Plethora's vision is to enable anyone, anywhere to create anything. The Maker Spotlight series highlights Plethora employees that embody that same creativity and maker culture outside the office through personal, passion projects.
Natalie Klapper is the Product Line Manager for the Customer Experience at Plethora. She thinks about all things related to the product, user experience, brand, business strategy, and internal systems needed to support Plethora customers and internal teams. Though she primarily works with the engineering team, she also works cross-functionally and you can typically find her running from one meeting to the next. Natalie has been a Plethoran since August 2016.
You make your own jewelry— tell me about that process.
I’ve been doing art my whole life, but it wasn’t until the second half of college that I started taking sculpture classes. Before that, I had never used machinery or touched any tools, and I was a bit intimidated by them. Through those classes, I learned about woodworking and metalworking and how to weld, and I got inspired by the ability to make these big sturdy objects. That’s what I love about sculpture and metal--metal in particular.
With jewelry and the art I make, the process I like using is oxy acetylene brazing. After I graduated I started doing jewelry for a couple reasons. One, it was nice working with smaller pieces instead of large sculptures. Instead of everything accumulating in my room, these were pieces I could easily store or give to people. And two, I’m drawn to functional art-- art with a purpose. I loved making pieces that could be worn and enjoyed. I worked at TechShop for a while because I needed access to the workspace, and as soon as I got there, I would always go straight to the metal tables.
What was the most challenging part of being a maker?
The hardest part is definitely carving out time. Now that I have a demanding full-time job, it’s hard to find the energy and motivation to go to the shop and make something instead of relaxing after a day of work. It’s easier now that my workspace is here at Plethora, however making time is still a struggle.
One of the other key challenges of “being a maker” was determining to what extent I needed it to be my full-time job. As much as I love being creative and making art, needing to sell it and make a living off of it isn’t that appealing to me. Luckily I am also drawn to the internet industry and the potential for creative solutions that it brings. That’s why I ended up in tech and make art in my free time.
What about being at Plethora inspires you to be creative?
First, I love being around the materials themselves. Obviously I’m super drawn to metal. Everyday, even looking at the shavings that come out of our machines inspires me. More importantly, Plethora has taught me so much about what’s manufacturable & what’s possible - which has opened my mind to new possibilities. The other thing that inspires me at Plethora is the community of people making things and what they produce. Whether it’s my coworkers or our customers, I’m constantly surrounded by people being creative and new shapes being cut out of metal.
Where do you draw creative inspiration from for your own artwork and jewelry?
My main inspiration comes from material, lines, shape and form, and nature. At home I do a lot of drawing, and my drawing is where a lot of my metal work gets inspired. That’s what inspired my first jewelry pieces. When I started doing jewelry, a lot of my pieces were like 3D doodles-- the first piece I made were these 3D doodle earrings. On nature-- I think that nature is the purest form of art. There’s endless beauty to be found in nature whether it’s the shape of a leaf or shape of a flower. I’ve made a lot of sculptures of flowers. Though I haven’t made many pieces with them, I’m also really inspired by rocks. So much jewelry is made up of precious stones or diamonds, but to me, it’s really the little pebbles that come off of a mountain that can be just as beautiful.
(Featured pieces from Natalie’s collection - available online at www.natalieklapper.com)
Why did you choose to work at Plethora?
For a number of reasons. First and foremost, the vision - it’s very important to me to be part of a vision-oriented company. I am in the tech industry because I am fascinated by the Internet and the way it can connect people, spread information, increase access, and help be an equalizer. Of course that’s not always true and it has proven to have its downsides, which is quite relevant in today’s political conversation...but at Plethora I know there’s potential for global impact and the vision for the company is something I really believe in: increasing access to the means of production and allowing anyone to make anything. Plethora not only provides easy access to a manufacturer as we run our own factory, but it also educates people, taking down the barriers to entry for people who don’t understand manufacturability. I find that really exciting and it motivates me every day.
Another reason I joined Plethora is for the opportunity to learn. I have a passion for metal work, but I came in to the company green on the world of manufacturing processes and machining, and I’ve been able to learn so much about how things get made, what are the possibilities, and what are the issues.
Finally, I joined because of the exciting phase the company is at. I love being part of a small team where my voice matters, and we can move fast. There’s a lot we can and will do, and I get to be part of that.
What makes Plethora stand out in the Silicon Valley?
The fact that Plethora isn’t just a tech startup. Of course software engineering is a big part of what we do, but at the end of the day, we get to work in a factory that produces physical goods. Those objects are what power all the other software companies. Software is nothing if it doesn’t have a piece of hardware to live in. We’re producing real things and enabling the world to invent and solve problems. The fact that we make real stuff feels real good, and sets us apart from much of Silicon Valley.
What does your ideal day look like?
I would probably sleep in a bit, have a nice coffee and breakfast bagel, and then would head out to a secluded river spot with a group of friends. We’d spend the day hanging out, I’d probably take my drawing pad and do some drawing, and set up camp near the river. And then obviously cook a delicious dinner and have a campfire to finish the day.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to the future generation of creative people?
Exercise your creativity, don’t hold it in. Each person’s creative voice is what makes us all individuals. Especially in this world where the media and consumerism makes things increasingly streamlined, people should keep being creative and push the envelope. If you don’t understand something, remember that education is in reach. If you look, you’ll find people who are willing to teach you.
Natalie’s jewelry is available for sale at natalieklapper.com. You can check out her work there.