Blog — Urban Air Market


Quitting my day job- I work for you

Many of you have been SlimFold customers or fans since we started in 2009 while others may have just stumbled across the site recently when looking for a thin wallet. Whether you saw me in San Francisco when I set up my first booth to sell wallets and it rained… or you backed a Kickstarter campaign for the MICRO Tyvek Minimalist Wallet, Soft Shell Minimalist Wallet, or Slim Pack, it’s certainly been a journey. I’m tremendously grateful that so many folks have enjoyed using my products.

SlimFold Booth
SlimFold Booth from 2013

But what you may not know is that up until recently I also maintained a full-time career as a mobile user experience designer. It runs counter to the advice most folks give about “taking the leap” into entrepreneurship, but it was definitely the right path for me. And an experience I’m starting to share with others so they can consider whether it’s right for them too.

As the company grew, I essentially had two full-time jobs but was able to manage things by being efficient with my time and getting help where needed. For example, I hired a local fulfillment company to do all the shipping, implemented systems to automatically synchronize our inventory with theirs, and hired some local stay at home moms to help with customer service. But when my son was born almost 2 years ago, I knew I couldn’t do it all… at least not well. So I committed to focusing on Fatherhood and SlimFold.

At first, this was just a trial to see if working only on SlimFold could work both financially and emotionally.

Like any major transition, it took a little getting used to. I remember listening to TGIM (Thank God it’s Monday) and thinking that the distinction between days had indeed faded… that every day was Monday yet every day was Friday. But I was thankful to be doing what I loved each day. Well, most days. This was also during the time when I was trying to produce the Slim Pack and there were lots of challenges with producing that many bags in a short amount of time… and then some major snags we hit with trying to ship the ones we had made. 

Now that all the Slim Packs are shipped and the holiday rush is behind us, I’ve been looking ahead at the coming year and all the products I want to make… and I’m pleased to let you know that I’ve decided to make my focus on SlimFold permanent.

As a designer for major tech companies, I needed to make the best designs I could while supporting their business model and balancing the desires of many stakeholders. While running my own business has a lot more moving parts in terms of the logistics, in many ways the mission is much more simple. Now you’re really the only stakeholder that matters. So in a very real way, I work for you now.

I’m looking forward to continuing to do my best to listen to your feedback and suggestions about the products you’d like to see me make. And am optimistic that if I continue to create compelling solutions, you'll continue to support us.

Memory Lane: Urban Air Market in SF

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!