One part of our history that we rarely publicize is how the company has been funded from its early years to today. We are based in Silicon Valley (and now Arizona, too), and people generally assume that high technology e-commerce brands like ours start by using venture capital funding to help the fledgling business sustain the losses you incur while building a company from the ground up.
We never bag on businesses that start this way. In fact, we admire and find inspiration from names like Amazon.com, Netflix, Zappos and so many others. But when we started Tiny Prints, we had different motivations.
“To make sure we controlled how our culture formed, we denied any outside funding…”
We wanted to work together for several decades—after all, we were taking a giant leap of faith by getting off the corporate track. So to ensure the longevity of the company, we focused on the core values and culture of the company first. Then, to make sure we controlled how our culture formed, we denied any outside funding. We couldn’t risk giving partial control of Tiny Prints to someone who might have different objectives for the company.
When we first started working together, the first thing we agreed upon was the values and culture of the company we wanted to build. The product idea came later. We each brought different business ideas to the table, and we even created prototypes for a few of those ideas. But everything that came before Tiny Prints seemed to require outside financing. As a result, even though we poured months of work into these projects, we scrapped them all.
Then the story goes that my wife and I were expecting our first child, so we went into baby preparation mode. In doing so, we saw the need to make the lives of new parents easier—especially concerning personal communication and the celebration of such an important event. Thus Tiny Prints was born, and we suddenly found ourselves with an idea that could be built on sweat equity alone.
We started working on the website, which at that time exclusively sold custom birth announcements, in the fall of 2003. The website launched in March 2004 when the three of us scraped together about $10,000 as seed funding. We have been blessed to never look back since.
We’ve now enjoyed seven years of meager salaries, IKEA desks, working out of our apartments and cramped offices, watching every dollar like it was our last and doing work that most people would consider “beneath” a founder (whatever that means). But to be where we are today without ever having spent money from anyone else feels really amazing. We did eventually bring on investment partners five years into the company’s life for strategic reasons, but we still haven’t spent their money, either. While we might have a long way to go before our little company fulfills our big dreams for it, but we are excited and proud that we’ve been able to do it our way thus far.