As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief a dominant global media platform, I was delighted to have the opportunity not long ago to get acquainted with Katalina Klein, Founder of Kubed Living, and without question, a “game changer” in every sense, particularly when it comes to social responsibility. Sit back and enjoy our “Under The Spotlight” Interview Session below…
We’d like to hear about your professional journey before launching Kubed Living.
After college ( I graduated with a degree in art) I taught in a private high school for a year. I wanted to help these kids from difficult backgrounds. The work was wonderful and rewarding but I was too young and ill-equipped to know how to truly help. I decided to go get my MBA. My last semester of my first year, I took strategic planning classes and realized I was a natural at this and developed a passion for it. I got an internship at DHL Airways, my second year, in the corporate planning department and never looked back. After graduating, I was employed full-time by DHL as a corporate strategist and then manager of the department. I worked there for 5 years. My father who still resided in Geneva Switzerland underwent some very bad personal problems so I decided to move and be there for him. While in Geneva, I worked at a medical emergency distribution company as head of their business development. Upon returning to the US a couple of years later, I worked as VP of marketing and finance for a small software manufacturer for 4 years before starting my own real estate company. 15 years later, I launched Kubed Living, a fantastic culmination of all my prior work and personal experiences.
Tell us more about Kubed Living and the inspiration behind it.
While working in real estate for many years in Southern California, I began to notice a trend: The fiber of our society: teachers, Ph.D. professors. firefighters, policemen, professors, young professionals and those on fixed income were no longer able to afford to live in our cities-either as buyers or renters. The American dream of homeownership for young people (millennials) was all but a fantasy. Seniors have to move out-of-state to survive. Families, as a result, became split up; this demographic group who is the backbone of our society and whom I have named “middle earners”, were having a hard time participating in our housing market. To me this was wrong. To me, this meant the start of a very bad path. I knew real estate. I knew art. I am a strategist. I am also very drawn to containers because they make sense. So I started Kubed Living – with the hope of providing housing for our middle class- the class that is to be the fiber of our society.
When did you launch and what’s been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been the banks and the cities. Cities claim that we are in the midst of a housing crisis and yet when solutions that are safe, structurally engineered and aesthetically pleasing are presented to cities such as LA, they are forever upheld in a series of nonsense. Recent case in point: November 2018 mid-term elections and in LA a couple of bonds pass to build housing for the homeless. The idea is containers. The first reaction from the public who actually voted for the initiative is “not in my backyard”. Secondly, the city of LA makes building with containers so difficult that it is almost cost prohibitive if you are not savvy and creative. This causes structures that could be erected rapidly and safely to be bogged down in a government process and cost so much more so than necessary. Banks are not much better.
Banks fund cars, boats, they fund houses, trailers, mobile homes, modular homes – yet container homes as I build them fall in this in-between thing that makes it so difficult for these young people and others in need to get funding.
Now: We are talking about funding which is perhaps at most $200,000 for the total cost of the container structure and the soft costs – yet banks are reluctant to lend! Go figure! This leaves young and old unable to participate in the American dream of owning a home – as small as it may be. It seems very unfair. And it seems to be a dangerous trend.
Any noteworthy surprises so far or ‘A-ha’ Moments?
So many – where do I start? If I were to choose one it would be the container modification fabricators. There are several in this industry that are upstanding, honest, deliver quality and service and then there are the others that take advantage of situations, do not return calls, deliver poor quality, products that do not pass inspections and will never get permitted, and give the entire industry a bad name. We have dealt with those companies and it is an eye-opener. I am so happy to say that the industry as a whole is looking at clamping down at those outfits that give all of us a bad reputation. And I thank the ones I am working with for their honesty, hard work and their eagerness to deliver excellent products and make a difference.
What is unique about your business?
Building with containers is not unique. What is unique, however, is the manner in which Kubed Living approaches it. Until recently there were really two ways in which containers were used to build.
1. Erect large pop-up structures fast and inexpensively. This is seen for example in student housing (Amsterdam Tempo-housing), pop-up malls (Boxpark – London), (Common Grounds – South Korea) and many projects around the world for affordable housing. The idea is to build big, fast and inexpensive structures that could one day be dismantled and moved.
2. Creative, architectural projects around the world that are truly masterpieces.
Kubed Living blends both approaches as it strives to deliver creative and modern structures that are built fast, are financially attainable to many and yet do not sacrifice the quality and aesthetics that are important for people to feel that they are living in a home – not just a house. The customer is an integral part of the design process. We design and build each home differently from the other – because each person is their own individual, with their own needs and own realities.
I started Kubed Living because I wanted to create socially responsible living spaces in sync with today’s reality; thoughtful, and flexible designs that are shaped to the lifestyle of the people living in them, innovative and contemporary structures that maximize space, functionality, and affordability without compromising quality and aesthetics.
How would you describe your typical customer?
I have two demographics. The first is a 25-44-year-old professional, usually college educated, wanting to purchase but not able to afford the price of homes, or not interested in buying a traditional house – preferring something more minimalist, eco-friendly, sustainable, something that they have a hand in creating. I see a trend in young people today as they search for ways to embrace an alternate more simple lifestyle. Our homes appeal to those folks. The second type of customer is the one who is retired or ready to retire and looking for ways to make their income stretch. They want to downsize into a smaller space yet a space that will allow them to age in place. Since we custom-tailor each home to meet the needs of our customers, we are able to accommodate these folks with designs that are universal and once again do not sacrifice quality and aesthetics.
What’s your everyday role in the business?
What is another word for jack of all trades? Because we are a small business, I wear a lot of hats. I am the one with the vision of where I want to take this company; I am also the one who has the first contact with every potential customer; I meet with them (phone, email or in person) and discuss their needs; I am also the initial designer who creates on paper what I heard the client say; I am also the project manager that oversees the project once it goes from me to the design architects, engineers, fabricator, contractor all while continuing to communicate with the customer. Finally, I am also the business development person always looking for new projects.
What’s the next big thing/on the horizon for Kubed Living?
2019 will be a year of growth for us. We will be growing our in-house design team by welcoming a brilliant young designer and a creative and accomplished architect into our fold. This will give us the ability to take on a greater variety of projects, including one that is very close to my heart: raising capital to create a development in the greater Los Angeles area for the “middle earners”.
A modern, fun community that would be comprised of affordable homes that are universal in design so as to accommodate all sorts of people – with some pop-up commercial structures such as restaurants, shops, and an outdoor music venue, all designed and built with shipping containers.
This dream may take several years – but I am planning on starting the design and fundraising in 2019.
As an entrepreneur, what’s non-negotiable for you?
- Succumbing to fear and second guessing myself. I have to remain focused and fearless even at times when it would be easier to just give up. It is important to stay mentally open and strong.
- Not to surround myself with nay-sayers, no-can dos and those who prefer to talk than act. My motto is to keep making things happen, keep the energy up–people are attracted to energy and positiveness.
- Nonresponsive/flaky people are a turn-off. I cannot rely on them. Someone who returns calls two days later, who does not deliver what they promised to deliver on a certain date is not someone I care to work with.
- Forgo my exercise classes every morning. I strongly believe that in order to achieve one has to have the mental and physical balance that only regular exercise can give me. After a good solid work-out, I feel ready to embrace the opportunities and obstacles of the day.
How can our readers learn more about Kubed Living?
If the information on our website is not sufficient then please pick up the phone and call me at (626) 590-6923 I am always happy to talk to you! We will also be featured on a segment of Innovations by Ed Bagley Jr. airing in late January. See more about us and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. And check us out on Curbed Magazine.