, but are not always a good fit so we have to do what is right for the business. When I got fired from my first job, it taught me a lot. That time really did give me a gift so I try to look at it that way.

Person most admired:  I admire any entrepreneur who is focused on growing their business. I also admire anyone willing to take risks while trying to create jobs and opportunities for other people. I believe entrepreneurship is trying to create a business and meaningful opportunities. Paul is a great example of that as he did whatever it took to make the business successful.

Like most about job: I love everything about my job. Every day is a surprise, with all the ups and downs it can bring, and every day feels like day one. I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity.

We’ve done a lot of amazing things yet still have a long way to go.

Like least about job: We have a hard business and it’s very competitive. We have to fight for every customer and there is not much in the way of recurring revenue. That lack of predictability can often be challenging.

Dream job: Besides the one I have … I would probably be doing the same thing at another small company. For me, it’s less about the tile and more about the business. I want to work where there is a compelling value proposition and I am continually able to reinvent myself.

BEHIND THE SUIT

Birthplace: I was born in Washington, DC and started my career in New York with Lehman Brothers. My focus there was investing in healthcare and since the Bay Area is prominent in that, I came out a few times and really loved the West Coast.

Education: I studied Neuroscience at Amherst College in Massachusetts. I started in healthcare but, to be honest, I became a little disenchanted; it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I also didn’t want to be part of Wall Street. While I have tremendous respect for investors, I had a burning desire to build my own company and wanted to focus on something entrepreneurial. In 2007, I completed my MBA at Stanford Business School and have never looked back.

My first real job combined my love of sports with my love of business and I worked at a small sports drink business in Seattle. I didn’t see eye to eye with the CEO though and he fired me after 9 months. While at first it was a shock, it was the best thing that ever happened to me!

Favorite book: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. The book demonstrates a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life. I like letting life unfold before my eyes and consider myself very optimistic. I believe that people are fundamentally good and if you’re smart about it, good things can happen.

Favorite movie: There are so many great and different movies that it really depends where I am in life as to what is my favorite. I think Jurassic Park is one of the new classics, as I love the ability to imagine science and evolution working in different ways.

Outside of work: I spend a lot of time with my family, which is so special. I’m really into exercise and consider myself a pretty hard-core runner. I run most days and if I don’t exercise then I’m a miserable person. I’ve done a few ultra marathons and would always like to do more. I also coach my and my friends’ children in soccer, and hope to continue being “Coach Eric”.

Community: I used to be on a few non-profit boards but my focus now is on Fireclay, family, friends and our local community.

As a business, we are a B Corporation, which means that we are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Family: I have a wife of 5 years and 2 daughters – 3.5 years and 1 year old. They keep me more than busy!

I have learned so much from my wife, who is a successful retail executive; she’s been a massive inspiration to me.