Life has a way of knocking on your door and reminding you of your age. Yesterday turned out to be one of those days, prompted by a visit from Mariam Naficy, CEO & founder of San Francisco-based Minted, a startup that is using crowdsourced designs for stationery items.
Last time I saw Naficy, I still had no gray hair, and the Internet madness (version 1.0) was still in full swing. She and her co-founder stopped by the Forbes.com offices to pitch Eve.com, their beauty online retailer. Eventually Eve.com would raise $26 million, and like all its dot-com peers run into heavy weather before selling out to a much larger rival (It is now part of Sephora).
Since then, we stayed in touch from a distance -– she was involved with Movielink, then The Body Shop’s online operation before she decided to build her latest startup, Minted, last August. She has raised $2.2 million in funding from angels, many of them her contemporaries from the Web 1.0 days.
Minted, to put it bluntly, is a Threadless for stationery goods. I have been a big fan of the crowdsourced business model and said so in a column back in 2005. My view was that the future of consumer businesses was making consumers part of their business and allowing them to profit from the business themselves.
The trend, later dubbed crowdsourcing (I still prefer my tag of iCompany), was popularized by Skinny Corp., a Chicago-based T-shirt maker that allows people to enter T-shirt designs for site visitors to review then buys popular designs, sharing profits with the designers. I think this is a model that is going to have a profound and long-term impact on retail -– especially in the niches like that occupied by Minted. (Related: Small is the new big.)
Just as with Threadless, graphic designers submit their designs to Minted and the rest of the community votes and picks the winners. The winner gets a cash prize of anywhere between $500 to $1,000. In addition, winners’ designs can then be used to print, say, party invitations, holiday cards or notifications. The designer gets 5 percent of the retail price of the stationery and continues to get the royalty as long as people order the products.
Naficy said that this is a business with good solid margins -– more than she has ever enjoyed in any of her past businesses. The big challenge for her is to keep the community growing, and attracting more and more designers to the community. The service, which launched in April 2008, is proving to be quite a hit with the designers who have submitted over 1,000 designs and participated in four contests. So far the company is doing one design contest a month.
One of the main reasons Minted can get into the business of building nearly bespoke stationery in small quantities is because the world of printing has gone digital. Minted is the latest company to capitalize on the rapid improvement in quality digital printing, thanks to companies like Hewlett-Packard that have introduced a new generation of small printing presses. Moo is doing similar things with its cards-and-photo-album business.
Minted is going after stationery mostly because it is a business that hasn’t been touched by technology that much. Mass customization can interest a lot of buyers, especially women who make such decisions, Naficy explained. Of course, in the future she plans on expanding to other categories –- but that remains in the future.
While we’re pretty sure the paper goods still aren’t moving about, we’ve corrected “stationary” to “stationery” throughout this article. Thanks! – Ed.