I made something, and now it’s in people’s houses. This is what I learned in the process.
I have spent the summer of 2015 back in my home country — Croatia. The place I usually go is the north-west part of Croatia’s beautiful Adriatic sea, on one of the islands there — island Krk. On this beautiful island, there is a small town in which, as the legends and history goes, there is a small church, and in this small church there is a rock-plate, a tablet of sorts.
This tablet holds the text engraved in the ancient Croatian alphabet called Glagolitic alphabet. The most important part of this text is the fact that this is the first time the word “Croatia” was found to be documented. Of course, it helps that it was documented literally in stone, rather than on some flimsy paper that would rot away over the years.
The Glagolitic alphabet writings could be found in a few more historic places around Croatia, on a few more islands as well as in some places inland, but Baška Tablet is the biggest and most significant piece.
However, apart from a few products by some Croatian companies, the entire heritage of Glagolitic alphabet is completely unused. “Croata” has a line of clothing and accessories which use Glagolitic glyphs …
… but that’s basically it. Yeah, there are some bits and pieces here and there, but nothing significant.
An idea was born
During that summer I decided I need to do something, anything, with the Glagolitic alphabet. After some thinking I decided to create a big A2 size poster featuring the basics of Glagolitic alphabet — the characters themselves, with additional info how these characters tie to our modern Latin alphabet.
As I wanted to make every poster unique, memorable and just cool looking, the idea was expanded into offering gilding (yup, real gold) to the buyers of the letter of their choice. And of course, as I am not turning this into a real business, the whole thing has to be limited in quantity, and once I am done — I am done, that’s it, project completed.
The final product thus was an offering of 400 total A2-size posters, printed on a thick luxurious paper, hand gilded as per customer’s requirement.
This is where I learn things
From there, things got interesting as I was embarking onto a journey I saw countless of my clients embark previously. I am a web designer by profession, and since around 1998–99 I was working on numerous web shops for clients, as well as on marketing campaigns for those shops and products they were selling. It’s just that I was never the one selling anything, I was the one providing services which enabled my clients to sell stuff.
Thus I know what kind of an effort was required on my side to create a web shop, and to advertise it.
1: Creating the poster
This is a no brainer, Adobe has made a desktop publishing and graphic design revolution a few decades ago. Click-click-click in Illustrator, and the poster was created.
2: Print the poster
Finding a good offset print shop was a bit of a legwork, but in the end I did find a guy in Dublin that does really high quality old-school offset print. Another task done.
3: Setting up an online store
Finally, the challenging part! There are numerous online services which provide online shops, but after all pros and cons are considered, Shopify won. And no, by no means is Shopify perfect, it has a few big problems — lack of out-of-the-box multi lingual support being the biggest.
However, the Shopify is really easy to set up, and the default themes they offer are great but more importantly are battle-tested. Shopify has the numbers behind those themes, and the most important feature of those themes — coversion rates — are there.
And lo and behold, Gold and Letters was born!
Just a few years ago this whole make a web shop thing was a monumental undertaking that required weeks and months of designing and coding and testing, and here we are today; entire platform together with all major payment gateways done over a weekend. Something that I have spent a good deal of my career working on — web shops — commoditised all the way. I have even tried to remember all the web shops I did back in a day, and all but one of them could be done today through Shopify or similar platforms.
That is not to say that these platforms fit the needs of everyone, but my gut feeling is that they do fit the need of a vast majority of clientele. Yes, there will always be a need for web designers and developers to make a custom web shop, but those numbers are small in comparison to the market share Shopify & co. eat into.
Need a place to write and express your thoughts? Sure, use Wordpress. Need an even simpler, no-theme option? Use Medium. Need a place to sell stuff? Use Shopify. Need a place to showcase your portfolio? Use Dunked. Need an instant pseudo bank account for simple money sending and safe spending when abroad? Use Revolut.
There is probably service for anything you want to do.
If you are in some sort of low to mid range web production, you will be replaced by ready-made online services soon. The amount of potential customers needing custom designed web sites are dwindling by the hour as they will simply start using one of the existing services.
4: Facebook advertising is easy and crazy good
Yes, of course, there are other methods of advertising stuff, but Facebook takes the cake. There is enough people on Facebook and unless you are really selling super specialised niche products, your audience will be on Facebook. Facebook’s tools allowed me to rather nicely target people (who recently visited Croatia or who explicitly love Glagolitic alphabet & typography or who are Croatian expats in USA/Australia/Canada, etc.) and it works like a charm.
The most unexpected place I have sent a poster to was in Angola, Africa (I really didn’t expect someone in Africa would buy Glagolitic alphabet poster).
Investing a little bit of money, just under $150, over a period of one month, gave a solid return. I did not make millions, but that was not the point of the whole project.
5: Seeing your product in other people’s homes is amazing
I have built a lot of digital products in my life, but this is the first real physical thing. Seeing the photos people send back, with the poster situated in their houses, really feels amazing. I made something, and now other people have it and see it in their homes every day! I need to do this again…
But the main thing I learned…
…is that it is possible, without much effort, to start something literally out of your comfy couch. We read all around the internet about entrepreneurs telling us that it really is possible to do something, all it takes is some time and effort on your side. And today, it’s easier than ever. You can come up with an idea, create it and produce it (does not matter if it is a physical or a digital thing), sell and advertise it without leaving your house. It’s that easy. OK, I am not fully honest here, I do have to walk to the Post Office to actually send the posters.
This whole process I have gone through would, just a decade back, take months of grunt work, brick & mortar store or some sort of partnership with existing stores, hellish payment arrangements with credit card companies, contracts, advertising through some dodgy channels, I don’t even want to think about it. Yet here I am, I did the whole thing on my laptop while watching Netflix.
How crazy is that?
Imagine how this whole process will look in the next ten years, when 3D printing blooms fully and becomes a service (check out Love and Robots), when stuff gets delivered by drones or autonomous vehicles, when more and more of the internet is connected and various services start talking to each other and to things around us. Next twenty years? Thirty?
We are heading into an era where all but the most complex and ground breaking projects can be kickstarted from your living room easily. All it takes and all it will take is an idea.
A little bonus for Medium readers, you can use the code medium20 during checkout for 20% discount on anything you purchase on Gold and Letters. You went through the wall of text above, you deserve it!