Ep. 66 - Imagination Meets Engineering With Lovepop Co-founder & COO, John Wise Creating Magical Moments With John Wise

Ep. 66 - Imagination Meets Engineering With Lovepop Co-founder & COO, John Wise Creating Magical Moments With John Wise

John Wise is the Co-Founder and COO of Lovepop. Lovepop is on a mission to create one billion magical moments with an ‘imagination meets engineering’ approach to designing unforgettable pop-up cards. In this episode, John talks about how to connect with customers through gifts. He details the dynamics of working with your best friend and knowing the roles each one plays. John also dives into the importance of having a great mentor, the value of finding people excited about what you are doing, reading and following key business books and the challenges of making Vietnam a critical part of their story.

John Wise is the Cofounder and COO of Lovepop. John grew up in the mountains of South Carolina, spending as much time outdoors and on the water as possible. He studied naval architecture and marine engineering at Webb Institute, where he met his future business partner and best friend, Wombi Rose. After graduating from Webb in 2009, John joined Metal Shark Boats in Jeanerette, Louisiana, where he designed, engineered, and project managed high-speed, aluminum boat platforms, including the US Coast Guard RB-S, which can still be seen in Boston Harbor. After several years, John was promoted to engineering manager leaving the company-wide engineering team.

In 2013, John left Metal Shark Boats to pursue his MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was reunited with his best friend, Wombi. On a business school trip to Vietnam, John and Wombi discovered the incredible ancient art of kirigami and were inspired. The duo took their engineering background and combined the paper art form with the slice form structure used in ship design and developed Slicegami and Lovepop was born. Lovepop is on a mission to create 1 billion magical moments with an imagination that meets the engineering approach to designing unforgettable pop-up gift cards.

As COO, John is dedicated to making Lovepop the best place in the world to work for hungry and creative problem solvers. I am a former customer of Lovepop and when I saw the designs again, I’m going to get ready to get some more on my desk to send out to people because I love the designs. In 2017, John was honored with Forbes 30 Under 30 awards for arts and style. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with his family and enjoys spending time outdoors and out on the water whenever possible. John, welcome to the Second in Command podcast.

Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

I was reading your bio and that’s not where I expected you to come from. I wouldn’t have expected the manufacturing and engineering of boats and high-end design stuff to coming into gift cards.

It’s a non-intuitive at the outset. I don’t know that I thought this is where I would end up either to be completely transparent. When you start pulling back the layers, there are a lot of interesting reasons that do make sense which has been cool.

Tell us a little bit more about Lovepop in layman’s terms. They have to go to your website, take a look at the actual products, and grab some because they’re amazing. I’ve given these too in the past, they love the designs. There’s something super clean about them.

We make laser-cut 3D pop-up greeting cards. They are incredibly intricate and engineered. They’re folded flat so they look like a normal greeting card, but when you open fully, a 3D sculpture comes to life from the card. We don’t greet the card. They don’t come with messages. We have turned back to put the onus on you as the giver to put your sentiment in your message into it. It’s the combination of surprise and delight of the 3D pop-up on the content that you can choose. We have over 400 designs and if your mom is a gardener, you can give her that garden card or your dad love the willow tree, you can give him that willow tree. The content builds that personal relationship and then you write your sentiment. We do the job of a greeting card effectively and it did take this combination of art and engineering pulled together.

We’ve all seen the poorly-done, cheesy Hallmark versions of these cards. It’s not a pop-up but when you open it up, there’s some little rabbit pop-up at you and says, “Boo.” That was tacky but yours is art and it’s beautiful.

I appreciate that. We strive for it to be truly creative and truly artful.

I also love that you leave them blank inside. That’s where you’re meant to write your message. It’s funny years ago when we were building 1-800-GOT-JUNK? we had these happy holidays and it was a reindeer pulling the junk truck down the snowy road. On the inside, it was blank and it was meant to write your greeting. One of our franchisees called us up and he was mad that there was no message on the inside of the cards. I’m like, “That’s where you’re supposed to be a nice human being and write a note to someone.”

That’s how you build your relationships.

I was telling someone that most companies never make it through their first year and let alone survived their first five. Tell us about the company. What size are you now? How many employees were based?

We are in Boston, Massachusetts with our headquarters. We also have a team in Vietnam and we have retail operations across Boston, New York, and Florida. We have a little less than 100 people in our office here in Boston and we have almost 800 worldwide between our office retail and manufacturing workshop.

Where are your cards sold? Are they direct to consumers, off to Amazon, or in retail stores as a gift? Where would we find these?

Our main channel is direct consumers online. That is the place where you’re going to get full selection and the full ability to incorporate all of our services. We do different customizations for the cards. We allow you to upload photos and integrate that in the card and also direct send it. In today’s digital world, you wouldn’t have to go to the post office, find a stamp and then go back to the post office and go through all the rigmarole. We’ll do all of that for you. Most of our sales are online. We are in third party local boutique gift shop and if you’re in metropolitan areas on the East Coast, we have some of our own retail locations and major transit areas in Boston, New York, and Florida.

I saw a Warby Parker store opened up in Vancouver, which was interesting. Their pure-play retailers are opening up some retail. Are you doing the retail locations as a way to build your brand and show people the product? Is it purely a good channel that you can do enough revenue out of it? Is it more of a marketing play?

It’s both for us which is great. We evaluate it as a standalone business unit that is profitable and contributes. It’s an amazing marketing channel as well because with a physical product it is tactile. We are in the business of creating magical moments and that is an experience. Coming into our retail operation, you’re able to see that.

Do you do corporate cards as well? Do you do custom cards for companies at all?

We do. We launched a part of the company that’s focused on how we better serve corporate customers. We’ve always had people in companies buying our cards and we’ve started doing a bunch of different customizations more for the corporate clients like a fully custom card. It’s a fairly large minimum order volume but we have a lot of options for doing smaller tier and little customizations within the card. We’ve also found that’s funny and it may be relevant to these readers in the giving space, people prioritize thoughtful connection. We have to convince business owners and marketers all the time. Your customers would prefer some beautiful art that you’ve sent to them with a meaningful message than a giant pop-up version of your logo. They don’t want that on their desks as much as we all love their logo.

Have you heard of a guy named John Ruhlin who owns a company called Giftology?

I am familiar with him.

That’s exactly what he talks about. No one wants your cheesy company shirt with your logo on it and barely your employees want to wear it, but certainly, your customers don’t want to walk around with it. Your customer’s spouse doesn’t want to get some coffee cups with your logo on them in their homes. You better off give them something that is meaningful with no one’s logo on it at all. That is what you guys have taken to heart as well as that customization. The other thing that he says is to not be so focused on the same moments like everyone else. Don’t do the Valentine’s Day cards and Christmas cards when everyone else is doing. Do the card on March 13th because it’s March 13th. Send the cards out because, “I’m thinking about you,” or something happened that’s more personal in your life.

SIC 66 | Imagination Meets Engineering
Imagination Meets Engineering: The combination of art and engineering results in effective greeting cards that are creative and truly artful.

 

We find that, and our customers find that. We have also an efficient way to do it compared to sending a box of pears that are going to cost you $50 to $60. It’s a much more affordable way to do something different, but you have to put in the work to think about what’s the content you want to.

You had this idea several years ago. You saw this kirigami over in Vietnam. Is that where you saw it as well?

That’s correct.

How did you take that into an idea? Walk us through the initial stages of you. How did you and Wombi came up with this idea? What was the genesis of it turning it from the idea into a business?

We came across this art form and immediately fell in love with the art. We thought it was cool. We’re both through and through Engineers. The engineering nature of it was intriguing. Wombi’s on the side artist. He loves to create. We’d also never seen it before and so there was intrigue to it. We brought some back and we happen to be back on the business school campus and Valentine’s Day season. You would pull it out of your backpack and some would be like, “Can I buy that?” From the beginning, we’ve realized that there was this strong product-market fit. When you surfaced it in the right context, anyone who is looking at it, within a group of people or someone who’s like, “I will take that.” The challenge has always been how you reach a scalable audience in an economic model that makes sense. How do we do in such a way that we tell our story? How do we continue to expand the line of art to serve all the different jobs that our customers need to do?

How did you do that? Were you guys a product of any Kickstarter or any launch like that at all?

In the beginning, we did a Kickstarter. We went through a lot of different incubation programs while in business school. We then did Techstars after business school and then we were on the ultimate incubator of Shark Tank, which helped us get our brand out into the world. It is to break through and to get enough people aware of what you’re doing. It was important for us to leverage every opportunity we possibly could to get more awareness.

How did it go on Shark Tank? What was that experience like?

It was a great and amazing experience. It’s nerve-wracking. How it is portrayed on film is exactly how it happens. They do a good job of portraying the reality of the context. If you’ve never met the Sharks before and you walk into the room and they’re looking at you, you start and you’re like, “I hope this goes well.” There are ten cameras looking at me and whatever I say is definitely going to make the air whether it is good or bad. We did a lot of prep and knew our financial model in and out. We had a great conversation. As soon as you passed the initial fright, you’re talking about your business and that came naturally. We ended up getting a deal with Kevin O’Leary, Mr. Wonderful, who has been an amazing partner even beyond Shark Tank.

That’s great to know because he’s another Canadian. I met Kevin in 1991 in a bar in New York City when he was running Softkey ages ago. The guy’s been extraordinarily successful. How has he helped you in your growth? What was the launch stage? Was it just you and Wombi, and bringing some cards in? Did you hire a bunch of people? How did you start?

Kevin has been a sharp business person in general, but he’s also media savvy. He’s been helpful as we’ve built more partnerships and gotten more media exposure as we built the business. We saw an opportunity to sell and take an industry that hasn’t changed in 100 years. The last innovation in the greeting card industry was taking greeting cards out of drawers and putting them on the rack. That rack has been the bread and butter of the industry for the last 50 to 100 years. We saw this opportunity to breathe new life into the product itself through a different economic model, which is selling direct to consumers online through our own brand.

That’s been the focus. When we went on Techstars and Shark Tank, the goal was how we build this audience. We also appreciated from the beginning that it is a tactile product. We had one of our college friends who joined us and opened our first retail operation in South Station. For $2,000, he built a kiosk in his parent’s basement, shipped it in overnight, and worked the first two months standing behind it every day. That was our first permanent installation and we’re still in the exact same spot in South Station for years, which has been amazing. It’s a new kiosk and we’ve just renovated it which was due for that. We had both retail and online presence from the beginning. In terms of growing the business, you do it one day at a time.

You tried to figure out the marketing model and how to tell the story. What have you stumbled through? What was working now? What have you thrown out that used to work that doesn’t now?

One of the most interesting challenges of growing a business in general, is what you did yesterday doesn’t have to say, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It constantly this moving target of where we are allocated in the marketing span and what is the testing that we are doing to help us get to that next scale. It’s challenging when you’re going business. It’s further challenging in our current digital marketplace because the channels are so dynamic. The channels that were working yesterday aren’t working as effectively now.

How did you figure out your pricing model? One of the biggest problems with most companies is that they don’t understand their basic P&L, their job costs, and profit. How did you guys walk through that? It’s got to be critical for your business.

To be totally transparent, our pricing has been much the same from one month after we were selling them out of our backpacks. People are paying $13 to $15 for cards and in the beginning, they were like $10 to $13. We have some slightly simpler ones and that’s what people paid. Honestly, we didn’t feel that good going any higher and we knew that there would be some effect. The most interesting thing that we have figured out around pricing is that, particularly in consumer and in retail sometimes, where you see pricing changes is not intuitive. You can increase the price and not see your conversion rate change. It’s the people who are not buying that you need to be looking at more than the people you’re buying. There are still lots of opportunities either for repeat purchases from your core consumer or new consumers that you could be bringing in if you had a lower price. The one thing that we do now that’s an important evolution for us is if you buy five cards, you get them for $10 each. We don’t generally like to discount but where there’s a real honest mutual exchange of value, we think it makes total sense.

What’s your average cost on getting these manufactured?

I rather not go into specifics on the margin.

I was going to guess that it’s $1 to $10. I don’t know if there’s a guideline, but you don’t have to go there. It’s okay. If you’re buying something and selling something there has to be enough margin in there to be able to pay vendors, cover overhead and marketing spend. That’s where most companies go sideways and I’m like, “If you’re going to sell muffins for $3 and it cost you $1, then you’re making $2 per muffin.” Are you going to sell 500 muffins a day? Who’s going to buy all these muffins?

I do remember an explicit conversation with one of my business school professors. She was asking me, “What are your goals? Why are you excited about it?” I was like, “I feel like there’s a cool opportunity here and everyone’s buying them. Maybe I could build this business and pay off my student debts.” She’s like, “Let’s do some quick math. You owe this much money in debt, you’re selling cards at this much, and you’ve got this much margin. How many cards do you need to sell?” We’re like, “Oh.” That’s a lot of cards. I’m not going to be able to do that out of my backpack.

You’ve figured out the manufacturing side and the fulfillment side. Tell us about for you and Wombi, Divide and Conquer, what parts of the businesses do you run?

We use the Visionary and Integrator model to run most of the business with the exception that Wombi runs the whole design team. He is both our CEO and our Creative Director. He does all of our investor relationships. He does our external facing, PR, and partnerships. He does all of our design and creative. I am in running and managing the business day to day. That includes everything from our marketing, working operations, and our product and technology teams, what software we’re developing and people who finance.

On the PR side, you mentioned media coverage earlier and on the free public relations. I wrote a book called Free PR. What press are you generating for yourselves? How do you go about that? Are you running it in-house or PR teams?

SIC 66 | Imagination Meets Engineering
Imagination Meets Engineering: Giving discounts to your customers makes total sense when there’s a real honest mutual exchange of value.

 

We generate a good bit of press around our story. We have a great story with a unique background that has been successful and has had a bunch of great partnerships to talk about including Shark Tank. People love Shark Tank. We got a lot of good numbers of PR around our growth in general. We also have a lot of product placement that we can get. We can get an all-day gift guide because we’re a great product for that use case. We do a combination. We do have a manager in-house who manages all of our inbound and agencies. We have two different agencies that have different functions. One’s going for the halo or the hum, which are not giant hits but we’re making sure we’re constantly in middle places. There’s another one that’s going for the big hits, a show leading into Mother’s Day and those types of things.

Media coverage has been key for you to divide and conquer. How about you and Wombi being best friends, I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy. How have you guys worked through any of the more stressful times you’ve had? Can you walk us through one of those?

Having Wombi as a partner has been one of the most valuable and rewarding things that we have but definitely five times more challenging than either of us appreciated that it was going to be. We were best friends and we respect each other a lot. We knew we’re both smart and capable people. We never worked together and never worked together at the beginning of a business. The stakes are so high and every decision feels like a gigantic decision. We are now in an amazing place, but it took a long evolution of figuring out how to work better together. It does come from trust and we trusted each other.

Until we’re both wrong enough times and the other person was right, then we started appreciating where and how we should trust each other, how we should work together and leverage each other’s strengths. Over the course of our partnership, we’re on paper look similar Naval Architects background. We grew up in the mountains and in business school. In how we operate every day, we’re different and that has been an incredible asset for us managing the business but that took a while to figure out all of those pieces, how we’re different and how we best manage them.

Where have you two continue to grow in terms of your leadership skills and functional skills of running the business?

We continue to grow from the beginning, quarter over quarter. We look back and be like, “We have learned a lot this quarter.” It’s evolved from tactical. We grew a lot to learn this industry and how to make the most of our skills in this industry. How to do things like accounting that I didn’t know how to do for a while. It evolved into how do we build a sustainable business and how are we thinking about processes and systems. It is a lot about how we are building a team that is doing all of these things and much better at leading and running them. There are components that come naturally but they’re also a lot of components that are skills that you have to learn either from doing, from bouncing ideas off each other or from working with mentors to help fill in the gaps.

A lot of years is coming from the concrete experience and reflective observation. It’s doing it, then learning about, and debriefing afterward. Tell us about the mentors. How have you learned from them?

Mentors have been clutch and important for us. From the beginning, when we were in school, we leverage the network of communities and mentors, and we were in Techstars. It taught us the value of finding people who were excited about what you’re doing, willing to share their time, and had functional expertise in exactly what you’re doing or in adjacencies. It can be helpful both on, “What are the decisions I’m making day-to-day for the strategy of the business? How am I managing and aligning the team? How are all the peripheral parts in building the business rather than just selling something?” We have a strong set of mentors from the beginning. It does also evolve because as you grow, you have different types of challenges. Different people help at different phases. It has been incredibly important in the reason that we’ve been able to get to where we are quickly because we are smart at leveraging the right help at the right times

Are you part of any Mastermind groups? Are you part of any groups like YPO or anything like that?

We have been somewhat involved in YPO, but we’re not directly. Most of our immediate network is the venture community. When we were in Techstars, there are a number of companies that we came through those relationships on peer group and in school.

You mentioned Traction, the Visionary and Integrator. Do you follow a lot of the systems from Traction or just the Visionary and Integrator component?

We follow a lot of systems from Traction. It was one of our first advisors in school who was like, “Read this book. It gives you the answers.” We read the book. We did what it said and were like, “I went two years from business school and they didn’t tell me any of this.” This book gave me the answers to what I need to do to be managing the team effectively.

Gino Wickman did a good job with dumbing down the systems. That was a ton of respect. Verne Harnish in his book, Scaling Up, overcomplicated some of them a little bit but they’re strong. Gino dumbed it down and simplified it which is an amazing job. It’s a great system that most of the companies in the 10 to 100 employee range should be starting with. You might need stuff that’s a little more mature when you hit the 250 plus mark.

It is my number one recommended book for early founders. It’s a playbook. There are a lot of cool business books that give you interesting ways to think about problems, but this tells you like, “Do this and it will work.”

It gives you the worksheets in the system to follow and if you did that, you go to the next step. It’s great and it totally works. Talk to us through a little bit about doing work with groups in Vietnam. You’ve got offices and employees there. Culturally walk us through some of the differences and difficulties. What are they doing well over there that we can R&D and we rip off to duplicate?

It’s been amazing to work with Vietnam. As we started working with contract manufacturers there, I built a relationship with a designer on the ground who we eventually partnered with to open our current facility. We started from zero. I convinced Wombi and I said, “There’s this guy I met and he’s good. He’s smart. We just need to wire him $10,000 and I’m sure he’s going to make a factory that’s going to be awesome.” It was a lot of money. We did it and it was awesome. It has been good and it’s been a critical part of our story that we have had full integration from the beginning. The challenges are languages as with any working internationally and being able to communicate in the same language is clutch. We have English teachers on staff in our Vietnam operation and most of our senior management team knows English.

You’re not learning Vietnamese, though. It’s not that clutch.

I know some simple Vietnamese. I feel guilty about it. I honestly wish that I knew much more. When push comes to shove, there’s a lot of prioritization you have to do as a leader and that’s been tough.

It’s easier for us to delegate the learning of language to someone else and they’re more motivated to do what they need to. We don’t need to. We can delegate that. How about culturally? What do they do differently in terms of business in the day-to-day? Are they different in the way that they lead people, manage people, or recruit people? Do they run meetings differently? What do they do that’s different?

In many ways, it’s similar. In many ways, it is much less different than you may think it would be. That was a learning, too. Vietnam feels far away and different, but when you’re there and you’re working, it’s not that different. There are people who come to work every day and they go home to their families at night. They do the same things that we do here. The places that I have learned from Vietnam is in culture and they do a good job of celebrating what they’re doing every day. They are generally great and happy people. I emphasized building a strong community within the organization and do it organically which has been neat to see and be a part of. There are definitely things that they have done there that we have been brought back here in the US.

Do they feel like they’re part of an American organization or partners with an American organization? Do they feel like they work for you, with you or that it’s the one same company?

One same company is what we strive for and how we voice everything. Our general policies are not 100% mirrored, but they’re close to the mirror. We do view it as one organization that is working together towards common goals. The other cool thing is when you’re on the ground in Vietnam and talking to even the lowest level people. The reason they’re there is that they love the art that they were making and they love the cards. They’re like, “It’s cool. It’s fun.” Why would I not want to be here with these all day every day? I love it when a new design comes out and we see it hitting the floor. Which is funny because that’s exactly in the US.

When the designers have new designs running around the office, everyone is like, “It’s cool. It’s great.” The thing that we have taught them a lot is on these management entrepreneurial structures and how to be more effective in your day-to-day managerial operation. The other thing is in Asia, a lot of organizations are hierarchical. We also have helped build a much flatter organization that is effective but is novel to them. They’re definitely much more used to the management team sits in a glass box and tells them what to do. We’ve done a good job of translating what is much more common in the US or in the western countries of flatter structure and benefited tremendously from it.

SIC 66 | Imagination Meets Engineering
Imagination Meets Engineering: A flat structured organization is novel to Asians since they are used to having a management team that sits in a glass box and tells them what to do.

 

Where are you selling your products? Are you selling just in the US or are you selling globally?

We sell 98% in the US. We do some International, but it is limited and it’s one-off. People can buy from the site.

Was it because there’s no additional need to try to drive out into those markets yet when you haven’t even hit saturation in the US yet?

It is. It is sequencing and focus. We still have plenty of opportunities here. We’re excited about our international prospects because you don’t write words on the cards. Internationalization should be more straightforward for us but it’s a matter of when and how.

The company started years ago. You got a little bit of initial funding from Shark Tank, then you get up and running. What was the first big bump in the road? Where there any lessons from the edge?

As of any business, there have been many. One of the key challenges that we’ve had all throughout the business is, how do you know if a test is working or not? As you’re looking for a new scale, you’re constantly testing new things and when it works, it’s like, “Is that a false positive?” When it doesn’t work, you’re like, “Is that a false negative?” In the beginning, even when we’re on Shark Tank, most of our story was around expanding our retail kiosk model. We told the shark in the face, Kevin O’Leary, we’re like, “We’re expanding retail. This is our plan.” We have a few locations in Boston that are working well.

They’re excited about it, then within a few months, we open a handful more locations that worked as well. They were like, “That’s not what’s supposed to happen.” In hindsight, they weren’t the same caliber of location. We try to move too fast. The build-out wasn’t quite the same which ironically is exactly the feedback Barbara gave to us as she went out. She’s like, “These guys are trying to move too fast.” It was true. In the beginning, we were trying to find wherever you can go next. We moved a little bit too quickly and sometimes, we fall into the trap of maybe moving a little bit too slowly. We want such a strong signal that you don’t want to jump into it.

It’s a good lesson about testing for the false positive or false negative especially entrepreneurs much more than their management teams. Entrepreneurs tend to follow that big shiny object. They go from execution and they plan later their quick starts. Is there a difference between you and Wombi in terms of the CEO and COO behavioral traits? Is one of you more of an entrepreneur and the other is more of an integrator? Do you force yourselves into those boxes a little bit?

Our innate characters are well suited for our roles. Wombi is a passionate visionary. He wants to take on the role that he’s a strong pattern matcher. He sees what are the patterns that we should be following or what should we be dealing with. I am much more of a pragmatist. I’m like, “What can we do tomorrow to move us along that path?” It’s a good compliment because, without him, we wouldn’t necessarily drive as hard or as fast. Without me, we would have a hard time charting the path of how are we going to get there.

You said earlier about that something around learning that you’re wrong, learning from that, and learning that Wombi’s wrong. Both of you learned that you’ve been wrong as often as you’ve been right. What have you learned that shows you that you need to listen more? How do you communicate to each other that, “I’m not arguing with you? I just need to say my bit.” How do you learn to communicate that way?

The key is what you said. Realizing that you know less than you think you do and being much more strategic, considerate, and holding yourself to a high bar in terms of justifying your approach and your reasoning. That is one of the key things that Wombi and I are much better now than we used to be. As I look at the leaders who are effective in an organization, they are the people who can rationalize why they view something. It both makes them effective in driving towards the correct answer and it makes him effective in teaching other people why X, Y, and Z is the correct answer. Being thoughtful and considerate is valuable.

We’re under a lot of pressure to buy American and producing America. China’s putting a lot of pressure to not be buying out of China so you’re out of Vietnam, which is easier. Have you looked at the US and Mexico as a market for manufacturing? Has Vietnam got many strategic advantages that it’s always going to be there? I’m not biased against it at all.

From the Economic and Business model, we have looked at other locations. Over the future of the business, there will be a time when we’ll open in other locations. We found the art in Vietnam and we’ve fostered and built that community. There are so much momentum and we built such an amazing team and a great group of people. We’re not in a hurry to change anything up, but as the business evolves, we should think about diversification across all kinds of risks. We do think about where else we could go and how else we would do it. We feel connected with the people and the place. It’s a no-brainer to continue to develop that there. Our customers have appreciated that as well.

What do you think that you pulled out of your MBA program at Harvard that you use today? Were there any solid skills or strategies?

The biggest things are around communication, problem-solving, and making good decisions as you can make on not as much information as you ever would want. Particularly, the Harvard MBA program does challenge you to do that a lot in their case method in their classroom. That is the number one thing that I took away from there even more so than tactical frameworks and it’s been impactful.

It doesn’t hurt on the pedigree side of things as well. There was at one point in 2004 and for a few years, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was one of the case studies in the MBA program at Harvard. Are we still there? Do you know that?

I don’t know that I did your case. I have to check.

SIC 66 | Imagination Meets Engineering
Imagination Meets Engineering: In the beginning of a business, the stakes are so high that every decision feels like it’s such a gigantic decision.

 

It was interesting. We had this vision while inside of our office and I wrote one of my vision was to be a Harvard Business School case study. I put it up on the wall. About a year later, this guy was walking through and he goes, “I’m from Boston. Are you serious that this is one of the 50 things up on the wall that you want to do?” We’re like, “Yeah. We don’t know how to do it but that’s one of the things we want to do.” He said, “I know the guy who approves all the case studies.” He introduced us and we did our initial call with him. He goes, “I love this.” We did a couple of months’ worth of sending off information. There we were, we all of a sudden became a Harvard Business. Brian and I, neither of us could even spell Harvard alone and got accepted.

I’m sure you could. That was awesome. Congrats.

If you were to give yourself some advice when you were the 21-year-old John, starting out in business, we never listen to our parents, if we could have listened to ourselves at 21, what’s something that you wish you’d known then that now you know to be true?

I wish I appreciated that I knew much less than I did know but I had the capability to learn most things. Trust my yearning for information and wanting to learn more than what I thought that I knew.

We’re always learning. Ray Kroc of McDonalds said, “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you’re rotting.” I don’t think we’re ever going to be finished growing. John Wise, Cofounder, and COO at Lovepop cards. Thanks for sharing with us on the Second in Command podcast. I appreciate it.

I enjoyed it. Thank you.

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About John Wise

SIC 66 | Imagination Meets EngineeringJohn grew up in the mountains of South Carolina, spending as much time outdoors and on the water as possible. He studied naval architecture and marine engineering at Webb Institute, where he met his future business partner and best friend, Wombi Rose.

After graduating from Webb in 2009, John joined Metal Shark Boats in Jeanerette, LA, where he designed, engineered, and project managed high-speed, aluminum boat platforms (including the US Coast Guard RB-S, which can still be seen in Boston Harbor today!). After 2 years, John was promoted to engineering manager, leading the company-wide engineering team.

In 2013, John left Metal Shark Boats to pursue his MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was reunited with his best friend, Wombi. On a business school trip to Vietnam, John and Wombi discovered the incredible ancient art of kirigami and were inspired. The duo took their engineering background and combined the paper art form with the slice form structure used in ship design and developed Slicegami™. And Lovepop was born. Lovepop is on a mission to create one billion magical moments with an imagination that meets the engineering approach to designing unforgettable pop-up cards. As COO, John is dedicated to making Lovepop the best place in the world for hungry, creative problem solvers.

In 2017, John was honored with Forbes 30 Under 30 award for arts and style. He lives in Somerville, MA with his family and, to this day, enjoys spending time outdoors and out on the water whenever possible.

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