STANDING (INN)OVATION: Martin Keen, founder of Focal Upright Furniture, has debuted a line of standing workstations. The company made $1 million in sales in its first year, but is on pace for more in year two.
Martin Keen, Focal Upright Furniture founder, has captured the public’s imagination for an unconventional product by solving a personal design dilemma once before. Today, he runs a company that makes office workstations that allow workers to stand, a feature that has been touted for its productivity and health benefits.
But his knack for creative problem solving was first on display a decade ago, when the avid sailboat racer was frustrated with his preferred footwear – sandals. They left his toes exposed to stubs and scrapes from topside hardware, he said.
So from the studio in his Jamestown barn, Keen designed a sandal with a rubber toe guard that he could not only wear on the water, but in numerous other outdoor pursuits.
Keen Footwear, the company formed from that invention, would go on to do $20 million in sales in its second year and is now at $300 million in annual sales.
The Keen sandal entered the market in 2003 at a time the public was revealing a previously unknown demand for unconventional, partially open footwear.
Although very different in design, construction and market, Keen sandals entered the market around the same time as the bright plastic clogs known as Crocs were creating an open-footwear fashion fad.
After six years making sandals Keen, a natural inventor and tinkerer, began looking for a new challenge.
In 2010, he sold his interest in Keen Footwear to his partner and set his sights on a new market he had no experience in: office furniture.
Before Keen Footwear, while he was running a design studio serving the shoe industry, Keen had been playing around with office workstations out of personal frustration with the traditional chair and desk setup.
“I haven’t had major back issues but didn’t feel creative sitting,” Keen said. “I bought an architect’s table and made a stool out of an old tractor seat I bought at an antique store, but I still felt hunched over.”
So Keen tipped the tractor-seat stool forward until he was roughly half sitting on it and half leaning forward into the drafting desk.
Almost immediately, the new setup energized him and made him feel more creative.