College life for Sam Franklin means hitting the books — and keeping on top of the online business he started from his dorm room.
Despite his heavy workload as a college student at the Washington University in St. Louis, Sam created Greenvelope.com http://www.greenvelope.com, an electronic invitation business offering a personalized approach to paperless wedding and formal invitations. He has turned his passion for going green into a business venture. Greenvelope provides clients an environmentally-friendly service to easily customize and send formal wedding invitations electronically (via e-mail)
We talked with Sam about Greenvelope.com and the challenges he is facing as a statup entpreneur:
Can you give a brief background about yourself?
I have always been an outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Seattle provided me the opportunity to experience hiking, biking, fishing, camping – and enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. This love of the outdoors fueled my passion for Greenvelope, my start-up that provides an eco-friendly alternative to “traditional” printed invitations. I am currently an undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis and am majoring in entrepreneurship.
What is Greenvelope? What makes it different from other online invitation services and why should people use this e-vitation solution?
I strive to deliver the most elegant electronic invitation service by emulating the experience of opening a “traditional” printed invitation. By creating a positive online experience, I hope more hosts will consider sending invitations electronically for formal events – to help save trees, and additionally save time and money. To express my commitment towards this goal, I donate a significant percentage of every sale to Mountains to Sound, a non-profit organization that maintains forests.
I realized that millions of electronic invitations are sent through services cluttered with advertisements. Lacking traditional design choices and desiring to avoid advertisements, hosts of formal events find minimal online options, so consequently order traditional paper invitations. I wanted to fill a void within the landscape of current services by offering a formal, advertisement free web-product appealing to formal events such as weddings or corporate gatherings.
Who is your target market?
The young tech savvy generation that has grown up with Internet and email. Also, I’ve been impressed by how many middle-aged people are joining this “tech-savvy” group and trying Greenvelope. I think this market is growing every day as people become willing to sacrifice the tradition of paper invitations for a more eco-friendly, cost-effective, attractive, and easier alternative.
What has been your biggest challenge in starting Greenvelope?
Assembling a team and finding talent. Through freelance sites like Odesk and Elance, I’ve been able to build a network of reliable contractors and part-timers, but I am still looking to bring on a full-time person to help me with some of the day to day tasks (customer support, outreach, and sales).
How are you financing Greenvelope?
I started a pressure washing company in high-school and delivered pizza at night. After a few years of savings, I had enough initial investment to bootstrap Greenvelope myself. I’ve also secured a loan to provide additional funding to support continued growth and my current marketing efforts.
How are you marketing the business?
Search engines. I do most of my own SEO (search engine optimization) to rank organically, but also pay for some PPC (pay-per-click.) In addition to search, I am in the process of building an affiliate network of event planners in the Pacific Northwest so they can educate their eco-conscious clients about my “green” invitation service.
How are you using social media to promote Greenvelope?
I use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with my customers, meet potential collaborators, and let followers know about new features I’ve launched. I also, try to post on my blog (greenvelope.com/blog) at least weekly about trends in my industry.
As a 21 year old doing this business in your dorm room, how do you address skepticisms that this business is something you can do?
I’ve actually been surprised by how little skepticism I’ve received. Most of the people I work with are young and energetic, so age is never a topic of concern. The success of more famous young web-entrepreneurs has paved the way for the rest of us, so my age has not limited me.
What lessons have you learned so far about being an entrepreneur?
I’ve learned it is important to take the extra time upfront to plan, which will likely save more time down the road. When I started, I was so eager to get developing that I didn’t spend the necessary time on hammering out the small details of the website. This made it hard for my initial developer to know the scope of my project and lead to lost time that could have been avoided with more careful planning.
How do you see the business 5 years from now?
I still have two years left at Washington University in St. Louis. When I am not in the classroom, I’ll be working on Greenvelope. I am more concerned about being the best at serving my niche market than expanding into all types of events. By focusing on special occasions I can really tailor my product to these more formal events. In five years, I want to see enough volume that my company is making a difference on a large scale (through my donations and saving paper.) I want to have a reputation as the most reliable online service for elegant electronic invitations for special occasions.
What advice can you give other would-be young entrepreneurs?
Keep it simple. Discuss your ideas with people you trust. Surround yourself with talented people. Don’t be afraid to ask.