This is a follow up story for Paperwallet. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi there! My name is Elad Burko and I’m the founder, CEO, and everything in between at Paperwallet.
Born from my love for art and a passion for unique product design, Paperwallet has been creating slim minimalist wallet designs since 2007 There are three things that set Paperwallet apart from other thin wallet brands on the market:
- Our use of waterproof, tearproof, recyclable Tyvek smart material for all of our products - and our commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices
- The smallest, thinnest wallets you can find beyond using a rubber band (our Micro wallet is only 1.3mm thick)
- Collaboration with artists and designers from around the world to provide the most eye-catching products you’ll ever put in your pocket or purse
Since we last appeared on Starter Story, we’ve added dozens more artist collaborations to our storefront, recently created a brand new Safety Kit design to support front-line heroes in their efforts against COVID-19, and have some seriously exciting new projects in the works that you’ll have to hang around for a bit to hear about.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The interest in thin wallets for men, and even for women, has really taken off in the last few years and that means not only more opportunity but also more competition in nearly every marketing channel. The boom in offerings across the internet gave us a reason to take a step back and reevaluate what makes the Paperwallet brand and our products unique and what we have to offer our customers that other companies can’t compete with.
When you surround yourself with people who complement your own abilities and actively listen and learn from one another your business can grow while everyone avoids becoming too burnt out.
This competition made seeing ROI using SEM nearly impossible. This comes from competing with huge brands established in Macy's and other department stores around the country. But Paperwallet is different. We aren't providing the traditional leather/metal slim wallets that designer brands are pushing. Our artist-designed Tyvek wallets appeal to a hipper demographic. And because we don't rely on big box stores for distribution, we can keep the price of our wallets lower and more competitive. While we ran a test of paid campaigns for several months this year, it seemed like consumer tastes changed from week to week, with no discernible pattern.
To continue to rank well in search, we must constantly be innovating and updating our website, keeping an eye on everything including the freshness of our content, the technical soundness of the site as a whole, evolving keyword strategies, and we’ve even been dipping our toes into the world of digital PR to help strengthen our site’s authority, despite my earlier reticence. 2020 is such an interesting time to be running an eCommerce store dependent on digital marketing. The landscape of success changes constantly and you have to really be on top of everything to not miss the next big opportunity or identify problems before they spiral out of control.
One of our most exciting opportunities for growth in the last few months actually came from a truly unexpected place - an old blog post. Though it had performed well since publication, we’d never seen it bring the kind of traffic we thought it deserved. With a little work reformatting, optimizing it for user experience, and adding even more robust information, we found ourselves ranking on page one of the search results for one of the most difficult keywords in our industry.
Another huge growth channel for us over the last year has been emailing marketing. Especially during this time of decreased buying from consumers, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to re-engage with inactive customers -- not about buying our products, just checking in to see how they’re doing. We’ve also ramped up our social media efforts to help support our artist/designer collaborators. With everyone trapped inside, their ability to share their work is very limited, so we share their art with our followers as often as possible to help them get the exposure they so deserve.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Like many e-commerce companies, Paperwallet has been impacted by the economic downturn of the last few months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. There’s really no way to prepare your business for an unexpected, global event like this. The economic reaction, particularly in the US, was completely unprecedented. Despite our best-laid plans, the crisis forced us to push back the launch of a new product and cut back on some of our marketing efforts to focus on opportunities with the highest ROI.
This difficult time has reinforced something that I already knew to be true - to be successful in business you cannot be rigid. Time and time again, circumstances whether personal or professional, will force you to adapt. To start, run, and grow a business with the potential for long-term success in our ever-changing world, entrepreneurs and business owners must be forward-thinking, but agile when the unexpected inevitably comes.
Another thing the past year taught me is the play to my strengths, and use available resources to learn new things from experts in areas where I need help. Last summer a close friend of mine launched one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of the year - the bobobark bag. I was thrilled to be able to bring my marketing expertise to the table and help them grow this brand new idea from the ground up. And working closely with the bobobark co-founders, father-daughter team Natacha and Elie Seroussi, showed me how valuable it can be to resist taking on everything myself and trust in the experience of others. This lesson ultimately alleviated a lot of stress for me from my primary business focuses, while allowing me the time to enjoy alternative creative outlets that have also benefited from my aptitude in marketing. And I’ve learned some really cool things along the way.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I’m a marketer at heart and have always loved to work on many projects at once. In collaboration with a close friend, I recently launched a brand new Kickstarter campaign that while being totally different from Paperwallet, maintains the same focus on artistic design sensibilities and sustainability. The project, Terraplanter, which is a fusion of nature and technology, launched only 8 days ago and has more than 15,000 backers pledging nearly $2M...with more than a month left to go! This is one project that I have been really excited to be a part of for quite a while now and will continue to be highly invested in the success of the crowdfunding campaign, as well as future business efforts.
As for Paperwallet, we have a new product in the works, as I mentioned before. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we’ve had to push back the launch but are still hoping to release the new design by the Fall of 2020. I don’t want to give away too many details about the product for now, but it’s a combination of things we’ve already mastered that results in the ultimate solution for anyone’s everyday carry.
In order to bring the absolute best products and value to our customers, we’ll also begin phasing out our “standard” wallet collections over the next few months. RFID protection may not be at the top of everyone’s minds, but it should be! Everyone can relate to the insane proliferation of scammers at every turn -- on the phone, over the internet, and even in person -- and we want our customers to be protected no matter what happens. It’s not only the reason we started building RFID blocking technology right into our wallets, it’s also one of the reasons our wallets are made to be so compact. At Paperwallet, we’re making the digital and physical safety of your financial information and important cards a priority.
Because our goal as a brand is to design wallets and accessories that our customers love, we anticipate continuing to bring a range of new designs and styles to market over the next five years that delight and inspire our customers - along with everyone who sees a Paperwallet out in the wild.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
It’s been out for a long time but I finally got around to reading Adam Grant’s Give and Take, and it really gave me a new perspective on my interactions with others in the business as well as in my personal life. For those that haven’t had the chance to read it, the book breaks the world down into three types of people which he classifies as givers, matchers, and takers. Maybe surprisingly, maybe not, but based on Grant’s anecdotal evidence it’s actually the givers and not the takers that tend to be the most successful. During my many years in business, I’ve found that these classifications don’t always ring true for individuals, but they do almost always fit individual situations. Even before reading the book, I don’t think I could have been convinced that someone asking me for something is always going to act as a taker, or that someone offering me something will always be a doormat for anything that I need, but the book does shed light on our interactions and what the motivations might be behind them.
For me, the main takeaway was that there can be a lot of joy, and indirectly success, in taking opportunities to be a giver rather than a taker. I’ve always enjoyed networking and working closely with friends and acquaintances to help them pursue their passions and build their businesses, and this book helped me see how important these interactions are to my personal success in a qualitative way.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Know your limits. I think this is the number one mistake that I see entrepreneurs making. Yes, building a business from the ground up is seriously hard work, but one human can only do so much. Your business depends on you being at your best and you absolutely cannot be at your best if you are seriously overworked and stressed out. It’s so important to build the right team around yourself so that you have others to lean on when your creativity runs out, outside circumstances require your attention, or you just need a break. When you surround yourself with people who complement your own abilities and actively listen and learn from one another your business can grow while everyone avoids becoming too burnt out.
Challenge yourself. At first glance, this second piece of advice goes against the second but managed correctly, they will not interfere with one another. Business, marketing, and entrepreneurship are all constantly-changing landscapes that require ongoing learning and attention. And keeping up to date with the latest trends, services, or opportunities should be considered an integral part of a CEO/Founder’s job. It’s nearly impossible for one person to learn all there is to know about every single subject involved in running a business, but it is important for business owners to become a jack-of-all-trades, to at least understand how all of the puzzle pieces of their business fit together to create a cohesive whole. Don’t be afraid to take some time to read a few articles on SEO if it’s not your strong suit or maybe a graphic design/website building course to help improve the look and feel of your online presence. You can even sit down with a close colleague to learn more about what they do on a daily basis to make sure the entire team is always rowing in the same direction.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We aren’t hiring any in-house positions at this time, but we are always looking for innovative artists to collaborate with for new Paperwallet designs. Anyone interested in working with us can submit their work on our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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