MTL ➡️ SF: Paper Anniversary by Anna V. eyes $1 million in 2017

MTLinTECH visited with Montreal entrepreneurs who made the jump and moved their startup to Silicon Valley. Here’s their stories.

It wasn’t long ago when Anna Van Tuinen was working as a speech therapist for the English Montreal School Board, a job she got coming out of her grad studies at McGill.

When she came home she would design paper-based jewelry for people celebrating their first anniversary. She’d been doing it as a hobby since she was a kid in Wisconsin.

Van Tuinen decided to create a Shopify store for all her designs in late 2012. Within six weeks had sold about $10,000 worth of her creations.

Skip ahead to today and the 28-year-old has her eyes set on a big goal: she wants Paper Anniversary by Anna V. to hit $1 million in sales in 2017.

Paper Anniversary by Anna V. offers custom designed gifts that help spouses commemorate their love story on their anniversary. Every wedding anniversary has a traditional gift, with the first one being paper, the second cotton, and each year the material grows more luxurious. It’s supposed to symbolize the bond as a couple is becoming stronger.

The online store started out just selling gifts to commemorate the first anniversary. Van Tuinen wanted to help spouses find unique, handcrafted gifts that meant more than just a price.

“People in the UK found pictures of this jewelry I made online and they started asking how they could buy them. After I got five or six emails I realized people were going out of their way to ask for this,” Van Tuinen told MTLinTECH. “It wasn’t even up for sale and they kept asking for it.”

Van Tuinen decided she would target one niche and do it really well – make paper jewelry and target it at men looking for things for their spouse. Eventually she hired a few hands in Montreal to help design the jewelry and expanded to offering gifts for men, like cuff links, tie clips and more.

“It happened pretty quickly. I was pretty shocked by the number of orders I was getting. I had just never been able to make that many things to give to people, so it was pretty amazing in the first few months to send out that many gifts to people.”

Paper Anniversary

A lot has changed for Van Tuinen since the early days.

She now sells to equal portions male and female customers. Paper Anniversary by Anna V. has moved on from pre-designed jewelry to mostly custom-designed gifts. They do paper, cotton, leather and other jewelry made of different materials, and have recently began using laser-cutting technology.

The startup doubled its sales to roughly half a million (US) dollars in 2016. Van Tuinen is banking on more success next year.

“I always said I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I’m 30 and I really think in 2017 we can sell over a million dollars worth of our products,” she said.

Along the way the entrepreneur said she tried to listen to customers as much as possible. If they asked her if she could put the names of their children here or design something there she’d try her best to do it.

“A lot of jewelry companies are targeting women who want to buy jewelry who want to accessorize and I’m selling to people who really want this as a meaningful gift. They need something that isn’t just an object and captures their love story, which is priceless for them,” said Van Tuinen.

Moreover, she’s is proud of her team’s customer service. She answers the phones personally, her team answers emails within a few hours.

“I think being an extreme people-pleaser has really helped me in the business. Where other people might say “no,” I say “yes, how can we do this? How can we get something to Australia in two days?”

But with any good story comes difficulties along the way. Van Tuinen nearly quit last winter when she was going through some serious SEO troubles with Google along with a seasonal lag in sales.

Somehow, some way, Van Tuinen didn’t throw in the towel. Her SEO troubles were resolved and she got past the hump.

Interested in hearing the astronomical price of rent Anna pays every month in San Francisco? How about the biggest advantage she gained for her startup from moving to the Valley? Or maybe her thoughts on San Francisco’s entrepreneurial spirit, and why it’s a “rat race?”

Listen to our full conversation here.

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