Startups through the hands of potters
Mercury’s first pottery collection challenges potters to zero in on an unlikely form of inspiration: the intrepid startup.
Written by Shreeda Segan
Photography by Michael Carbone
At Mercury, we believe the arts have more in common with business than meets the eye. The best artists and entrepreneurs build and iterate on things with skill, creativity, and care.
So we searched high and low for potters who could make the perfect handmade ceramic tea cups for some of the entrepreneurs we’re lucky to have as customers. The nine companies represented in this project come from a diverse range of industries and stages — ecommerce to fintech, pre-launch to Series B. We spent months on the search, enlisting the help of “pottery consultant” Molly Walter and scrolling endlessly through Instagram. Each potter has a brand or visual connection (sometimes both) to the company they’re creating for. And each potter grapples with the business of their pottery differently — as potter Kenny Sing says, “all artists, at least in the beginning, struggle to find the balance between how much it costs to make their art and how much to sell it for.”
The following is Mercury’s first pottery collection and we’re excited to share it with the world. Join us to get a handle on the shapes, ridges, and grooves shared by both founders and potters.
I'm focused on technology, people, and systems — that's the common thread. Mostly, I solve problems. I'm the most general definition of an engineer. I solve problems so that I don't have the problem afterwards.
— Yishan Wong, founder of Terraformation and former CEO of Reddit
Terraformation is on a mission to scale natural carbon capture through reforestation. They’re aiding with everything from seed supply and banking to creating software products that help organizations track reforestation efforts.
When asked about his day-to-day work, founder Yishan Wong says that tackling climate change is the largest problem humans have had to solve. The scale of this problem influences how he runs his business. “Half of my job is putting the right people in the right jobs and the other half is getting lots of data to make decisions,” he says.
Eco-friendly potter Amanda Bury completed the tea cup for Terraformation, using a mixture of both wild and reclaimed clay (versus synthetic or unrecycled.) She incorporated an illustration of Acacia Koaia, one of the plants that Terraformation grows on their pilot site in Hawaii, on her Yunomi style tea cup. Amanda’s love of pottery comes from her love of food, which she considers the primordial source of connection between humans and the environment.
Making and using handmade pottery is the medium I've chosen for talking about the connection humans have with our natural environment. Pottery can say a million, zillion things. Pottery can sometimes get roped into the craft field instead of the art field. But I don't think that line actually exists.
— Amanda Bury, potter
I got into technology as a way of leveraging impact. I've always been less interested in software on a theoretical level. I wanted to build stuff. It became a form of self-expression. I didn't expect that I would actually be a founder; in some ways, that was an accident.
— Siqi Chen, founder of Runway
Founded by Siqi Chen and Arya Asemanfar, Runway wants to give every startup leader access to financial data and insights. According to Siqi, the obfuscation of finances is “a grand conspiracy” that makes it hard for regular employees to understand business finances.
When Siqi started his first company, he kept a job at the time to pay the bills. “Frankly, the things I've made often haven’t been commercially popular or long-lasting because I build for myself,” he says. Today he is an investor in several companies, including Amplitude, Pipe, and Italic, and continues to find ways to give back to the founder community.
Potter Eric Van Eimeren’s teacup shows the Runway logo — a natural fit because his pottery often involves bright colorblock — and features his signature, two-finger handle (which he continues to improve on). His inspiration comes from his father, an artist whose postmodern paintings were very “clean,” “geometric,” and “sculptural.” When asked if he considers himself a founder, he says that “this, for me, really came out of personal enjoyment. I had to find a way to keep doing it and to generate enough income from it, so that I could quit my other job.”
Even now, thirty years later, I look at my work and see things that bother me. It tells me what I want to try next week. My handles are still changing. I love the fact that I can come into the studio and spend the time making whatever I feel like making.
— Eric Van Eimeren, potter
I want creators to be able to have full control over their work and the tools to make it happen. NFTs open up avenues for creators to benefit from their work directly through royalties.
— Alex Salnikov, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Rarible
Salnikov believes that NFTs and web3 center openness and community, so his team prioritizes community-friendly features. For instance, Rarible’s multi-chain messenger and multi-wallet profiles make it easier for users to connect with one another. One of their goals this year is to enable communities to have their own, tailor-made platforms for NFT trading.
Potter Kenny Sing worked on the Rarible teacup and saucer set. Sing often merges tech and art and likes that his work can be experienced both physically (as a usable, handheld cup) and digitally (as pictures and videos). He runs turn.studio and many of his works feature animation which he crafts with the help of software. The block imagery on the saucer and the chain shape of the animation are a nod to the blockchain technology behind NFTs.
All art is expensive to do, which is why you see a lot of entrepreneurs in any art. A lot of people fall in love with their art, and to sustain it, you have to figure out how to sell it. You can only give your mom so many free pieces.
— Kenny Sing, potter