Hi! I'm Dane Carlson, and welcome to the Business Opportunities Weblog. I've been publishing this website, by myself, and sometimes with the help of others for over twelve years now. You'll notice two things about this site right away:
People have wished on stars, or made a wish before blowing out a candle, but now they can say they have lit their wish on fire and watched it float up into the sky. Well, if they have tried out Julia Lambie’s Flying Wish Paper they can!
The potential that this simple invention holds is amazing. Having not stopped at wishes, Julia has made it easy to watch your prayer fly with her set of Flying Prayer Paper as well. If this sounds familiar, her product was also featured on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch and on this blog back in September. However, her paper made its official debut in May of last year at the National Stationery Show in NYC.
What inspired you to launch Flying Wish Paper™?
I had seen an activity like this in a movie about five years ago, called ‘The Big Night.’ It’s about two Italians who open a restaurant and it isn’t going so well. So they put together one last shebang and throw all their money into this make-it-or-break-it evening. In one scene, very subtly in the background, this lady eats something and then lights the paper wrapping on fire and it flies. My husband and I saw that and thought…’that was really cool.’
Then, just two years ago – it’s the holiday season – and we’re invited to a handful of parties. Four parties all had the White Elephant Gift Exchange, the game where you bring a gift – either a joke or a real one – put it under the tree, take turns opening one and then you can steal someone else’s and such. I actually like that game quite a bit…but not four times in a row! I thought, there’s got to be something else to bring to the party. I remembered the flying paper in the movie, and I starting developing the idea into a formal product.
How did you discover paper that would float into the sky once lit on fire? Was it something you figured out by accident, or was there a plan behind finding a way to make it work?
The initial discovery goes back to that Italian movie. I knew it could work, but I had to figure out how. My background is 24 years of print production for advertising agencies and design studios, so I have experience with paper and the manufacturing and conversion processes. But this is definitely a specialty paper. I spent over six months researching, testing and finessing papers to get it just right. There was a lot of trial and error. I ended up with a few options, but settled on the current formula because it has a very thin ash – it virtually disintegrates – and this paper flies the highest and most dramatically.
Tell us about some of your other Flying Wish Paper™ products. What is included in the Flying Prayer Paper, Holiday Little Wishes, and Best Wishes Party Favor kits?
The original product is Flying Wish Paper™, which we sell as ‘a wishing kit’ for holidays, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, bachelorette parties, any kind of party. The wishing kit includes 50 sheets of Flying Wish Paper™, 25 Wish Platform cards™, 5 little gold pencils, matches and instructions. It’s designed for 25 people, but I provide extra Flying Wish Paper™ because people usually want to do it again. I created three styles of this original product, simply a variety of package designs to suit different tastes.
At the same time, I recognized a strong second market for this activity among spiritual people. I felt it was important to distinguish between making a wish and sending a prayer, so I developed Flying Prayer Paper™ as an individual product. It is the same concept, just a different marketing angle and talking points, for use at prayer meetings, Bible classes, daily devotions, retreats, or personal use. One client uses it with recovery groups, which I think is brilliant. Just like the party sector, the religious sector is also in need of ‘something new to do’ and Flying Prayer Paper™ is it.
My pet project is the Holiday Little Wishes™. This is a precious pack of Flying Wish Paper™ perfectly sized (and priced!) to stuff into a stocking, fit into a card, hang on the tree, or to give as a small gift. Again, the same concept overall, just smaller packaging and fewer contents: 12 sheets of Flying Wish Paper™, 6 Wish Platform cards™, one pencil, matches and instructions.
This is where my print production background comes in handy: I had plans to introduce this smaller, individual version down the road but found that I had room on my print form to squeeze it into the same print run as the main packages. Needless to say, that was an excellent value. So I worked with my printer at the last minute to design the snowflake package. It is fantastic to have it available this year for the holiday season.
The Best Wishes Party Favor™ is a product I created in direct response to feedback from event planners I met at the National Stationery Show in New York City last May, where Flying Wish Paper™ debuted. Many planners recognized the value of a little wishing kit that could be customized for a special event and used either as a promotion or a party favor.
I immediately developed a small kit with similar contents to the original kits, but smaller packaging at 4×4” and made of blank white ultra glossy stock. Contents are all the same, just fewer in number: 6 sheets of Flying Wish Paper™, 3 Wish Platform cards™, a pencil and instructions. Matches can be provided at an additional cost, but most brides – for example – choose to customize their own matches.
And, this little product also fit on the same print form, so I was able to develop it quickly and inexpensively. Still, I don’t actually make profit on the Best Wishes Party Favor™. I keep the cost low but I benefit from exposure when 100 guests at one party get to experience Flying Wish Paper™ first hand. It has been a very effective publicity strategy.
What kind of feedback have you received from those who have used your product?
Flying Wish Paper™ is a very visual and interactive product. I can describe it and show you a picture, but seeing is believing. I knew I was onto something based on the response from ten ladies at my first focus group. There is a lot of anticipation as the paper burns down and then a great moment of surprise when the paper lifts off the platform. It is truly enchanting.
That was the same response from buyers at the NY Tradeshow. They were infatuated with the experience.
And it’s new, so people are excited about that. There is nothing else like it in the market place. So many new products are really just an improvement of something that already exists, a variation in design or function. Flying Wish Paper™ is a brand new concept in what I think is a very stale market, and that has people talking.
What are some of the goals you have for your business? Is there a special milestone you’d like to reach within the coming year?
My original milestone, in retrospect, should probably be my five-year milestone. I came into this with both guns blazing, but now I have a better understanding of the market. Frankly, it moves slower than I thought.
My biggest goal – in addition to reasonable sales, of course – is to create awareness. Because I am introducing a new concept as well as a new product, it needs special attention. I am focusing as much on public relations as I am on sales.
I have three working goals: I would like to be on press again in March; I want Oprah to identify this as a favorite product; and I want Flying Wish Paper™ to become a household name – a tradition at holidays, a mainstay at parties, as common as blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.
What was it like having your product featured on The Big Idea? Has anything good happened directly or indirectly because of that exposure?
Since we were just talking about goals, let me say that being on the Donny Deutsch show was an early goal right out of the gate. I was thrilled to be selected and to get the job done without blustering my way through it…because Donny doesn’t give you a second chance.
It was a crazy few days of preparation. I applied one day, got a call from their producer the next day, then three days later it was show time. The one thing I had to do was remember my 30-second pitch. I can talk for days, but I can’t memorize very well. But I did it, and you’ll never know the parts I left out. I was very nervous to see myself that night on TV – it aired the same night – because the actual taping is so fast and frenzied I really didn’t know how I had performed. I found myself standing in the studio parking lot after taping and thinking, ‘What just happened there?’ Watching the show, I was very happy with the outcome, specifically winning the Viewers’ Favorite.
Impact on sales has been good. More importantly – and this goes back to one of my goals – the exposure has been fantastic. Saying that I’ve been featured on the show and that I won the Viewers’ Favorite is a great lead into a conversation, a letter, a press release, any communication.
How has your experience in advertising helped you grow this product into what it has become? What are some specific bits of knowledge that have helped you that other entrepreneurs without your background might not realize?
After 24 years, a lot of what I do is second nature to me, so it is actually hard to get specific. In addition to the print production side of things, my background is project management and studio management, so just understanding the scope of the process has been very helpful. I’m used to juggling not only my own projects but also those of others in the studio and how they all flow together, what comes first, what can wait. It requires a great deal of troubleshooting on one end and problem solving on the other. I’ve described it as having a million things swirling in my head and just knowing intuitively when to pull one onto the front burner. I’ve been self-employed for seven years now, which requires a different kind of focus, but a lot of juggling as well.
Specific to my advertising background, as far as I’m concerned there is one rule: Know your audience. What do you have without the right audience? Talk to them. Focus group with them. And above all, listen to them. I went into my first focus group with my product DIALED. For me, it was just a show and tell. I came out of that meeting and completely changed the product name and the product packaging. It was invaluable.
Your business really seems to have taken off quickly, with only a year since you developed your product. Do you think moving so quickly has helped or hurt you? How?
Moving quickly has definitely helped me. I thrive on momentum, and in the past year there was never a lull. I went from concept to delivery on this product with very little help. My husband Bob is a great sounding board, and my designers, Hether Dunn and Mike Lepis, are perfectly attuned to the vision and to the market. Otherwise, the pressure was on and I challenged myself to get to that tradeshow in May and hit the market in August. It was tight.
Given the current economics, I have kept my price point at $15 – very low for the value – and I am bringing something inspirational, new and exciting to the market. Consumers are very choosy right now, and I believe Flying Wish Paper™ is the kind of product that can really thrive in this kind of market.
What have you learned from starting Flying Wish Paper™ that you did not expect? How has that experience helped you?
I have learned that it never hurts to ask. Let’s be honest, business can be tough. But, there are a lot of great people out there and for the past year it seems like their sole objective was to work with me. Some people are still ‘getting back to me’ but most were exceedingly generous with their time and expertise. That helped me get to market in one year. And that kindness gave me a great boost of energy and optimism throughout the process.
I also learned that I love to work on my own idea. I can’t wait to get started in the morning and I have to pull myself away at night. This project is my passion, and I believe that will have a lot to do with its success.
Has your success inspired you to consider any other start-ups?
I have enough going on at the moment. There are many things I can do with the Flying Wish Paper™ concept – in terms of design, usage, marketing – and I plan to do them all for many years to come. If the question is ‘Would I do it again if there was an obvious opportunity?’ the answer is yes. It is exciting and extremely fulfilling.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs thinking about starting up their own business?
My first advice comes not just from this project, but from the hundreds of other projects I’ve worked on through the years: take your total estimate of time and money and double it. Then there are no surprises later. You can focus on doing it right instead of how to get out of the hole you dug. That’s important to consider before you find yourself in too deep.
My other advice is to really ask yourself if this is the right time, in terms of the economy, personal commitments, family, your own financial standing, your personal chi…everything. If the answer is yes, then commit. You can take your time, but don’t hesitate or the idea can get watered down or die on vine. Be resolute, think positive and always move forward.
In closing, here’s Julia’s Flying Wish Paper’s appearance on The Big Idea: