When I first started working on Peel I had just left DailyBooth. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next but I knew I wanted to try something new. Including not raising lots of money and try and instead bootstrapping a sustainable business that actually makes money.
Making physical products had always intrigued me but I had no experience, and wasn’t sure where to start. The idea peaked my interest after looking for an iPhone case and failing to find anything that wasn’t big, bulky and covered in branding. It didn’t make sense to me that people would spend so much on a phone that looked good only to slap a huge case on there. I started to look into how to create something different.
I looked around until I found a factory that could make what I had in mind. Then I went ahead and threw together a Shopify website, skipped professional looking packaging altogether, and sent out a tweet. The idea resonated with people. I wasn’t the only one who hated the bulky iPhone cases with the ugly branding it turned out.
A Peel case adds a thin layer of protection against scratches and small drops. It was the iPhone case for people who didn’t like iPhone cases. It didn’t offer as much protection as other bulkier cases, but luckily some people thought the tradeoff was worth it.
One of the biggest features that resonated the most was the lack of branding on the case. Creating an iPhone case that was “branding-free” was a part of the design philosophy from the beginning. I hated it when a logo (prominent or not) was visible in almost every other case. I made the product that I would want to buy.
The Early Years
For the first year I was shipping out packages by hand. Writing each address with a sharpie and driving to the local post office. It got to the point where there would be audible sighs from the people working there every time I’d arrive because they knew it was going to take a while to ship everything. My apartment was slowly getting overrun with boxes of cases and shipping supplies. It was a fun time!
Very early on I met my future co-founder, Marshall. Marshall and I met on Twitter, where he had noticed that he hadn’t seen many people go from working in software to hardware. He pitched me on working with him on a bedding project that he was designing. It sounded like a great idea, so I decided to partner up with him and work on that together.
We quickly found that we enjoyed working together. We decided to merge all of our projects together and create a startup studio called Need/Want. This company would be designed for us to use our combined resources to try new things and work on new projects in addition to running Peel. This company mirrored what I had been doing up until that point in my career in a more formal way, and allowed us greater freedom to explore different things. Peel’s success in the early days kept the lights on and allowed us to keep working on and launching new stuff.
The Peel Design Philosophy
Over the years we expanded on the Peel product line, always applying the same design thinking to everything. This meant:
- No visible branding. We even made a point of hiding the branding in our products as a sort of inside joke with our customers.
- Low profile. If we can make it take up less space we will.
- As minimal as possible. To keep things minimal, we would always ask ourselves, “Is there a way of simplifying this without compromising function?”
For the Peel Notebook we removed the bands on a traditional notebook and replaced them with added magnets in all four corners. The added magnets had an additional function allowing the “stacking” of multiple notebooks.
Visually the product was simplified but an additional function was added. This was a fun project to work on!
Working on Peel forced us to think a lot about branding.
Branding has a place and a purpose, but brands can push their luck sometimes. While strong brands have an element of signaling, other brands (especially tech & accessory brands) just use this as an opportunity to advertise.
Why do we as consumers accept obvious branding on some things but not others? It seems normal for a water bottle to have a logo on it, but imagine if your sofa had a logo visibly displayed on it— that would be insane.
We wanted to push back a bit. If it just makes the product look worse… why do it?
How It’s Made
In 2015 we made the trip to China to visit out factory and meet everyone we had been working with. It was eye opening seeing the skill that went into the manufacturing process.
The basic shape of the case is injection molded, the remaining 70% is done by hand.
Any excess plastic is then painstakingly cut off the edge by hand.
Once all the excess has been cut off, the holes for the audio jack, charging port, and volume buttons are stamped into the edges. One by one.
After that there’s a quick quality control check. One case out of every small batch is checked to make sure it fits perfectly and there are no defects.
Peel’s product line continues to grow. I’m no longer involved in the day to day, as Marshall runs the company as CEO. I’m proud of everything we built together, and my signature is still on the back of the packaging of every Peel case sold.
If you found this post at all interesting, we often discuss Peel on our podcast.
And finally… Here’s a gif that shows what happened every time we received an order on the website. This was quite annoying and extremely disruptive to everybody.