Other People’s Side-Projects 5: Designing and selling functional stationary

by | 29 June 2017 | Interview, What a great idea

Many years ago, I found Dave on the internet, as the creator of the Emergent Task Planner – a printable productivity form; since then he has developed a side business for functional stationary on Amazon… Time for me to catch-up with him about it.

Hi Dave, tell us a bit about yourself

“Sure… I have always been a bit of a ‘form and productivity nerd’, even back as far as when I was a kid. For instance, when I discovered carbon paper, I was just so excited… I could make more than one thing at the same time! It’s not like I had a photocopier or anything; so, when I was in the 4th grade at school, I started a club –  just so I could create membership forms and duplicate them using carbon paper! I even discovered that I could make three, if I pressed hard enough!”.

“I wanted to be a computer game maker, so I studied computer engineering: in the first instance, to make computers that could play better games; but, by the time I graduated, these ‘better computers’ already existed – so, I shifted towards software and obtained a Fine Arts Master’s Degree in Computer Graphics Design. This makes me a “bridge person” – with both technical and artistic understanding”.

How do you generate your income?

“By doing contract work, but only with people I already know and have met before; and, I make income from my sales on Amazon”.

Can you tell us a little bit about your business on Amazon?

“I’ve been creating planners, functional stationary; and, I thought it would be cool to have my own physical product – a product that had my name on it… It turned out to be a great experiment: creating it, finding the right type of paper to write on, and picking just the right shade of Pantone”.

“I spent some time asking my readers what they’d like and then settled on pricing, that would allow me to make some money, but at the same time ensure I was attracting buyers. At first, most of the referrals came from my own blog and related articles on the web; but very soon, I had sales coming DIRECTLY from Amazon – people were starting to find me! It is now starting to generate a very decent income for me”

ETP Notebook from Dave Seah

“It turned out to be a great experiment creating it, with finding the right type of paper to write on and picking just the right shade of Pantone.”

What are have I learned most?

“That I love making stuff and somehow earn money with it!”.

“At the same time, I learned that I didn’t like the operational side of it: the packaging, labeling, inventory and driving to the post-office on a daily basis. After a while I decided to outsource that to Amazon too; although, that was a pain to figure out in the first place – took me 6 months!”.

– Actually, Dave shared thoughts on a profitability sheet comparing the costs of using Amazon and of Shopify store.

“Another thing I learned, about my blog, I didn’t know what to write about at first… When I first started, I thought I would be writing about interactive design and sharing the knowledge that I had. Eventually, I ended up blogging about every cool thing that catches my eye.

I read about your Six Big Goals: can you tell us a bit more about that?

“Yes, well it took me a while to get comfortable with pursuing things that interest me, and try to see if I can somehow make a living with that. Don’t get me wrong, contract work if fine – especially if you, like me, are in the position to work with people you like and projects you care about… But, as I’m getting older my desire for a sustainable living grows”.

“I have been doing the ‘Groundhog Day Resolutions’ for a while, and while I was reviewing these, I saw trends of recurring ideas with a lack of progress. At least 6 of those ideas stuck with me and I’ve committed to achieving these goals by 2024“.

Do you have any advice or tips?

“Conduct small experiments and just see what happens. Just give yourself 5 minutes and see where it leads. Set an alarm for the 5 minutes – if at this point it doesn’t work, stop and move on – 5 minutes well spent. But, if you think that you’re really onto something; add another 5 minutes… add 15 minutes more minutes, and just see how much more you can get done! If by then you are on fire and want to add another 15 minutes, you truly know that you are on to something. This works with procrastination and with fear of failure”.

“By the way… about the fear of failure: I have a fear of failure – and I will ask myself “how much damage I can do, will this get me fired?”. No? Then; “will this kill me?”. No? Start experimenting!”.

“Check out a thing called “structured procrastination”, John Perry wrote a book about it (“The art of procrastination“)… It’s about about procrastinating with other useful work”.

“Lastly, I’m also running with live streaming: where people can see me work, ask questions and basically – virtually work with me… It’s on youtube, you should check it out!”

How to Find Dave Online:

Photo credit: Sid Ceaser

The two biggest points I take away from this conversation:

  1. Just start: don’t know how or where to begin? Just begin with an experiment. Make yourself work 5 minutes on a task and see what happens.
  2. Fear of failure? “Ask yourself “how much damage I can do, will this get me fired?”. No? Then; “will this kill me?”. No? Start experimenting!”.

Thanks Dave for your time, you are awesome! And that you for reading, you are awesome too, I hope you know that!

Dave Seah

Dave Seah

Maker of Functional Stationery. Blogger. Designer/Developer.

Freelance designer / developer, based in Southern New Hampshire (about 45 miles north of Boston). Obsessively documents his nerdy passions and experiments for people (like himself), who are learning to develop their creative strengths and pursue meaningful work. Writes at length about the challenge of making a viable living while targeting his own interests: covering subjects such as; “battling procrastination” and “handling other people’s expectations”.


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