Minted, the online stationery and printed goods business that specializes in greeting cards, children’s murals, artwork and other printed items, doesn’t go about design quite like any other firm. Instead of hiring retail merchandisers to design the style of the season to bring to consumers, Minted looks to its customers to tell them what to put on their digital shelves. The company has made choosing its latest designs a democratic endeavor, giving their customers the final vote on what they offer up each season.
That happens though the firm’s signature innovation: contests where networks of designers submit their best offerings, and the customer audience votes for their favorites on the Minted site.
It is not a pure democracy, as not all of the million or so votes per contest that Minted receives on its eCommerce site are weighted equally by the algorithm that oversees the results. Over the decade or so that Minted has been in business, the machine has learned which customers have the best track record of predicting hits, who tends to buy what they vote for and wherein lies the best capacity to spot a bestseller. The computer crunches the data, and then Founder and CEO Mariam Naficy finds out what her firm is selling the next season on the basis of the results.
And those outputs have a track record of generating revenue. According to Naficy, Minted is a profitable firm with revenue that is increasing on average 39 percent year on year in the “hundreds of millions range,” though she declined to provide a more specific figure. The firm is valued at about $733 million and has taken in about $300 million in investment funding.
Minted faces something of an uphill climb in a world where people send fewer letters and print fewer pictures. The demand for stationery in the U.S. is not what it once was – Instagram is where consumers go to display their pictures, as opposed to the traditional wall or mantelpiece. But, according to Naficy, consumers still have a need for physical, tangible printed items of all kinds. Her company’s skill in the market is offering up all of that variety, in a way that is unique to its primary digital channel.
“Greeting cards is largely a physical business,” Naficy told Forbes. “We’re this online business that’s now able to transition into really disrupting things that are being sold in physical retail.”
And Minted goods are making their way into brick-and-mortar stores, thanks to brand link-ups with Pottery Barn Kids, West Elm and Target. Those physical pair-ups mean profits for the firm, according to Naficy. She estimates that her company’s wholesale lines sold in stores and future licensing deals around art will soon make up 40 percent of revenue. The remaining 60 percent is expected to draw from the core online stationery and art business.
Though that business, she noted, is expanding far beyond the greeting cards the firm started with. Minted now crowdsources designs for everything from murals and printed art to calendars and clothing.
“Silicon Valley’s answer to creating jobs is to make everyone a coder,” she said. “Not everybody wants to be a coder, and you can get a lot out of just actually helping some people be artists.”
And so far, Naficy noted, the model has worked better than she could have ever predicted, as the contests are drawing more votes and more designers with every iteration. It’s what has pushed the brand to expand its line of goods and to further its retail partnerships.
“It’s almost too much content. You’re the victim of your own success,” Naficy said.
But they will find uses for it, she added. In late 2018, Minted launched sister brand Pippa to sell designs at a lower price, bringing the company into more direct competition with the other major e-printing player, Shutterfly. They will also see their design licensing business expand, with images from Minted appearing on everything from home cleaning product labels to apparel.
What they won’t be doing – although they have the data from their contests – is entering the trend prediction or consulting business.
“We definitely don’t want to get sidetracked into becoming a trend prediction business,” Naficy says. “We don’t need to know what it is. We just put it up online and sell it, and the trend will then materialize itself.”