Submitted: The Two Sides Team December 27, 2012
Paperless Post made a name for itself for providing fancy online stationery that was an alternative to Evite.com.
December 10 2012
by Teresa Novellino, Upstart Business Journal
I don’t remember what event it was for but I do remember the first Paperless Post invitation I received via email. I clicked on a virtual envelope, andafter a few suspenseful momentsa fancy invitation appeared as if someone had pulled a piece of paper from an envelope. Genius, I thought.
Fast forward a few years and I am at the New York City offices of Paperless Post meeting the brains behind that long-ago invite: brother-and-sister team Alexa Hirschfeld, 28, and James Hirschfeld, 26. The three-year-old digital startup has grown steadily, and its latest move is one that seems to defy their companys very name. They are beginning to offer papernot paperless or digitalcards starting at $1.50 each through a new division called Paper that launched in mid-October. But why? The simple answer is that their customers requested it, and they dont think thats a temporary retro trend or some newfound desire among consumers for the pre-gadget, pre-digital past.
I think it is exactly 2012, James Hirschfeld says. If were honest with ourselves, the world that consumers live in is truly digital and also truly physical. The hybridity is the reality.
Plus, the company, which has more than 1.5 million registered users, can now serve the lucrative bridal market more completely. According to a survey from the Knot.com, couples spent an average of $331 on bridal-related stationery last year down from $351 the previous year, which may point to increased usage of digital options. But while digital invitations may be suitable for the bridal shower or the post-nuptial brunch, the old-fashioned paper invitation holds sway for the main event, the Hirschfelds say.
We basically were hearing from our customers that they love paper, and they love Paperless Post, but that sometimes they also want to have a hard copy or some to send to people without email, Alexa says. Or they want a save-the-date thats digital and a wedding invitation thats paper.
To fill that need, the company was sending people digital files so that they could have the cards printed on actual paper.
So, instead, we decided to go ahead and fulfill those orders ourselves, Alexa said. To do so, the company has partnered with a printing company that is close to a major airport, so that it can complete and ship the print orders on thick and double-thick, high-quality paper. New tools for its Paper division still allow the functionality and ease of digital cardslike address collection and RSVP management along with personalized features like photo-sharing, but pair it with print.
From a fiscal standpoint, James says the decision to launch Paper jibed with the companys philosophy to let the expenses follow the revenue and to put products into consumers hands before allocating resources to it.
Weve always been a company that is focused on making money, he says. Weve never been the kind of startup that is spend-spend-spend and the money will come later once you capture the audience ethos.
Initially the two siblings bootstrapped the operation with their own savings, followed by a few family and friend rounds. They have currently raised a total of $12.3 million, with the first venture capital round, totaling $6 million, secured in May. The company, which has 55 full-time employees, hired just a few more for the addition of Paper.
Paper leverages a lot of properties that weve already built, James says. We already have a really strong design team, we already have a really strong technology team, and the fact that we only had to add a few people to add up this business line is one of the reasons we decided to do it.
Like the company, the siblings are modern and old-fashioned at once. You could almost imagine the two of them playing together in a band like a real sibling version of the White Stripes or producing films (one of James ideas for a possible joint business). But as we chat in a conference room where a cork board has print photographs of food from potlucks, friends and outings on the water, plus a drawing of an old-fashioned rotary phone, you realize the stationery business is on target.
The Hirschfelds grew up in Manhattan in a Christian-Jewish household with lots of holiday traditions. They go as a family to The Nutcracker every year. Their mom, who cooks big holiday feasts , used to make handmade holiday cards where family photographs were glued on by hand.
We go to our parents house and were basically in the house for like four straight days, eating, says Alexa. The menu includes prime rib, creamed broccoli and Yorkshire pudding which is she says “like a giant popover with cheese in it.
Theyre not British, but between the Yorkshire pudding and the stationery business, you would think so wouldnt you? says Alexa, who Fast Company named one of the most influential women in technology in 2011. James, who is also the chief executive officer, is the design visionary of the company. But Alexa says there are creative parts to both of their jobs.
People always want to divide it but its not that easy to figure out, Alexa says. What is weird is hes the designer and Im the functionality person, so thats kind of a gender bender. People always want to think that Im the designer.
James started planning the company in his junior year at Harvard University. Alexa, who had already graduated from Harvard, was working at CBS Evening News as then-anchor Katie Courics editorial assistant. Just two years apart, the siblings knew they would wanted to start a company togetheralthough they know that siblings who can accomplish this without “killing each other” is something of a rarity, says James.
Its really nice when youre working day in and day out that its someone that you really love and care about thats going through the same thing with you, and experiencing all the highs and lows, he says.
Right now, the siblings are getting ready for what is, by a factor of 10, their busiest day of the year: December 23, when digital rules and Paper is on hold.
Because theres no hope to send out a paper card at that point, says James.