My day job is at Lighthouse Capital, a venture capital fund, and on the side my partner, Ben Munoz, and I have built a network of patient support sites for people with rare diseases called Ben’s Friends. This post is part of a series on Entrepreneurship for The Daily Love.
Thanks so much for the wonderful response to last week’s post on Entrepreneurship called “The First Step!” The theme last week was to start immediately; no matter how small that first step is, because it gets you on path to turning your dream into reality. After that anything is possible. Over the next few weeks I’ll share stories of other entrepreneurs taking their first step.
This week’s story is about Sugar Paper, maker of some of the most beautiful letterpress stationery in the world. Chelsea Shukov, the founder of Sugar Paper, graduated from UCLA and didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, so she took an office job at an Internet company. Chelsea had always been creative, but she quickly found herself unhappy at the office job. She was doing lots of paperwork and keeping people’s schedules – not something she was particularly good at or enjoyed.
Life didn’t seem to be going her way but there was one bright spot – Chelsea was working closely with the in-house designer and during her free time would meet with the designer to learn her programs (Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign, etc.) and practice design. She knew this was where she wanted to take her career, so she worked for free to assist the designer and gain experience.
Six months into the job she was unhappy and designing after work was the only thing keeping her going. She fell into a funk and knew she needed to make a change, so she quit the office job. Although she wasn’t making a lot of money, she was designing for friends’ events on the side to keep her spirits up. Those were tough times for Chelsea and she would talk to her mother nightly. One night Chelsea made an off- hand remark about how much she loved letterpress printing. Her mother was listening and decided to do something about it. Her mother began scouring eBay for a used, antique letterpress, and to Chelsea’s surprise, a printer magically appeared in her apartment. The rest is Sugar Paper history.
Chelsea felt invigorated and was designing and printing day and night out of her apartment. She put the word out to friends that she was in the letterpress business and soon she was designing wedding invitations and baby announcements. Her designs were so beautiful that word spread and she had a business on her hands. Chelsea couldn’t keep up, so she asked her friend, Jamie Grobecker, who had been helping out, if she would be her partner. Jamie agreed and soon they were working side by side in Chelsea’s apartment.
One morning Chelsea went to Clementine Bakery and noticed the space next door was empty. Her husband Greg encouraged her to see how much the space cost and within a week she had signed a lease for the first Sugar Paper location in Century City. One month after opening her retail store front, actor Reese Witherspoon became a customer and featured Sugar Paper in an InStyle Magazine article.
Today, Sugar Paper is a thriving business with two locations and a huge Internet business. When Chelsea leaves her husband and one year old son in the morning, she goes to work to do something she loves and gets to do it with Jamie, one of her best friends, and their wonderful employees.
Chelsea took the first step by teaching herself letterpress, her mother made the second step possible with her gift of that printer and the rest took care of itself. You never know where the help that turns your dream into reality will come from, but you’ll never find out if you don’t take the first step yourself.
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Scott is a partner at Lighthouse Capital, a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley. You can follow Scott Orn on twitter at @ScottOrn and read more about Ben’s Friends and the 25 rare disease online support networks we run. Visit the Lighthouse Capital website here.