Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies. So, I’m very excited today because I’m here with Gagan Palrecha, who is the founder and CEO of Chirply. Chirply is a website that takes crowd source, crowd created design to create beautiful paper goods. With that said, Gagan, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.
Gagan: We started Chirply summer of 2010, and launched the company a few months ago. Prior to Chirply, I had been sort of kicking around the Bay Area for about 12 years working at various startups, from Loudcloud which is a company that was founded by Mark Andreessen back in ’99. Companies like netVmg along the way and Vontu, which is a security company that was acquired by Symantec. But then, I’ve also done things in mobile.
I ran business development at a TV company, where I basically helped build the company with relationships with cable networks and broadcast networks doing mostly deals and partnerships. Along this whole path, I ran a record label for ten years that was distributed by Universal Music Group which was that sort of passion turned into a business. Both my co-founder and I have really varied backgrounds from technology to television, to mobile, to music. And so, we’re really excited to be working sort of in the art world basically.
Mathew: What makes Chirply unique? Who’s it for, and why are you so passionate about it?
Gagan: Chirply is unique because we’re trying to take every day goods, whether they’re greeting cards or notebooks, or wrapping paper, art prints. These things that you use everyday that you don’t really think about. And you don’t think about them because they’re incredibly tacky and poorly designed.
We’re trying to basically take design to these things that you use everyday. The idea is to enrich your everyday life. Chirply is for everybody, it’s for designers. We really care a lot about designers, because my co-founder and I have been on that side of the fence. Doing design, and doing silk screening and all that kind of stuff along with music and other things.
So, it’s really about designers and trying to give them a platform to be recognized to build their portfolios to get paid, and to have their vision and their designs distributed worldwide in these products that people can hold and use every single day. And then, it’s for consumers because I personally like to fill my life with art, and music, and all these things I think are really important for the soul, and I think design resonates with everybody. And so, really Chirply is for everybody. And we’re unique because we’re taking really stale things, and we’re trying to make them beautiful, and make them really meaningful to everybody.
Mathew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist, and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?
Gagan: Well, we’re generally in this crowd source design community curation space. Then we’re sort of in this old space which is the paper good space which hasn’t been disrupted since the printing press 100 years ago. So, we’re taking physical goods and through the online world we’re bringing them together to try and be disruptive. But when you take the crowd source design world, there’s some really great things about it, and there’s some really bad things about it. There are some very controversial things about it.
So, when you talk to designers, certain designers get really excited about being able to submit their work. Have people see if it resonates with them and have it turned into t-shirts, or have it turned into gadgets, for example, or in our case, paper goods. Then, there’s other folks that believe that crowd source design is eequivalent to spec work. In the design community, spec work means you will only get paid if your design is selected.
We’re kind of in this sort of area that’s not exactly spec work, but some people kind of consider us spec work. So, I think the industry has to sort of do better things for the people that are helping fuel it. Specifically the design community, and for us from day one it’s been really important to make sure that we work really closely with the design community and get them excited about what we’re doing.
Make sure we’re taking care of them, both from a financial perspective but also making sure that our mission of exposing people to these designers. Whether their brands or individuals, exposing those brands or individuals to these amazing independent designers. We have to stay true as a sort of a community and an industry to that sort of group of people because they should be recognized, and they should get compensated well.
So, I think as far as the industry is concerned, there’s a lot of great things that are going to happen. There’s a lot of great things from a physical goods perspective, combining with the sort of online world. Taking people that create great design and in effect, making beautiful, meaningful products as a result of the design.
Mathew: What inspired you to start Chirply, was it an ah-ha moment, or did you discover the opportunity through research? What’s the story behind it?
Gagan: It was sort of a combination of both. Chirply is sort of inspired by some other companies that are out there. They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, and if you were to walk into my bedroom and look in my closet, you’ll see a handful of Threadless t-shirts. So, Threadless was a big inspiration. It was a site and a set of products that I use and bought in my daily life.
For those of you who don’t know, Threadless is community similar to ours, where users submit designs and then those designs get turned into t-shirts. So Threadless was a big inspiration. AtSea is a big inspiration, and there’s a number of other sites out there that inspired us, and so it was sort of this thing where my co-founder and I were thinking about what we could do. Apply some of those same models without basically directly competing with these people that inspired us.
So, paper goods was actually a really obvious thing for us because running a record label for ten years we did a lot of posters, we did a lot of LPs and CDs. I did a lot of print work and advertising and stuff like that. We knew print really well, and so the idea that we could say, OK, we hate greeting cards but we buy them because there are moments in our life where they are important to express how we feel about the person. Even though the card itself doesn’t express how we feel.
We use notebooks everyday, but they tend to be really boring and plain, and they’re not really inspiring. And usually when I’m using a notebook I’m trying to activate my brain and think creatively whether it’s about designing software or creative writing or whatever. So, what we wanted to do is, we were like, wow, this is a great opportunity to take that model and apply it to all these other things. So it was a combination of sort of the ah-ha moment and the research.
Matthew: Who is your co-founder, how did you meet, and what qualities were you looking for in a co-founder?
Gagan: Well, I’m really fortunate my co-founder is my brother, his name is Neel. And he is a one of the strongest technical people I know. I think that says a lot. I’ve been kicking around the Bay Area working a lot of startups for quite some time and studied computer engineering at the University of Michigan. So, I had a lot of smart people around me. I’m really fortunate that one of the smartest people I know happens to be my brother. Don’t tell him I said that. Co-founders are really important. I think everyone now knows that. Your co-founder can make or break your business, regardless of whether the business is successful or not.
For me, my background started in engineering, but I haven’t written production code in a number of years. So, my background today is more on business development and partnerships, product and that sort of thing. So, I was looking for a highly technical co-founder who could basically take the vision and execute and implement the actual product, and I couldn’t think of anybody better than Neel to sort of take Chirply to that level and be able to execute and build the product. A technical co-founder for me was really important considering that I had the product and biz dev background.