Started in 2005, JetPens is an online stationery store for people in pursuit of the perfect pen. Find out how these three young Standford grads (Lillian Kim, Shu Yao, and Adrian Mak) were able to grow their pen-centric business from their tiny apartment to a massive 6,000 square foot warehouse!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.
JetPens is an online purveyor of unique and hard-to-find writing instruments, school, and office supplies mainly from Japan, Europe, and the US. Our colorful and high-quality products are carefully selected for their excellent design and quality, and cannot be found in your local office supply store. During our six-year growth from 2005-2011, JetPens has experienced double-digit growth and now ships close to 40,000 pens monthly.
Shu, Adrian, and I were classmates and friends at Stanford. We found that we had a love for entrepreneurship and also had a unique team dynamic that worked very well together. We launched our corporation PCOW, Inc in 2004 and our online business www.JetPens.com on Valentine’s Day of 2005.
We bootstrapped everything, funding the business ourselves, hosting inventory under our beds and in our apartment, and handled everything from customer service to packaging and shipping orders. JetPens grew by double digits every year and now has more than a dozen employees, a 6,000+ square foot warehouse and has been featured in NY Times, Wired, Fortune, Small Business and more.
What did you do before launching JetPens.com?
The three of us had brief experiences with other entrepreneurial startups and companies during college. But JetPens was really our first big venture into a business of our own.
How did you fund your business?
The three founders Shu, Adrian, and I each invested $3,000 in personal savings to start JetPens.
How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent in your home office?
Shu and I spend about 35-40 hours a week working from our home office. We both are now moms and love the flexibility of being with our children at home while we work. Two or three times a week we go into the warehouse to do tasks or train people. We do many of our meetings over Facetime or Skype from home.
How would you rate your success?
We’re extremely satisfied with the success JetPens has seen. The work-life balance of owning our own company and being moms have been a huge blessing, and we enjoy our work each and every day.
What has been your biggest business struggle as an entrepreneur?
Having an online business means having no physical boundaries. The three founders have been able to work remotely from Japan, Hong Kong, California and more. At first, the time zones and tech needs were challenging, but we’ve implemented enough systems that it works for us.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Always test your idea first. I’m a firm believer of making sure there is a market for your product (i.e. getting a handful of “real customers”) before starting on side projects like printing business cards, setting up a work office space, spending money on designing a logo, etc. Bootstrap everything, cutting costs wherever possible.
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?
We allow flexible schedules and work remotely, which allows us to balance our family’s needs with the needs of the business.
Thanks to Lillian Kim, Shu Yao, and Adrian Mak the Owners of JetPens.com for sharing their story!
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