Blog — behind the scenes

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I’m working on something big. Hint: It’s not a wallet.

When I sent out a survey about what I should work on next and this product, I was somewhat surprised by what product came back as the #1 item. Why? Well, it wasn’t a wallet!

Canon Camera Cine Lens SlimFold Thin Wallet
Like my first wallet design, this was also something I had a need for and wasn’t able to find anything I liked. I had even sketched out some ideas but knew it would be a huge project. But I felt invigorated to work on the design knowing that other folks were looking for something like this too...

I’m going to launch a Kickstarter for it when it’s ready. Want to get notified when it goes live and get a first chance at the early deep discounts? Plus, you’ll be entered to win a free wallet...

Kickstarter Edition SlimFold MICRO Soft Shell Giveaway- Another Chance to Win


I can’t wait to take the wraps off this new product… and if there’s enough support for it, add it to the SlimFold line.
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Fifty shades of green: A qualitative and quantitative balance to design

As a business that now operates almost completely online, but makes physical products, I need to constantly make good decisions about which products to produce. I don’t do a perfect job of this by any means, but I thought you may find it interesting to understand a bit of the thinking that goes into it...

The ideal business model as far as an online business is to avoid having any inventory in order to reduce risk. This is possible by either selling digital products or drop-shipping (where someone buys a product on your website, but really you just take the order and instruct another business to ship the product from their inventory). If you make and sell your own products, you can reduce risk by either having really low cost (such as manufacturing in China) or doing small batch production runs so you aren’t stuck with things you don’t sell.

In many ways, my product combines the worst of these. In order to get the best quality, I need to print Tyvek in high quantity and have them sewn locally. But this opens up a lot of risk since if I make a color or layout people don’t want, I’m pretty much stuck with them. How do I avoid that? Analytics? Surveys? 

First is putting a lot of thought into the design

For example, even after deciding that I would make a green model, I did a series of mock-ups to see what various shades of green would look like. From this, I developed a few opinions but I also got feedback from several designers I know who have a fantastic color sense.
Green Color Study

Ideally I would have additionally done wider focus groups with customers but I didn’t have the bandwidth to do a project that would be statistically significant and decided I’d rather rely on a small sample of designers as experts than a fairly low number of end users. They could also use their knowledge of color theory to see how all of the colors in the line worked together:
Color Lineup

Next is watching sales

While folks ended up really liking the shade of green we picked, it was one of the worst sellers. When it came time to do additional print runs, I replenished stock of other colors but didn’t make any more green. It took about 3 years to sell them all! In contrast, Gray sold really well in my very first print run so it's continued to be in each print run since.

Listening to qualitative feedback

Once I did run out of green, I started to hear some requests trickle in every now and then from customers. Since I still do some customer service in my business, I could see this feedback directly. Some even said green is their absolute favorite color and they wouldn’t buy any different one!

Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice tell a story in this interesting podcast TGIM about how one of the customers at their spin gym politely complained that their towels smelled different than before. It turned out their cleaning service had switched detergent so they asked to have it switched back. After making this change based on only one person who took the time to mention it, over 50 clients came to them the next week to thank them for changing the detergent back for the towels! Only one mentioned the issue but over 50 more were aware of it!

When it was time to do the next print run, I included green. Even though the numbers told me it wasn't as popular as other colors, I knew some folks really liked it.

Last is putting my artist hat on

I’ve heard it explained that the difference between art and design is that while the designer tries to create something to achieve a desired result, an artist puts out an expression of themselves in order to see what the response of others is.

Owning this company myself puts me in a unique position where I can produce something I think is cool, even if I really have no idea if others will like it. Unlike other design jobs I’ve had, there’s no approval process, no internal politics, and if it doesn’t work, the financial consequences are on me. But that lets me push the “go” button on the design (or art) I think is best

This process is really what was behind the black cubic model and more recent White/White model. It turns out those have been some of my best sellers, perhaps because they’re somewhat unexpected from what a traditional wallet maker would produce.
Micro Cubic Pattern

Is there a new color you’d like to see? A pattern you think is cool? A material you’d love to see made into something? A completely different product you’d like to see my take on? Let me know in the comments below or directly with the Contact page.
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Hidden world of shipping and returns

If you’ve ever sent something back to a big company, you’ve probably engaged in some kind of process where you fill out a form with bar codes on it or include a RMA or other kind of authorization number. I can see why companies have these kinds of systems set up to help with their logistics. For a small business like mine, when things are sent back they come to… well, me

We’ve developed some systems to handle things a bit more efficiently, mostly focused around making sure customers are refunded or exchanges are processed. For example, now that I have someone helping with some customer service and operations, I started sending them photos of the return addresses. Initially I did this by taking photos with my phone, which would get synchronized through iCloud. I would then send an email with screenshot snippets of each one. Now we’ve somewhat streamlined it by having a shared Evernote file. If I create a new note in that file, I can add photos to it directly with the mobile app and everything is synchronized between us. It’s not super fancy but it works.

The majority of the returns we process are actually ones that bounce back to us from the post office. This can be for all kinds of reasons ranging from typos to a person’s name not being listed as an official receiver at an address. (I never new that was a “thing" before doing this!) That results in us having a perfectly good wallet on hand but the volume of these just doesn’t warrant the extra work of categorizing all of the different models and sending them back to our fulfillment house very often. So they basically pile up for a few months while we send out replacements from the main inventory to folks once any address issues are ironed out.

With the new Tyvek print run still under way, we’re receiving emails almost every day asking about when the items which are currently out of stock will be available. Meanwhile, I had these new wallets that just needed to be categorized and sent to the fulfillment house. It turned out to be a good push for me to get it done and I’m pleased to announce that they’ve all been processed and are now available for sale! That means EVERYTHING IS IN STOCK at this very moment… but it won’t last long since some items only have a handful remaining.

So head on over and pick one of our wallets up.

 

On a side note, it’s pretty fascinating to see some of the wallets come back from having gone around the world and not being deliverable for one reason or another. They often times have cryptic stamps in other languages or a variety of hand-written notes either from errant receivers or foreign mail workers. While some do get lost completely, it’s cool to hear from people all over the world who receive their wallets quickly and are loving them.


So what happens when something can’t be delivered but can’t be returned either? There was actually a pretty fascinating episode of 99% Invisible recently about this very topic. Without giving too much away, there is a mysterious place where it all goes to be taken care of.
99pi

After hearing the episode and seeing some of the mail that has come back to me from all over the world, it makes me wonder how other countries handle this kind of mail? Perhaps they too have mysterious lost mail centers?

The bounced mail that’s most memorable for me was one I sent to Zimbabwe and appeared in my mailbox almost a year after I sent it! I had already sent the customer a replacement, but I still have the returned envelope as a keepsake with wallet inside and everything.

Rest assured it's probably less than .5% of wallets that come back to me but I thought I'd share the story behind the ones that do...
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