I have an un-curable case of the entrepreneurial bug. I love beautiful products. I am addicted to building things. I almost always have my iron in a couple “side-project” fires.
My latest venture is my first foray into a market that is otherwise quite foreign to me. This market is more about design, taste and experience than technology. This venture is an idea that was inspired by my wife Melissa and my son Kingston.
I present PaperCow.com. Paper Cow is an idea that I came up with as I watched my wife Melissa plan and prepare for my son Kingston’s 1 year old birthday party last Spring. Melissa is someone who loves to entertain and loves to create a fun and memorable experience. Our son’s first birthday was the perfect storm of an excuse for her to go all out putting together a sock monkey themed birthday party that would be sure to garner many a Facebook photo album like. While looking around online for fun ideas for decorating a sock monkey themed birthday party, Melissa stumbled onto what appears to be a pretty vibrant community of designers who are building businesses putting together customized party decorations and selling them primarily on Etsy.com. She found a designer who’s work she liked and had her create a set of sock monkey themed party decorations customized with Kingston’s name and age. She paid the designer for PDF files containing the completed designs and we printed and assembled the decorations ourselves. While it was a fairly significant undertaking to print and assemble these decorations it made for a couple fun family nights of “crafting” together.
After watching Melissa go through this whole process, my entrepreneurial curiosity set in and I started wondering what kind of a market there is for high quality, designer, customized party decorations. After a little research clicking around Etsy.com, Pinterest.com, and a handful of Google searches, I concluded that there appears to be a not insignificant market for these types of products. While the product is definitely niche, it is an “experience” culture product that I can only see a growing demand for as sites like Pinterest pummel every female on the planet with a never ending stream of “must-have” cuteness.
So the basic idea of Paper Cow is that I will work with professional designers who’s work I love to create extremely high quality party decoration sets that are easily customizable and then use my technical and entrepreneurial savvy to streamline the marketing, creation and delivery of these completely custom decoration sets to the customers.
I’m somewhat obsessive with customer experience and I long to build a brand that is known for amazing customer experiences (like Zappos). I think this market is a great one to capitalize on providing a great customer experience that will become associated with some of the most precious memories our customers will have. If I can make Paper Cow brand synonomous with fun, memorable, beautiful celebrations of human life, I will have achieved my goal.
To be honest, I am very, very early into this side-project adventure. Probably too early to be talking so openly about it. However, I’m someone who has always had tremendous appreciation for entrepreneurs who operate liberally in the sharing of their experiences as they are experiencing them. It is a goal of mine as an entrepreneur and technologist to share as much as I can possibly afford to with the community even if at times it means sacrificing slight competitive edge.
On that note, I will share my initial three pronged approach to this project where I am testing out three different ways to get my products to customers and seeing how each of them pans out.
Prong 1 is PaperCow.com. I hope to build a primary flagship website that will be the primary way of purchasing my products online. I’ve put together a simple Shopify store that is up at PaperCow.com. So far I have very little organic traffic to this store but I’m experimenting with adwords to send traffic there. I’m hoping that over time I can build up a good base of organic traffic as well and have a extremely solid brand name website where I can provide a great customer experience as well as run various conversion optimization tests to figure out the best possible ways to sell my products. I have yet to make a sale hear but I also have very minimal traffic.
Prong 2 is an Etsy.com shop. Etsy is a fantastic market place and seems to be where a lot my target market is doing their shopping for these types of products. I put together simple Etsy store and I’m experimenting with purchasing traffic through Etsy’s promotion tools which feature your products on the top of Etsy SERP pages. So far this is where all of my sales have come from. I will likely share some numbers in the near future but at this point everything is too early to be meaningful. My conversion rates are all very, very low but so far I am actually turning a profit on Etsy.
Prong 3 is SockMonkeyBirthdayParty.com. This is purely an SEO play. For that reason it may very well be a complete flop. The idea is to build a website around sock monkey themed birthday parties and hope that with enough time/content it will rank for sock monkey birthday party related searches. This is an idea I got from Patrick McKenzie who does something similar with his BingoCardCreator.com product. SockMonkeyBirthdayParty.com is pretty fresh and has very little content at the moment so it is currently getting no traffic. I will slowly add content over the course of the next year, attempt to do a little bit of link building and see where we are a year from now. I suspect with many of Google’s recent changes I may be better off pouring all of my time and energy into the primary PaperCow.com domain but I figure it’s worth a shot to try a couple of super vertically focused sites in order to optimize for search.
So there you have it. I hope to share more as this project unfolds. I have even toyed with the idea of doing a completely open source business where I publish literally every detail and fact I legally can in an effort to share valuable knowledge with others and hopefully solicit feedback and insight from the community in return for sharing that knowledge. That prospect slightly scares me because if it does start to work, it would give any would be competitors the short cut road map to completely copy what I’m doing. Part of me thinks that risk would be worth it but I’m still thinking on that one.
I would appreciate any feedback, thoughts, ideas you may have in the comments.