Ever dreamed of having your own Wikipedia page? While we have helped transform many successful and fast growing businesses, one of our standout stories is the trajectory of Rifle Paper Co. We aim to meet the businesses we work with when they hit that tipping point where their homegrown business can become something so much more, and we feel so good at where we met Anna and Nathan Bond.
We created a website for Rifle right when Anna and Nathan launched their business. They had big dreams and solid plans, and rather than start with Etsy or a DIY site, they hired Aeolidia to create something custom for them, and they have since grown from being a small stationery business to being an international lifestyle brand.
How did Rifle Paper Co start out, then grow and expand?
We launched that site with them in November of 2009, and Anna and Nathan did not waste any time. In January of the next year, they hired their first employee, and in May 2010, they debuted at the National Stationery Show, with their products arriving in many stores across the nation that summer. By December 2013, 4 years after launching their business, they had 93 employees. In 2014, Rifle was listed as one of Inc 500’s fastest-growing companies, and in 2015, Nathan was named to Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list.
Anna’s bold, colorful illustrations are at the center of Rifle Paper’s business. “I love purposeful imperfection,” Anna says, describing the look that has become Rifle’s signature style. The Bonds always knew these whimsical designs could work well beyond paper. But rather than immediately putting the illustrations on a wide variety of products, they focused their energy and time on establishing a strong visual brand identity and building consumer loyalty with a small collection of 50 mostly paper products, sold online. When they felt the market was eager for their designs on other items, they made their move into new product categories, like iPhone covers, launched in 2013. “Once we established the look, we pushed the parameters,” Nathan says.
— Liz Welch in Starting a Company? Here’s How to Think Big From the Very Beginning, Dec 2014
Rifle now partners with other brands, such as Garance Doré, Hygge & West, Paperless Post, and more, and has clients such as Anthropologie, Penguin Books, and Paper Source. Anna’s artwork can be found illustrating books, on wallpaper, as fabric, on clothing, handbags, and temporary tattoos.
Bond and his wife, Anna — the creative director who designs Rifle Paper’s collection and oversees marketing, business strategy and product development — started the company in 2009 from their garage apartment for less than $10,000. His wife already was a prominent local artist/designer, and they found that a lot of people were interested in wedding stationery, so they went for it, building the company around her artwork.
This is Rifle Paper Co., which generated $12.5 million in sales in 2014 by selling more than 2.6 million greeting cards.
“We really believed we had something appealing to a lot of people that didn’t exist in the marketplace,” said Bond.
— The Orlando Business Journal, How This Young Man and His Wife Turned $10,000 into $12.5 million, 3/6/2015
Creating Rifle Paper Co.’s first website
Sam on our team spoke to Nathan Bond recently about the decisions he and Anna made at the start of their timeline, and how we were able to help them. Sam’s questions are bold, Nathan’s replies follow.
What plans and goals did you have for your launch and that original website project with Aeolidia?
When we started, we had a dream and a vision for Rifle being beyond a stationery brand. So even though we started off in that space, we always thought it had potential beyond this. We obviously knew we had a chance to be successful, but we didn’t know it was going to look like what it looks like today. Our idea of success was probably much more modest than it is now. We ended up being one of the fastest growing companies in our country, let alone in our industry, so that was a big surprise… We never would have expected that. We just thought we had a great idea.
In 2010 we had 15 employees. Now it’s around 200 employees. It went from Anna and I only to what it is today in just six years. It really is crazy; it’s been a wild ride.
Do you think it’s a good idea for a new brand to start with a custom ecommerce site?
I would never expect to give a general recommendation. It depends on your industry, your business, your idea… but I can say for us, it was the best decision. It helped us problem solve some manufacturing issues and get our heads around a lot of the basic things about running a business.
We had a lot of conversations early on about whether we’d start a Big Cartel site or something. We just decided that that was not going to be a big enough splash for what we wanted to accomplish out of the gate.
Your goals were probably smaller at that time…
Definitely. We’ve certainly grown since the early stages when we worked together and our primary goals at the time were just to get the business off the ground. For where we were at, Aeolidia was perfect. Your services were within our very small budget and offered us the opportunity to do some stuff on our own on the site, since Anna knew a bit of HTML. We were able to make it work for a long time. And while the site we’re on now we built completely in-house, with the knowledge of our web developer we can really appreciate the original site for how basic and light it was – it worked really well for us and we’re really thankful that we made the decision to use Aeolidia from the start.
The internet of course has changed in the last 8 years, 10 years. The work we do is different today, but it’s still our goal that people graduate from us, to the point where you’re at now with your own in house developer…
Is that the case? Does Aeolidia still consider itself a company that’s built for startups and small companies?
I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re for the very very startup company, but probably that mid level – maybe they’ve had an Etsy shop or something they’ve set up on their own and they’re really ready for that big transformation. They’re ready to start going to trade shows…
Totally, that might have been the phase we were at, even though we had no budget right out of the gate. We already had a following and we had enough buzz that it made sense to skip the Etsy phase.
Exactly, and there’s always that chicken and egg problem: do we spend money on the website or do we try to get more customers first?
Okay, so you’re still kind of in that spot. That sweet spot. I think it’s a cool niche that Aeolidia’s in. I think it’s great. It was a great decision for us. It’s a good company for the stage we were at. I doubt there’s anything better.
Thanks for saying that. You guys are definitely one of those aspirational companies that people look up to and it’s fun to have been a part of that.
Rifle Paper Co. testimonial
When they grew big enough to need an in-house web solution in 2014, Anna reached out to me to share what the original website meant to them:
I’m not sure if you saw but we launched a new website yesterday and I just wanted to reach out to say a huge thank you for the site the you guys originally created for us.
When Nathan and I started the company we were debating between Etsy, Big Cartel and a custom site.. and going with you was the best decision we made. We created a site that lasted us nearly 5 years without any major updates at all… which I think is a *huge* feat!
Our company has grown exponentially since we launched. We now have over 130 employees in our Winter Park studio and our products are carried in over 4,000 stores around the world. [these numbers have grown in the intervening two years!]
I just wanted to write and tell you thank you for the site that you made. I will continually (as I always have) recommend you and your company to anyone who asks.
Do you have big plans and goals for your business?
We would love to be the team that joins you at the start of your timeline to use graphic design and a smart web presence to create customer interest and drive wholesale sales. Come meet the 20 industrious businesses we’re working with now, and claim your spot on our summer calendar today!
Want tips on building a brand that will grow and flourish?
Over the years, I have watched many businesses succeed, and many more struggle.
Those businesses that seem to have had an overnight success and barely needed to work at promotion? There is something special about them. They know it and their customers know it. Their work can be spotted from a mile off, it’s something that people want, and it’s easy to promote – like a snowball rolling down hill, gathering speed, and getting huge.
Why is it so easy for them? If you have what they have, it will be easy for you, too. If you’re lacking this, it will be like trying to win a race with a bicycle that has square wheels. A crazy amount of work, with few results.
Today we are going to talk about storytelling, brand identity, and how you can make your work into that snowball that only needs a little nudge to get rolling on its own. Sign up to get your video presentation that will help you turn your business around:
Shipshape Collective Freebie
I like to think of selling as storytelling, and the place you need to start is with your brand identity.