Young Guns: Can Email Be Elegant?


Nothing beats the feeling of sorting through the mail and finding a beautifully printed invitation on luxurious linen parchment or a hand-written note on sumptuous stationary—maybe from your grandmother with her flawless penmanship. But these days more and more invitations and personal correspondence arrive in your inbox--not your mailbox--and they have all the elegance of a digital smiley face.

Two tech-savvy twentysomething siblings saw the gap between what was and what is and decided to tap into the $11 billion stationary business. Flat and impersonal looking e-mails can now have a little je ne sais quois with just the click of a mouse.

The new web retailer Paperless Post is the creation of Alexa and James Hirshfeld, who took a gamble that consumers would be willing to pay more for high-end online invitations.


Where were you the moment you thought of your business plan?

James: Alexa and I have always wanted to start a company together, but I came up with the concept of Paperless Post alone when I was planning my 21st birthday. I had put a lot of time and effort into planning a pretty cool party and I wanted an invitation that not only reflected that, but that was also convenient, cost effective and digital. All my friends used email and there were no viable online options for the kind of custom invitation I was looking for. I called Alexa and told her my idea for a site that combined the customization and beauty of paper with the efficiency and convenience of email. We both agreed that this was something that people would actually use.

What is one life lesson that has helped you build your business?

James: Ideas are nice, but execution is everything.

What is one word your employees would use to describe you?

Alexa: I think you would have to ask them that, but I hope that the description would include being respectful and humble. James and I know what we know, but I think we also know what we do not. Every person who works at Paperless Post is an expert in something crucial that James and I are not an expert in. For that reason, every single person there has true responsibility over his or her domain.

What do you wish you had more of: time or money?

James: In a startup time = money, but we'll focus on time. In only 7 months of being live, with no marketing or advertising, users have sent over 1MM Invitations, Announcements, Save the Dates and Holiday Cards over the Paperless Post platform. We have a highly viral business, so we're lucky that simply by letting time pass and listening to our users, Paperless Post gets bigger.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

James: We would like Paperless Post to have redefined online communication, by bringing most of the formal, meaningful correspondence that is now printed and mailed, to the Internet.

Do you see this company as a dressed-up version of Evite?

James: No. For one thing, people use Paperless Post to send invitations to events that they would not use Evite for, such as Engagement parties, Rehearsal dinners, Black tie dinners and Weddings. They also realize that part of our core value proposition is the ability to customize and make something entirely your own, which is not part of the Evite platform.

Alexa: Paperless Post also offers more than invitations - users use it to design, deliver and monitor Save the Dates, Baby Announcements, Holiday Cards, etc. Soon they will also be using it to delivery Personal Stationery as well.

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