How in 3 months I grew my environmentally-friendly pens company to have customers in 32 countries!

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William Tjo Paper Pens Co profile image
William Tjo
Founded: January 2019
No of employees: 0
Location: Australia
$5,000 Revenue/mo

Paper Pens Co. was started by founder William to serve one fundamental issue: to reduce plastic waste. People lose pens all the time and in its current first design, Paper Pens Co. produces pens that are primarily made of paper, using a water-based ink to try to tackle the issue of plastic pollution. 

The company has only been running for 3 months, but in that time they have just signed their first business client, have customers across 32 countries globally and have amassed over 1,000 followers on social media. And customer service is at the heart of everything they do. They reply to every single comment on social media, every query or complaint, and take no longer than a day to reply .

William has done this all on his own so far (with a little help from friends), so we wanted to find out exactly how he did it.

Who are you and what brand did you start?

My name is William. I am currently studying a dual Bachelor of Law and Commerce at the University of Sydney, and am the founder of Paper Pens Co. I have a background in non-governmental organisations and have also been a part of some of the world’s largest non-for-profits, including World Vision, Vinnies and Cancer Council.

Paper Pens Co. is a fast growing start-up that specialises in delivering affordable and sustainable pens for both consumers and businesses. Through our social media we have quickly grown far beyond our Sydney home, becoming a community stretching across 32 countries (and counting). We operate internationally, and have quite a broad audience. However, we primarily focus on the student demographic.

A proud fact since inception is that the company was selected to be a part of the 2019 University of Sydney Genesis’ start-up program. Out of a pool of 88 companies across the university, Paper Pens Co. was chosen among 14 other companies and received intensive masterclasses with established Australian entrepreneurs and academics. 

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How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Paper Pens Co?

I created Paper Pens Co. to serve one fundamental issue: to reduce plastic waste. I have a background with traditional NGOs, across different causes, from poverty to health and to homelessness.

However, unlike my previous experience, Paper Pens Co. is not a non-for-profit. From my experience working with NGOs, it was frustrating seeing the difficulties it was for charities to access funding. Because charities depend on other bodies, be it individuals, organisations or government, its impact can only be as great as the donations it receives; even if it has the capacity and will to do more. I did not want this dependency to be an issue with Paper Pens Co. and so it uses a traditional business model.

I chose the issue of plastic waste because I am a business school student. Business students are taught to see how to solve problems with businesses. In the last five years there has been an explosion of the ban-plastic movement; people are becoming more aware of the damage plastic causes. As such, all disposable products, from bags to coffee cups to cutlery, are now demanded to be eco-friendly.

The nearest disposable product I saw next that hasn’t been made eco-friendly is pens; people lose plastic pens very frequently. This was the gap in the market.

Describe the process of launching Paper Pens Co?

I have been sitting on the paper pens idea for quite a while. It only started to germinate at the end of 2018. The design of the pen was derived from a gift I received in 2015. It was a pen covered with paper, though it had quite a flimsy and non-aesthetic design.

I then did research into almost 50 pen manufacturers and then contacted them asking whether they could create pens made of paper. The ones that could, I submitted a rough design derived from the pen gift, and after photo-shopping, refined the design to what it is today.

Some early members of the company include my girlfriend, who helped build our social media pages, and some friends from a Sydney film school, who helped run production shoots. I used these images on our social media platforms to promote the business.

Currently Paper Pens Co. is running well. We have been operating for about three months, and have just signed our first business client. We have customers across 32 countries globally.

Some hurdles that we faced along the way were primarily a lack of experience. I had to learn how to build a website, how to negotiate with suppliers, how to conduct SEO, how to run social media business platforms, how to successfully run social media marketing and so on. Because we are bootstrapping, we couldn’t simply hire employees; doing everything myself allowed the start-up costs to be low. We are an online store, hence our costs were costs associated with websites and domain and the cost of manufacturing.

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Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

We deliver exceptional customer service. We reply to every single comment we have on all our social media platforms. Every query or complaint we receive, we take no longer than a day to reply and have it resolved as soon as possible. We focus on value. We put ourselves into the perspective of the customer. All decision making processes are made on the backdrop of whether it brings value to our audience.

How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?

As we have mentioned before, we recently just landed our first business client! First of (hopefully) many. We have grown our social media platforms to over 1,000 followers. What I plan for the future of business is to create a conglomerate of different companies specialising in different eco-friendly products.

As for the pen currently, this is our first design. It is primarily made of paper and uses a water-based ink. We do have bits of plastic on the pen (ink cartridge and the tip) which creates stability. However, I will replace the current plastic with bamboo plastic and insert a seed at the end of the pen. If someone loses or disposes of the pen, it may grow into a tree!

paper pens ink on white background

What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?

Patience. Learning to see things from a long-term perspective.

What marketing tools do you use to run Paper Pens Co?

Social media. Our business would not have grown without it

*Find full list of tools/platforms at the bottom of the page.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?

Podcasts (Spotify):

  1. GaryVee Audio Experience
  2. Social Media Marketing with Mike Stelzner
  3. The Science of Success
  4. Harvard Business Review

 

Books:

  1. Elon Musk
  2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  3. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  4. Putting Stories to Work (Shawn Callahan)
  5. Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant
  6. The Lean Start-Up
  7. The Alchemist
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur (Janine Allis)

 

Other:

  1. YouTube!
  2. Google!
  3. Harvard Business Review

Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?

  1. Gary Vaynerchuk
  2. Elon Musk

Any advice you’d like to share for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

I know it’s cheesy and cliché, but it is so important to do what you love. When things get difficult (and they will), passion is the only thing that will keep you going.

Do what you love. When things get difficult (and they will) passion is the only thing that will keep you going.Click To Tweet

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?

Social media manager. See our LinkedIn for the job description!

Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?

Checkout our website: paperpensco.com

Check us out on our social media platforms: @paperpensco/Paper Pens Co.

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