BAM Connect Stories - Episode 1 - Seeds of Kenosis Design

We visited Kenosis Design in Timisoara. Andreas gave us a workshop tour and showed us how oak wood, rejected by others and full of imperfections, is transformed into a beautiful, perfect table where people gather to connect in cafes, restaurants, and homes. "We take a piece of wood thrown away by people, cracked, knotty, and thought worthless. We use expensive resin and brass bow ties. We repair the wood so its imperfections are no longer a problem, then blend it with other materials and make a beautiful table. We do the same with people. We take in the rejected, broken people here, invest in them, help them repair their imperfections, put them together with others in the community, and have a purpose together, to serve a meal."

Andreas, can you tell us about your mission and why you exist as Kenosis Design?

The main reason we exist is that society does not look what it was meant to be. There is something very wrong with it in many aspects. We are trying to make the world look slightly like it was meant to look. And where we focus our attention right now is the Roma that are marginalized, pushed aside, not invested in, and living in extreme poverty because of the wounds of being pushed aside from society. Our mission is to bridge that gap, to communicate with society and the marginalized, the Roma. We tried to bridge this gap by investing in marginalized communities. We hope not just they will find a job and some money. Our hope is so much more significant. It is really about the things in our lives, the things we value: community, forgiveness, vision, hope, love, and even God. We are trying to create a model where we invest those riches, and of course, with that comes money riches too, but first of all, those more profound things of community, forgiveness, and hope.

What problem do you solve for your customers?

Wood has power in it, having natural in this concrete world. We give them the organic, the natural, the living that reminds a person that there is more than your office, computer, and screen. It’s so much more beauty around you, something real and natural.

Can you describe some of the products that you are creating here?

We are trying to make high-end furniture and accessories as sustainable as possible for society, the person, the material, and the customer. We use genuine materials, like massive wood, and we are trying to make this high-end luxury furniture in a very organic and natural way that speaks a lot.

What are you doing for your employees to help them to grow?

We invite them to be our family. If you are in this, you are part of the family. Our interest in your personal life is almost as biggest as your working life, so if bad things are happening, such as sickness, accidents, or problems, we are very happy to get involved and stand with you in that because we are looking at the person holistic, we want to invest in you so that your community will continue to grow. We are giving them loans and tools to build their houses. We are walking together in this kind of family. For those who can’t read and write, we stand with them in that. If they do not have a drive's license, we stand with them in that, and also, many of their kids are going to our school homework club.

How do they learn this trade? How do they learn to create these beautiful tables?

First of all, the Roma are good craftsmen. They love to do it. From day one, they start with doing a part of a table, sanding the table, and then slowly they go into cutting it. They grow in different ways here, with many people and different talents. I am putting them together; another guy teaches them how to do it. When somebody comes to me and says, hey, I want my son to come and work here, then my answer to him is, I want to employ your son, but I can’t because you are too messy, I need to put all my attention up to you. But if you learn the trade and you are interested in and watch the Instagram and Facebook videos, and you get into this so I don’t need to come every day and show you what to do and how to do it when you make too many mistakes, then we will employ your son. And you are to teach him. I teach you, and you will teach him. What we try to do is not the idea that I teach one hundred people. The idea is that it will be a movement, I teach you, and you will teach the next person, and you take that person under your wings.

How do you reach your customers?

Right now, mainly through spreading our words, recommendations, and Instagram and Facebook. Five years ago, when we started, we were unique in what we do, now there are twenty workshops like us, different sizes, but doing the same kind of staff. So now, we need to become better at reaching our customers and reaching wider. We never really paid for ads, but we need to become better at selling in the future. Also, Adi Hădean, a chef in Romania, liked what we did and promoted us on TV. We have got some publicity through that too.

You now have 20 people in your workshop. How do you reach your employees?

The beauty is that there are never to ask or announce. I had never put out the work. We did now for the accountant to help with accounting, but the rest is always like people given to us or people who have been interested in what we're doing and asked to come and work. People come here and like what we are doing and our vision and want to be part of it. They hear about the vision, they get attached to people, and they stay and are interested. The Roma usually comes because they like what we are doing and want to be part of that. Can I get the job? So far, I have never really needed to put any work into it, which is good because it is very different when you get through recommendations and know the person. You are somehow connected.

What kind of relationship do you develop with your customers, and how are they involved in your mission?

We're going through around 1000 individual orders a year, about 600 clients. We have an amazing Italian guy who made a restaurant and he just became a friend and a promoter of what we do. He has a fancy Italian restaurant in the city center and invites all the kids from the community where the dads have worked and other kids to go in and eat in that restaurant. He also organized a fundraising dinner for us. One of our clients is the manager of the Profi store. He became our friend, and we learned how to find projects together. Everything from regular customers says, " Wow, this is a lovely table; thank you, I love this. How can we help you? I can organize a fundraising dinner for you. For example, at one of these dinners, somebody gave us the money to buy a container building for a classroom. There are some beautiful relationships, and some are just normal relationships.

Is there any way that you try to communicate the Gospel with them?

Yes, because for me it is so easy. They ask me what you do, and what we do is the Gospel. They ask me what Kenosis is, and I say it is one of the most beautiful words I know. When you find yourself in a privileged position, you can take advantage of people and put people under you. They bring to you what they work for as a company leader. Kenosis is when you voluntarily and with joy renounce that place and become their servant, and that’s what we are doing here. The higher you become, the more you serve the people beneath you. And, of course, I say, that’s come for the Bible, from Jesus. He became the Emperor but came down to become the servant and wash the feet. And that is something I am so caught up with. I never had to excuse that because nobody is against Jesus and his way of serving. I never met somebody saying, no, that’s completely wrong. Somebody may say that’s stupid but beautiful. We had a “Romania te iubesc” Interview, and he said I love this, but of course, I can’t live this. For me, presenting the Gospel is a challenge. You are not allowed to say I love you. You can only love somebody, which is a hundred times harder. It's always easy to say I love you, but when you day to day stands with somebody, that’s a great challenge. There was an Interview with Banca Transilvania, and I spoke about this, that we are here to see people, to meet people, to help people, and the interview guy said, hey, this is like when you start a company church, it’s like you want heaven. I said to him, hey, what do you want? Do you want hell? I want the most beautiful thing that can happen. When we describe what we do, we preach the Gospel. People recognize this and ask why you preach so much within the company. I say, hey, unless we do this, we will all destroy this world with money in our pockets.

Can you describe what a day looks like here in the Kenosis workshop? What are the key activities?

Let’s start with the most challenging task. We will never manage to do it unless we do not love, serve, and help one another. So, either we stay hungry and selfish and bankrupt, or we learn to collaborate and live these things together, and we eventually end up with money in our pockets and friendships and all these things. Of course, when I come in the morning are many questions, why should we do this? How should we do this? We have a problem here, how to resolve this, and I am trying to conduct this as a family, as a symphony. You need to learn this. You teach this. Of course, a conflict is coming out, forgiveness needs to be made, and a different opinion needs to be solved. One example is a situation in which nobody wants to clean. Who should be the cleaner? So there are many activities like that moving forward, meeting clients, teaching people to do things, sorting out arguments, and meeting people in their lives. They are describing to us their problems like my wife has cancer or they cut off my electricity, so it”s much engagement in all those different levels. A critical activity, at the core of it, would be like being a role model. Behind everything, we name us Seeds of Kenosis, and it holds the mystery in that there are no pressures in being and growing seed; it’s just stewarding the seed. So, if you want to teach somebody will be like providing positive role modeling and investing time and effort into developing tech and social competencies. We also need to make this company profitable because we have no sponsors. We have this pressure every day. At the end of the month, if we want money, we must move on and make some money. Another thing that we are doing is facilitating part of the connection that enables individuals and organizations to engage with the marginalized. We are hoping for a bigger future and can be an adapter. When you charge your phone, you take an adapter, a transformer, and specks with 5 volts from 220 volts. This cannot connect directly; it needs to be something that translates the energy that comes on. That's what we hope to be in the future, to speak to society and speak to the poor, because the society that wants to connect with the poor is too far. They can go through us and say, hey, I want my company to be more connected with the poor. We are doing this. And then it is our role to translate that so they can meet those people. Let's invent this tool, do this, move this product, and take this so that those can connect and those partnerships can grow.

What are the key resources that you are using to run this business?

We need a building. That’s a struggle. We are in a crappy building right now. We struggle in winter with cold and in summer with hot and humidity, which is one of our key resources. We want to build a new factory. Then, of course, we have wood, one of our primary resources. We need beautiful and unique pieces of wood. We also need metal structures for the legs, oils, and other things to treat them. You also need a lot of good tools, and you need big tools.

What are your key partners?

There are Seeds of Kenosis Association, and the company is Seeds of Kenosis Design and is owned 100% by the organization. Also, we have an organization in Sweden. I am sent out as a missionary from Swedish Alliance Mission. My church always supported me. In the beginning, there were older people on the board who needed help understanding our mission, but they changed the board, and they love our mission now and are excited by Business as Mission. It's amazing to connect with them; they support us in everything we do. Then is Holver, to buy wood and other people, small businesses that help us with metal structure. They love what we are doing; some want to know more and support what we are doing.

You started five years ago. Is the business sustainable? Tell us something about your cost structure and Revenue streams.

We almost go plus, minus zero from the start. I needed the capital to buy tools, but we still have those tools. I needed the capital to buy wood, but we still have more. We also have some support. The association employs one of our employees to invest in the situation here, stand with the company, and solve the conflicts. Then, structurally, to protect the company, I employ some guys who cannot fully support their salary in the Association. The Association sends them out to work for the company, and the Association sends the bill to the company. If, for example, it costs them 5000 euros, they bill us only 3000 euros. So the idea is that they start in this program. They come and go on with a kind, of course, to learn the trade for two or three months, and then they prove themselves suitable the company can employ them because we know that they will not bring the company down. So in this way, the company receives about 3000 euros a year from the organization. The company is going into a small plus, but all the plus is going into bigger stocks. Two years ago I bought metal for structures for 2000 euros. Yesterday, I got a delivery for 7000 euro, because everything grows.

What do you think you need to make the business fully sustainable?

We have so much to do. Part of it is that I took people who never had a piece of wood in their hands in the way we are doing here, and that takes years before you become good. And we haven’t chosen easy trade; we chose hardwood; many mistakes are going on that cost us money. Their lives are filled with problems, so how can I bring that into a profitable community? It will have to take time before they grow into doing that. This is one side./ The second side is that I hope that in the future, we will make better deals and have customers’ orders that will generate more margins. I am trying to grow my people. We have different sections, a section that builds cabinets, a section that does small products, a section that does the tables, and a section that makes laser cutting. I am trying to build every section to make money and be more performant and better. If we are good, we make money, but many things bring us down. Are many sicknesses, especially in the lives of the Roma, that make us go many times lower on money. Getting some good deals also is essential. We have this table that we sold for 4000 euros, which is good. We make money on that, but then we have other orders that we lose money on. So, we need to grow as a company. We need to understand more and sell more. We are good. We have a reputation; we have every reason to make money. Like most of the money that comes into the company, we choose to go to the guys. Many of them are making good money. They have messy lives and need to build them out. They are so far behind in many ways, so I make much money go back to them instead of staking in somewhere. For example, when we didn’t have many orders in a crisis, I allowed them to make 20 tables in stock because they needed money. I am also trying to meet people. Also, I am not a businessman; I am an entrepreneur who loves to work with people, and I will never make a lot of money. I need other people to come behind me who can strategies and get the deals.

Thank you, Andreas. I love what you are doing. I learned a lot and hope that others will benefit too. Do you have any advice for our readers and listeners?

We are here to do this community together. I will love to share something. Imagine if we are the only planet with breathing life in the whole universe with billions of planets, and imagine if God created this earth, maybe 30.4 billion years ago or 7 thousand years. It does not matter. Still, he put us as the crown of this thing, and he slowly invested his heart, and if we catch it, this world will turn into this beautiful place; if we miss it, it will almost all be burned. Now that we are at this tipping point, will we steep in and save this world, or is it slowly going down? When you think about it, it becomes even more significant if God created the world slowly through 30.4 billion years and slowly invested his heart and his life into us, and even his spirit. Are we going to pick this up? Are we moving into this way of thinking and saving this unique presence of God in this place in the universe? Or will we miss the chance and be egoistic and selfish and primitive and screw this world up? Having people like you and us communicating and moving into a place where there is still a chance for God to come and save this planet and give a completed, radical look at it. I saw Harriet, a movie about a woman that saves slaves. It is a fantastic movie. When we look at the film about slavery, we say, that’s so stupid; they accept slavery. I will never do that. I bet you, hundred years from now, people will sit and say, they were so stupid. I can’t believe they treated people for the gain of money, ruined their hearts, ruined the soul of this earth, and just took advantage. I can’t believe they lost hundreds of years of this world because of the egoistic of lost for a good car. It is a movement in which God asks us to step in and see the world differently. We will never save the world just by putting down the emission of carbon dioxide. It is so much more needed to save this world, it needs to be a whole soul given back to this world, and it needs to be heard and loved. This is why I love what you guys are doing. Think is the peak of civilization trying to go to another level and struggling in this area of business and finances, but so important.

I love the name Seeds of Kenosis and will love seeing these seeds in businesses from Romania and other countries.

This is a seed to take care of it. If you don’t want it, it does not take anything to throw it away, but if you take care of it, it could become the most incredible tree in your life that could even host birds and other families and bring benefits for the next generations.