The John Humphrey Interview

Taylor Smith interviews the Greycork Founder and CEO.

John Humphrey

By Taylor Smith

Name: John Humphrey
Occupation: Co-founder/CEO at Greycork
Hometown: Tiverton, RI
Current City: Providence, RI
Age: 27

Manufacturing is in John Humphrey’s blood. His family has been in the business for over half a century, and growing up he did everything from working in factories to taking inventory and assembling pre-hung doors. So it’s hardly a surprise that John is now the founder and CEO of Greycork, the Providence-based company that sells shippable furniture you can put together and take apart with no tools in just a few minutes. Greycork currently carries the Felix Living Room Set, a minimalist collection including a sofa, chaise, coffee table, bookshelf, and side table for $1850 total.

“It really just started when I built a coffee table,” John says of his company’s origins. “It could fold up and felt somewhat durable. I could put it in a box and ship it to anybody, and that’s when the light bulb kind of went off. And it made me think of all the times that I had felt like there wasn’t really a great furniture option for me as somebody going into his mid-20s.” He had felt the call to return to his roots after earning his MBA and working at a venture fund. In June 2013, with the help of friends and co-founders Alec Babala and Bruce Kim, Greycork was born.

I had the chance to sit down with John to discuss his big dreams for Greycork and the major breakthroughs that can happen when your roommate leaves town.

What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?

I went straight from college to business school. Out of business school, my first job was in venture capital as an analyst. I was very lucky and fortunate to land a job at a hedge fund while completing B-school, and the fund manager at the hedge fund was friendly with the managers at the VC fund. I worked the connection and got lucky.

What traits and steps taken helped you get to where you are now professionally?

I’ve never gone wrong by keeping a positive attitude, and not being afraid to be vulnerable when I think I’m about to do something out of my league. 

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

When you’re building a company, rule number one is don’t die.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career thus far?

It’s important to know what you truly believe, and envision where you want to be. You’ll have to make a lot of very hard decisions that will be unpopular, but you have to do what you feel is right.

Humphrey Quote

What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?

Just start building, and try to learn everything about what it takes to run your business very early on. You’ll quickly learn if this is something you’re truly passionate about or just a fad, and you’ll be able to handle more business competencies in order to grow. 

What is a typical workday like for you?

I wake up 5:30, go to the gym from 6 to 7, and am in the office by 8, where it’s heads-down time until around noon. We do collaborations in afternoon, spend about 5:30-7 trying to take a step back and think about the business, then I’m home around 7:30. 

What motivates you?

Thinking about myself when I’m 100 years old and wanting to feel like I’ve made an impact, have lived a healthy and fit life, have good stories to tell, and have built a loving family.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Team wins.

What advice would you give a young person furnishing their first home?

Invest in quality. There is so much disposable furniture out there, and the amount we throw away annually could fill a 10-story apartment building that is one square mile large. Imagine that. 

What’s your favorite piece of furniture in your own home, and why?

I really love my Greycork Brooks Bench. We sold these back in 2014 and they don’t exist anymore, but they’re so nice.

Where would you like to see Greycork 10 years down the road?

As a top 10 furniture company in the US.

And finally, since RoomZoom is site to find roommates, have you ever had roommates? Any wonderful or terrible experiences stand out in your memory?

Of course! I’ve had great roommates. In fact, Greycork was started when one of my roommates left town for the weekend and I spent the weekend building a coffee table.