I have a dream. I want to give back to the world planners as a useful, efficient and handy tool. And I am working on it.
In popular business literature one constantly encounters the idea that if you want to build an “all-time” business, find an idea that you are truly passionate about, and that is what you develop as a business. My experience as an entrepreneur tells me that this is only one way, and, alas, not the most reliable.
Nevertheless, two years ago I did exactly that. And I have no regrets at all. It should be noted that at the time when our business arose, one of the partners was still “licking the wounds” of the demise of the last business, being in deep “minus”, while the second partner was looking for an idea to develop his own business. Thus, we started not just from “zero” but from “minus”. And the first task was to create a product, and the second task was to start selling it at a profit. We did not set any other tasks at that time.
Looking back, I can say that the history of our business, our product, and everything connected with it, for all its external simplicity and ease, is hardly repeatable. In order for someone to do what we do, you have to be us. And we need to be in the time, place, and circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Why did I choose that dream?
I learned to read at age 4. No one particularly influenced my reading choices. And since my parents had mostly old books in their house, one of the first books I got my hands on was “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas.
A child who takes up reading such a book is confronted with a huge number of incomprehensible words. What does he do in this case? He asks. And if there is no one to ask? Skips the words he doesn’t understand, or makes up his own meanings for them.
I was a persistent child, so I found another solution. I took an encyclopedia, a planner, and a pen (“writing” I was learning at the same time as “reading”) and started compiling a “dictionary of obscure words”. This work was even more exciting than the reading itself. Besides, it was my first experience with planners, because I didn’t like them by their format and appearance. But my grandfather, who was a farmer at the time, brought wonderful planners from various agricultural conferences. They are small in size, in check or ruler. Just the right thing.
As an adult, in my free time I read a lot and write down a lot. These are no longer dictionaries. It is some thoughts, ideas, evaluation of my own actions, impressions. And it’s no longer just planners, but planners as well. I had a lot of them by then, of different kinds and formats, with covers of different colors and with different inner designs.
Of the planners, my favorite was the Spanish-made stuff, with horizontal sheet fastening and horizontal use. The bright orange cover, the checkered pages, and the ability to pull out the pages I didn’t need. And then they were gone…
A period of fascination with dailies began. I liked the quality leather-bound dailies. The only thing I didn’t like about them became my business idea.
In 2002, my business partners and I were given name planners by my supplier. Leather binding. The name of the recipient of the gift is stamped in silver foil on the bottom right. And on the end in the same way the name of the company-giver.
The first thing my partners, who were very pleased with the gift, took out the coins and … They erased the foil from the name of the company-giver, making it invisible. But they took care of their own name and always left it in a prominent place.
It was then that I first thought that a gift with a person’s name on it was a very good idea.
And, if you don’t even leave a noticeable name of the company from which the gift was received (or you can not leave at all), the gift will still be remembered and will be remembered by the one who gave it. Later I had the opportunity to check this idea. Yes, it really works!
Some more time passed. I was given a Japanese Midori travel planner. It turned out to be exactly what I had been missing before. A simple leather cover of rough leather, and a replaceable paper block attached inside.
With all its merits, the book had a few drawbacks. The main one – it was impossible to order a removable block, and it had an unusual format: take an A4 sheet of paper, put it horizontally in front of you, fold it in half. Now cut off about 2 centimeters from the edges.
Here is the format of this indoor unit. It turned out to be very convenient for daily use. Isn’t it the perfect planner?
Of course, such planners also have disadvantages. But they are rather constructive. For some people they may be advantages, but I was uncomfortable with them. The first inconvenience was that the metal “seal” to which the rubber band was attached was on the outside of the thing. Of course, it was an element of style, but in the bag it clung to other things, and when I used it it made not the most pleasant sound, contacting with the furniture. And there were fingerprints on the book…
The second inconvenience was the rubber band knot in the middle of the inside back of the planner. It prevented me from writing on the last paper pages. But I liked the planner all the same.
I liked it so much that I wanted to replicate it. The first attempt at repeating it was unsuccessful. I did not like the product that the potential partner made. All the elements were the same, but the product turned out to be “wrong”. That’s where I stopped…
In 2010, I moved back to my hometown and started looking for a business idea that I wanted to do. That’s when the words from business books about a hobby that you can make your life’s work came to mind.
All of the things I described above came to mind, and I realized that I wanted to make a planner that would not only be good in itself, but would make a perfect personalized gift.
At the time, I didn’t care much about the fact that the number of people writing by hand was declining every year. On the contrary, it was a joy. It meant that quite a few new entrepreneurs were looking at this kind of market, and that it was a niche market. And, therefore, it would be somewhat easier to get to know one’s target customer.
One of the cornerstone rules of business: you have to know your client well, so you make a composite portrait of a “typical” client. In our case, it was a problem with two unknowns: we didn’t know our client at all, and we were making a product “for ourselves”. That is, what we liked, and what we would have bought had we known where it was sold. But there were no such places in our city.
The business that was born on Facebook
A year later, I asked my friends if anyone knew any inexpensive technologies for putting personal inscriptions on leather, and in response I received not only a flood of commercial proposals, but also a detailed layout of the methods, their advantages and disadvantages. The author of the layout turned out to be a well-known entrepreneur of the region. Just a few days later we met, and I brought my prototype planner with me.
He asked me for a planner for a couple of days, and after another day he showed me three ready-made planners with leather covers of different colors. And they were made taking into account my claims to the original source.
I looked and realized: we have the product!
Why “we”? Because the immediate solution was to offer this man to become a partner in the business. We hit the ground running and started getting ready to launch. Of the platforms for communication with clients we chose those that could be developed by investing only our own time – the website and the Facebook page we created.
The first orders followed the night of the launch of our project, and so, thanks to these orders, we created an image of a typical client.
How was it done? We collected orders, made our first product, a planner, and once a week I went to neighboring cities to deliver orders and – to look into the eyes of customers, talk to them, see the delight and surprise at the received thing or (I was ready for such an outcome as well) vice versa. On the one hand, it allowed, without losing in the speed of the order, to provide inexpensive delivery personally, on the other hand – to work out the business process of delivery, and, most importantly, to study our consumer.
Based on the results of these trips, we were constantly changing something on the site – adding new shopping motifs, order forms, ways to interact with us. We were getting to the point where we could speak the customer’s language and simplify the process of interacting with them. For example, if you’re too lazy to fill out an order form, now it’s enough to send us a text message that says “call me about the order”.
We also solved the question of how to answer the customer’s question, “Why do I need your product? This answer was already embedded in our concept:
We don’t just sell handmade business accessories made of genuine leather – we sell a great personalized gift!
The name of the gift recipient can be engraved on a single item! And it won’t take a single extra day to fulfill! If it ordered yesterday it received in a few days! This point was our highlight and is played as in the texts, photos, and advertising, which, by the way, without payment, we have placed and are placing on the sites of our friends and partners.
That’s how the Idea was formed. That’s how the Product was created. That’s how our Unique selling proposition was formed.
Why did this dream come true?
Was this dream risky? Definitely, yes. To start a planner business in the 21st century, when everyone is online and using smartphones, is insane.
So why did this dream take off? I guess it’s all about believing the product is necessary, against all odds. I am convinced that the reason for abandoning traditional dailies is not that people have switched to electronic calendars. Rather, the connection is reversed: people have switched to electronic calendars and electronic planning tools because the traditional daily planner is outdated. It was designed a very, very long time ago. And it hasn’t changed much since it was born. And the world has long since moved on. Using the day planner as it is has become inconvenient. First it ceased to be a status item, then it ceased to be useful.