Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
The Paper Saver started in Melbourne, Australia, in 2015 with the simple goal to reduce paper waste. Designed by my co-founder and partner Jon Yong, he and I are now also parents with the desire for our two young children to grow up in a sustainable world. Driven by this, the Paper Saver aims to promote environmental awareness and sustainable living.
The Paper Saver utilizes your used paper as pages of its notebook, reducing paper waste and helping the environment. Encasing a functionally designed spring steel binder inside, your discarded paper is inserted and folded so you can conveniently write on the back blank sides - no more unnecessary new notebooks as you will have an endless supply of used paper as pages of your Paper Saver! It is currently available in two versions - the Classic Paper Saver (made of faux leather) and the Leather Paper Saver (made of genuine leather).
Since launching in 2015, we have grown YOY on an average of 20%, and are now on a mission to spread the word further with a project on Kickstarter, aimed at creating awareness that anyone from kids to adults can reduce waste and live more sustainably with the Sparkle Paper Saver.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The Paper Saver was created and designed by Jon Yong, who worked as an architect.
Constantly printing off endless sheets of draft designs that became obsolete just moments later, Jon found a way to put the otherwise-discarded paper, destined straight for the recycling bin, to further use by devising a handmade “Paper Saver” out of cardboard with a pocket inside in which he could insert the used paper, fold in half and access the blank sides as pages of the “notebook”.
Always intriguing interest from colleagues and clients at meetings, it became our belief that many others with the same problem could also benefit from a Paper Saver, leading to our launch of the Paper Saver in 2015.
If you truly believe in your idea, just do it. You will never know if you never try. Even if it doesn’t go completely to plan, at least you’ll know you tried.
We decided to test the Paper Saver with one minimum production run with the supplier we finally proceeded with after reaching out to numerous manufacturers. With initial media features in Broadsheet, Frankie magazine, Habitus Living, Peppermint magazine, and The Gadgeteer, as well as gaining exposure through local design markets including The Big Design Market and The Finders Keepers Market, we found demand from our customers and word began to spread about the Paper Saver.
Evolving with times and reflecting our own lifestyle changes, Jon’s designs have the expanded from the Classic Paper Saver range, to also include the Leather Paper Saver, the Sparkle Paper Savers For Kids, and soon-to-be-released accessories range including the Paper Saver Organiser and Environmental Awareness Woven Sticker Series. Jon has designed each item himself with the end user’s experience with the Paper Saver in mind.
The Classic Paper Saver - in black, brown, red, teal & coral pink
The Leather Paper Saver
The Sparkle Paper Saver (in pink or blue) with the Paper Saver Organiser and the “Fish in the Bottle” Environmental Awareness Woven Sticker (to be applied anywhere, acting as a conversation starter about plastics in the ocean)
The Sparkle Paper Saver (in pink or blue) with the Paper Saver Organiser and the “Melting Ice Cream” Environmental Awareness Woven Sticker (to be applied anywhere, acting as a conversation starter about our warming planet)
The Sparkle Paper Saver (opened) and the Paper Saver Organiser with the pencil case and the “Solar Daisy” Environmental Awareness Woven Sticker (to be applied anywhere, acting as a conversation starter about the need for renewable energy)
The Classic Paper Saver and the Paper Saver Organiser with three cardholders
The Sparkle Paper Saver and the Paper Saver Organiser with the document pocket at the back
Juggling family and day jobs, I soon resigned from my day job as the Paper Saver was a great gig to have on the side while taking care of two young kids. It has meant long hours, as work is often done after the kids have gone to bed, but the efforts have been worthwhile as I get to spend more quality time with my kids.
We often ask ourselves why we didn’t do this before starting a family as Jon had this idea for approximately 9 years before we launched in 2015. We were comfortable with where our respective day job careers had been, so we hadn’t given thought it until afterward, when we wondered what we could do to spend more time at home with our children.
But this has all been part of our journey and made us even more driven to make the Paper Saver succeed in giving us the lifestyle we want.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
From the handmade Paper Saver Jon had used since 2006, Jon designed the Paper Saver into a notebook that includes functional, usability and aesthetic elements that ensure users can be more sustainable, as well as enjoy their writing experience.
Jon then did the background research on both local and overseas manufacturers. After receiving and reviewing costs, and identifying our target retail price of $20 in 2015, we made the decision to manufacture overseas. This decision was made as the Paper Saver would otherwise be double the price of what it is today to provide us with an adequate ROI; we also did not want to disadvantage anyone from being able to reduce paper waste.
Don’t take anything for granted - media exposure, acceptance into exhibitions, sales opportunities - value every chance you get as though it may be your last because these are all factors outside of your control which have a huge impact on your business with or without it.
We narrowed down our list of potential suppliers through the prototyping process to two who had come through with similar costs. We obtained samples from them and finally chose one who had shown to us their reliability and willingness to provide us with solutions to design issues and pre-empted potential production issues. Most importantly, they came through with a higher quality product and showed us their understanding of the Paper Saver as a notebook without any paper inside! Hence, we then ordered our first production run of 500 units in black for A4 sized paper, and 500 units in black for A3 sized paper as a test of the market demand for the Paper Saver. We still use the same supplier today as they have proven to be trustworthy and we have built a strong business relationship with them since.
The Original Paper Saver had actually used a plastic pocket at the back instead of spring steel binder of the Classic Paper Saver today for paper insertion. Whilst we have had feedback that many customers are still using their Original version, the steel binder enables better convenience in accessing the back blank sides of the paper, and significantly enhanced our production process with our supplier.
The Paper Saver for A3 size paper is now no longer available as we have found the demand for customers using this size is not high enough as a long term product offering, unfortunately. On the upside, we have extended and expanded our range to fit A4 size paper.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Everything done to prepare for the launch was completely internal - our website, media release, PR outreach, social media, etc.
As the Paper Saver is a new concept of a notebook for anyone to grasp, we needed to utilise the media release to explain to the best we could about what it was and how it worked. It is not the easiest product to explain in plain words, so visuals were vital.
We had a wonderful photographer friend who helped us with a great catalog of photos, but looking back now, we should have invested even more in photography earlier. The media release was individually sent and personalized to the journalists and publications which we believed would be interested in the Paper Saver and/or where we aspired the Paper Saver to be featured in. We don’t like to be spammed with an impersonal mass emails; so we didn’t want to “spam” anyone either!
As we had dipped into our own savings to venture on this business, plus using the first batch as a test run, we wanted to minimize our costs.
As the Paper Saver was a unique idea with no other similar product out in the market, we received a response to our media pitches quite quickly.
We were very fortunate to have had chosen to approach a very dedicated and responsive editor who assigned one of his staff to interview Jon and provided us with a feature story that coincided with our launch. The response was amazing - we had to pack orders well into the night to keep up with the sales coming in, which we hadn’t been prepared for.
But once the hype quietened down from that article, sales also fell back down too. So the lesson from that was, you really have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep your momentum going - both as a business, and your mental determination.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have continued our business by keeping ourselves relevant - once we identified that there was demand, we added more colours to the range to increase appeal. We have also updated our design as we found a more user-friendly way to enhance the design. We identified a corporate customer as well, and hence launched the Leather Paper Saver to appeal to this corporate group.
Social media ads are a low-cost way to bring in traffic - make sure you target directly and narrow down to people who you believe will be interested to minimise wasted efforts. As the Paper Saver aims to help people reduce waste, we target people who have an interest in the environment, recycling, etc. and use short yet related headlines to grab their attention. In the past, we had also tried targeting people with an interest in writing, design (such as architecture), and even students specifically, but we found our strength under the eco umbrella.
A mailing list is key - these subscribers are more likely to be the supporters of your product. Give them rewards for signing up and staying loyal, such as discounts, first to know about specials and launches, etc. But beware of those who sign up purely for the discounts and unsubscribe after your next newsletter - provide them with tips and something that will add value to their lifestyle, yet relevant to your product. For example, a 10% discount as a welcome and thank you to your customer when they first sign up to your mailing list is always a relatively economical way to obtain and hopefully retain your customer. We have also provided customers with tips on how to be more sustainable in a subsequent newsletter - because of the nature of the Paper Saver being to reduce waste, our customers would definitely have an interest in eco-friendly information.
We are divided on where we sit with influencers - it depends on your product type in the ROI you receive from the spruke of an influencer. Be very specific in how you choose the influencer to work with and the type of audience he or she has in ensuring your USPs are absolutely aligned.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are fortunate to have not made a loss to date, as you hear about businesses requiring months or years before becoming profitable. We have grown gradually at a rate of 20% YOY in sales while not throwing too much marketing monies into the business.
The number of Instagram followers does not always have a direct correlation to sales, so you have to balance how much time and effort you put into it versus other components of your business.
Our sales come in through our online store, our distributor who manages our wholesale business, and customised orders for businesses and organisations alike. These fluctuate depending on time of the year, such as Christmas and end of financial year.
Our immediate goal is to complete our Kickstarter project - we have been funded, and we want to continue to utilise the Kickstarter platform to help our long term goal to grow our awareness in other regions of the world such as USA, Canada, UK and through Europe. So please check us out and if you can support us!
The Sparkle Paper Saver
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Don’t take anything for granted - media exposure, acceptance into exhibitions, sales opportunities - value every chance you get as though it may be your last because these are all factors outside of your control which have a huge impact on your business with or without it. Make sure you utilise each and everything opportunity to the maximum.
Not everyone will be a fan of your product and don’t let it offend you. We once thought we had the amazing partnership opportunity - we met, were in talks for it to go ahead for over a month, then suddenly, they went from raving on about how much they loved our product to nitpicking at features that they had said they loved as the reasons for not proceeding anymore. It was a huge slap in the face, but instead of releasing our wrath at them, we chose to politely point it out then simply thanked them for their time. As disappointing as it was, we didn’t want to burn bridges because it’s a small world!
Don’t doubt what you are doing, but also, know your limitations. We have now launched the Classic Paper Saver into a total of five colours, but one that we thought would sell well is significantly lagging behind the others. Consider product rotations over all-new products.
We made the best decision to invest more into social media advertising - this has opened new doors for us in gaining new customers. It has definitely helped having a marketing background and a design background in-house. I also have a love of spreadsheets so this has become my job in planning, coordinating, analysing, and reviewing.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Mailchimp - wonderful for managing our mailing list and EDM campaigns
Privy - additional features to enhance the functions Mailchimp previously didn’t have in capturing and retaining subscribers
Facebook and Instagram are our key social media outlets. We have found Facebook followers to be much more loyal. Instagram users are more fickle.
We currently use Weebly for our website, but it has its limits in features and functions when designing your website especially enabling additional HTML so I would suggest researching website providers very thoroughly before you decide on one.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are many wonderful resources available online - the government actually is of great support to small businesses in Australia such as https://www.business.vic.gov.au/ for the state of Victoria, providing many resources here.
Look for business or related seminars around you at Eventbrite - many are cost effective and worth your while to get ideas, feel more inspired when you are stuck, or just to network.
Business Chicks is also great for useful articles with tips, business and networking events, and inspiration for businesses.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you truly believe in your idea, just do it. You will never know if you never try. Even if it doesn’t go completely to plan, at least you’ll know you tried. Too many people tell me they wished they had done so and so. It’s never too late even if the timing doesn’t seem right - you make your own time.
Always plan and stay organised.
Do your research thoroughly in all that you do before you execute. Find reliable, passionate people.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: papersaver.com.au
- Facebook: facebook.com/papersavernotebook
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/papersavernotebook
- Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/papersaver/the-sparkle-paper-saver-the-zero-waste-notebook
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!