Capitalize on what’s trendy, find a way to make it better, and the work will do itself, Paul Kaster said of his fresh-out-of-high school startup journey.
Such a mindset has only elevated business for Kaster, founder of Crooked Branch Studio. The entrepreneur recently launched a line of bow ties made from carbon fiber — a sales sky rocket for Crooked Branch, originally launched in 2013 to sell wooden ties when Kaster was a student at Rockhurst, he explained.
“I get a couple of reactions. One is, ‘Oh, that’s so cool. I love carbon fiber. I’m a big car guy,’ or ‘I love airplanes or spaceships,’” he said, citing responses to the product — the “bow tie made from rockets” — he’s branded as Carbon Cravat.
“Some people think it’s like the high tech material of the future,” continued Kaster, now a University of Southern California student studying engineering, computer science and business. “Some people think it’s this really cool thing for performance cars and so people who connect with it in different ways.”
Carving his niche
The picture was different six years ago when prom nights rolled around for Rockhurst High School, and Kaster found himself unimpressed by his then-classmates’ wooden bow ties.
“I was pretty disappointed by the quality,” he said.
Confident he could craft a product far superior to the subpar neckwear he’d found online, Kaster tapped into his hobby woodworking skills and channeled them into an entrepreneurial endeavor — one that’s now paying his way through college at USC, he said.
“I [experimented with] several dozen products that largely failed before the wooden bowties became a success,” Kaster said, weaving a tale that chronicled his experience. “[Young entrepreneurs] shouldn’t place too much pressure on themselves to be successful initially. It’s more important to try a number of things.”
Click here to shop Crooked Branch Studios collections.
Be fearless while you’re young, Kaster added.
“A lot of times, I hear people — especially in college — saying that they need to perfect [a product or idea] before they bring it to market, but that’s usually not the case. Especially for physical prototypes!” he said. “Bringing it to people, getting it in the hands of possible consumers before you come up with your final perfect iteration is important because you get good feedback along the way.”
Kansas City-tied Crooked Branch Studios’ creations — including Carbon Cravat — are available at Made in Kansas City retailers across the metro, a valuable partnership for Kaster and his growing business, forged while he was a student at Rockhurst High School, he said.
Click here to explore the world of Made in Kansas City.
Building an operation to soar
With a nationwide team, Crooked Branch Studios operates lean and mean, Kaster said. Two contractors and a manufacturing partner help the titan of ties meet a growing demand for orders from retailers and online shops like Etsy, he explained further.
“I worked really hard in my senior year of high school focusing on getting people onto the team who could take over a lot of the responsibilities,” Kaster said, noting the importance of intentional team building for early stage companies.
Studious and satisfied, Crooked Branch Studios now operates at a pace that’s just right for the college creator — allowing Kaster to do what he loves and maintain his undergraduate experience, he said.
“I get a lot of reviews from people saying like, ‘This was so amazing,’ ‘My boyfriend loved it,’ ‘Really made Christmas special,’ and I think it reminds me of why I love business and why I would go into it in the future — even when I’m in classes right now,” he said.
With pressure relieved, running a startup has been an outlet for Kaster, enabling him to feel as though he’s part of something bigger than his campus experience — which can often feel like a bubble of disconnection, he said.