Starting an automated business for some friends as a gift

    The content of this post was originally part of a now retired YouTube series. I repurposed the content in a more traditional blog post format to make it a bit more accessable.


    Backstory

    I turned 30 last year along with my two best friends back in England, Thom and Steve. I wanted to get them something special to mark the occasion so I decided to try and start a little business and gift it to them.

    Because the business would be a gift this created some interesting design constraints. The entire thing needed to be completely automated or it would be more of a problem than anything else, and I wanted to keep the launch costs to a minimum, as I was never going to see any kind of ROI!

    What I built

    After researching different tools that I could use to make this possible, I landed on the idea of making them a novelty greeting card business that mirrored their dark sense of humor. I named the business Impressed Or Horrified.

    The name Impressed Or Horrified is a reference to an inside joke. It's a question that we ask each other a lot, and it's often amusing how close the line is between something being impressive or horrifying.

    I'm pretty happy with how much I managed to automate. When an order comes in through the website, the card is printed and shipped out to a customer without any action required on Steve or Thom's part. Printing things on demand means there's no stock sitting in a warehouse to worry about.

    Card_SKU_ImagesCaleb_2245f396-8925-45b1-988b-20e33b3b15dd_2048x2048

    Adding new cards to the system is also a breeze, and all of the product images are generated automatically so there's no need to ever do another photoshoot!

    The only thing that requires any sort of input is coming up with new card ideas which.... hopefully.... would be fun.

    Every card has its own separate page, featuring professional, really well-lit photos showing models positively beaming with joy, receiving "dark," nihilistic cards — which, I think, is hilarious.

    Automating the store

    There are two main services I used to make this happen: Shopify, which is the online store part of the business, and Gooten, which is an on-demand printing and fulfillment service that prints and ships everything. There's a Gooten app for Shopify that makes setting this up easy.

    Gooten doesn't just print and ship greeting cards. They have a whole product library that includes things like pet bandanas, tote bags and magic mugs (demonstrated in the gif below).

    mug

    If you're interested in replicating something like this I'd recommend taking a look at the Gooten product page and see if anything catches your eye. Every single one of these products could be turned into a little automated business that you could build a brand around.

    Using Gooten, you pay the specified price per product every time something is ordered, but you can set your price to allow for that, setting yourself — or, in this case, my friends — up for a nice little profit.

    Impressed or Horrified uses Gooten's Folded Cards system, and all you have to do is upload your design the way the platform specifies, and you have a product for sale in the store.

    Automating Product Photography

    Hiring models and photographers every time a product is added or changed would be a nightmare for a small-scale operation, like Impressed or Horrified.

    Instead, I used Adobe Photoshop's "Smart Objects", which I just learned about — it will save you a lot of time. It lets you nest one Photoshop file inside another, and it mirrors the changes you make to the master file throughout all the nested files.

    card-edit

    Every page of a card can be changed from one file.

    generated-images

    All of the product images are generated.

    So if you change a card's design, all of the images of models holding it are automatically changed, too, without any extra work. One photoshoot, and some fiddling around in Photoshop, and you're set.

    I also set it up to output all of the images to upload to gooten in the correct size, format, and orentation making it really easy to add new cards.

    card-2-1

    (You can apply these concepts to any product in the Gooten catalog, making it easy to make fully automated online store.)

    The Launch

    All told, the new business cost just a few hundred dollars to start.

    Thom and Steve loved it.

    Amazingly they actually got some press. UltraLinx, reviewed Impressed or Horrified last June.

    "'Impressed or Horrified' aims to make cool cards for cool people and we think they've done a pretty good job. You can also request cards and browse by season. I know where I'll be getting my Christmas cards from this year," the story reads.

    It also got 134 upvotes on ProductHunt.com!

    Files

    If you want to dig a little deeper into how the smart object photoshop thing works you can download the same files I used.


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    Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Product focused founder. Brit in the USA.

    San Francisco

    Starting an automated business for some friends as a gift

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