New Downtown Retailer Wants You to Lighten UpBusiness Profiles — By Melanie McIntyre on December 21, 2010 at 8:00 am
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MM: What resources did you use to get up and running?
PW: The most important resource in a venture like this is the tenacity to resolve the many challenges that arise. I have previous experience navigating startup, so I knew I needed outside help to help establish the business mechanism, accounting help, sourcing help, et cetera. I always seek out advice from my friends, an informal board, my family and wife. Perhaps “wife” or “partner” should be first in the lineup, actually. You need your partner along for the ride. It is important to find solutions, even while disagreeing, when launching a venture like this. And so much better to agree when something like zeroz includes late nights, early mornings, financial risks, and trading personal time for business conversations. In my case, it helps, too, that my wife is a designer. She manages design projects of her own and understands the uncertainty and risk associated with a startup.
Financially, our limited resources have come from personal options, like with many typical startups. A line of credit, a small group of patient investors from previous ventures, and my various ongoing design and consulting fees. The branding alone can take anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 to get started, with manufacturing costs easily tripling the resources needed. We are operating very lean. Sweat equity keeps me running! We believe in inventory on demand, creating finished product as needed instead of building up stock.
MM: Did you have any advisers, role models, or mentors you relied on for advice or input?
PW: Because of previous ventures, we decided against bank loans, microloans, SCORE mentors, and naming attorneys. All of these aspects have been amazingly helpful and important in the past, but, at the same time, they add a lot of layers and expenses even before a single dollar comes in.
I do listen a lot! To past advisers, customers, and my gut! We value the many casual discussions and over-lunch conversations. We have a patent attorney. Have I mentioned my wife enough? The female aspect of a brand such as zeroz is important. Injecting a woman’s sensibility, style, awareness is invaluable. Also, a very practical, skeptical adviser helps to test theories before implementing.
The moment that zeroz became a viable possibility was when we were making a purchase at the Apple store. The cool, hip guys across the counter asked, “Where did you get your wallet?” Ding, ding, ding. My wife finally agreed. “We should start exploring zeroz for real!”
MM: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?
PW: Have I mentioned my wife? No seriously, she was not. But she helped point out many excellent considerations. Also, financing a startup is always a challenge. Minimizing this challenge can be as simple as spending less money. What investing less money leads to is a lot of hands-on solutions that I must sweat through myself. I’m not afraid of long hours; it’s a challenge that’s worth it.
Another challenge was the cashStrap. We wanted some zeroz to have the option to accommodate cash and receipts. While plastic cards have become the primary mode of financial transactions, being able to tag on a few dollar bills or save receipts could also be good. We did not want to use metal or some clumsy apparatus. Many money clips are fatter than a zeroz. Most of us do not like a metal object in our pocket or purse that can scratch our cell phone. A cashStrap only adds 1 millimeter of thickness to a zeroz, but a ton of function. It is super durable and effective. On a product that demands easy, frequent use, everything must work seamlessly. The “coolness factor” just happened.
MM: What are your goals for the business?
PW: While it is exciting and important to gauge public reaction with our retail space, our primary business model is to sell online across the country and around the world. The viral aspect is amazing and effective for something like zeroz. So keep talking.
A goal in life is for me to remain inspired and enjoy it, while being financially sustainable. Have I mentioned my wife?
I see an opportunity to design something practical and cool for an everyday need. We all use a wallet in some form or another. Teenagers and college students have more and more cards, women have larger purses and can’t find their ID, or we want to downsize and minimize when we go out, and guys are tired of their fat wallets. Come on guys. We can do better!
So we are focused on just wallets and not expanding into purses or cool bags, et cetera. Others are doing a great job in these areas. Have you seen how cool our local Seagull Bags are?
One additional, simple goal is already being realized. Yesterday, someone came in to our store, picked up two new zeroz, removed his wallet from his front pocket, and slid a credit card from his zeroz! Sweet. Two more wallet conversions on the way!
MM: Anything else you think I should know?
PW: Do you know there is actually a condition called Fat Wallet Syndrome? Seriously. A wallet carried in a back pocket causes back problems. It affects the curvature of the spine. Read on it. Crazy but true. By lightening up and slipping zeroz into your front pocket, backs are healthier and money safer at concerts, in crowds, or for travel. Also, for many women the purse can become a black hole absorbing all matter. We do not yet have a florescent color, but we do have a couple beautiful brighter colors to stand out in a purse.
OK, last words: If you’ve actually read this much on zeroz, you might as well come down to our studio and store, say, “Hi, Paul.” Try one cool zeroz or another and convert on the spot. Walk out lighter, with less wallet…and a lot more cool.
All photography by Adam Slane.
Do you think Paul is meeting a market need? Share your opinion below.
Melanie McIntyre served as editorial director of The Metropreneur from its launch in August 2010 to May 2013. She is also a featured writer for Columbus Underground and writes about fashion, style and pop culture on her blog, Thoroughly Modern Melly. Melanie is an Ohio State University graduate, lives in the Short North, and enjoys reading and running.
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