Amanda Anthony is an American who moved to Poland in 2011. In 2015, she opened up MaluMika, a paint-your-own-pottery studio, to provide “a great place to meet and be creative with family, friends, and coworkers.” This unique establishment in Wroclaw helped transform Amanda, who has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Master of Public Policy, into one of the 30 Creatives in Wroclaw in 2016.
Growly talked to Amanda about the difficulties of starting her own business without savings and a marketing plan, the mixing of her own personal branding with MaluMika, and her own trial and error process of coming up with a good business idea.
MaluMika was the first of its kind in Wroclaw. Can you tell us a little about the place?
MaluMika is a paint-your-own-pottery studio, a place where you can channel your creativity into making something useful. The idea is pretty simple: You don’t have to make some lumpy bowl. You just come and you paint a premade form; then, we fire it and you pick it up. A lot of people are put off of painting pottery (and other “creative” things) because they have the idea that they won’t be good at it. When I created MaluMika, my goal was to focus on the techniques that make it easy to make something beautiful. We opened in May 2015 and just completed an expansion into the location next door. It doesn’t add a ton of seats, but it did allow me to buy a larger kiln so that I can handle more customers.
The whole vibe of MaluMika is inspiring people to be creative, even when they don’t think they can. You even outline the whole creative process on your website. Have you utilized this approach in terms of running your own business?
The process I have starts from “get inspired”. Sometimes, I think we are in such a rush to do things that we don’t do the essential foundational work of inspiring ourselves. Then, you have to take it step-by-step. Well before I started MaluMika, I knew I wanted to open my own business. It took some research and thinking to both come up with the idea of opening a pottery studio here in Wrocław, and then figuring out how I could do it without knowing anything about it. After I decided it was a good idea, I signed up for a training course.
Honestly, even after that I still wasn’t convinced it would work here, so I tested it a bit with events at coffee shops. That’s when I realized that I was going to go crazy if I didn’t have a fixed location. There are people in the UK who do mobile studios, but I hated having all of my ceramics in my studio apartment and lugging them everywhere. Then I took the plunge. It’s a little like painting ceramics: Once you start, you can’t unpaint.
Speaking of the website, one of the things that struck me was how you were inspired to open MaluMika based on one of your more memorable childhood experiences. Do you feel that you found the idea of MaluMika, or it found you?
As I said, I knew I wanted to open my own business. I had been living in Wrocław for about 4 years, so I felt like I knew the city pretty well. My students would always tell me how in high school they didn’t have chemistry lab, so my first idea for a business was a workshop offering chemistry and physics laboratory experiments for junior high and high school students. I looked into that and realized it was going to be crazy expensive to launch – and also that it probably wouldn’t be too popular at the price I would have to offer it. I kept thinking about what the city seemed to be missing: What did I like doing as a kid? How did my family spend time together? Two ideas came to mind: a pottery-painting studio and a miniature golf course. Pottery painting seemed to be a lot more realistic to start with, especially since I have a chemistry background.
MaluMika has been featured in a variety of Polish media outlets and I’ve noticed that you’ve inserted yourself into the business to the point that it seems impossible to distinguish between you and MaluMika. Was this deliberate on your part? How do you approach personal branding, if at all?
Haha – this is a tough question. I have a strong personality and I realized early on in teaching English in Wroclaw that people were intrigued by me. They were fascinated that I had moved to Poland by myself, without a partner, to do something I enjoyed. But when I started MaluMika, it didn’t translate into any instant success. Since I had literally no marketing budget (a mistake!), I realized that I was going to have to go out and talk about MaluMika on a personal level, inviting people I knew or was meeting to try it out. Because of that (and probably because at the very beginning I had no employees), people began associating MaluMika with me. Then, I started to get more exposure – like being named one of the 30 Creatives in Wroclaw in 2016 – and the questions would always come back to me: how I had started MaluMika, how it was living in Poland and running your own business, how I had learned Polish, whether Poland was a tough place to run a business, etc. So we became even more intertwined. In fact, I was at the Christmas market this year and someone just pointed to me and said “Oh! MaluMika!” In my view, that is success.
To explicitly answer the first part of the question: In some sense, it was deliberate because I know that people like and remember things that are different – and my relentless positivity and encouragement was new and different. In some sense, it was unintentional and driven by others’ curiosity about me and my decisions.
Either way, you are correct – it will be extremely difficult to extract myself from the branding (i.e. if I wanted to take on a partner). But my approach to personal branding is something like this: If it’s going to help me attract people to try out MaluMika, I will not hesitate to put myself out there.
You’re the second American operating a business in the Polish market we’ve interviewed here. Could you share with us any advantages and disadvantages of being a foreign business owner?
The hardest part of being a foreign business owner is that things you are sure would work in your own country may not work here. I had to experiment to learn what Polish people liked and didn’t like, what people thought was expensive or not, how to run a birthday party. These are weird things to think about and there were just moments where I thought to myself “Well, how was I supposed to know that when you “organize time for children” (literal translation) for more than 2 days in a row, you have to declare it to the School Superintendent’s office?” But you learn.
On the flipside, I could try a lot of new things and even if people didn’t take to it, they would just write it off as “that strange American”. It gives you a little leeway to be stupid.
Polish people always assume the worst part of running a business in Poland is the taxes; having never run a business in the US, I couldn’t compare, but I assume there is just as much stupid bureaucracy in incorporating yourself, getting approvals to do things, and whatnot.
What are some things you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
It’s easy for people to say (and I was advised as such) but not the easiest thing to do: Have savings. I mean, I invested everything I had into opening MaluMika. I had no margin for error, and it was punishing. I was lucky to have a good friend who gave me a few thousand złoty in the second month of business; otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done. It was just enough for me to keep going. Even after that, I would get to the 10th of the month and have 7zł in my account to last me until the next month. Miserable. Don’t start a business until you’re sure you’ve got enough money saved up to survive those first few months.
The second thing was something I learned the hard way, which was you cannot just expect your business to blossom without a marketing budget. I genuinely believed that since I knew so many people in Wrocław, they would just come in and bring friends, and generally it would be great. It was a great idea, the first of its kind, so how could it not? I imagined them walking past and thinking it was interesting and popping in. It did not work like that. I didn’t figure out the marketing thing really until mid-2017. Before that it was just hustling, every day.
What advice would you offer people looking to start their own business?
Have savings. 🙂 Be relentlessly positive.
Beyond that, have friends who will be willing to buy you a beer (because you won’t have money) and listen to you when you’re having a bad day (and they’ll probably mostly be bad in the beginning).
Finally, and most importantly, something that I learned from my mother is that people like going to a place and being remembered/feeling familiar. It’s why people like going to their “regular bar”. At MaluMika, we introduce ourselves to people who are painting because we want them to call us by name if they need something. At the same time, we learn their names and try to remember them so that the next time they come, they will feel even more welcome. In some ways, this will make it hard for you ever to leave the business, but I guarantee it builds feelings of attachment from your customers and makes them more likely to recommend you.
Thank you so much for talking to us, Amanda.