It was a chilly Saturday morning five years ago when I woke up to try and sell my first SlimFold wallet. I registered for a booth at the Capsule Design Festival in San Francisco (now called the Urban Air Market). A few days earlier, I had bought a table from Costco, a couple of folding chairs from Target, and ordered an orange printed banner the size of the table. The night before, I set the booth up in my bedroom office to see how it looked and work out the kinks with how to tape the sign to the table. It was still dark when I left my apartment in Mountain View to head up to San Francisco with my makeshift booth and what wallets I had...
With Fall approaching, it wasn’t surprising to see that as the morning came, clouds remained fairly thick overhead as I set up my booth. I was amazed by the elaborate displays people had! The girl next to me had full-on glass jewelry cabinets she had brought in on a pick-up truck. The other thing I noticed was that EVERY OTHER BOOTH HAD A TENT. I somehow thought these would be provided by the event since when you go to things like this you see that all the tents look the same. It turns out that there are only like two companies that make these standard white tents and everyone brings their own. Or, more specifically, everyone but me.
Shortly after my booth was all set up, the drops started falling… which rapidly turned into a steady rain. To the limited foot traffic, I would highlight that Tyvek was 100% waterproof as they scanned my soaked table and wallets propped on display stands. I think I sold a total of about 10 wallets that day… one of them to my jewelry seller neighbor Kate Ellen’s dad. But during the few moments of clear skies we had, I got to meet some folks who instantly recognized that the wallet solved a problem they had all their lives. The fact that I had the same problem finding a thin wallet and had designed a solution created a connection between us. And that’s what kept me coming back the next year and the next.
While my business is mostly online now, I still enjoy the connection with my customers… whether it’s answering questions about the product, receiving messages of appreciation, or even handling frustrating situations such as shipping issues. Now when I pay for something using my own wallet, it’s no longer a prototype of something I made for myself but a product that thousands of people are also enjoying every day. And I’m so happy I can share that experience.
Urban Air Market is happening in the Lower Haight today (10/10/2015) so head on over if you’re in the Bay Area! And Kate Ellen now owns her own awesome store in Oakland called Crown Nine so check it out as well!