Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from Elizabeth Rees, the founder of Chasing Paper. Elizabeth grew up in the printing world and learned, first-hand, the ins and outs of paper and pattern. But wanting to forge her own path, Elizabeth decided to venture away from the print work and establish her own business in the realm of wallpaper. She’s since founded the successful Chasing Paper removable wallpaper brand, and today she shares a bit about her journey into owning a creative business. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your path, Elizabeth! –Stephanie
Photo by Julia Robbs
Read the full interview after the jump…
photo by Phil Walters
Why did you decide to start your own business?
As the third generation in my family’s printing company, ink has always been in my blood. That said, I felt it was very important for me to carve out my own space and create something that I am not only passionate about, but could also call my own. I have some great entrepreneurial role models in my life, and have always felt drawn to the idea of taking an idea and working to make it real. There is nothing better than waking up determined to make something a success. Monday’s are no longer a bummer.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I drew from my own experience. I have moved a lot in the past 10 years and each time I would get the keys to a new place I would always be excited to decorate and make the space my own. Wallpaper is an extraordinary way to transform an environment, but who wants that commitment? Not me, that’s for sure. From the basic to bespoke print, it was important to for me to create a product that was accessible and easy. I believe that design should be for everyone.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
That’s a tough one to answer, but I think it goes back to the decision to start. I knew there was something here, a business to be built, an idea that I knew people would not only understand, but love. The advice was just that, to trust my gut. Lots of people have ideas, not as many put pen to paper (or ink to paper in my case), so believing in what you set out to do is extremely important. I have carried that with me because decisions only get bigger. That is not to say that I don’t make mistakes or listen to other smart people around me. It just means that Chasing Paper started with me and usually Mama knows best.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I think not completely understanding the time commitment. Chasing Paper is on my mind from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep. Since the day it was launched, I’ve been talking about Chasing Paper at dinner parties, pulling samples from my bag on subway rides and answering all customer emails personally any time, day or night. The passion is what drives me but I have to be mindful of taking breaks and really turning off.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my first year is to try not to compare your business with others too much. Living in Manhattan, I am constantly meeting people with incredible businesses, which leads to a laundry list of questions in my head about how I can elevate or scale Chasing Paper in the same way. Reminding myself to stay focused on my goals and the realities of my business is always helpful. Every business and brand is unique, so there is no right or wrong way to do things, or scale things
photo by Phil Walters
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
It’s hard to choose just one moment. Failure seems like the scariest word, but has truly been my greatest driving factor. I think my failure can be timing. Sometimes I overthink an opportunity and I watch it float right by and other times I can say “Yes!” too quickly without really going through the process of deciding whether it makes sense for my brand or bottom line. I am extremely passionate about people and my paper so it’s usually the latter. Saying yes, then finding some way to make it happen. Some of my perceived “failures” over the past year have yielded the greatest lessons and, in some cases, the greatest successes. Live and learn, as they say.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Celebrating Chasing Paper’s first birthday felt pretty great. It was a nice moment to sit and reflect on all that has been accomplished, great and small. Above all, my greatest success is hearing from my customers. They are really the best and I am a lucky lady to have them on my side. Getting an email and picture of someone’s home all dressed up in Chasing Paper makes my day.
photo by Aunt Peaches for Chasing Paper
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
My dad is the king of sending me great books. He recently sent me “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger. I read it all in one afternoon, it was that good. I suppose that is more of a business book, but definitely keeps coming back to the idea of being creative in your approach. In that vein, “The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up” by Norm Brodsky. He is one of the smartest people I know and his success comes from nothing more than hard work and simple ideas. I do my best to keep up on design blogs, although while I read the articles I also find myself reading the comments a lot. I like to see how people respond to things and commonality among the thread. Knowing as much as you possibly can about your customer base is so important, so I try to keep my ear to the ground.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
- Being passionate is at the top of the list. You will eat, sleep and drink (lots of coffee or wine depending on the week) so you have to love what you are doing and believe in it when others won’t.
- To that point, be relentless. I am like a dog with a bone. For better or worse. Being persistent but not pushy has been the best personal quality I have brought to the Chasing Paper table.
- This is probably the most obvious, but is there a need? And if there is and it’s a competitive space, how will you do it better?