biz ladiesLife & Business

Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co.

by Stephanie

Biz Ladies Profile, Anna Bond, Rifle Paper Co. Today’s Biz Ladies profile is of the talented designer behind Rifle Paper Co., Anna Bond. According to Anna, the launch and growth of her popular stationery and paper goods line was natural and organic and based on the principles of quality products and customer service. Today she shares her business process and gives us some insight into her path to success. Thanks for sharing your tale with us, Anna! — Stephanie

Read the full profile after the jump . . .

Biz Ladies Profile, Anna Bond, Rifle Paper Co. Why did you decide to start your own business?

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of starting my own business, but it was more of an organic process over time than something I had been diligently working toward. I studied graphic design in college and had been working as a freelance designer and illustrator for a couple years before officially launching Rifle Paper Co. through our website. The business evolved out of figuring out what I wanted to do and realizing that I had fallen in love with stationery and product design. Not only that, but I was fascinated with the whole process of developing a product from the idea stage to manufacturing to marketing and so on. I had an itch to be part of everything rather than simply passing off my art for someone else to figure out all of those things.

I had already been used to working for myself from home, so it didn’t seem like a huge step when I did start the business. My thought process was more along the lines of, “Well, I love stationery. I guess I could make a bunch of cards and products, sell them online, and see what happens.” Of course, it didn’t hurt that there was minimal start-up cost compared to many other businesses (for the most part, our initial production run and a website), and I was already working freelance and used to being unsure about the next paycheck or what might come next. But all those risks were worth the idea of being in control of how my illustrations and designs were presented.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

After I knew that I wanted to launch a stationery line, I remember planning out what that really meant. I don’t know how I came up with it, but I decided how many cards that should be, what sort of extras I could add to the line (wrapping paper, invites, etc.). I knew I wanted quality products, so I carefully picked out paper stocks and made sure that we printed locally so I could sign off on all colors. Nathan (my husband) started working with me when we launched, and we would have long talks about what we valued in a good business (great customer service, speedy shipments, well-made products, etc.). As for the products themselves, the art and inspiration was based on my own personal style. At the time, most of the boutique stationery companies were focusing on letterpress design, and I wanted to offer something different with full-color illustrated cards. I knew that beyond quality, great paper, vibrant printing, and so on that I had to create products that were different and unique from what was already out there. All of those decisions were incredibly important in defining who we are as a company.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?

The best advice I’ve heard (or at least my favorite) is to be flexible. That goes for so many things in business and sounds so simple, but it’s so important. There are so many unexpected obstacles, and being able to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever comes (good or bad) can make all the difference. Sometimes that means taking on an exciting project that you don’t know how you’re going to manage or picking yourself up quickly after a mistake. It means not getting too bent out of shape when something doesn’t work out just as you planned. Having that mindset has allowed us to step back and make sure we’re growing the business without letting something get in the way.

Biz Ladies Profile, Anna Bond, Rifle Paper Co. What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

The most difficult part of starting out was not really knowing what we were doing. We had an idea of what we wanted, we had our goals, we had the products, but there was so much we didn’t know, and there was no one to turn to in most situations (other than Google). Although it was incredibly difficult, it also made us much better business owners. We learned how to figure things out on our own and solve nearly every problem that we faced. Nathan and I have always been stubbornly determined to figure things out and not give up until we find an answer.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

You have to have so much passion and determination for what you do. Running a business can be tough, draining, and demanding. There are days when I feel like giving up, but no matter how hard it can be, I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I didn’t have that passion, I don’t know that I could have gotten through the truly tough times.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

Our launch (the day we launched riflepaperco.com) was actually a big failure in almost every way possible! We learned about 500 things in those first 24 hours when everything went wrong that could. Our website crashed, our products got delivered ruined and unsellable, we couldn’t figure out how to ship internationally, we didn’t anticipate the holiday rush, and the list goes on. I remember Nathan and I clicking publish with huge smiles on our faces and in a matter of hours we were both panicking and alternating meltdowns (it’s never good to have a meltdown at the exact same time as your business partner, so we graciously alternated). We spent the next 2–3 weeks solving every problem, reprinting cards, emailing every customer, enlisting friends to help, and eventually getting on the other side of it. Looking back, it’s very funny to think about all of those things going wrong at once, but at the time it was a nightmare. In the end, it was a huge learning experience for us, and we became much better business owners for going through it.

Biz Ladies Profile, Anna Bond, Rifle Paper Co. Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

In many ways I feel like I’m still starting out and we’re tucked away in our little Winter Park, Florida, bubble. I continually pinch myself that our products are now carried around the world and that people have responded so well to what we’re doing here at Rifle. My goal is to design products that people love, will cherish and want to give or mail to their loved ones. If I’m succeeding at that, I feel successful in what we’re doing.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

An original idea (a need for your business in the market), an incredible amount of passion and determination, and a solid plan for how to turn a profit.

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  • Great interview! Love Rifle Paper Co and have extra love because I am also in Florida. Congrats on all your success Anna!

  • So glad you featured Anna Bond. Rifle Paper Company has long been a favorite of mine and I hoard her beautiful designs. I actually had to stop buying her cards because I never want to send them out…now I try to focus on the journals, calendars, and other little lovelies to get!

  • I remember stumbling across Rifle years ago online and thinking it was the most beautiful art I had ever seen. I framed a thank you card that I ordered in mine and my husbands first townhouse after we got married. I asked our local stationary shop here in Jacksonville, FL if they had heard of Rifle and they hadn’t. Years later our local shop sells it- even anthro sells it! Keep up the beautiful work Anna- you make my calendar, journal and grocery lists so much more lovely :)

  • I very much admire Rifle Paper Co and I’ve noticed a lot of other designers do, as well–some to the point of trying to copy or imitate your unique style. I’m curious–how do you deal with that, Anna? Do you confront designers that are clearly swiping your designs?

  • Anna, I loved your 2012 hanging fruit calendar! I loved the art so much I’ve cut off the numbers and continue to cycle through the images. I ended up buying 2 more when they went on sale in December to do the same thing for my mom and sister. Just lovely!!

  • This is fantastic! I love reading the story behind the success of a small company like Rifle-it gives me a lot of hope as someone starting out in their own small business! Love!

    (PS-everything Rifle is fabulous, Mac & Murphy in Charleston always has a great selection of their products-so wonderful!)

  • I find it very inspiring reading about other people’s experiences of setting up a business. It helps keep me motivated and energised pushing my business forward. Fabulous products as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • I love Rifle Paper Co.! I also have noticed some imitators, and while they lack the certain something that Anna’s painting’s have, it is a clear copy of a certain aesthetic. What’s the best way to deal with such things from a designer’s position?

  • Her products are so lovely, and I love how she set out to do something different than what everyone else was doing. What an inspiration! Thanks for featuring her!

  • Love hearing stories about other ladies that have started their own business! It’s hard at times, but the reward of working for yourself is priceless.

    Kiley + Betsy

  • Anna’s work is so charming and fresh. I appreciate her sharing not only the wonderful parts of having her own business but the unexpected and challenging ones as well :)

  • I am so happy I have learned a little bit more behind a product I adore! Her work is seen in a small, local paper store called Gus letterpress! I love her work and am inspired by her attitude!

  • Rifle Paper Co is amazing! In a world were most peoples sole form of communication is email, I love sending a Rifle Paper Co card to my friends and family and they love to receive them. I usually always end up buying one extra for myself. Some are just too cute to part with!

  • Thank you for such an inspiring and informative post…just the type of post I’ve come to love from Design Sponge. I am a business owner as well and am so appreciating these business posts!! It’s good to know that the overwhelming feeling of “I have no clue what I’m doing” is normal. ;) Rifle Paper Co products are charming and nothing short of perfection. I can’t wait to get the Vintage Telephone Notepad!

  • Anna, I’m so inspired by you. Rifle Paper Co is far and away my favourite stationary products… I feel quite so-so about giving the cards away when I just want to keep them for myself!

    Thanks for showing that there’s much grace, chaos & calamity behind the scenes.

  • Anna! Your designs are so gorgeous!

    I think the biggest challenge in running your own business can be the emotional demands. As long as I keep that “I can do it!” mindset, anything and everything is possible. Reading stories like yours is all I need to put that spring back into my step. Thanks!

  • Thanks for this inspiring and informative post on Ms. Bond. It did, however, omit mention of Ms. Bond’s sartorial style, which is pretty evident from that great outfit in the opening img. So, for all of us shallow people out here, where is that skirt from?

  • Thank you for such an inspiring interview. It was a great to read of the challenges and the good stuff too – a very real, down to earth view of working for yourself x

  • I fell in love with Anna’s designs the moment I saw them. I think the key thing is really what she says–your products have to have a distinct, recognizable style, and be different from everything else out there. It was exciting to see them quickly become such a success. Now there are people copying her style, but hers is still the best! So many people just follow the trends instead of developing their own unique style. Bravo Anna and Nathan!

  • Really enjoyed this article. And thanks to Anna for sharing her insight. I have similar dreams and understand it will be hard but it’s great to hear her passion and that she can laugh a past mistakes. Thank you.

  • Sitting at my desk in Winter Park, FL trying to come up with a perfect birthday present for mom. Saw this interview and immediately walked over to the store!! Found the perfect calendar, notepad, and birthday card :) Thanks so much, perfect timing!!

  • I live right by this shop, so it was super neat to see this on D*S and learn more about Anna. Her designs are so beautiful and inspirational!

  • Thank you for featuring Rifle Paper Co. & Anna! I love their products and her interviews and cannot wait until the iPhone cases are finished, I’m ordering one right away.

  • This is such a fascintating look into Anna’s business and mind. As a dedicated Rifle customer, it’s lovely to see the behind the scenes and too. I’ve always felt that her connection to the brand and the brand itself feel much more relatable and personal than any other company I’ve come across. It feels like every experience I have with her products is a relationship rather than an interaction – that says so much about the business she’s built. Cheers, Anna!

    PS – those iPhone cases are to die for. The prancing cats is just to die for.

  • I’ve loves Anna Bond’s work when no one knew who she was! Love her work. The new wallpaper is to die for!

  • Such an inspiring interview! Love the project and Anna’s ideas!
    Feeling motivated :)