We had the good fortune of connecting with Don Nguyen and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Don, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I have always been a “just start it now think about details later” kind of guy. My parents never did like that. It’s changed slightly ever since I started this business, especially going full-time, but the idea is still pretty much the same. I get ideas, I think about the pros and cons, the end result, and then I just make the leap. The difference now is that since I’m trying to grow as a business and as a better human, I have to tame that process with a little bit of planning. The risk taking has worked well for me in the past but being so tunnel visioned about goals can be jarring to those around me. My full-time employee Sam, for example, sometimes gets tired of me rapidly going from one idea to the next, but I get distracted and forget to just sit down and make knives. I would say overall a pretty significant part of my success so far has been stepping out of my comfort zone, trying an idea that scares me, and just learning along the way. It’s been paramount when hiring Sam, taking on complicated projects, or raising my prices. 

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I make high-end kitchen knives, and it’s an actual thriving market (every niche thing is nowadays…). I think for the most part though, there are people that are good at making knives, and people that are good at business. So far, there aren’t many people that are good at both, and that’s kind of what I’m working towards right now. It was never the intention or the destination, but facing so many of the challenges of growth over the last year has necessitated broader thought (and I’m quite enjoying learning about it). Knives will always be the focus – I’m always thinking about them, always thinking about new ideas, and always thinking about refining existing ones. However, that’s now the easy part, even though it’s not really all that easy actually. The “easy” part about the knives is that it’s straight-forward and it’s fun (usually).

The business of knife making is rapidly changing. Higher-end kitchen knives are actually a pretty new market in general (hand-made knives was always a thing but for some reason there was no huge focus on kitchen cutlery). Japanese kitchen knives have been made for a long time but in Western food culture we’re only starting to catch on. When I first started making knives there were only a handful of well-known kitchen knife makers in the US. Now, there are hundreds, thousands of newer makers doing really nice work. Food is changing, peoples’ priorities are changing, and now more than ever we have a lot of cooks who are interested in investing in really high quality cutting tools. That’s what makes it terrifying, but also exciting. It’s kind of uncharted territory right now and I personally think we’re seeing a huge wave in kitchen knives. The market is changing so fast I can barely keep track, but the things that I focus on are presentation and trust. You’ve got to attract attention, but once you have that attention you HAVE to build trust. In the era of online consumerism how do you actually get a customer to invest in your work? Consistency and transparency. I try to be very honest about the work we’re doing and what our priorities are, and I focus into the people who really value that.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
It’s all food for me. I would take them to El Taco Rustico, because this city is known for amazing Mexican food, and that place is my favorite of them all. Then I would take them to Anello, which I think is making some of the best pizza in the country. Last would be Tito and Pep, to close off with some of the best, most iconic food of this city. But I guess a week is actually kind of longer than that, right? A couple days would be at home, relaxing, making some home made ramen, and then maybe a nice drive up one of the nearby mountains.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Ok, so first thing I have to mention, is that I am EXTREMELY lucky. I’m lucky that my parents immigrated here from Vietnam and I was able to go to school in the States. I’m lucky that we were never poor when I was growing up. I’m lucky that they were fairly open minded when I randomly decided to tell them that I wanted to drop out of college and pursue making kitchen knives for a living (but actually they freaked out and thought I was insane). After the initial shock of me declaring my sudden life passion, they were more ok with me dabbling in it as long as I was working on a college degree that could be a decent backup. I wasn’t a huge fan of college but I’m eternally grateful they let me pursue knife making part-time while finishing up my Materials Engineering degree. Now, I don’t really use that degree all that much, but I got a lot of experience otherwise in University and also doing the knife thing on the side. Next, I want to thank Sam, my best friend and employee. I’ve known Sam for slightly over a decade and somehow he ended up on this Journey with me. We’ve been through some really rough times trying to get this going and he has supported me through some of the most emotionally challenging parts of my life so far. We’ve grown so much in the past couple of years, I’m proud of us. Lastly I have to give a shoutout to my lovely girlfriend Kate. She never gets tired of my BS, is always so happy to talk about business and ideas, and is overly supportive in all the crazy things I want to do. She’s the best.

Website: www.donnguyenknives.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/donnguyenknives
Youtube: www.youtube.com/donnguyenknives
Other: www.patreon.com/donnguyenknives

Image Credits
Jim Cooper Jackie Tran Caleb Royer

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