How Two Brothers Started A $3.5K/Month Side Hustle Sells Custom Maps

$3,500
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
product
Mapsery
from Stockholm
started December 2017
$3,500
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
2.41M
alexa rank
1.6K
followers
4
followers

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello StarterStory! My name is Love Regefalk (yes – it actually is) and I am the co-founder of Mapsery. I founded Mapsery together with my twin brother, Daniel, and we run Mapsery on the side of our engineering studies.

The idea of Mapsery is to let you design a map posters of a place that’s meaningful to you, such as where you went to university, got married or where you grew up. Literally any location on the face of the earth can be chosen. All you have to do is to enter your preferred location, adjust the level of zoom and decide on a color theme and style that matches your criteria for an awesome looking poster. Want a map of London or New York? You got it! Want a map of the middle of nowhere? No problemo! Unlike regular stock posters, our posters can be customized in an infinite number of ways, making them truly unique and personal.

That being said, although our maps are unique, the idea isn’t. When we launched Mapsery at the end of 2017, there were two other competitors in this space. Since then, 5-10 new direct competitors have seen the light and space has gotten way more competitive.

Looking at our customers, they can be found all around the world (30+ countries to date) who share a love for maps, traveling and interior design. Owing to the fact that our website is in English and that we only run ads in English, a majority of our customers can be found in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. To a lesser extent, we get customers from other corners of the world. In terms of demographics, slightly more women than men purchase our products and people aged 25-34 are our primary age group.

how-two-brothers-started-a-3-5k-month-side-hustle-sells-custom-maps

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My backstory is that I, during my 2nd year at university, got particularly bored during an exam period and toyed with the idea of starting my own business. In short, I wanted to put the theory from university into practice. Said and done, one month later I had put together a website where I planned to sell beer pong related products that I would import from China. The setup, however, was far from ideal. I kept the stock in my dorm room and I would personally run home from school in the middle of a lecture to hand the orders to the DHL guy every day.

Eventually, I got enough orders to make the move to outsource the logistics to a third-party logistics (3PL) partner. Finally, I didn’t have to handle the orders manually.

Great success!

One problem remained, though. Inventory management was a bitch.

The products that I ordered from China were made to order and then shipped by boat, which created lead times of 60-90 days from placed order until the products where restocked. The result? My products were out of stock 25% of the time. I decided that I didn’t want to deal with the inventory anymore. Especially not with such long lead times.

In a weird way, this is what made me think of the business idea that later became Mapsery.

I loved the idea of e-commerce, but I hated the idea of keeping inventory (and yes, I hated the idea of dropshipping even more).

The solution? A product that doesn’t have to be kept in inventory.

At this point, I had heard of a company called Printful and I knew that they did printing on demand (PoD). However, I quickly realized that my margins would be thin if I were to use PoD. So I said to myself, how can I increase my margins?

Easy. I would have to charge a premium for my posters.

How?

By having the customer design them themselves, of course. This way, they would stand out from regular stock posters, which would allow me to charge a premium. By this logic, I argued that I could sell custom made posters for $50 instead of $25.

We believe that we can do a lot better by increasing the time that we spend on Mapsery and by directing our efforts towards sales efforts.

By the way, at this point, I decided to involve my twin brother Daniel in the idea. There were two reasons for this. For one, I wanted to have a partner on board because that was something that I missed on my first entrepreneurial endeavor. For two, I lacked the programming skills required to realize this idea, so why not invite your brother who knows how to code?

With my brother on board, we looked to create posters for couples and families that would change shape and color based on user input such as the names, the number of family members, the date of marriage and so forth. Although we liked the idea, it became clear to us that it was a hard task to create graphical representations of families and couples that were good-looking and truly unique at the same time. We decided to settle for custom map posters instead, which we knew had been done by two other companies. What’s more, judging from their profit and loss statements we could easily see that there was a demand for map posters.

We drew a lot of inspiration from these competitors, I can’t deny that, but we wanted to make sure that we used a different technology (vector rendered maps, rather than image-based maps) and we styled our maps slightly differently.

To launch this idea, we started a limited company. By Swedish law, 50,000 SEK (~5,000 USD) in equity is required to do so. A small portion of that money was used for printing prototypes, setting up a domain, server hosting and so forth, but most of it was never used. In total, we spent a little less than $500 to get started (but a lot of time).

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The first step for us was to design the raw map data. As you might have guessed, the core of our map posters is map data. More specifically, we use data from the Open Street Maps (OSM) to create our posters, which is a free wiki for map data for the world. It’s a wonderful thing, really. However, if you compare our posters with OSM, you’ll quickly realize that they don’t look the same. The OSM maps are informative, factual and great to use if you want to find your way from point A to B, but they’re not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. Thus, we had to break them apart and redesign every layer of them – from paths and highways to forest areas and buildings. This took a ton of time. The most difficult part was that they had to look good regardless of if the customer wanted to frame a rural area or a city.

When prototyping and honing the design of our map posters, we utilized a printing facility on campus that was used for printing doctoral theses and what not. We managed to convince them that we would use the printers for a school project, though I’m not sure whether they actually believed us or if they just didn’t care. Regardless of which, it allowed us to print the prototypes that we needed.

To conduct some market research on the different color schemes and styling options that we had designed, we put together a Google Form where our friends and family could rank the different designs

Once we had a product that we liked, all that was left for us was to find a partner that could print our posters on demand and handle fulfillment (note: we didn’t use Printful). This proved to be easier said than done. However, one lucky day, I googled “[competitor name] customer case” and struck gold. Bingo – I had found a partner that I knew could deliver.

embed:instagram

Describe the process of launching the business.

To launch Mapsery, a lot of time was spent on designing and developing the product. Given the fact that we developed Mapsery on the side of our engineering studies and other commitments, the development phase took quite some time. In addition to this, my brother was left to do all the coding.

At the beginning of 2018, we launched Mapsery. I wouldn’t really call it a launch, though. We didn’t reach out to any media outlets. We didn’t post on Producthunt, Reddit or any other forum. And we definitely didn’t hire a PR agent. In fact, we didn’t even tell our friends about it or share it on our personal social media channels! No, our so-called launch consisted of us rolling out some ads on Facebook and Google.

The reason? We didn’t think that our launch was newsworthy. We didn’t believe that our idea was novel enough. The fact that our main competitor – the company who invented the niche – also was Swedish, played a part as well. Had the primary competitor been from any other country, I think that we would have felt more comfortable doing a proper launch.

That being said, If there’s anything to learn from our launch, it’s this: don’t launch as we did.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

To be honest, this is probably where we’ve performed the poorest. We haven’t spent more than 2-3 hours per week on Mapsery, in total. Of that very limited amount of time, a majority of it has been put on customer service and minor developments. In other words, we’ve barely spent any time at all on growing our business and attracting new customers. Crazy, I know. What’s more, we haven’t created a lot of content for social media and we haven’t worked with influencers. Our ad spend, apart from Google Adwords, has been limited and the same could be said about our SEO efforts.

Without a doubt, this is the reason to why we sell for a meager $3.5K a month and not ten times that amount a month. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we could easily sell ten times more. I’m simply saying that I know why we don’t sell for more.

When comparing us to competitors, this is definitely where we lack the most. Sure, I’m 99% certain that we spend less time on our business than they do, but we definitely should be able to do better.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are doing alright. We’re profitable and our profit margin is around 25%. Given that we charge a premium price, our gross margin is 65%, which isn’t too shabby. The cost of printing and fulfillment is 35% and we spend roughly 25% on customer acquisition. Primarily through Google Adwords and to some extent on retargeting ads on Facebook.

In terms of traffic, we bring in 3.000 visitors per month, out of which 50 converts. Not great, not terrible (hello Chernobyl fans).

If you must fail, make sure to fail early. Create an MVP and involve your potential customers in your product development. Don’t spend your time and money developing something that no one wants.

Our presence on social media is quite limited. We have a little more than 1K followers on Instagram, but we rarely post. Our social media efforts can at best be seen as a hygiene factor at this point. We haven’t given social media any love and we don’t work actively with influencers. Given how social media-friendly our product is, this leaves a lot of room for improvement, to say the least.

Moving forward, we have decided to spend more time on Mapsery to increase sales. We’ve got a good picture of what needs to be done in order to do so, and we’ll try to execute that plan. While we don’t hope to tenfold our sales, we believe that we can do a lot better by increasing the time that we spend on Mapsery and by directing our efforts towards sales efforts.

embed:instagram

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There’s a difference between a business and a hobby. Frankly speaking, I’ve come to the realization that we run Mapsery as a hobby and not as a business. It’s a fun side project, absolutely, but it’s not a business. We might like to think that we run it as a business, but we don’t.

It’s time to change that.

embed:instagram

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our website is built on WordPress and WooCommerce, using Braintree Payments to process payments (in the process of switching to Stripe). As mentioned before, our map data comes from OpenStreetMap and we use Google Analytics and Hotjar to make informed decisions about how our users interact with our platform.

On the rare occasion that we post to social media, we use Buffer. For customer support, we use Gmail. To use Gmail for customer support is nothing that I recommend because it’s really the wrong tool for the task, but it gets the job done for us at this stage. To avoid disputes about who spends the least amount of time working on Mapsery (hint: both of us do), we use Clockfy’s Chrome extension.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Apart from Swedish podcasts on E-commerce and entrepreneurship, How I Built This on NPR is an all-time favorite. Honorable mentions should of course also be given to Indiehackers, Product Hunt and Reddit. The reason as to why I’m writing this StarterStory is actually because of Indiehackers.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just do it. Afraid of failing? Don’t be. That’s part of the process and that’s how you learn.

However, if you must fail, make sure to fail early. How? By creating an MVP and by involving your potential customers in your product development. Don’t spend your time and money developing something that no one wants.

These tips aren’t necessarily related to the story that I just shared, but I think those tips are crucial for anyone starting out!

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Love Regefalk,   Founder of Mapsery

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!

-  
Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment

Check out our premium interviews: