Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
When I was in college I took an organic chemistry course that gave me the inspiration for my business. After drawing thousands of ugly molecules during the semester, I decided to create chemistry products to make drawing beautiful molecules easier for other students.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
I’m responsible for making customers happy. To do this, I provide accurate product descriptions, detailed photos, and ship my products in a timely manner with a friendly, hand-written thank you note.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
The organic chemistry stencil is our best-selling product. It was designed initially on paper, then redesigned in a 3d modeling program called AutoCAD. I chose to use polycarbonate as the material since it is very durable and transparent. The bright yellow color of our stencil helps it stand out from many of the other stencils on the market and in students’ backpacks.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
I like the freedom to create products that will impact thousands of lives and set my own work schedule. The hardest part about being an entrepreneur is keeping yourself accountable and avoiding distractions.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
We sell to chemistry students and chemistry enthusiasts around the world. To help customers find us, we use targeted advertising, social media (Facebook and Pinterest), and reach out to college bookstores by email.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
I think there are multiple winning formulas for becoming a successful entrepreneur. My current formula is to create things that solve problems and improve based on customer feedback from my product and my competitors’ products.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
The toughest time in my business was designing our organic chemistry stencil. It may seem simple designing a drawing template, but it took many hours and prototypes to create something that I was proud of.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I’m inspired by solving problems. Our first product was a stamp that solved the problem of drawing one of the most common, yet time-consuming to draw molecules, named benzene. After designing a simple wooden stamp with a benzene imprint, I wondered how I could make it more useful, so I then designed a self-inking benzene stamp. This was much easier to use than the previous stamp but also limited in the number of molecules it could stamp. To solve this problem, I designed a stencil that included the most common organic chemistry molecules and was also easy to use.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Yes, we ship internationally. Since our stencil is less than 1 ounce, durable, and flexible, we just put them in a mail envelope, attach an international postage stamp, and then put them in the mail. We cover the shipping costs because it simplifies things for our customers. Currently, it takes 7 to 21 days for our stencils to arrive in other countries, but we are working on setting up other distribution centers to reduce our shipping time. Our packaging consists of a thin cardboard backing with a basic description, barcode, and a thin plastic cover to protect our ink designs. We also add a handwritten notecard to all our orders to thank our customers for their order and add a personal touch.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
Some of the key elements of successful business include Market research — to determine if there’s a real demand for your product and to see how you can differentiate yourself from competitors. A great team — to help you fill in the gaps in your skills and resources, give you a different perspective, and to help you stay motivated. Persistence — it takes time to develop a business. If you consistently work on your business, it has a much better chance of being successful.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Find an unmet need in the market and create a product or service that solves that need. After you start your business, don’t get distracted by other business ideas, just focus on one thing at a time, until your business can provide the same value to your customers without you.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
I think a business is a success if it provides value to other people and also provides value to the people who run it. If your business only provides value to your customers, but not the business owners, then it’s probably not sustainable. But if a business provides value to only the business owners, then it’s probably not useful. I also think a business is successful if it allows the people who run it to express themselves freely, earn fair compensation, and have a good work-life balance.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
I balance my time between researching new products, fulfilling customer orders, talking with our manufacturers, and online marketing. I usually work from home or from local coffee shops.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
I plan to grow the business by reaching out to college campuses, developing our affiliate program, and investing in new products. Of these plans, our marketing efforts will likely have the biggest impact on our future profits.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
One thing that I recommend to new business owners is to start small. Our Etsy shop started with just one wooden stamp. I think many people overthink and overcomplicate the business process, instead of starting small with something simple. I used to think that a business had to offer something impressive to be valuable, but running a successful business isn’t about you; it’s about providing something valuable to others, even if that something is simple.