Co-Founder of the Web’s
Most Stylish Invitations Platform
Alexa Hirschfeld was just twenty-three years old when her brother James came to her with the beginnings of an idea that would change their lives.
Children of the internet age, Alexa and James longed for a way to send chic party invites online, and weren’t thrilled with the design potential of Facebook or Eventbrite. They envisioned something that would put the best graphic design at their fingertips, so they could express themselves both effortlessly and beautifully.
Almost a decade later, Paperless Post has sent over 200 million cards via email and snail-mail. Think of all the barbecues, cocktail parties and even weddings you’ve been to over the past couple of years, and you might remember receiving one of the company’s gorgeous invites.
Since launching in 2009, the brand has continued to evolve and enhance their offering, partnering with names like Kate Spade and Oscar de la Renta to create exclusive designs that users love. They’ve also made the unexpected move into paper invites, making them easier than ever to design, order and ship online through the platform.
We were unsurprised to find that like any new entrepreneur, Alexa and her brother had to hear a ton of “nos” before they got a “yes.” But ultimately, they raised $6.3 million to build the business and became profitable as early as 2010.
The success has been beyond what anyone expected, so naturally we were curious to find out what building this standout company was really like. Read our interview with Alexa below to get her take.
Talk to us about how you got started. How much time did it take between ideation and launch, and what were you doing during that time?
My brother James and I came up with the idea in 2007 and shortly thereafter, I quit a job at CBS to focus on Paperless Post full-time. I spent about two full years focused only on work—I had to say bye to friends, parties, etc. It may have been extreme, but I felt really inspired, and, to be honest, I didn’t mind. I was happy.
What did you have to learn along the way?
I had to learn not to doubt my instincts or to compromise on something I believed in just to maintain harmony. There were moments when I failed to communicate my ideas and was very frustrated with the outcome. The key is to encourage healthy debate and to have enough confidence not to worry if people don’t understand you the first time around. Sometimes the problem isn’t your idea, it’s how you’re communicating it, and it’d be a shame to drop any good idea that couldn’t be expressed perfectly the first time around.
Did you ever reach a “no-turning-back” point?
The day I quit my day job was a very scary day. My last day of work at CBS I came home and realized that it was possible to fail. I envisioned it, felt all the feelings, and compared it to other kinds of losses. Once I had faced the reality, I decided I really wanted it to succeed.
Tell us about some of the unexpected ways Paperless Post has evolved.
Our initial vision was about online invitations that married the best of the tradition of paper with the best of online. It hasn’t changed except hopefully to have improved on the initial offering. We offer a wider range of products now, like paper invitations, which people use for occasions as important to them as their weddings. That’s a real honor that we never expected.
What’s your research and development process for new products like?
From the beginning, the idea for Paperless Post was always about creating a product that users would want. It wasn’t a “market-driven” approach or a “revenue-driven” approach or a “technology advancement-driven” approach—it was about what people wanted. But we do a lot of data analysis, conduct user surveys and use other methods to figure out what tools, features and products people are missing.
What did it take to get your ideas resourced?
We’ve raised money, and, though it’s always been hard, it’s gotten much easier. Early on, there were lots of “industry” people who told us that the Paperless Post business model would never work and that people would never want to pay for an online product. It was a hard experience, but we really believed in our idea.
Talk to us about your day-to-day. What’s non-negotiable for you to stay balanced?
Every morning I take an hour to myself to walk along the East River and under the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges to work. It’s time I use to gather my thoughts, and it’s crucial to my day-to-day.
What’s next for Paperless Post?
We’ll be launching a new product in 2017 that I can’t talk about quite yet—but it’s a new take on events that I think will be really fun and exciting.