Name: Jeff Heil and Jake Fromer
Location: Portland, OR
Launched: February 2017
Jeff Heil was freelancing in user-experience design and Jake Fromer was working in apparel innovation at Nike when they met in product design school at the University of Oregon. Thanks to that fortuitous encounter in 2009, Jeff and Jake discovered their shared passion for design, quality and craftsmanship. Four years later, Jeff and Jake had an idea for a slim, streamlined wallet, so they took their skills and experiences to a basement workshop in Northeast Portland. There they developed a unique production process for creating modern, handmade wallets that now anchor their WOOLLY brand of fine leather goods. Today, Jeff and Jake are dedicated to creating high-quality, minimalist wallets and accessories by blending modern manufacturing and traditional craft techniques, all with a “do-more-with-less” philosophy their Millennial customers love.
Jeff, what did it take to turn your idea into a real product?
Persistence! It’s what seems to separate those who do from those who think about doing. Turning our creative passion into a success story has taken patience, optimism, failed attempts and the strength to power through.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were starting out in business?
We made the mistake of jumping into marketing without really knowing our customer and how to reach them effectively. We’ve learned that good marketing starts with really knowing your customer. If you’re working with anything short of that, you’ll spend a lot of time, effort and money without the ROI to show for it.
If we could wind the clock back, we would do more to really define our target customer before trying to market our products. The saying, “slower is faster” is something we wish we’d taken to heart with marketing from the start.
What has been most satisfying about starting and running your own business?
Everything that comes out of our business is a direct result of what we put into it. Though it can be challenging and a little frustrating at times, it has felt very rewarding overall. There’s nothing like seeing your products out in the world being loved and admired.
What has been most challenging or surprising about starting and running your own business?
Being the optimists that we are, it’s been surprising how hard it is to get the business to a comfortable place. Keeping the lights on, let alone growing WOOLLY, takes everything we’ve got. It’s challenging when there are so many equally important things that need to get done all at the same time. We’re underpaid and always short on resources – time, money and people. Sometimes it feels like the odds are against us, but the vision keeps us going!
Tell us about your “mindset” as self-employed business owners.
We’re risk-takers, maximizers and learners. We’re stubborn about doing things our own way and love waking up every day with the freedom to get the job done the way we think is best.
Any changes or plans ahead for WOOLLY?
We’re about to launch our dream project! For years, we’ve seen how consumers want and expect customization for their handmade goods. We’ve noticed how inefficient the process of custom-ordering can be for both the customer and the maker. That’s why we’re introducing WOOLLYLAB – a digital customization platform for people to easily design their own high-end, handcrafted wallet. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, we developed a web app from scratch that allows customers to choose their leather wallet’s color(s), pattern, stitching and inscription. Importantly, these custom orders sync seamlessly with our production process, allowing us to turn them around in just 48 hours.
With this project, we’re innovating in a traditional industry. Tech and craft rarely mix, but we’re using software and user-experience design to connect with the modern consumer and change what “custom” means to the handmade world. In just a couple weeks, our customers will be able to clock in, design their own wallet and then press a button to have it made. They won’t just be buying from us, they’ll be working with us to make something that’s uniquely theirs.
Jeff, that’s really exciting! Tell us, what do you hope to gain from attending QuickBooks Connect?
We’re thrilled for the opportunity to interact with a group of self-starting go-getters like ourselves. We think our story and our products will really resonate with this crowd, and we hope those who don’t know us going in will come out WOOLLY super fans!
QB community members, what steps are you taking to innovate in your field or industry?
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