Jason Robertson, AKA ‘The Professor’, walked away from a safe career to pursue his passion for concrete craft. Through quality training, proven products, and a solid support network, he has quickly found success. Jason specializes in industrial concrete sinks, concrete countertops, and concrete fireplace surrounds.
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Jon Schuler: Dude, Apple, I'm on MacBook Pro, I've got Apple ear pods in, the only thing that seems to be working right is this, whatever the microphone which even then hold-on; is that even on?
Brandon Gore: It’s painful every week, I'm going to start taking an antacid before we even do this.
Jon Schuler: Hang on, I'm going to settings is my Blue Ball even on?
Brandon Gore: Your Blue Ball?
Jon Schuler: Yes, there we go, even my Blue wasn't even on; there we go. Now, my Snowball’s on, we’re cool. Ridiculous… How's it going?
Brandon Gore: Just had another enrollment for Pinnacle Concrete Camp, just 10 minutes ago, so that is a total of five this week so far, we've had registered in the last week. So I've had several emails in the last 10 days, now that people have been hitting me up and saying, I want to get into the class is there still room? Yes, there's still room but the pace is picking up and it always does, so if you want to get in, don't wait because it will sell out and when it sells out, that's it. We don't have additional people because we have no place for those additional people to sit and so when we're up in the meeting area and we're showing slides and having discussions if we have too many people, people are standing around or sitting on the floor; things like that and we can't have that, so we cap it, we don't go past that max.
So if you want to get into a class for November, get into the class, otherwise, the next class will be in the spring at some point, not sure when it depends on COVID and travel restrictions all that stuff. If there's a spike again in the winter, which they think might happen, that might influence when we do it, I'm thinking February or March but it's up in the air, we don't know quite yet. The point of that is if you can make November, make November, it's only two and a half weeks away, so if you can make that class, make it and start 2022; I got the year right this time, 2022 off the right way and have a profitable 2022 that's what I'm thinking about today.
Joh Schuler: Well, there you go, and as long as it goes right in the line and has an investment in yourself, investing in your education, investing in success, meeting people. One thing I think that could be said if anybody's come to some of these training classes, boy, you sure become almost a part of the community here, you get to meet people, a lot of these people go on, become friends afterward, businesses and talking to a guy like myself, who comes from a fairly long academic background, Bachelors Degrees, Pharm D's, etcetera, etcetera. The training is a huge part of becoming successful, would you agree?
Brandon Gore: Yes, a hundred percent. Our guest today is Jason Robertson, Artifact Manufacturing, he's in Ohio and Jason's been to, I want to say three Concrete Design School workshops in the last couple of years, he's been to quite a few., he's going to be a good example, we'll speak to him about that. But he's a good example of somebody that's come to classes; those classes have set him up for success and experience and training and knowledge but on top of that, he's made valuable connections and friendships through the trainers and the attendees and network of friends and peers I would say been one of the biggest benefits for him, I guess. I've learned a ton but I made a ton of friends and those people I talk to every day, every week and we bounce ideas off each other, problem-solve, so I think you're right, it's that social network that we create, that sense of community, that Concrete Design School creates that's valuable as well.
Jon Schuler: Well, that’ll be interesting to talk to him because he comes from an academic background as well. I can't remember if he was a Philosophy or Psychology or something like that, but I do remember he came or maybe he was even a professor; I can't remember but it was something along that line.
Brandon Gore: That's the nickname for him, ‘The Professor’
Jon Schuler: The Professor, so maybe it was, I think he was a professor. I like Jason, he's good, sometimes I feel when I talk to him though, he's got this very mild way of talking like I feel like I'm talking to my psychiatrist, you know what I mean? And I've never had a psychiatrist.
Brandon Gore: When we started this podcast, we always had a topic of conversation that we would discuss ahead of time and we're focusing on plasticizers and things like that. Something that we had talked about was proper curing of concrete and what that means and why that's important, do we want to talk about that?
Jon Schuler: Well, sure. It continues to be a massively misunderstood thing is how to properly cure concrete and the reality is concrete to attain its highest density, we don't care about strengths. So let's just talk about density, color saturation, the feasibility of sealing, what we call curing. The best way of curing is ambient steam, meaning you wrap the concrete up, you create the tenting effect, the key is optimal, maintain that heat for a certain period, which ultimately leads down to a path of a quote/unquote, properly cured concrete. If people 99% would just follow that, they'd also watched 99% of their problems go away and most people don't realize that.
Brandon Gore: So if we're properly curing concrete; explain that. What is properly cured concrete? What are the steps people need to take to achieve properly cured concrete?
Jon Schuler: Two things; trap the moisture in the concrete or around the concrete, which would mean what they call cure blankets or fabric directly in contact with the concrete followed by plastic directly over that, which would be trapping the moisture. And then some versions of insulation around that, so that the concrete doesn't just spike up and heat and cool down immediately but instead maintains that heat, that exothermic spike for a prolonged period, minimum 24 straight hours to as much as 36 to 48, which brings in the next caveat would be a heat blanket where the heat blanket is doing nothing more than keeping the insulation warm, not letting the concrete cool down; basically. So those steps which we go over in the workshop, we go over all that stuff at CDS that makes a dramatic performance difference in the concrete and then ultimately sets up a performance difference for the sealing.
Brandon Gore: I will tell you what I do, I know you do it slightly differently than me. I've seen dramatic increases in density and sealer performance from doing this is after the concrete gels. I always cast upside down. GFRC ECC type casting, but after the concrete gels, I cover it with polyester felt, then I cover it with plastic, then I cover it with about four to six layers of just cheap packing blankets to act as insulation and I make sure it goes over the edge of the table. When I come in in the morning and I put my hand underneath there and I check it with a digital thermometer, its 130-140 degrees, 12 to 14 hours later; super warm. You can hardly hold your hand against it, I cover it back up, I just put my hand underneath to check, I cover it back up and I continually check it throughout the day sometimes into the next day.
But what I'm looking for is, I don't do the heating blanket as you do but understand why you do it, but I'm just checking until it gets down to room temperature naturally. And then by doing those steps, it just slows the cool-down of that exothermic spike and so instead of cooling down over two or three hours, or even less than a cold shop, it will take 14, 16, 20 hours to cool down. But by the time it gets to room temperature while it's still covered; then for all arguments sake, it's completed the benefit of the covered cure and at that point, we can uncover it, process the underside; however, we do that and flip the piece over onto foam strips to allow air to circulate, but you will see a dramatic increase in the density.
If you tap on concrete that's cured that way versus concrete just cured in the open air, no covering, no insulation, there's a dramatic resonance, a different tone to the two pieces. So if you cast a one-inch tile and cure properly and you tap on it, it'll sound like porcelain with a ring to it and you can audibly tell. And if you tap on one that wasn't cured that way, it's a thud, there's no resonance. It's just a dull thud and that right there tells you everything you need to know about how dense that concrete is just based on the resonance of those two tiles.
Jon Schuler: I agree a hundred percent. A lot of people do and for me, I just purchased those nine-pound moving blankets that's what's use as my insulation as opposed to your packing blankets. That's all.
Brandon Gore: I was just thinking about when I did that for the very first time, I always grind the underside of my piece, the bottom. What I cast is the top but when I flip it over, it's the bottom but always hit it with a grinder, just a fine grinding wheel that's just going to smooth out any slight little bumps or protrusions like glass fiber. But the first time I ground the underside after it's cured properly, it was noticeably harder and much more difficult to grind smooth. Yeah. Much harder because yeah, before it was soft I could hit it with a grinder and it would just cut it right off, super-fast and it was dusty; tons of dust-up in the air but once I cured it properly the very first time, and I'll tell you the very first time that I cured concrete properly was that conference table at my old studio, that had the fabric formed mountains in the middle of it.
That was the very first piece I ever cured using this method, I learned that from you, when I ground it, it was incredibly dense and difficult to grind compared to the concrete, I'd been casting at that point for eight years. So I had a lot of experience with just air-cured concrete which Hiram Ball had told me; yes, fine, the polymer is a form filming polymer it rises to the surface, you don't need to cover it to cure and that's probably true. But you see tremendous gains by curing it properly, you can cast concrete, that's maybe not going to fall apart when you move it if you're going to hang on the side of a building or whatever it is. A countertop, a sink, a coffee table, we want something incredibly high performance just by that little step of curing it properly overnight will make a tremendous difference in the end product.
Jon Schuler: No question, I'll do a write-up on a monthly tip and probably take pictures. It seems so simple and it is when you think about it, that dramatic change and performance that the concrete is undeniable if a person puts those head-to-head, even in their shop, cast a sample tile, treat them both two different ways, this one air cure, one covered, what we recommend and flip them over. And just like you're saying, the first thing you're going to notice is that tile cured the way we're describing will be incrementally harder which tells you more cement hydration has happened in the same period compared to the one that was air-cured.
Brandon Gore: And I would wager that it is heavier if you put it on a scale.
Jon Schuler: It should be.
Brandon Gore: I would say I've never tested it but I would say just based on my experience, when you cure concrete properly, especially a big piece and you go to flip it, it's heavier than air-cured concrete that's the same size because that first table I made, it was noticeably heavier for me because all that moisture didn't evaporate, it was forced into hydration and into crystalline growth within the concrete itself, instead of just evaporating off into space and creating essentially a sponge material.
Jon Schuler: Well, and that's a whole conversation for a lot of people; I shouldn't say they don't understand but I think it's taken for granted, we keep using this word called hydration and what does that mean is just what you said. What we want is that water to become crystalline. The CSH is the thing that makes the concrete strong. What we don't want is that water to leave as vapor out of the system creating porous, lightweight concrete, comparatively speaking. So when you say it's higher density that's what we're saying, more water has been converted to crystalline form than the one that was not, hence you got a higher quality product.
Brandon Gore: If we cure concrete properly, it equalizes the quality of the concrete year-round in the sense of, if I cast in my shop in the summertime when it's 85 degrees and 70% humidity and I let it air cure, I'm going to have OK concrete but if I cast that same concrete in my shop in wintertime when it's 35, 40 degrees in my shop it’s going to exotherm and then cool extremely quick. I’d have extremely weak concrete in comparison to the concrete I cast in the summer. But if I cover the concrete and cure it properly, it doesn't matter if I cast in July or in January, you're going to get the same result and so it's a great way to get very consistent high performance, high-quality results just by that one step year-round, it doesn't matter what the conditions are, you'll always get great results by doing it that way.
Jon Schuler: Well it solves a lot of problems because just what you say, once you become consistent in what you're doing, how many times, even for us, when we started doing this, it seemed like as seasons changed, we are constantly chasing new problems. Once we figured a way to make our casting and our curing consistent by using consistent steps, our product became consistent and more of our problems went away because we weren't chasing it anymore.
Brandon Gore: I agree. Are you saying consistent or consistence?
Jon Schuler: Consistent with a T? I got this California accent, California man; what's up bro?
Brandon Gore: Why don't we get Jason Robertson on the line and have a chat? What do you say?
Jon Schuler: Sounds good, I like Jason, we'll find out. Seriously, what was he? A philosopher or a psychiatrist, I can't remember.
Brandon Gore: We'll hit him up, there's only one way to find out Jon.
Jon Schuler: Let's do it, let's call him.
Brandon Gore: Jason, Good to hear from you man, how are things going?
Brandon Gore: It's like when we went to Australia, It's a scary dude. We went to Australia, we got our bags searched; we got there, we got pulled out of line, got searched like a deep search. They pulled us into a room and my bag, this lady opened it up and my bag is the most organized bag you've ever seen in your life. I have everything in cubes, I roll my clothes, I color coordinate them, and so t-shirts go from white to black and a gradient. My underwear, my jeans, my socks it's all perfectly organized in cubes in my bag, so she opens up my bag and she goes, did you pack your bag? I was like, yes, why? And then she unzips the first cube, it's my t-shirt cube and she folds it over.
Jon Schuler: Only serial killers pack like that.
Brandon Gore: She opens up my t-shirt cube and she looks at it and she looked at me again and goes, I'm going to ask you one more time, did you or somebody else pack your bag? I was like what are you trying to imply here and right about then Jon's bag, the guard opened his and it springs open because Jon just put everything in there and sat on his bag and the clothes, nothing is folded; nothing's folded, dude. It looks like he just took a garbage bag of clothes and dumped it in there and sat on it, so his bag explodes open and all these clothes just fall out and I'm like, he's the brains of the operation that guy is the smart one. What are you trying to imply here?
Jon Schuler: Good times, Jason how's it going, man?
Jason Robertson: Good, doing well.
Jon Schuler: Good for you but I don't know, tell us something, give us some background, so everybody knows who we are speaking with.
Jason Robertson: So we're in Ohio and we've been at this concrete thing for about a year and a half. So I took my first concrete course, I think it's about six years ago; it was a short concrete course and I met a guy down in Arkansas that was duck hunting and this guy was getting into concrete and he says, go take this course, I went and took the course, it was just a product commercial thing, I didn't learn anything about concrete, I liked the SureCrete rep, so that didn't go well. And then two years later, I ran into this guy again in Arkansas and he's still doing concrete and he'd gone out to Arizona and taken Brandon's course; this is years ago.
And he's like that first course I told you that's nothing, you got to go to this course out in Arizona and at that time I was a full-time faculty member at a university, I was just a hobbyist. My wife wanted concrete countertops and I thought, well, I'm off in the summer. I'll teach myself how to do it and so he said, go take Brandon Gore's class. Well, it took me a couple of weeks, I think Brandon and I traded messages this was going back to 16 or 17 traded some emails back and forth. It wasn't until I think 18 that I finally decided, I'm going to pay for this course and go. And so I went to the course and about that time I was doing my Ph.D. at Northwestern University, I hated academia had to get out, Chicago's a horrible place to live. For us, we didn't like it and we had three boys, we were wanting to raise our kids around our parents and so we're trying to figure out how to get back to Ohio. I had all this money and time invested in education and we just decided, you know what, let's start a concrete business and I think I went back and took a second course with Brandon. And so I gave up a faculty position and we moved back to Ohio to be close to family and that was about two years ago and still, I was here, I wasn't sure if I want to do the concrete, I don't know if I had the competence to do it. But after about six months of trying to find a job and that not going anywhere, I was like, all right let's go for it.
That's leaving out a lot of details, but that's kind of how I got here and how we got started. I got connected with Chuck in one of Brandon's courses and then Chuck connected me to Dusty and became good friends with those guys. I've been back to do another course, I think last year I went to do another course. I've been up to Canada a couple of times working out at Chuck's shop, I've been down to Nashville, a bunch of times working out of Dusty's shop about a year and a half then.
Jon Schuler: Good for you, that's awesome and so if you don't mind me asking, what are you working out of? Do you have a pretty good size shop? Have you stayed small? What do you get going on?
Jason Robertson: It's funny, I've got a three-car garage. It's about 780 square feet, I complain about it all the time, last week's podcasts that Brandon talked about his shop, just putting things away when you use them. It's funny, I started employing that in the last 10 days, and it’s made a difference. I think the space could be better, more organized but I'm grateful for what I have. And I've seen some pictures recently of guys working around a single bay garage, I think, well, it could be a lot worse than what we've got. There's been a couple of projects where we did a 1500 pound island for someone's inch thick profile and I did go down to Nashville and Dusty helped me I just don't have the means to handle it without a forklift; you're not handling that piece. There have been a couple of times where I've gone down there and he's helped me with the bigger projects, but so far, most of what we're doing, we're able to accomplish right here. We've got a 6x12 casting table and it's full right now with concrete, so we're doing the best with what we got.
Brandon Gore: And you're using Maker Mix, right?
Jason Robertson: I don't know if we were an early adopter, but I feel we were; a couple of things about me. One I don't geek out about the chemistry of concrete, I just don't. I'm in a lot of the Facebook groups; groups that you guys have referenced in a couple of other podcasts and there are so many acronyms and mixes and I just don't geek out about the stuff. Quite frankly, I don't have time to, we're trying to do this business, I've got three boys, teenagers they're in sports and I detest batching things out, hated it. The opportunity came along to do this blended mix I've spent, who knows how many hours I've spent on the phone with Jon just since we began our business and try to understand it the best I could.
And we got in on it, I think pretty early on, and immediately loved it. You know, other guys on the podcast and talked about, I used to stand there with plasticizer in my hand; hose in one hand plasticizer in the other, waiting for my mixer to start screaming and I just hated that whole process. The first batch of Maker Mix, I did, the blendability that's not its greatest sales point. The greatest sales point is its performance, the aesthetic, all that stuff but for me, just being practical early on, grabbing those bags, throwing them in the mix, dumping my ice water, and mixing it, I was sold just based on that alone.
Jon Schuler: And that ease of blending. I mean that was some of our early conversations were huge; so that was huge, so that's awesome.
Jason Robertson: Well, it ties into just the lack of space that we have; having little room for all the batching out. I got a skid in my garage, I pull bags off, and I’ve got three boys that work in the business. For the other mix that we were using, there was a design, but it was so subjective. It seemed like, whereas with the Maker Mix, it was more objective. I could say, grab this, grab that, it was just easier for me to let loose of mixing to my kids because I just felt it was simplified.
Jon Schuler: I was going to say usability is a super important aspect of Maker Mix because if it's hard to mix or impossible to mix, you don't want to use it. And so that aspect of the product line, Maker Mix, RADmix, and The Best Plasticizer is by design because we make it super high performance mixed, you can never blend it, you can never mix it up, and you can never pour it. It's that balance.
Jason Robertson: That's sweet, the stress of mixing the concrete, it's gone. For someone who has years of experience, they understand concrete a lot better than I do; that might sound silly but for us, it was a huge selling point. We took a big risk moving our family here and starting this business, I could alleviate as many stresses; there are enough stresses with concrete. I don't need just putting it in the blender and blending it up to be stressful too.
Jon Schuler: As you say, taking the risk, you know, I think you've taken a lot of the risks that a lot of people are doing, right. I mean, per our conversations and I'll let you elaborate on it. You started by essentially taking out a loan and you have had stead-fast, you and your family stead-fast about how you're operating and solely moving forward on a cash-only basis to make your family finances work. So, tell us about that because that is one of the challenges and that you are dealing with.
Jason Robertson: To be fair, my wife is a physical therapist, we've both been salaried employees, our entire adult lives. So we did have money set aside to invest, but when we moved here, we took a $40,000 loan line of credit for the business and well that went quick, spent most of it just on infrastructure, turning not all of that but it was amazing how quickly add up all the tools and polishers and air compressor and getting a casting table built and polishing cards and all of that. So it's scary, to be vulnerable with you, I have family members that think I'm insane. Think about my poor mother, she used to tell people her son was a professor, and when she heard that I was going to do concrete, of course, we live in a different universe than the guy outpouring her sidewalk.
But when she heard I was going to give up my faculty position to do concrete, she was devastated. It's a huge risk. There are still people that think I'm crazy for what we're doing, I'll be honest with you there are days where I'm out in the garage, we call it the shop because it just calls it, my garage doesn't feel official, but we call it our shop. There are times where I say, what in the world have I done? One of the cool things about the past year is I've built a nice network of people that I can talk to and that's what's gotten through the last year and a half, having guys that experienced the same challenges with concrete and regardless of the bet one year or 20 years of experience with it. So it's a vulnerable place to be for sure.
Brandon Gore: It is vulnerable, but it isn't. I worked in corporate America, not as long as you did but I worked in that world and I can't imagine academia with all the politics and everything that goes along with that. If you're not happy, you're not happy. And if you don't want to do that, you only live once and I think too many people feel you're going to live forever and you could get t-boned by a truck today when you back out of your driveway and that's that, and I think we all think we're going to go on and we're not. And taking risks is what it's all about and doing what you want to do and then it might work out, it might not work out, but that's life and even when it doesn't work out, that is part of the experience.
Everything doesn't go great all the time. So, I feel what you're saying and I felt the same way, there have been many times that I think what the hell am I doing right now? But then I remember like, dude, you just look at a photo from a hundred years ago of all these happy people that have huge plans and ambitions standing in front of their shop with a brand new sign. And they're going to take over the world and not a single person in that photo is alive and every one of their stresses and worries and bills and taxes and everything, they have no longer a worry and nobody even remembers what they did or what they went through. So, I just always remind myself this is just a temporary experience and try to make the most of it and have a good time, even when it feels overwhelming, just realize it's not going to last forever man, and make the most of it.
Jason Robertson: And I guess I'm focusing on the challenges of it but the positive side of it, I taught for 10 years. If you're a professor in a university and you're teaching anything in the humanities, I taught in the Philosophy Department, I taught Philosophy and Religion courses, World Religion courses and if you're teaching those courses, you're teaching a bunch of students that don't give a shit about anything you're talking about; no one's majoring in philosophy anymore. So I'm just teaching Gen Ed courses and I'm with a bunch of students that don't want to learn, they're not in college to learn, they're just there to get a degree. When I turned 40, I started evaluating what I wanted in the next 25 years old to look like and what I wanted my kids to see.
And I still value education but I don't know that I'm just going to send my kids to college and I've seen the other side of it and I think having this business, having them work in it, if we build this to what we hope it will be, I think for being still in our infancy, we're doing quite well. I want to push my boys toward a trade, if that's what they want to go, there are some professions, engineer, doctor, or whatever that you need to go to college but there are a lot of students that go to college, they have no idea what they want to do and they take on tens of thousand dollars in debt and we're just not going to steer our kids that way. So some of the journeys for us have been not just about me and my detesting academia, but what is it that we want to instill in our kids? So we're still trying to figure out what that's going to look like, but that's a part of it.
Jon Schuler: Along the same line, for a guy who's got two different bachelor's degrees, went on to get a Pharm D and et cetera, et cetera. I'm not going to say any of it like Jason saying, I would never say any of that's wasted, everything I learned along that path is all things that have molded me into who I am now. But when I made that same thing that change over that risk, I started at nothing and Amy will tell you we didn't have kids yet, I had nothing but a credit card, and the only room I had for buying a polisher or more cement or whatever the case may be was to max the card out, pay the card down, max the card, pay the card down, so that balance was scary. And those challenges are like, you're trying to do Jason is what I'm dealing with my kids now too, is looking back on what I've experienced and seeing how that experience helps mold them, not just trades they can go any direction they want, but I'm certainly not pushing. I guess what I was saying is college is not the only answer, following these dreams, taking these risks all can be extremely stressful, but at the same time, it can have some amazing rewards and that's part of the story.
Jason Robertson: For sure, Brandon to your point, a lot of the Western educational system has mostly focused on cognitive intelligence and there's a lot of brilliant men and women in academia that could not navigate, I'll give you an example; one of my colleague’s chair fell apart and it's just a little screw that fell out of his chair and I watched as our floor secretary walked a screwdriver down to his office and fix his chair because this guy was all locked up over a screw that fell out of his chair and I would see this stuff and I would go, what in the world is going on, where this guy can't even fix his chair and yet he's considered by so many students as a brilliant guy and of course, advancements in social sciences.
We know that there are other types of intelligence, there's not just cognitive intelligence, there's emotional intelligence, there's intuitive intelligence and what we're doing now in this business, I think it's requiring all of that, its wisdom of decisions and having an intuition about not just the material we're using but about the types of projects that we either take on or we don't take on. And so in this world of concrete none of my concrete friends have even master's degrees or PhDs, but they're brilliant people in their own right. Dusty Baker's not going to go earn a Ph.D., but the dude is brilliant in his way and as we've started to get to know people in this industry, I just compared to a lot of the faculty that I taught alongside, I'm seeing people far more talented, far wiser, and far more intuitive. And in this world that I feel these are my people and that's the best way I could say it. Just as I've gone to the classes and I've sat around the table in your conference room and I just feel at home, these are well, not all of them but most of them you feel like...
Jon Schuler: He's talking about you, Brandon.
Jason Robertson: I consider both of you guys incredibly, intelligent guys, I mean, far more so I don't know what I'm trying to say, other than we fell into this feeling like these are people that we want to network with, people that get us, people that we feel comfortable with around a craft that we've fallen in love with, it kicks my ass daily but that I'm in love with it nonetheless and so, I have zero regrets.
Brandon Gore: Well, we just live in a world, I dated a girl in Arizona that she went to Art Center for illustration and her education was $120,000 is what it costs for a four-year degree at Art Center. And luckily she had a dad that was a lawyer that funded that bill but I can't imagine being 18 years old and taking on $120,000 in debt just to get a degree and that's what we're asking kids to do for so many different things. And there was a time in the eighties and nineties where degrees were much more relevant, but I think today I dropped out of high school when I was 17. High school wasn't challenging to me, I felt and my wife says it's different now. I don't know how it's different but I felt when I was in school, the class only moves as fast as the slowest person in that class.
So if there's somebody that's not grasping, whatever the concept is, whether it's algebra or trigonometry or whatever, the class gets held up by that person and the rest of us were just sitting there like come on, bro, let's go, we're running out of time. Let's get through this chapter, take the test and move on but I felt it was always being slowed down, so I wasn't challenged by school, I dropped out when I was 17, I went to college for a little while; again, it just seemed to me I was going through the basic classes, I'm taking things because I have to take them not because I want to learn them. I'm not going to retain any of this and the whole thing just didn't feel to me like what I wanted to do, I didn't want to get a four-year degree.
I didn't care about a four-year degree; I didn't care. My parents wanted me to get my GED when I dropped out. When I was 17, they were like, well, at least get your GED and I got it and they framed it, which I thought was hilarious, they took it down and got it framed in this big gold frame, I was like, what are you going to do with that? You're going to hang it on your wall like my GED, who cares? Do you know? But I think especially today, in this day and age, we're looking at that system and we're saying that's not necessarily the pathway to having a successful life because you can come, not to make this a plug for Concrete Design School, but you can come to Concrete Design School and spend $4,000 on a class versus a hundred thousand plus for a college education.
And there's a lot of people over the last 15, 16 years that have come to a class, spent that money, and started successful businesses that are still operating today that have made a very good income year after year by learning a trade. People learn how to make things with their hands that people want to buy and I think there's something to be said about that and it's not just concrete. Guys are going into woodworking now a lot more than I used to see, people are going into glassblowing, metalworking, all these different trades where there's not necessarily a traditional college route for that, but they make a very good living and they support their families and they do something they love to do and that's where we are right now.
Jason Robertson: It just feels like an honorable task, an honorable journey to me. Being a professor at the end of the day, you look back and say what do I have to show for what I'm investing here and certainly I have relationships with former students and all of that, but at the end of the day, in our shop or delivering a piece of concrete, for me, it's more satisfying, it's rewarding and it's tangible, so much of what you do in the academic world is, particularly in philosophy, discipline just live with your head in the clouds but some of my brightest students never finished, they dropped out, they were bored. Again, the Western education system tends to work well for very task-driven people, they get their work done on time and some brilliant people can't thrive in that system.
Brandon Gore: For sure, what did you think about Adler? He was a psychiatrist, he's also into philosophy to some extent as he was a Sigmund Freud peer - Adler do you know who I'm speaking of?
Jason Robertson: No and that's more modern philosophy, that's like any other discipline there's philosophy goes back quite a while.
Brandon Gore: His whole thing was essentially, the very dumbed-down version of his message, was absolute freedom is not caring what anybody thinks about you, living your life from a place of absolutely not doing anything based on other people's perception of you, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and I'm phrasing it for where we live today, but the house you live in, you don't do anything for anybody, but he also had this philosophy about raising kids, and essentially letting kids, unless it's going to do them physical harm, let them do whatever they want to do in a public space. If they're acting up, let them act up, if they want to jump in the pool in the middle of wintertime, if they're not going to drown, let them do it, they're not going to do it again, let kids be kids and retain that wildness to them because that's an important part of being a human. But it was interesting, I read this whole book on Adler and his view of the world and it was interesting for sure.
Jason Robertson: That's been part of our journey. It's funny you bring that up because I have a conversation with another friend about the whole social media thing with this world of concrete. In my academic career, you're always being judged, you have to publish, you have to write, you're presenting, and you're always trying to earn your worth. For 10 years, I was running around trying to say, everybody look at me, tell me I'm smart, tell me I'm important and now with the concrete world, you see the personalities that are out there doing that. I'm not active in the social media stuff with our concrete, I know we have to, it's a necessary evil for driving our business, getting more business, and all of that but I don't do a lot of posting on my stories and all of that, just because this dark place in my life where I ran around trying to get affirmation all the time.
And part of this journey with this new business is I just don't want to do that anymore, it's funny because these Facebook groups that you guys have again, referenced in other podcasts, it doesn't matter whether you're academia or whatever field you're in, the personalities are the same. So the names and faces change but the personalities are all the same, so you've got the try hard, and you got the people that no matter what it is, they're going to disagree with it. One of the cool things about this journey is I feel pretty free from all that stuff, I don't have to care to the extent that it drums up business for us but I see all these sealer groups and mix groups that I'm a part of and it's all the same people from my teaching days, their faces and names are different but it's the same people.
Jon Schuler: The only group I even go to anymore, I do jump around between Concrete Design School, but mostly just I'm on the ICT group page, answering questions, trying to be a part of that, helping people be successful. That's become my primary focus over the years now is, you know, doing what I can, whatever that means, phone calls like I was just talking about sending Jason some videos when I was casting something, you know, whatever the case may be. And I'm far more focused now on just helping those who want to be successful, ones who don't want to fight with me, don't want to tell me what we're doing is wrong or whatever the case may be is focused on instead of people's success, which Jason you're moving forward right now. I mean, last year when I talked, you asked what seemed to me anyway, some pretty big things on your plate moving forward.
Jason Robertson: We were as busy as we've been in a year and a half when we moved back to Dayton and we have a lot of contacts here and I had a good friend who owns a software company. They just bought a building in downtown Dayton and he said, man, if you move back to Dayton and start this business, we'll just put concrete throughout the building and they completely delivered on that promise. They were what got us started and they were buying products from me before I hadn't made much concrete and we were getting these commercial contracts. And then in recent months, we're still trying to figure out, do we want to be in a commercial space? Residential? Is it both? But we have three or four breweries that we're bidding on right now and I think one is a done deal.
And what a huge opportunity for us. Residential jobs we're writing quotes all the time, Facebook marketplace, I still know how I feel, we had a bunch of tire-kickers on Facebook marketplace that doesn't pan out too much, but just in the last couple of months...
Brandon Gore: That's a waste of time.
Jason Robertson: I agree. Finally, my wife took all that stuff off my phone; she goes, you let me handle social media because she's not annoyed by tire-kickers, she'll respond to me, give it all you got, I can't deal with it but when I say I'm busy that's for us, I'm still not putting out the amount of work that says Dusty or other guys are doing, but I will say this, I got my latest pallet of Maker Mix last week, I think about 10 days ago and it will be gone in three weeks, so that's pretty good for us. We were doing a pallet of Maker Mix every three months and we're going to have a pallet that lasts us about four weeks, so I think for a small shop that's pretty good.
Brandon Gore: That's huge man, no, you're working at a faster clip than I'm working. I don't go through a pallet every three weeks. I have a pallet showing up today, but that'll last me for two months, probably.
Jason Robertson: And again, this hasn't happened before and last year was October, November was our busiest month of the year. We had months this past year where I look at our QuickBooks and I have $0 that came in. We're enjoying this month right here, but it's a struggle we jumped into it, I talked to Edgar, Edgar was a guest on a podcast and he'd been working with Dusty for eight months. And Edgar is, he's a talented kid his work ethic is off the charts and I don't say kid in any kind of negative way, but anyway, he was down at Dusty's we're there together. And I said, man, when are you going to launch out on your own? He goes, man, I just don't think I'm ready. I'm like, dude, I started a business having not made a piece of concrete by myself, I'm like, you are more than ready I'm actually scared me when he said that like, oh man, if he's not ready, what the heck am I doing? This guy, he's more than ready, but..
Brandon Gore: Well we're all letting our own insecurities hold us back to some extent, wherever that may be we're all holding ourselves back. Nothing besides ourselves, keeps us from doing the things we're capable of doing.
Jon Schuler: Well. And the other thing you're touching on, but I'll just interject on that is finding that balance. You either get big and bring on a lot of mouths to feed and there's plenty of people who have done that or you stay smaller and you just find that I'm going to say fit now, You find that fit that works for you and your family, you're paying your bills, you're getting your mortgage done, you're also spending plenty of time with your, in your case, three boys and a wife that for me anyway. And that goes back to another story when Amy and I moved back to where we're living now in Murphys, California, when we made that decision to have children, we also made the decision that neither one of us were going to be that parent that couldn't be around because they were working so much that you couldn't go to the birthday party or you weren't here for Saturday morning breakfast or whatever the case may be. And we personally have found that so, that's part of the struggle as well.
Jason Robertson: Yes, for sure I agree.
Brandon Gore: Well, I've seen a lot of guys go through the cycle of getting big and it seems seductive. You're like, man, I could have 10 employees I could get a CNC, I could get a Striebig wall saw so I could get all these fancy tools, a box truck, but the beast has to be fed and it never stops demanding to be fed. So when you get that machine going, it's always needing to be tended to and so you have to be out there, drumming up business, drumming up business. So you're not in your shop, you're not doing quality control. I went through that a very small amount. I had six employees, but those six employees plus a front office person plus myself so eight people all together required, for me, my biggest expense was salaries for my employees. So I had to just keep this constant stream of business coming in to sustain that, which means I was never in my shop and the quality started going down.
This was back in Phoenix, I don't know, 2007-ish, 2008, the quality started going down and it wasn't that they weren't doing their best. They were, but their best and my best are two different things - my level of quality and what I expected from the pieces going out the door was different than their level of quality. It got to the point where I wasn't proud of what we were shipping out, I wasn't proud of the pieces that we were delivering to clients. Economically, I couldn't constantly redo everything that came out that wasn't to my liking. So when the market crashed and I had to lay off a bunch of people and it got down to just me and a couple employees, that was actually a blessing for me because I was able to get back in the shop. I had way less debt to tend to; I didn't need to have so much business and quality went up.
Jason Robertson: Yes, I think for us, I don't know if we're just aiming too low, but we have no ambitions of growing this to some huge concrete business or, my journey and it probably will be clear as I listen back to this podcast, that's more of an existential one. It's concrete is somewhat incidental to the personal journey that I'm on and feeling fulfilled and rewarded and what I'm doing, having something I can make with my hands that I'm proud of the interactions that I get with our clients all of that. And we lived in Chicago and we chased what we thought was success and I would never say we were the type of people to chase prestige at all. But I think probably doing that more than even what we realized and we're ambitious, don't get me wrong, you don't just launch a business like we did without having some ambition, but I don't have any desires to, I plan on staying in my three car garage, as long as I can I'd love a shop. I'm jealous I see on the Facebook when guys get new shops and that would be awesome to do, but for right now, we're pretty humble little company and it's it's rewarding and it's fun and to your point, Brandon, I think it's ultimately going to be more profitable.
Brandon Gore: I would say, you know what's awesome? Having a new shop is nice and having a big shop is nice, but what's also nice is not having that big payment, that's nice.
Jon Schuler: Well, part of your journey, you've told me about Jason, I'm going to tell you a couple of words that stuck with me that I'm just going to say, made me feel proud when you said them to me as part of your journey is how confident you are now in what you're producing. I remember you telling me that and, and just that alone being part of your success, whatever minutiae of that, helping you with that's pretty cool, man.
Jason Robertson: Yes. So I I've said this to clients before, I don't know if 10 years I could have done this with the sealer, I was always terrified of the sealer aspect of it. As I think a lot of people are and I've told clients, I don't know what's happening 10 years ago because I wasn't in this world then. But just from what I pick up from conversations, the way that technology has changed with sealers of course we exclusively use ICT and have from the beginning. I think the biggest thing when we got our first pallet and Maker Mix, so we bought this house in Ohio and we gutted it and then we put concrete, everywhere, sinks, countertops, hearth, even like built-ins for under our TV, we put concrete everywhere and we've turned our house kind of into a studio where, when we meet with designers or architects, we invite them over to the house.
We'll have a glass of wine, we'll show them like different finishes or whatever, so that's what we did. And I know a lot of people wouldn't be comfortable with that, but we've taken a very personal approach to how we're doing business again, because we plan on staying small. I plan on touching everything, anything that artifact does, I'm touching it, so it's just the route that we've chosen to go. So we put Maker Mix in every room and I have three teenagers who are pigs. You know, Jon yesterday, I saw someone posted something in the ICT page about some soap or something on a vanity I'm like, yes, we've had those, they'll go away. I've seen what our kids have done in our house and what's given us confidence is just using the stuff. It's pretty scary, our first concrete countertop we put in homes I didn't even have concrete myself, I didn't know how it was going to perform. I said the things I knew I was supposed to say based on what I heard, the people that I respect say, but I didn't know, I was stressed and a year and a half that we've been in business. We have not had one single call back on our product. That, in tandem with living with concrete, with kids that don't clean anything is what ultimately has given us confidence in the product that we're using.
Brandon Gore: That's a result of you investing in training so you learned how to do things the right way, you didn't make the mistakes, doing things incorrectly and then you invested in high quality products because yes, I assure you, had you gone the school of Hard knocks and you decided I'm just going to get on Facebook and do a mix that guys are posting about. And hey, the sealer everybody's talking about this week, let me go get some of that. It would have been a completely different scenario. You would have had peeling, scratching, delamination, staining because we've all been down that road and it's a painful road. Dusty can tell you about it, I've done it, Jon's done it, Chuck, your friend, Chuck he's done it. Those, those things are a thing of the past a lot of guys haven't learned that lesson yet.
They didn't pay for training and they haven't invested in the right materials and they're still going through that pain day in, day out. But living with it is super important because yes, I have a coffee table in my house that my girls right now are coloring on it with marker. I swear to you, when I go in there, there's going to be black and red and blue all over it. They spill stuff on it every day and I take acetone and a magic eraser, wipe it off, clean it, it looks brand new and that's been there for years and it just gets beat to hell day after day I've never resealed it.
Jon Schuler: I'm guessing having direct access to those people that designed these products that you're using that helps a lot too. So that, you know at least you're calling somebody for tech support and confidence that they know what they're talking about not just read something off a sheet.
Jason Robertson: Yes. And I think that's got to be pretty unique, as I said, I've spent hours on the phone with you, Jon of just questions and you were right earlier when you sent those videos to me on that Saturday of you casting concrete, I'm like, how in the hell is this guy so calm? And I showed these videos to my wife and my wife was like, and if our kids saw that video, they might ask for a new daddy. I'm like, I know because when they put on concrete I don't ask, I'm so nervous doing something wrong or you know, that's actually getting a little bit better. But just the fact that you on a Saturday would send me videos of something we had talked about earlier in the week, I just believe that's it's got to be rare and it's not to say that any product is perfect because I know it doesn't matter what industry it is, there's no such thing as perfection. But the customer service that we've received with this product, it's invaluable. To this day I said we have no callbacks, but we probably will, I see them in the Facebook group. So it's probably only a matter of time before we may be having an issue and that's okay. But once that happens, having access to the people who designed it or people that have gone through it, it's invaluable.
Brandon Gore: I want to hit one other point and I'll get Jon to chime in on this. But the DustyCrete aesthetic that we train in our classes, the upright casting techniques, which there's a lot of different looks, you can get with that, but it's a hand tooled finish, whether it's DustyCrete, upright casting. In my opinion, those finishes are far superior in real-world everyday applications for minimizing wear because they camouflage an imperfection. I do as-cast GFRC, very modern, very monotone and clean. And if you get a soap ring, you'll see it because there's no other mottling of color on that surface so it stands out. But if it was DustyCrete or upright cast or more industrial, like you're doing Jason, then you don't see those things or you don't see them as much. And that's another way you can minimize client call backs or worries is if they don't notice it, then it's not a problem.
Jon Schuler: Agreed. I call it life friendly, life friendly surfaces.
Jason Robertson: That was one of the reasons I'm nervous about GFRC, I finished out some GFRC samples today and we got the job. So, it's going to be my first GFRC piece that we've done and it's a fireplace surround and hearth, so I'm not as concerned if, maybe it was a sink or something, but not there are issues with that, but it is one of the reasons, Jon, you and I have talked a lot about and I'm sure other people go through this, we've been doing this a year and a half. I'm trying to figure out like, what is our look? We've learned Dusty's technique, Dusty wisely is always changing things up and experimenting with new looks and we're still trying to figure out what our thing is.
I don't know if the full-blown GFRC is our thing, we have noticed that Maker Mix does interact with DustyCrete powder a little bit differently, neither good, nor bad. It's just, it is a little bit different than the product we were using but I think it's just natural, whatever your discipline is, you want to start to carve your own path. So, you start with your mentors, you kind of replicate what it is that they taught you what you're doing, but we're now in this transition where we're trying to figure, okay, but what is our thing? Like what is it that we're going to do? We're starting to just play with concrete more, I don't know, Phil Courtney comes to mind, he is someone who's always playing with concrete and he's always doing things and I've thought that I need to be doing that more, just playing more, trying to figure out what it is that we're going to do.
I'm glad that we're doing these GFRC pieces because it's given me some exposure to something we haven't done. The samples that I made with Maker Mix, they look incredible, I'm super thrilled with them that's the newest part of the journey something Jon, you and I have talked about. It's overwhelming; it's also exciting that I'm to the point where I don't just want to mimic what other people are doing, but try to find what our thing is going to do.
Jon Schuler: Tell your story.
Jason Robertson: Yes, be a little more versatile with the materials that we're using, Maker Mix has some versatility to it that we've not even hardly scratched the surface of getting into it. I think that's the next phase of our journey is trying to figure out what our thing is going to be.
Jon Schuler: I'm just going to throw my little story in there, which started creating my way if you going to call it my style, if you will. Is years ago, we were down in San Francisco and they were converting some of the old warehouse spaces, either into apartments and so forth. And I saw the same thing was happening in Georgia when I'd go out to meet with Sean and those guys in Covington. And they were transforming old, dilapidated old factories and stuff into condos and so forth and so on. And as I walked through this place, I referred to it as telling a story, I would look at these old concrete floors done in like, let's say the late eighties, early 19 hundreds. And over those years, these patterns in these scratches and all this stuff that happened to those floors, then they just came in and sealed them.
They didn't come in with grinding equipment or anything like that, which was another part. The first time I went out to Brandon's, I went by myself because I was just out there by myself and I went to have breakfast at the Crescent hotel, that old hotel that sits up there. And when I was sitting there at breakfast, I took pictures of it and I looked down at the old wood floor and it just blew my mind trying to capture the moments in time that created the story. The markings, were all over this floor, what were these were some dance parties, wedding parties, whatever. So from that point on that's when I started looking at what I was doing to say how do I create a story? So it's not about being a perfect finish, it's not about any of that and so when the upright casting techniques that I show and how to create different finishes, that's the mindset that I started coming from is how do I create a story in these finishes that no matter where you look, it's creating something unique and something that tells a story, if that makes sense.
Brandon Gore: If you want to create an aesthetic as your selling point, which you can create a product, a design like the Modern Muskoka chair, that's the design that I'm selling or Dusty is selling a finish, DustyCrete. And so, there's different ways to approach that but if you're doing a finish as your selling point, then upright casting, in my opinion, has the widest range of possibility because it's limitless Jon and me in one class just by switching up when he trowels and which trowels he uses will have drastically different finishes from this piece to that piece and it's insane to see the end product and how little tiny shifts in the process have such a big impact on the end result. So, I think that's really for guys wanting to develop a look, that's the way to do it. And the other thing I want to say, Jason is your company name Artifact Manufacturing is brilliant because we always talk about Michael Karmody, but it's an artifact of the process. Everything we do, all the imperfections in the piece is an artifact of the process of creating that piece. So that company name is such a good company name for what this business is.
Jason Robertson: But you know, what's ironic about that and this is something that Chuck and Dusty give me grief about all the time. I am one who's way too particular; it's so funny to hear. Dusty says, why did you name your company Artifact again? Because I'm the one I pick apart, everything that we do, every single thing.
Brandon Gore: Because you’re new, we all did that.
Jon Schuler: Yes, we all did that.
Jason Robertson: I chose it, I hate everything that leaves our shop because there's just so much artifact left to it. He's like, but that's why we named our company it was about embracing the process, the handmade product and the imperfections that are reflections of the handmade-ness of it to make up a word. And so we've named our business Artifact and I tend to be the one that struggles most. So we have balance in our company because she is like, no, I think that's beautiful I love that part of it. But yes, Brandon you're right, when you’re any business, but I think especially concrete because of the particular difficulties of it, you are fundamentally insecure and I hope that that subsides over time as we get more competent. But that has been one of the big struggles is living into our own company name, embracing our own company name, not just as a name on a website, but as a reality of the very product making, that's been one of the tougher parts of our journey for sure.
Brandon Gore: Well, it's a process. Every single concrete person goes through it and you'll go through it, it's a circle, you'll go through it again and again and again. And so you'll go through the process of falling in love with the concrete, which was imperfect and then you start trying to become good at it. So you take classes, you buy these great products and then you're trying to make a perfect product, which concrete isn't, but you're trying, and you're unhappy, which you're in that stage right now. I did this and there's this one little spot that's different, more mottling of color than I wanted because the concrete does what the concrete wants to do. But that's what the client likes as your wife is kind of the balance she looks like no, that's what makes it beautiful it's that imperfection that makes it unique and not Corian or anything else, but then you'll fall in love with it again, and then you'll embrace it.
This is great, but then something shifts in you again, because it's happened to me numerous times. And then you're back to that again it's like, you pop it out and you're like, there's one little water stain right here or water with down between the form and I hate it. And then the client sees it they're like, my God, I love it man, look at this spot right here I love this. And you're like, oh, because you forgot, somehow you forgot what you once knew, you forgot that people love the imperfection so it's very cyclical just goes around and around it's part of it.
Jason Robertson: Well, I've never heard anyone articulate it like that but as you're talking, that's precisely what I've experienced in a year and a half, probably two times where I just started feeling confident, comfortable with what we're making and all of a sudden, I had a moment about two months ago where I wondered like, can I do this? I didn't love anything we're make it, now we would deliver and people would go nuts over what we had made that drive to their house I was terrified I didn't sleep at night because I saw things that I wish were different. And I had one experience very much like you're saying where the one place I was worried about ended up being the thing that they pointed out and love the most.
Jon Schuler: Another part of that is as you're driving there, knots are in your stomach, not just about what's you're pulling on your trailer, on your A-frame or sitting in the back of your truck its then thinking like, how am I going to justify this invoice that I'm giving them? Because I'm thinking it from this point of view and if they end up not liking it, oh shoot, should I take 200 more dollars off of that? Are they going to hand me a check? That's a big part of it too, when you're going through that insecurity in what you're doing, because per the cycle, we all go through it.
Jason Robertson: There's that imposter syndrome, which I certainly felt in academia that I'm not that good. So you deliver, it's your successes that ultimately create fears for you because you do something well and then you start to think, well, man, I'm just an imposter, I'm not that good. What if I don't do this well again? And so, again, I said it before, but this whole venture into the concrete world is very existential, it is about the product. But the growth that I think I've experienced, my wife has experienced our kids have experienced watching their dad go from working in a university to play in with dust in the garage. It's not about just concrete it's about life and it's been a fun journey.
And again, thankfully along the way, I've had good friends Chuck and Dusty are the two guys I've mentioned multiple times, these are guys, I talked to every single day. I've had tremendous support from those guys as we've gotten started and these are guys that now know everything that going on with my kids and all of that. And without that network, again, you guys, Jon, we spent hours on the phone, Brandon; I've reached out to you a bunch of times about, hey, what material do I need for this or that?
Brandon Gore: That's a great point that a support structure, support network is so important and Dusty and Chuck are both people you met through Concrete Design School training, which is another benefit of coming to a class as you make those connections with people that are there after the class ends, that you have that connection and that's super valuable.
Jason Robertson: Troy Adkins is another one who I met at Concrete Designs, I bet I could list 20 people I've met at the classes I've been to and any one of them, I could send a message on Facebook or Instagram and it's been remarkable just the way that people have responded been helpful. I know there is, the negativity out there in social media. I only see it from a distance because my personal experience has been collaborative spirits congeniality lots of support. I've had guys that I've mentioned to Dusty saying, we'll just reach out to them like Luke Works, I don't even remember his name and those companies, Luke Works. He's someone who I've reached out a couple of times and I mean, just incredibly responsive and helpful and these are all Concrete Design School folks and so, yes, the network is strong for sure.
Brandon Gore: Guys, I actually have a delivery of Maker Mix, he just called me I had to mute my mic here, but he's going to be here any second so he's calling me again. So I got to wrap this up, Jason, great talking to you. I'm going to hop off here you and Jon to wrap it up, but we'll chat soon.
Jon Schuler: All good Jason, good talking to you, man we'll talk again.
Jason Robertson: Yes good talking to you guy's, thank you bye.
Jon Schuler: Take care.