Today I’m super excited to share an interview with the funny and talented founders of Old Tom Foolery, a San Francisco-based letterpress card company. Lauren Weinblatt and Joel Gryniewski are not only engaged to be married, they are business partners! Read more for insights into the letterpress field and what it takes to start a business.
LPF: Have you always been creative?
Lauren: When I was little I took art and music lessons, but I always thought I would have to find a “legitimate” profession like being a doctor. In college I wound up with an internship at an ad agency and I realized that being creative can be a job.
Joel: I had to work on the perception that I’m a creative person. Everybody’s creative, but it takes courage to call yourself a “creative person.” I was more into sports than art when I was younger, and I was a good student, so I considered going into business or journalism. But ultimately I wanted to do something more creative than that.
LFP: Did you always want to run your own business?
Lauren: I always sold stuff even when I was a kid – clay animals, jewelry – but I never thought it would turn into a career.
Joel: I thought entrepreneurship would mean that I’d have to read the Wall Street Journal every day and that’s not me. But I love running OTF because it doesn’t always feel like work.
LPF: How did you decide to start making cards?
L and J: When we were both in grad school for advertising in Richmond, Virginia, we courted each other with cool cards from an awesome shop called Mongrel. (http://mongrelonline.com) As we bought more and more cards, we got inspired to start learning about the greeting card industry, which seemed to be run by individuals like us. With our advertising background it seemed like something that might be achievable.
LPF: Why letterpress cards?
L and J: We really love and appreciate the craft and tactile nature of letterpress cards. Also, it seemed practical and hands-on: we could buy a press and print cards ourselves, rather than working with a vendor. We found a press on Craigslist and then some learned some printing fundamentals at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Other letterpress companies, like Susie from Carrot & Stick were really helpful too. Then, we used the press to create all our prototype cards.
LPF: How did you start actually selling your cards?
L and J: We launched at the National Stationery Show in NYC in May 2008. We wanted to launch big and treat our business like a real company, since our goal, after all, is to do something we love but still have a successful business. In order to do this, we knew we wouldn’t be able to continue working full-time in advertising. So starting in January 2008, we began focusing on getting ready for the trade show and only worked part-time in advertising.LPF: How did the show go?
L and J: We made some mistakes, like not having the best lighting for our booth, but it was a great learning experience and we went back again this year. Everything needs to be shipped to NY which makes it expensive – local vendors have such an advantage! Regardless, we’ve really enjoyed being part of the show and have made some friends through it.
LPF: Has it been hard to maintain both personal and business relationships?
L and J: Actually, it hasn’t been that challenging, because we met as partners in ad school so in a sense, we’ve always been working together. The hardest part is shutting off at the end of the day, since the company is completely intertwined with our lives and also our apartment, which is the OTF headquarters. We still enjoy working together and in some ways, it helps that we can be brutally honest with each other!
LPF: One parting question: What's your best advice for people starting small businesses in an economy ours?
L and J: Be smart, but go for it. If a business can succeed in a time like this, you know there's only one way it can go from here -- and that's up!
For more about Old Tom Foolery, check out their blog and online shop.
Thanks Lauren and Joel!