We wrote this article for Straight Up, a monthly startup resource that tackles common sticking points of early stage startups. Get yourself on the list for the rest of June’s Hardware Startup edition here.
The Misprint Co are primarily a service based startup that repurpose waste paper into good looking notebooks. They have already re-purposed two trees worth of paper and they’re only just getting started! The three designers turned entrepreneurs went through the first Lightning Lab Manufacturing (LLMFG) startup programme in 2015. They took their notebooks in at an early, roughly crafted stage. From there they developed into a company that actually uses the notebooks as a vehicle for behavioural change.
Since LLMFG the Misprint ladies have been working out of Creative HQ. They have been exploring what they can do with a simple but overlooked solution to waste paper and in the process gaining some well deserved traction and media attention (they were recently featured on Idealog and in the Dominion Post). We talked to Misprint about their New Zealand startup journey in the hardware/product space thus far and they had lots of real life startup advice to share with us.
What were some of the things you had to consider when The Misprint Co was starting out, were there different phases for you developing your product?
Initially we were set on making beautiful handmade paper and then using these as pages in our notebooks. We quickly discovered it was much too difficult to dry the paper and produce enough to even make one notebook. We had to carefully consider how we could produce more, in less time. We then realised how much recycled paper was actually still mostly blank, so we switched to using the paper as is and embracing ‘the misprint’.
Originally we thought we were just in the notebook business, however, while at Massey we decided we needed a way to collect the specific paper we needed. This is when we thought about getting bins to put around campus for students to put their non-confidential waste paper in. During the process of collecting paper our bins were often mistaken for rubbish bins and general waste. There was a time we had to fish old bourbon and cola cans and empty food packets out of our paper bins…That was pretty gross!
We were making the notebooks by hand including the trimming and binding until we got to Lightning Lab Manufacturing, where we partnered with Wakefields Digital to finish our notebooks for us. This made our life so much easier in terms of the making. When we did it by hand it was hard to get a professional finish and it was a massive time commitment to produce an order. Wakefields Digital does an amazing job of our notebooks.
Being a physical product how did you define your distribution channels, who is your target audience and how are you reaching your market?
Our notebooks are able to be distributed quite easily as they are small and easy to ship from our online store. We also sell in a few retail stores around the country. Distributing our services has been more of a challenge. Our early adopters have been small to medium businesses in the creative sectors. To get to them and other potential customers we have partnered with Method Recycling to use their packaging as ninja packaging for our collection boxes. What that means for you is if you live in Wellington and you order some of Method’s beautiful recycling bins, you also get a Misprint Collection Box to start re-purposing your paper at the same time!
We have had a lot of businesses contact us that have heard our story and are keen to jump on board. Anyone can use our services if they print and produce enough non-confidential paper!
Most of the retail stores contacted us to stock our books, they loved our sustainability story and they thought we would be a good fit for their market. We are now working with more retails stores to do custom artist cover designs too.
You print and assemble the booklets locally with Wakefields Digital. Would you consider assembling overseas? What are the pros and cons of sourcing local expertise as opposed to outsourcing the manufacturing?
Wakefields Digital has been great to work with. At Misprint we really embrace the idea of the closed loop cycle and reusing New Zealand’s waste, in New Zealand. For that reason we will not look to produce overseas and instead will look to expand Misprints’ reach with local people, local paper and local printers.
The pro of manufacturing locally is creating a community of what we call ‘Paper People’ and create an exciting story for each city in New Zealand that we work with, as only that cities’ paper will be in the notebooks.
What hurdles are there in terms of scaling as a product vs a digital based company?
Scaling needs a lot of planning and especially for Misprint Co, the growing of our crowd will enable us to be successful in a new location. With each new hub we open we will find new businesses and people to work with. Aiming to recreate the community of Paper People we have already established in Wellington in every new location we expand to.
Scaling a product/hardware business can be more challenging than software or digital based companies. Software/digital is able to be scaled much faster, you can download an app or sign up to a service online much faster than you can build a prototype. All while the digi or software product can keep being worked on behind the scenes and continue to come out with new iterations based on customer needs.
If you’re in the product space there are more hurdles and logistics to consider than in software/digital products, especially the manufacturing side of things as you can’t just tweak some code and call it good, it’s much harder to pivot!
With other startups looking to start product based companies in mind, share with us your quick startup hacks and key learning?
Be sure you have a great team and support system that is passionate and knowledgeable about what you are trying to create. You also really need to understand the size of the market and if you are really solving a pain point. Solving a pain point is all about knowing the right questions to ask customers and don’t ever assume you know what your customer wants. Keep trialing quick MVP’s to test on your target audience. Don’t be afraid to pivot.
To date, tell us about how Misprint Co are contributing to the environment, humanity and what are your thoughts on sustainability?
Sustainability is the core of what we are trying to achieve. We are using the humble notebook to encourage people and businesses to look at their sustainable practices and see what more they can do. It takes 10 litres of water to make an A4 sheet of paper, and to date we have offset 176,620 litres of water from the paper production process. We’ve also re-purposed over 2 trees worth of paper and… we’re only just getting started!
Where do we find/buy your products and get in touch if we want to talk re-purposing paper?
We are always selling online at http://misprint.co. We’re currently selling special pocket sized notebooks that will give the buyer a free coffee at Egmont St. Eatery. We also sell at Matchbox Studios, Vicbooks and The Sustainability Trust in Wellington, Matchbox Studios in Auckland, The National Whale Centre in Picton and at The Paper Rain Project in Christchurch.
For more insights from local mentors and startups, get yourself on the list for the next edition of Straight Up – Creative HQ’s monthly startup resource that focuses on a different topic startups struggle with each month.