If You Can't Speak 'Instagram,' This Founder Thinks You'll Need to Learn
A side experiment transformed online stationery company Minted -- and has helped it understand the power of visuals for consumers.
Editor's Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business -- and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences. This week, we're discussing Hoffman's theory: you need to raise more money than you think you need — and potentially a lot more.
When Mariam Naficy launched Minted, a stationery startup, she wasn't looking to reinvent the wheel. She planned to borrow the model she'd used for her now-sold cosmetic company Eve.com, focusing on quality brands, but just selling premium paper products instead of high-end lipstick and hand cream.
And then she launched.
"I open the doors. There's not a sale for an entire month," Naficy tells Reid Hoffman, the host of the podcast Masters of Scale, a 10-episode series in which the LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner offers an unconventional theory about scale and sets out to proves it through conversations with iconic entrepreneurs.
"Nobody wants the branded stationery products that we'd spent most of our $2.5 million launching -- because again, being conservative, I'd said, "I know, I'll do an Eve.com, I'll put all these brands online, sign them up exclusively.' We had exclusive distribution rights. Nobody wanted to buy them at all."
Meanwhile, a smaller -- and cheaper -- side project was getting the real traction. Minted had begun holding design competitions, crowdsourcing invitation or holiday card ideas from creatives across the globe. The winning submissions were chosen by popular vote -- and sold on the site. "Out of the $2.5 million, I probably spent like $100,000 on what really became Minted," she recalls to Hoffman in the podcast.
Now, after thousands of designs submissions and getting its products in 40 million homes, Naficy's small bet paid off.
Minted's global reach has given Naficy a special understanding of visuals -- and how design connects with consumers. In today's world, says Naficy, those who can speak Instagram or Pinterest are most likely to get their messages across. She explains this -- and how global influences are shaping the U.S. consumer -- in this first on Entrepreneur special excerpt from Naficy's full length interview with Reid Hoffman.
People have different aesthetic tastes, and you need to be able to address them. And the best way to address them is by tapping into global creativity. And so we have people entering our competitions from 50 countries. There are generally five to 10,000 entries for competition and 2 million votes are cast. International designers are starting to understand U.S. taste and shape the submissions to actually be popular in the U.S. -- but bringing their perspective on design. And the U.S. consumers like that.
I see a lot of beautiful painting coming out of Southeast Asia, and Asia in general. So that's really been popular, and has influenced people. And of course, the Scandinavian typography—a very clean approach to design and typography—that has affected more of our typography-based products like stationery.
Ironically, a lot of Middle Eastern motifs are very popular, such as iznik [a type of pattern], and a lot of things that I don't think people understand, actually, are Middle Eastern. So, I think that's affected European and U.S. tastes in furniture and fabric designs, for example.
The world is a tinier and tinier place, and Pinterest and Instagram have been making us very visually-oriented creatures. I personally think that the language of speaking with images—and being able to communicate to other people using an image—is going to become almost like another language. It's almost like it should be a required language. If you can speak on Instagram through a better photo, then you'll be able to communicate your message better. If you can speak it, you're going to be more advantaged in the new world with the next generation.
For more anecdotes and lessons from Naficy's journey to scale, check out the latest episode of this new series. Listeners can also access the podcast on Apple, Google, Stitcher and other streaming platforms.
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