[Sami Jensen] From dog-walking to owning her own design and marketing company, Millie Rossman has long been an entrepreneur. Her latest venture is creating scratch-off fortune cards — greeting cards that have a little scratch off with an inspirational (or sassy or funny) quote inside. We were fortunate (ha!) to chat with her just after her project was funded via Kickstarter.
First, we want to congratulate you on reaching your funding through Kickstarter.
Yes, thanks! The funding will of course go towards producing the cards and also for exhibiting at trade shows. I’m so excited.
Your Kickstarter project mentions that this idea has been in the back of your mind for a long time. Tell us about that.
I had seen this really fun save-the-date for a couple who were planning a destination wedding in Las Vegas. I used to do a ton of custom invitations for a wedding planner, so I thought that was such a great idea. My own daughter’s birthday is on 7/7, so in 2007, I was thinking of what kind of theme and invitation to do, and I’ve always loved the idea of scratch-off cards, even though I’m not a big lottery player. So I had all of these ideas swimming around in my head, but I could never think of a way to make them marketable unless they were custom.
When did the idea for scratch-off fortune cards come to you?
Just before Christmas of 2010, it dawned on me that you could have a kind of fortune cookie card — a card within a card — and perhaps scratch off and reveal a message. I had the idea for a little over a year, but I’ve had so much client work that I just hadn’t had the time to execute it. It finally all came together early this year.
Is that where Kickstarter comes in?
Yes. I couldn’t quite figure out how to get it off the ground. I have my own business and three children, so it’s not easy to pump extraneous money into another startup. A friend of mine suggested a Kickstarter campaign, and the project was born.
We love the song in your Kickstarter video. It sounds familiar. Who’s it by?
The song is called “Telegrams to Mars,” and it’s by Little & Ashley. You might recognize their sound from the Amazon Kindle stop-motion commercials. I was so happy that they allowed me to use it in the video.
Can you tell us how the card works?
The outer card is an A2, 4¼ x 5½-in. card, made from Mohawk Via, with a triangular diecut to hold the smaller card. Inside it is a 16-pt. coated card, printed four-color process with a matte varnish. One side of the smaller card has a pattern and the other side has a solid color, with a quote under a solid 2 x 1-in. scratch-off.
Tell us about what’s underneath the scratch-off. Is there always inspirational quote?
Yes, but there are also some that are a bit more irreverent. I had seen a quote that I thought was really clever and not necessarily a fun message — but sometimes it’s what you need to hear, and it was just, “Shut up and do it.” [laughs] It’s something I’ve said to myself about this project — I needed to stop thinking about it and talking about it and just do it. So that quote is kind of perfect.
What are your other favorite quotes?
I’ve been collecting quotes now for over a year, so that’s kind of a tough one. Many of them are from historical figures, but a few are from some of my Twitter friends. One that I really like is from Danielle LaPorte. She had a quote last summer that said “The universe always trades up.” It hit home for me because I was going through a difficult time in my personal life. She gave me permission to use the quote in my project, so I was really excited about that.
Another: David Russell, the Scottish classical guitarist, once said, “The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn.”
I don’t consider myself religious, but I do like this proverb: “She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25).
So they really do range. I try to get a mix of things from women, men, religious figures and spiritual leaders, politicians, creatives and so on.
Let’s talk production. How did you figure out how to do the scratch-off?
It was just like for any other client: I had an idea of what I wanted it to look and feel like, so I started with the paper. I have a library of paper swatchbooks and I believe that paper is the foundation of a print project. I love the idea of a contrast in tactile quality. The uncoated card stock contrasting with the heavy, coated, varnished paper was really appealing. Some of the best design projects have beautiful expressions of contrast in terms of size or proportion and in this case, it was the paper, Via.
From there, I tried three different configurations of getting the smaller card into the bigger card, which was a bit challenging because it had to be sized so people could mail it. I experimented until I found something that was functional and unique, and I liked the shape in terms of revealing the pattern on the back.
We love the patterns. Who designed them?
Aren’t they wonderful? Jessica Swift designed them. We had collaborated prior to this project, so I knew her patterns would be perfect.
What’s the next step?
I have ideas for notebooks and calendars. I could see this quotes thing being so fun that you’d want to scratch one off every day. I envision selling them at stationery shops like Greer. Chandra certainly appreciates everything from classical letterpress and engraved stationery to really quirky, fun, indie designers. I also have a great shop in my own town that is interested in carrying them. Red Lion Inn used to be one of my clients, so I’m talking with them about doing a custom line that is specific to the Northeast and would include quotes from the 18th century, which is when the inn was founded.
This could potentially be a springboard to develop custom business?
Yes, exactly. There is a lot of opportunity for customization here, and I really see these cards as something that you give as a gift and the recipient can tuck into their wallet to keep them inspired over the long term. I’m hoping to develop this into a new business.
You’re very entrepreneurial . . .
I always have been! When I moved to New York to go to the School of Visual Arts, I was waiting tables, which was great, but kitchens stay open until 4 a.m. It was great money-wise, but horrendous in terms of killing my creativity in being exhausted all the time. A friend of mine had a dog-walker who quit with only two days notice, so I stepped in and had enough friends of friends that I ended up with a full roster of dog-walking clients within two weeks. I’ve loved my stints in bigger, corporate environments, but I think my heart truly lies in being entrepreneurial. When I was finishing up my BFA in graphic design at SVA, they were just beginning to talk about the designer as an entrepreneur, and now we have every tool we need at our fingertips. There’s no reason not to have these side projects that become more than side projects.
We just have to know: How long did you end up walking dogs for?
Why did you decide to make the jump into entrepreneurship?
For me, it’s about being excited about my own work. You can be excited about client work, but it’s never completely the same. Having that excitement about growing something of your own and being able to make your own decisions. In the end, there may be a few things that you should have done differently, but it’s all one big, exciting adventure.
Millie Rossman is a designer, art director and entrepreneur. Inventing scratch-off stationery is her latest great idea. She has three children and lives in Ghent, N.Y. Follow her progress on Twitter @millierossman. You can pre-order her cards in the Felt & Wire Shop.