For Mother’s Day this year, we partnered with Paperless Post so our fans could send customized e-cards to the inspirational women in their lives. We chatted with Paperless Post co-founder, Alexa Hirschfeld, about how the idea for the company was conceived, what drives her, and of course – fashion.
How did you and your brother conceive of the idea for Paperless post?
James and I were co-conspirators before we were co-founders. We always wanted to collaborate on something more formally together—whether it would be a movie or a business, we didn’t know. James came up with the idea for Paperless Post in 2007 when he was a sophomore at college and I had graduated less than a year ago. He described his vision to me over the phone: he had been planning a party for which he had put in a lot of effort (a beach resort theme in the dead of winter in Cambridge—$5 mini palm trees, custom printed cups, sand, costumes) but there was no way to invite people other than paper or Evite. Paper would have cost about $1000 and taken weeks, and he didn’t have his friends mailing addresses; Evite didn’t have the design or customization to message to his guests exactly how great the party would be.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working for yourself?
One big advantage is that you have the control to evolve not just the product you put out, but the company that produces that product. I read an interview once with Brian Chesky from Airbnb who said that the best business advice he’d ever received was, “Build the machine,” which means basically that building the meta-product—the company itself which includes the human capital, processes, and values of the business, you can put out the best product for your customers.
As a female entrepreneur, what is the biggest professional challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
I am lucky to say that I have not encountered many difficulties specific to my being a woman. I am grateful that the time and place in which we live allows me to say that. One difficulty has been the fact that our product appeals more to women (as designers and senders of invitations) than to men; because the world of technology investors is still predominantly male, it was slightly more complicated in the beginning to sell the viability of the business to potential investors. That said, we’ve always been OK with our industry not understanding us. As Jeff Bezos said in a Harvard Business Review interview I read once, “Inventing and pioneering requires a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”
If you weren’t running Paperless Post what would your other dream job be?
I’ve always been a “function” over “field” type of person when it comes to work. Web and mobile technology is incredibly stimulating to me because of the growth in the consumer sector. I imagine that I would also have enjoyed the film business or music or fashion—anything where imagination and an understanding of the end user’s motivations help to distinguish one company from the next. I love being a communicator and ideas person in a creative business.
How does the aesthetic of Paperless Post influence your personal style?
One of the core concepts of Paperless Post is that communication is an extension of your personal style and that how you say something is often as important as what you say. Working for 5 years on creating this product has taught me that being mindful of being yourself wherever you are is key. I am the same person in the office as I am outside of the office. The “mode” may change based on whether the code is casual or festive, indoor or outdoor, summer or winter, but the identity is consistent.
What is the single most important item in your wardrobe, your “Power Piece”?
Because I like to wear simple clothes to work, it’s important for me to express myself through details such as these
bracelets or a watch. I wear these particular casual gold bangles from budhagirl almost every day—I never need to take them off.