With a penchant for the well-crafted and designed, Chelsea and Jamie decided it was time to put their own designer tastes on paper – literally. The duo launched their Sugar Paper brand in 2003 and have been creating exquisite paper products since, including new digital versions of their work on Paperless Post. Today Chelsea shares a bit about their journey from idea to business, and the valuable tips, tricks and life lessons they learned along the way. –Stephanie
photos courtesy of Sugar Paper
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Sugar Paper began in 2003 with a love of letterpress and an appreciation for simple, tasteful design.
Jamie and I both have an appreciation for fine stationery but, at the time, we felt that there was a hole in the market for classic, understated design. The high-end options felt dated and we wanted to put a fresh spin on the time-honored tradition of the handwritten note. We started Sugar Paper to create a line that combined fine materials with classic typefaces yet had a more current feel.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
We chose to focus on high quality social stationery. Our best work comes when we focus on the small details that make a piece of stationery exquisite. It’s what we do best. We have a mantra at Sugar Paper, “Love is in the details.”
The heart of our company is in the making, but the channels of distribution have changed since we first opened shop in 2003. When we began, we had one retail store and a loyal following of local clients. We now also sell online, through exclusive collaborations with large retailers, and wholesale through our boutique retail partners.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Keep going. Owning and operating a business is tricky. Just when you feel like you have it down, you find a new challenge to overcome. We have learned to accept this over the years and when things get tough, we try to remind ourselves that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that the best thing to do is to keep going.
We have a letterpress print that we created that says, “Keep going.” I give it to all of my entrepreneurial friends.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
We had very little money when we began. We borrowed money from our families and had to be very conservative with our budget. In the beginning, neither of us were paid and that went on for quite awhile, as we chose instead to reinvest and grow. We laugh about it now because the tiny budget we had wasn’t really appropriate for what we were trying to do, but we are hard workers who tend to be hopefully optimistic!
We functioned on the belief that we could make it happen, and so we rolled up our sleeves and made it happen. We designed and printed all of the products, we worked the store, handled customer service, did the books, etc. We put in really long hours.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
We’ve had to learn how to manage people and how to lead a team. It’s a daily challenge to make sure everyone’s needs are met. We have to be much more efficient with our time and trust that the people we have hired are good at what they do. We’re not micromanagers because we hire incredible people. Jamie and I used to do everything ourselves but it’s impossible to do that now. The process of letting go and allowing people to help you is tough but completely worthwhile.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I can’t. Not because we haven’t had them… we’ve had plenty! But our failures have become opportunities of growth for us.
For example, five years ago we were contacted by Mickey Drexler at J.Crew about doing some items for them. Nothing ever came of it and I was heartbroken. Since then, we have learned so much about working with large retailers. That knowledge has carried over to the current successes we’re having now. That growth was necessary for us as a company, so to call it a failure would be inaccurate.
This year we launched a line of paper goods for J.Crew Weddings and will be carried in J.Crew stores nationwide.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Collaborating with people and companies that we’ve long admired is a dream come true. The first time we took a celebrity order was a big day in the company’s history. Most recently, it’s been the experience of collaborating with companies such as J.Crew, Target and now Paperless Post.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Anything by Seth Godin. He’s a hero of mine. Two of my favorites are “Purple Cow” and “Tribes.”
I also highly recommend “The E Myth” for anyone just starting out and “Hug Your Customers” is a great one for anyone who cares about providing high quality customer service.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Lifestyle. People who own businesses tend to work more than most people I know.
Money. Unless you have an instant hit on your hands, money is a big consideration for the first several years.
Joy. Only do it if you love it. It makes all the difference.