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Exploring Life & Business with Francis D’Aurora of Boards & Blocks, LLC

Today we’d like to introduce you to Francis D’Aurora.

Hi Francis, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today.
I’m not sure how it came to be, whether someone offered my recommendation to you, or I was discovered organically through social media or my website, but I’m grateful for this opportunity to be included and for the chance to share my journey, struggle, to turn an interest of mine into a business. I have always enjoyed building and making things, whether that was building Legos or doodling my ideas as a kid (and now as an adult with my kids), assemblying furniture from the box store, or even doing some handyman gigs on the side, I get great satisfaction from accomplishing something (as I’m sure most people do). Obviously, I became an engineer and started my career in construction management. Several years ago, during a period in my career where I was questioning whether it was still interesting to me, I began exploring hobbies and started down the woodworking rabbit hole on YouTube. I watched everything from building wooden boats to wooden utensils. It was also around the time that I needed a little extra income to offset some financial stress. Cutting boards were popular, particularly amongst the realtor community, and they are relatively simple and easy to make. My grandfather was a barber who worked for himself. My dad, a dentist, also had his own practice in which my mom and cousin worked along side him. Having my own business felt like something I could do as well, and so, I began thinking of how I could start a business making personalized cutting boards from my home. I made a couple for myself for practice and to try different methods, gifting one I gave to my parents. Nothing more came of it at that time: I had just about everything set up and ready to go when I put things on pause. Fast forward to 2021: I get a flier in my kids’ take-home folders advertising a PTA fundraiser asking school community members who have, or represent local businesses, to participate. I had been contemplating making more cutting boards, so this opportunity seemed like the right time to try again. Though founded in 2018, Boards & Blocks, LLC was reinstated in 2021 and had a successful fundraiser event for their school.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been smooth?

The fundraiser was successful, considering I had no boards, and no real way to conduct business when I first saw the fundraiser flier. It was a bit of a rush to consult with an attorney to get the business in order (registration, EIN, sales tax certificates, etc.), develop an online store, set up a workshop, and make the boards. My items weren’t ready, and my online store wasn’t active until the last two days of the fundraiser. It was disappointing to commit to that and then show up late and underwhelming.

Small issues aside – making sure all the packaging was right, order forms, checkout and shipping options in the online store functioning properly, actually putting in the work to make the boards – I don’t think it’s impossible for someone to start a side business out of their garage. There are plenty of successful examples on social media. What has been the most difficult issue to overcome is actually staying disciplined, frankly, getting disciplined, and committing to it 100%. There are so many distractions that present themselves – too tired or stressed from the day to focus on the business, the latest streaming binge, competing hobbies, not to mention everything a parent is responsible for outside their interest and wellbeing. There is a switch that you have to flip to make progress and turn an idea into a success. Something that I think I will always struggle with is; is this still a hobby I earn “spending money” with, or do I want this to be my “Plan A” with no backup and risk everyhing on making it work?

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Boards & Blocks is a small business that I run out of a workshop I’ve set up in my home. I make charcuterie boards, cutting boards and board care products, as well as provide personalization with a laser engraver. If the business should grow into what my final vision for it is, I would like to offer other kitchen items, home decor and custom furniture. I’d also like to have woodworking workshops, promote careers in trades and volunteer within the community. I enjoy cooking and spending time with family. Growing up, we often had large family meals at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother had an old wooden board she would use to make homemade pasta on. She taught me how to make “homemades” on that board. It’s still in the family and used today. I like to think that the boards I make for my customers, whether as gifts, for personal use, or even for businesses in the food and beverage industry, will bring families together and last a lifetime.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
I’m not sure I would consider Boards & Blocks a success, yet. I mentioned that I still don’t quite believe this is more than a hobby for me right now. I do feel grateful to those who have supported my hobby and the PTA Fundraiser, but to measure against what I described as my “final vision”, there is still much work to be done. As far as what I think are qualities that an entrepreneur or solopreneur must rely on to be successful, in general; you have to be able to plan and have a vision, but not be so stuck on details of that plan/vision that you succumb to analysis paralysis. Discipline and stubbornness go a long way when actively pursuing your dreams and ideas. Discipline in so much as you continue to do what you need to do despite not wanting to, and stubbornness, similarly, when you need to focus on the end goal and ignore the naysayers along the path towards that goal. I guess that’s not to say that maybe you shouldn’t think about the advice or criticism given, but at least consider where the information is coming from, from whom, and whether it is something you should pay attention to. That’s probably critical thinking. Unless it’s coming from trusted sources, you’re probably better off ignoring it and continuing on your path and process. I’ve heard this several times, but had to look it up to be sure: Eckhart Tolle is quoted as saying, “any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time.” If you want something, you must come to the realization that you are the only one who is responsible for making it happen.

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