Making their point
Shrewd marketing and free Web tools helped put JetPens in the black.
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- As students at Stanford University, Lily Kim, Shu Lindsey, and Adrian Mak had trouble finding the precision pens they liked to use, the Japanese-made ultrathin ones with tips half the width of the average ballpoint.
They started importing their own in 2004 and turned their passion into a business, pooling $9,000 in savings to launch JetPens. They built a customer base by e-mailing fellow students and contacting artists they found on the Web.
JetPens now sells 10,000 pens and other items every month. Among its best-sellers are a pen with a tip fine enough to write on a grain of rice, novelty erasers (some that look like packs of gum or pieces of sushi, another designed to never run out of corners), and the "popcorn" pen, with ink that puffs up on the page, a favorite with scrapbook fanatics.
Thanks to some clever tricks for keeping costs to an absolute minimum, the founders say they'll turn their first profit this year.
DUCK PEN Novelty ballpoint, wood body
SIGNO BIT A tip so fine it can write on a grain of rice
POPCORN PEN The ink puffs up on the page
MINI FOUNTAIN 4 inches long
MARBLE PEN Multicolored ink
HOW THEY DID IT
JetPens has succeeded by keeping a tight cap on operating expenses.
Having learned from an earlier online venture how expensive it can be to start a website, JetPens's founders now rely on free open-source software from osCommerce to run their storefront.
The monthly marketing budget at JetPens is just $20, all for Google ads, which bring in about $1,000 in sales. The company's well-designed site also puts it at the top of Google's search results for "japanese pens."
JetPens did fine without a warehouse. "Adrian's got $40,000 worth of pens in his bedroom," Kim says. The company is outgrowing the bedroom storage plan, however, so the owners are starting to look for space.To send a letter to the editor about this story, click here.