Offer valid through February 28, 2017
Lovepop’s mission is to create unexpected gifts.
American: So what exactly is lovepop?
Wombi: Lovepop creates magical paper art to give to the special people in your life. Each of our cards hides an intricate 3D paper sculpture, and every card is blank because personal messages are the most meaningful. We want to encourage you to remember the people you love in a truly unique way, which is why we offer hundreds of designs just perfect for any recipient and any occasion.
American: How did you come up with the concept for lovepop?
John: We were on a trip to Vietnam when we discovered and fell in love with an ancient art form called kirigami and realized that we could use the same engineering skills we used in constructing boats to paper art. We started dreaming up designs right away. Applying ship design software, we developed Slicegami™, and started creating intricate 3D-paper sculptures.
The impact of what we had created didn’t become clear until we brought them home and started putting the cards into the hand of friends, family and complete strangers. Once we saw first-hand the reactions to opening our cards, we realized there’s something bigger going on here.
People want a physical expression of their care for other people -- something special -- but it’s hard to find something just right. A Lovepop is more meaningful than a traditional greeting card—it fits that need. Creating unexpected designs and sharing these cards became our passion. We live for that moment when our customers open a new design for the first time.
American: What is the advantage for customers to choose lovepop over similar products?
Wombi: The greeting card industry is one that hasn’t changed much for several decades; cards have become pretty unremarkable. We offer a special alternative. When people receive a Lovepop, they display it like an art piece. They thank the sender. It’s incredible. Something that you just don’t get from a drugstore greeting card. We’re going to keep building that brand and make sure that when our customers buy a Lovepop, they know they’re getting something unexpected, tangible, and personal.
American: Where is lovepop available?
Wombi: Our entire collection of 200+ designs is available on lovepop.com where you can see every unexpected design from a unicorn jumping over a rainbow to a camping scene. If you want to experience a Lovepop in real life, we have five dedicated kiosks in the Boston area and new locations just opened in Manhattan. In addition, our cards are available in select retail shops across the country, a list that is expanding daily.
American: Does lovepop have plans to expand to other markets?
Wombi: Absolutely. 2016 was an incredible year of growth. At the end of the year we expanded our proprietary kiosk stores into New York, opening in the Oculus Building in Manhattan, and we have other major metros on the horizon.
This spring we're launching custom wedding invitations, and we have some very happy brides out there! Wedding invitations showcase our unique ability to create something truly special, and will introduce Lovepop to a whole new customer. We’re designing a customization platform and will offer the only 3D wedding invitation of its kind, and you’ll hear a lot more about Lovepop Weddings in the coming months.
Wombi: Our marketing strategy is a hybrid digital and physical approach. We know customers love to experience our product in person, open it themselves and feel the quality in the papers and the craftsmanship.
In that way, our product is pretty unique: the cards are our best marketing tool. Each design is so elaborate and intricate, it’s that moment when recipients and customers hold the sculpture in their hands -- folding and re-opening it over and over -- that they become a customer for life. In fact, every sale for us is marketing, because someone new will find a Lovepop in his or her mailbox.
Of course, we can’t be everywhere at once, so our online presence is important to our loyal customers. We are very active on social media, and we’ve been very lucky to have quite a bit of exposure from a successful appearance on “Shark Tank” late last year.
The game really changed for us after “Shark Tank” and our Shark -- Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful -- invested in Lovepop. He is such a fantastic consumer marketer, we’re really lucky to have his introduction into new channels and avenues which helps us to meet new customers.
American: What is one piece of advice would you give someone wanting to start a new business?
Wombi: Oh so much advice! John and I have learned a lot -- every day we look at each other and say “we couldn’t have handled this yesterday.” When you’re starting a business, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the operational details, just keeping yourself and the team moving forward.
I think one of the most dangerous things you can do as a startup is jump to conclusions, especially falsely positive conclusions that certain strategies are working for you. If you believe something is working, your team will push you to replicate it as quickly as possible, but if you haven’t fully understood the factors behind your early small scale success, odds are you won’t be able to scale it effectively.
We learned this the hard way in retail. We had an extremely successful retail kiosk model in our infancy: several different locations all operating profitably. We believed we fully understood how they worked, and decided to double our retail footprint. Turns out, there were three factors we didn’t adequately understand: how to build a community of brand ambassadors, how to understand traffic patterns, and how to measure the intent to buy in different kinds of retail outlets. We were shocked when the numbers came back from our new stores: less than a quarter of our projections, and extremely unprofitable. The lesson: make sure you really understand something before you scale. And scale incrementally. The lesson for everyone: beware of false positives.
Wombi: There are so many -- finding the right people to hire, learning how to manage, the way that things change so fast -- sometimes it feels like you’re running a completely new business than you were six months before.
I’d say for us, one of our biggest struggles was in building a production capability from scratch. Initially, we were using contract manufacturers and had trouble getting the quality level up to what we wanted. We were frustrated with incorrect paper stocks, incorrect colors, gluing spots, and tears in our sculptures as well as long lead times on production.
To remedy all of those shortfalls, we built our own production facility. Luckily, we are engineers and we had some experience in what that should look like. John had been at a boat manufacturer and was able to handle sourcing equipment and putting design processes in place, but it was a major undertaking, and there was a steep learning curve. Ultimately we built a facility that we are very proud of, and because we built it and we run it, we are 100% confident in our production and can believe in our product, which is essential to our business.
John: At Lovepop we believe in real-world interactions. In this hectic digital world, we are creating incredible 3D cards so that our customers can tell people how they feel with something tangible and real. And we feel the exact same way about getting to know people. Nothing can replace face-to-face interactions. Phone and email and text are great to keep in touch, but if you really want to establish a relationship, you have to meet someone and spend time with them. Practically, that means a lot of travel. Wombi travels to the west coast to talk with investors and advisors on a regular basis.
And considering more than half of our team is in Vietnam, travel is essential to making Lovepop work. We want to know the people who work there and have them fully integrated into our company, so we travel to Vietnam and spend time with the team there several times a year. Having a personal relationship with the team there gives us a huge advantage in working together.
As for the American program -- Wombi used points to pay for a flight to QVC where he debuted Lovepop on a special show co-hosted by Kevin O’Leary. As a startup always concerned about costs, that savings was greatly appreciated. And it was a huge success! The QVC viewers embraced Lovepop, and we’ve been invited back!
John: An essential piece of the Lovepop business is customer service or (as we call it) Customer Happiness. When we started out selling our first cards, we were selling by hand at fairs, talking to our customers, watching their reactions, hearing the stories of the loved ones who received the cards. We loved helping customers choose the right design.
Once we saw the business taking off, we thought we should hire a call center to handle heavy volume days -- like when we were on “Shark Tank.” Even though we hired one of the best centers, it was a few calls in when we realized that no one could talk to customers like we do, and that we love that interaction, it’s essential to who we are and what we do at Lovepop. So an hour before “Shark Tank” aired, we decided to pull the calls back in-house, route them to the cell phones of everyone in this company and their loved ones--the designers, the marketing team, husbands and wives, you name it. Everyone who loved Lovepop and innately believed in the product got on the phone with our customers that night and it hasn’t changed a bit since.
The Customer Happiness team was in fact the first team we invested in growing. We want a one-on-one interaction with everyone who buys a Lovepop. We hand-write thank you to the customer on every single packing envelope, and we will continue to do that no matter how big we grow, because we are grateful to each and every person who chooses to use a Lovepop to share their sentiments and occasions.
Our customers are the best source of new ideas too! Our customers let us know that we don’t have enough cards for anniversaries or little girls’ birthdays, and suggest designs we hadn’t thought of yet. We love the feedback and we use the ideas all of the time.