CHAD DOANE SEEMS to have done the impossible: He’s made the business of selling paper sexy among the Internet masses.
In fact, the 38-year-old founder of Doane Paper has drummed up quite a cult following online. His notebooks and writing pads — the trademark quality of which is its grid and lines designs — are subjects of fan clubs on Facebook and postings on Twitter. Doane’s own blog, which features short discussions on everything from underground artists and cool sneakers to other notable blogs and video clips, gets about 500 readers a day.
A recent Google ( GOOG ) search of “Doane Paper” triggered more than 5,000 results linking to product reviews and blog posts. U.K.-based blog Harlem Loves recently proclaimed: “No longer are we forced to choose between the two styles…With this notebook we get the best of both worlds.”
Even though Doane fans continue to multiply, the paper company has yet to see stellar sales. Doane projects sales from his online store will reach about $100,000 this year. As a result, he isn’t quitting his day job any time soon. Doane still works full time as a marketing exec at a sports medicine products company in Kansas City, Mo.
Doane first dreamed up the idea for his hybrid paper during the middle of a business meeting in 2002. All the designers in the room were using graph paper while the marketing folks jotted notes down on legal pads. He wondered: “What would happen if I put them together?” His colleagues could then sketch and take notes on the same piece of paper. “It’s like a left- and right-brained person coming together on a single sheet of paper,” he says.
Your name: Chad Doane
Name of business: Doane Paper
Year founded: 2005
Business type (industry): Paper products
Location: Kansas City, Mo.
No. of employees: 1
Web address: www.doanepaper.com
Where do you look for business advice? (Mentors? Industry or trade groups? Family and friends?)
I look at the history of about five or six brands that I really have respect for. I study what’s worked for those brands along the way and apply that same path to the direction of Doane Paper.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
It takes a lot of time and effort for a product to grow into something that a potential customer will trust.
What’s the smartest move you’ve made so far?
Free product sampling. Before I went full bore into making Doane Paper writing pads and notebooks, I made sure that there was an actual market for the Doane Paper grid + lines stationery pattern. For the first six months of Doane Paper’s existence I didn’t sell a physical product, I gave away a free PDF of the Doane Paper stationery pattern through my web site. After getting some positive feedback, I then decided to order my first run of Doane Paper writing pads.