Lovepop, a millennial company, sets a whole new standard for when you care enough to send the very best. Its handcrafted, laser-cut, 3D pop-up greeting cards celebrate every life event and holiday.
Founders Wombi Rose and John Wise started the company while at Harvard Business School, working 16 hours a day seven days a week. Rose and Wise worked in their basement and funded the operation with money from retirement accounts, friends, and family. They became best friends when they studied naval architecture at Webb Institute. They took separate paths for a while and then met up again at Harvard Business School in 2013.
Before business school, Wise worked for a startup aluminum boat builder in Louisiana for four years. At Metal Shark Aluminum Boats, he built a seven-person engineering team and designed the U.S. Coast Guard Response Boat-Small, which won a 500-boat contract. Meanwhile, Rose studied applied math at MIT and worked at a global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company.
Thanks to the Shark Tank effect, their Boston-based company went from three employees to 20 full-time employees and 25 brand ambassadors. Rose and Wise crafted a deal with educational software mogul Kevin O’Leary, who got 15% of their company for $300,000. It was a small concession compared to their original ask of $300,000 for 10%.
Rose, Lovepop’s CEO, discusses working with Mr. Wonderful and creating startup inspired by an ancient Japanese art form, kirigami.
Crafting a Shark Tank Deal
Ky Trang Ho: How did you value your company when you appeared on Shark Tank?
Wombi Rose: We used prevailing market rates to value the business. Seed rounds for companies like ours in Boston were raising at roughly $3 million valuations. We were confident we had a strong case for why our sales and metrics would support that valuation. In the end, the Sharks got a slightly better deal. But hey, they’re Sharks. What do you expect?
Ho: What about being in the Tank surprised you the most?
Rose: The Sharks are so sharp. Watching the show, you know that they are savvy. But they get to the heart of your business questions fast. We’ve pitched a lot of investors. And I was incredibly impressed with how well and how quickly they appraised our business.
Afterward, I just can’t believe how responsive Kevin O’Leary is. He responds to our emails in minutes, sometimes seconds. Even our lawyers don’t do that.
Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance? What made it a success?
Rose: We focused on making sure we could create a great customer experience for all of the viewers who would want our product. We worked on our backend so that our site would stay up and withstand the traffic. We moved our fulfillment to a fulfillment center that would be better equipped to handle the volume.
We assembled an awesome team of people — our employees, supporters, investors, advisors, and friends — to be on hand in a war room during the show. They responded to customer calls and social media comments and were on hand to take on any task.
One of the secrets to our preparation was an amazing support network from Kevin O’Leary’s other companies. Scott, Tracey, and Dani from Wicked Good Cupcakes helped us build out our tech capabilities to withstand the traffic and prepare our phone lines. Jen and Eli from Bottle Breachers helped us understand our landing pages and how to handle the 20,000 emails we were about to receive. Both of their teams were onsite the night of and joined in the social media frenzy. We were probably over-prepared. But it certainly paid off.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Rose: I always assumed that — since it was TV — it was somehow staged, at least in part. Maybe the Sharks had read about your business and crunched the numbers before they heard the pitch, or maybe the producers helped the pitch along.
But alas, we walked into that room, and that was the first time the Sharks had ever seen us. They bombarded us with hyper-intelligent questions. You go on stage, uncoached, and pitch your business to a panel of investors, who have never heard of you before, and make your case in real time. And the final cut they showed on TV is exactly what happened in the Tank.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience? What are the secrets of a successful audition and appearance?
Rose: I believe that a successful Shark Tank appearance is about believing in your company with all your heart and all your soul. That kind of energy, passion, and commitment is infectious. It’s what I’ve seen in all the successful Shark Tank entrepreneurs. People notice. And the Sharks notice. And that’s what they’re looking for.
Ho: What do you hope O’Leary will do for your business? And how are you working together?
Rose: Mr. Wonderful has been great about giving us exposure. He posts about us on his Instagram and Twitter feeds, he’s talked about us on Good Morning America. And he even used Lovepops as his Christmas card.
A Business Plan to Write Home About
Ho: What are you doing now to move your business forward and expand?
Rose: We are hiring like crazy to build a team that can produce more designs faster. We are a company of engineers. We have hands down the best 3D paper art design capability in the world. That’s our core strength and we’re building on it.
At the same time, we have a brand that stands for something special. When people receive a Lovepop, they display it as an art piece. They thank the sender. It’s incredible. Something that you don’t get from a drugstore greeting card. We’re going to keep building that brand and make sure that when our customers buy a Lovepop, they know they’re getting something unexpected, tangible, and personal.
Ho: What are your goals for your business over the next year and five years?
Rose: We love what we do and want to get Lovepop out into the world. For the next year, we’re focused on building an online customization platform that’s going to reinvent the experience of creating wedding invitations. Completely reinvent.
In five years, our goal is to be a household name in America. To be the place you go when you need something special for a special occasion. We’re building a relationship company, one step at a time.
Ho: What is your media and marketing strategy?
Rose: Our marketing strategy is a hybrid digital and physical approach. We know customers love to experience our product in person, open it themselves and feel the quality of the papers and the craftsmanship. We can’t be everywhere at once, so our online presence is so important to our loyal customers. And, with Kevin O’Leary as a partner, we’re rapidly expanding our national media presence. Among his many talents, Kevin knows media.
Ho: What do you look for in business partners, salespeople, etc.?
Rose: We look for people who believe in our mission. People who care about doing something special for the people they care about. We know that, above all else, this passion oozes into everything they do and feeds energy to the company and our customers.
Everything we do is about building that energy, and feeding it, and building on it some more until a wave of Lovepop positive energy hits the entire nation.
Ho: Have you gotten other investors to invest in your business? Who? How much?
Rose: Since Shark Tank, we’ve raised institutional capital led by Boston venture capital firm Accomplice. Some of their notable other companies include DraftKings and Moo (an incredibly successful company that sells premium paper products online).
We also have some influential angel investors from the Boston community involved in Lovepop. Every investor has a specific reason why they like Lovepop. Most of them have experience in a related industry. And they love the team, the product, and the vision.
Ho: What other products do you have in the works? When are they set to launch?
Rose: We have new designs launching all of the time. We just launched Easter. We have new Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and springtime designs right around the corner — not to mention a dinosaur, a guitar, a penguin — something for everyone!
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Rose: I highly recommend and by Gino Wickman and Mike Paton for anyone who is looking for some practical tools to manage a company. Some of it is dry, but the system is gold.
Every business needs an operating system. And Gino’s Traction method is what we’ve seen work incredibly well for our business. I’m not sure this is the best method. But I do know that it works. And you really only need one method that works.
Ho: What are your favorite business websites, tools or resources that you love and why?
Rose: I love Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 PowerPoint rule. It’s the cure for every boring presentation you’ve ever been to.
NextView Venture’s blog is fantastic. They have templates for pitch decks and everything else under the sun.
Falling In Love With An Ancient Art Form
Ho: How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Rose: We were on a Harvard Business School trip to Vietnam when we discovered and fell in love with an ancient art form called kirigami. We were so excited. We started dreaming up designs right away. Applying ship design software, we developed Slicegami™ and started creating these intricate 3D-paper sculptures.
The impact of what we had created didn’t become clear until we brought them home and started putting the cards into the hand of friends, family, and complete strangers. Once we saw first-hand the reactions to opening our cards, we realized there’s something bigger going on here.
People needed a physical expression of their care for other people — something special — and they couldn’t find the right thing. A Lovepop was more meaningful than a traditional greeting card. Creating more unexpected designs and sharing these cards became our passion. We live for that moment when our customers open a new design for the first time.
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching Lovepop?
Rose: It’s very difficult to build a production capability from scratch. Initially, we were using contract manufacturers and had trouble getting the quality level up to what we wanted. We were frustrated with incorrect paper stocks, incorrect colors, gluing spots, and tears in our sculptures as well as long lead times on production.
So, we built our production facility. A facility that we are very proud of and are confident produces the highest-quality paper art in the world.
Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Rose: Originally, we borrowed laser time on local machines and created our very first set of prototypes. But my partner John had run design and engineering at Metal Shark Boats and was ready to hit the ground running with design and production.
He identified paper mills with the highest quality papers, purchased specialized equipment and set up a production facility in Vietnam to make SlicegamiTM. We decided early on to build our capabilities, rather than source from an outside manufacturer. Now, we’re extremely proud that Lovepop has created so many jobs both in Vietnam and the U.S.
All of our designs and prototyping are done in Boston. Our production facility in Vietnam cuts, assembles and packages the final product. Vietnamese architect Ha Trinh Quoc Bao runs our Vietnamese operations with a passion and a love for SlicegamiTM. He has grown an amazing team of local craftspeople. Before joining Lovepop, Bao was one of the most prolific kirigami designers in Vietnam and working with Lovepop; he’s unleashed his creativity.