It’s been a long time.
It’s been nearly 300 days since my last post for Folius, in fact. Since then, I’ve sold off most of the equipment and standing inventory for Folius and liquidated the majority of my physical possessions in Gainesville. I withdrew from the hobby nearly entirely, save for four Chamaedorea tuerckheimii. I sold my house.
And then this PNW-born, Florida-raised guy moved to Dallas with those Chamaedorea, a couple cats, clothes, kitchenware, camera and a couch. I caught a flight three days after arriving in Dallas for a long-needed escape into some Hawaiian rainforests.
I started Folius a few years ago as a way to channel my vision for a hobby I loved. I saw the evolution in the vivarium aesthetic in Europe and the new aquarium products coming out of Asia … and what I saw as a lack of similar development here in the US. I was entranced by Takashi Amano’s work and the ADA portfolio. I lusted for a terrarium equivalent of the Cube Garden with a companion Cube Cabinet. I wanted lighting specifically designed for terrariums that would preserve the overall look.
I wanted something that, from top to bottom, looked like one complete thought and worked as beautifully as it looked.
So, really, I created Folius for myself. I wanted something I would enjoy looking at and using, and I wanted it soon. I was looking forward to upgrading my own collection of:
- 14x ZooMed 12x12x18 Terrariums
- 2x ZooMed 18x18x18 Terrariums
- 1x Exo-Terra 24x18x24 Terrarium
- 1x Exo-Terra 36x18x36 Terrarium
- 3x 40-gallon Breeder Horizontal Conversions
- 2x 40-gallon Breeder Vertical Conversions
- 3x DIY Euro-style 15x17x24 Terrariums
- 1x DIY Euro-style 36x18x36 Terrarium
- 20x 20-quart Sterilite Gasket Boxes
- 4x 32-quart Sterilite Gasket Boxes
- 2x 54-quart Sterilite Gasket Boxes
- 2x 80-quart Sterilite Gasket Boxes
That list doesn’t include two planted aquariums. In hindsight: as a bachelor living alone in his own house, I think I successfully became the glass-box version of “the crazy cat lady”. A good friend called me “the Sterilite King”. Perhaps not my proudest days . . . but I’ve digressed.
My requirements were clear. I needed better, more unified automation. I needed media and hardscape materials that were stable long-term and low maintenance. I needed front-opening enclosures that were well built and unified in design with agile characteristics that could be tailored to suit their inhabitants. And, everything had to look pretty.
I set to work.
Perhaps not in the business aspect as I achieved (what I thought were) my goals. I got some recognition for the brand and its message, I designed some neat things, popularized other products. I did not make a profit as I reinvested all proceeds back into research and development and marketing. I had no illusions about it being a profitable venture in the first few years of operation. It was never my goal to have the cheapest offering out there, either, so I expected a hard, slow climb.
I failed to achieve the one overarching mission underlying everything Folius was supposed to be related to – making “something I would enjoy looking at and using.” Orders were coming in and people were talking about the company! I had so many ideas and internal testing on prototype products was successful and now there’s funding to continue development!
I then had the worst response to probably the best thing that could have happened – the orders stopped coming in.
See, I’m used to startups and the cycle of feast and famine. I work at one as my primary employment. My friends worked at startups. My mentors had startups of their own. I was familiar with it personally having started a web consulting business during my undergrad years to help with living expenses, and then hamstringing the business so that I could make time for school. Turns out, a lot of people need web services and everyone knows someone else who also needs services.
I had already started to lose sight of my original goal after the revenue started coming in. What I didn’t know was that this market was cyclical, waxing and waning with the seasons. I panicked when the orders stopped coming in for the first time. I thought I had made a mistake. Instead of taking the time to flesh out my concepts more fully, I focused my attention on business development, all but forgetting the main mission and my own needs. Development stalled.
Orders picked up again in a few months. I was now fully immersed in the business aspect of the, ehm, business. It was now about order fulfillment, accounting, inventory management, packaging, shipping, profit and loss . . . research and development afterwards, and sleep (if time permitted). This daily cycle usually started after the sun had started to dip in the sky, after coming home from “the day job”. The hobby that started it all became a burden.
I never ended up “upgrading” my own collection to that original vision. I did use the materials I was selling, the lights, some of the prototype products I designed, and I was happy with how they were working out. However, there wasn’t real “enjoyment” in it for me anymore as maintaining my collection had just become something else vying for, and receiving far too little of, my time. Terrariums that I had slated for myself were sold and shipped out as I continued to de-prioritize myself. The news of them breaking en route was all the more heartbreaking to me – things that I had put so much time and money and sweat and stress into, the very terrariums that I had denied myself, were broken
by maliciously clumsy, careless hands and denied to even my customers.
This endeavor was taking a toll on my physical and mental health.
The decision to move to Dallas wasn’t sudden, but the self-imposed deadline was. The actual date was always a bit gray all the way up until “I’m moving in three weeks”. I was moving to join my partner – she had matched at a postdoc site in Dallas. We booked the flight to Hawaii to depart from Dallas as additional incentive for moving by my deadline. The decision was surprisingly easy, despite knowing what the immediate consequences were. Everything had to accelerate. I had to figure out what to do with a house full of stuff. What of my collection? It was even more surprisingly easy for me to decide to just let it all go and leave carrying as little as possible. I realized later how much my subconscious and my body were screaming for an end.
Our first day in Hawaii was spent on the Kuliouou Ridge. That first day – cool, misty mountain air, an endless azure sky overhead. Tangles of branches and leaves around us and a sea of verdant growth through the clearings. No sounds but of birds and the crunch of leaves and gravel underfoot. The smell of wood and fresh soil punctuated periodically by the clean, sweet fragrance of wildflowers. These were the happiest days of my life to date, my partner by my side, in which I had simply walked out of the gilded cage my ambitions erected around me. Now if I could just find some of the Hawaiian auratus the folks back at home talked about …
So, what does this mean for the future of Folius? It’s going to stick around. I still love the hobby and I am slowly getting back into it. However, a retail driven operation is never the vision I pictured for Folius nor should have let it become. I’m still designing things (in fact, I can’t wait to share something small I’ve made recently) and I fully intend to execute my original vision. Big, beautiful tanks, pretty lights, climate control, all-the-things. It’s just that now, those things are going to be made to be used by me first, and then I’ll let others decide if it’s something they want, too.
I aim to be more regular with these blog entries, too, and their format will also change. I never imagined that I would have as much self-disclosure as in this entry. I know that my own experiences and journey aren’t necessarily unique, but I’m finally comfortable pulling back the curtain a bit. Folius is, after all, my interpretation and my vision and therefore my story.
So, what should you expect? A tone that is a little more informal, and little more informative, and an endeavor that is hopefully a little more inspirational. Some of my products are still available, and will continue to be available, through third parties (I’ll provide more details soon). Looking for something specific? Let’s talk!
As for me, I don’t ever want to see another wire rack in my residence ever again.