Erin Condren, the unofficial head of the #planneraddict movement, launched her eponymous company as a "one-woman show" from her home office almost twenty years ago. In 2001, Condren started printing stationary and business announcements from her desktop printer.
But then she realized the planner world wasn't inspiring-- it wasn't colorful and it didn't pop. So she created an Instagrammable product (before the age of IG) and her biz hasn't slowed down since.
We caught up with the entrepreneur to find out the what and the how, but also, why the power of the notebook has stood strong in the face of digital. (There's a stat down below that you definitely want to read.)
You started a business at home. But now have over 250 employees. How did you make the jump from being a successful entrepreneur to being a successful business person?
It wasn’t quite as abrupt as a “jump” but certainly a difficult transition. While I started as a one-woman show from my home office in 2001, my business grew rapidly with the help of friends and family. Later in 2007, my business partner warned me that most entrepreneurs start with family and friends, but tough decisions and changes would need to be made if the company was going to thrive. Adding employees, developing successful teams and eventually hiring executives have been instrumental in our success. I’m now surrounded by such an incredible group of individuals who all contribute so much. It’s a balancing act, of course, to be able to step back when I need to and get more involved in other situations, but I do truly feel like I have the best team & part of being a successful business person is being able to manage my time and know when to let go of the reigns.
What goes into your job that you think people would be surprised by or that you wish they knew?
I think people would be surprised to learn that I’m in the office almost every single day. Whether I’m attending weekly marketing meetings, shooting video walking through our newest product launch, approving a finalized design, testing a sample sent from a vendor to ensure it meets the desired quality, or getting feedback from our head of Customer Service, I’m constantly in the loop and rushing from meeting to meeting. I don’t think people realize how involved day-to-day I am!
The internet has made it ‘easier’ to start a business in some respects. You can Google how to do just about anything. But what can the internet not teach you about launching?
Oh gosh, I wish I could have gotten an answer from google in regards to launching my own business! There are just so many things that you can’t plan for or predict, so you have to be able to make an adjustment and reset your expectations to meet your current reality. It is critical to be able to bob and weave since each day can bring new challenges.
Why do you think the power of the notebook/planner has stood the test of digital time?
I think that in today’s increasingly digital world, with an app for seemingly everything, paper has turned into this luxury item, and it’s become very trendy! It’s almost being used as a fashion accessory, in some ways. Aside from the material aspect, there is something meaningful about writing something down and being able to cross it off and see your accomplished to dos on the page. Additionally, statistics show that you’re 42% more likely to achieve goals by writing them down. I think it’s safe to say that paper- and paper planners- are here to stay!
You’ve mentioned that if you could go back you might not name the company after yourself. Do you feel pressure as the ‘face’ of Erin Condren? How do you navigate being in front of the brand and also the BTS person making it all happen?
Yes, definitely my biggest “do-over” would be naming the company. When it was just me printing, designing and packing boxes, it made sense to name it after me! But as the company has grown & we’ve created this incredible team, it has been difficult to educate the customer that it isn’t just me behind a computer answering their customer service questions or responding to every tweet. There’s a separation between Erin Condren the person and Erin Condren the company, and that can be hard to navigate.
How do you use your own planners to hack your schedule? What goes into your own notebook?
I created the LifePlanner™ in large part based on what I thought was missing from the market, something I knew I would love to use in my daily life. I use it daily and it really is the only way to stay sane. I color-code and make sure to separate my kids’ schedules from my work meetings & commitments and then social engagements. I’ve been using a vertical orientation for years, but with how many appointments and meetings I have in my schedule, I may just have to try hourly this year!
You’ve expanded into totes and throws. Are there plans to expand further into RTW apparel?
My mind is always working and I often have ideas & trends that I want to jump right on. Luckily, my team is pretty grounded and can evaluate what timing makes sense. That being said, we always have things in the pipeline. With my background in the apparel industry, I’m definitely passionate about fashion and can't wait to see how the brand continues to evolve.
How do you make the call when and where to expand as a brand?
It’s been so fun to see the LifePlanner™ evolve into a LifeSTYLE, but we have to stay focused or our core products of stylish organization. While I might be tempted to launch everything from wallpaper to shower curtains, I rely on my team to analyze the data and strategy behind any possible new product category before allocating resources. I learned early on in my career that extra inventory can bury a company and we need to always be fiscally responsible and stay focused on what our community really needs and wants from EC.
How much does what your customers respond to on social play into your overall strategy?
We are fortunate enough to have an incredibly engaged community. Customer feedback & collaboration is huge for us. We’re constantly looking for their first impressions, thoughts & reviews on our products so we can continue to improve and evolve. Paper is a huge deal to them, and that was a large reason that this year, the focus was on finding that next-level paper, and we did, at Mohawk industries! I’m so proud of this gorgeous coil bound book, that’s printed, designed & assembled in the USA!
Is the world of influencer and micro-influencer important to your business?
Influencers and social media is incredibly important to our business. It’s important to get an unbiased perspective and work with key “connectors” that can give authentic reviews and recommendations. These influencers are able to produce great content with youtube videos, snap stories, blog posts and Instagram giveaways to educate their communities about the product. That is vital. We are working on revamping our loyalty and affiliate programs to really cement this influencer relationship, because it is so impactful.
Arianna Schioldager is Editor-in-Chief at Create & Cultivate. You can follow her @ariannawrotethis.