Riding Unicorns

S3E19 - Taymoor Atighetchi, Founder & CEO @ Papier

April 13, 2022 Riding Unicorns Season 3 Episode 19
Riding Unicorns
S3E19 - Taymoor Atighetchi, Founder & CEO @ Papier
Show Notes Transcript

Taymoor Atighetchi is the Founder and CEO of British e-commerce stationary brand, Papier. The story of Taymoor’s rise in business is fascinating. He started out by selling antiques on Portobello Market before going on to co-found the now very popular news youth site, The Tab. Upon graduating Taymoor secured a role at Bain & Company as a consultant. It was there where Taymoor spotted the opportunity to disrupt the retail space by providing an online offering to what was once a very bricks and mortar dependent sector. In the seven years since its launch Papier has raised over $65 million. The company now employs over 100 people and has plans for further expansion into America.

In this, the penultimate episode of Season 3, Hector and James sit down with Taymoor to better understand his entrepreneurial journey, the motivations behind launching Papier and the practicalities of making the business work. During the episode the trio also delve into the company's experience of fundraising, its approach to culture and its future plans. 

Make sure to like and subscribe to the Riding Unicorns podcast to never miss an episode. Also don't forget to give Riding Unicorns a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep on top of the latest developments.

James: [00:00:00] welcome to riding unicorns. The podcast about growth startups. I'm James Pringle and I'm a technology entrepreneur and investor and the founder of Pringle capital. My co-host is Hector Mason. Hector as a partner at B2B investor episode one ventures. Our mission is to uncover what it takes to build a unicorn business. 

For season three, we're speaking to some of the best founders, many from unicorn companies and asking them about their journey, operational insight, tips, and lessons they've learned along the way 

Today's episode is we've Taymor Atighetchi CEO and founder Papier. Papier has created stationary that feeds curiosity and contemplation. Papier recently announced the series C rounds taking total funding to over $65 million. From investors such as DMC ventures, jamjar, and Felix capital. In this episode, we cover [00:01:00] Taymoor's journey with the top. 

Is three years at Bain and co how he has made a success of papier and in particular, the unique product branding, which has led to more reordering. 

We also cover culture. And other fascinating topics such as where do you hide? Great growth people. Another super episode. So let's get started. 

James: Hi Taymoor Welcome to riding unicorn and thanks for joining us. 

Taymoor: Nice. Thanks having you. 

James: It's our pleasure. So we're starting each of these episodes in season three with a broad question, which is what does entrepreneurship mean to you 

Taymoor: So for me, I think it, it's all about building something, out nothing or very little, I think, most people I know who are kind of born entrepreneurs, just like to build, uh, and they really like to build from scratch. And I think the bit they enjoy the most is that. Bit from zero, to a hundred and then from a hundred onwards, uh, the role becomes much more [00:02:00] being a CEO than an entrepreneur in that respect, but that's what, entrepreneurship's all.

Hector: Yeah. And, the. Lots of our listeners. would've heard of the tab. So I just wanna, yeah, start, start off, today's episode with a bit about your journey 

Taymoor: Yeah. So, I was a co-founder along with two good, friends of mine at university. going back to that point about entrepreneurship, that kind of what it was. We were at university. And, for most people who were at university, the kind of local newspaper or university newspapers was at the time quite high brow, it especially we were at Cambridge, it was kind of full of essays and poetry.

Uh, and a group of us just thought, I think. The university could do with some more lighthearted, tabloid style news. and so that was the experiment. We said, well, let's launch a tabloid at Cambridge. And we went about and effectively built a team of editors, writers, photographers, and built the tab, which, Was hugely successful within [00:03:00] the university itself. it was a kind of, a bit of that Facebook moment when you just kind of walk past dorms and everyone's glued to their screen, just reading the latest tab articles that I'd written or someone else had written and it spread very quickly from there.

and then I went on to, not pursue it as a business, but Jack and George, the co-founders did and scaled it into the us. gotton was one of the main investors behind it. So, um, you can scale media as well.

James: Yeah. I, I remember it coming to Newcastle, definitely a breath of fresh air. And so when you decided to step away, What made you take a more conventional job route for the next few years? And did you know that you'd come back to being a founder one day or had you sort of temporarily written that off as a route?

Taymoor: So I, I knew I wanted to build businesses and be an entrepreneur. but what I also knew is that, I was fairly. Young in that journey and had [00:04:00] a lot to learn. And in some ways had a lot of the kind of more hard skills to learn. So in particular, uh, you know, studying history of art doesn't necessarily equip you with the ability to build it financial model.

And so I really wanted to get some of those skills. And I joined a management consultancy house called Bain, uh, as a strategy consultant. And, I actually said in my interview that, you know, I want. Set up a business and, leave after a few years. And, it's very normal and most people at pain have had that a hundred times before and they're very supportive of it.

And our investors are ex ban, uh, entrepreneurs. So, the innocent, founders, so being a kind of school ground almost to build some skills to set up businesses is quite quite.

Hector: Yeah, we've had, um, a bunch of founders on, on riding unicorns. Who've actually been up. Ban, but consultancies more broadly. and I wonder what part ban. Played for you in [00:05:00] founding, PAER and whether you were working for a stationary business as a project or something like that.

Taymoor: No, actually the, the, the seeds and the, the kind of where PAE as a business came to me, wasn't, doing any work in that sector. I did very little work in retail or consumer actually. I, I learned everything I know about consumer e-com through PAE. literally learning on the job. I had know no skills from there.

It's more of the kind of, I guess, wider transferable skills of. Building a presentation deck. it's quite useful when you are, out pitching, to masters. And one thing does teach you any consultant has teaches to make pretty slides. So, I learned a bunch of stuff there, which was helpful. I learned nothing about the sector I'm in.

all of that came very much, 

James: And so where was the inspiration for Pape and what did you do in the first 12 months? Think a lot of people, maybe in jobs at the moment, they've got an idea that's, you know, burning on their [00:06:00] brain and they, they don't know necessarily what the first steps are. So what did you do in those first kind of 12 months? 

Taymoor: for, for me, I was probably like many of your listeners in a mode where I was really keen to find an avenue, a path like looking for that apple to fall off a tree somewhere. I was really kind of, not pushing it, but receptive to ideas and to, concepts everywhere. I was looking, everything I was using was a potential, is this a potential area?

And I knew I wanted to be in consumer. I. That interaction with the end user in the end consumer, whether that's, you know, through the tab being a distributor of news or through physical products, ultimately seeing consumers use and interact with the product. I loved that. and I happen to be. A massive user of stationary products every day.

I have a massive collection at home everywhere I traveled I'd buy it. So that peaked my interest where I said, well, what is this [00:07:00] category that I hadn't really looked into? The more I scratched the surface of it, the more I realized it was. a bit of a hidden gem in terms of size. It's a massive $200 billion market completely unpenetrated online at the time.

no disruption for decades. So that was, kind of the entry point. And in terms of how I started, I think this is where my, consultant roots probably really do have it. I started by opening PowerPoint and started to actually build a. Deck. And I mean, that ultimately became the pitch deck, but it was a way for me to almost tell the story myself, or at least understand the story.

So what is this market who are the competitors that were playing in, et cetera. So that, that was really how I started. I almost like crafted the narrative and the, this story, through slides.

Hector: It's actually quite a different story to a lot of the founders we've had on writing unicorns have, have been, Typically people building software to fix something that's broken. And what's interesting here is [00:08:00] that, it's it's creating an online presence for, stationary. 

Taymoor: I think for me, that was, part of the attraction and bringing it online was, a big part of it. The other was, bringing it into, The modern age as in this is, this is an area where most brands and this is another important angle to this, you know, I'm obsessive about brands and the role brands plays.

you know, I find the water category fascinating because you literally have all these brands selling the most commoditized product of them all. I mean, EV and taste the same as VUL and vile and blah, blah, blah. So the whole concept of brand, was fascinating to me too. So we had a category that as you say, wasn't online, from a brand perspective, had very little loyalty, had very little, love for any particular brand, but then you had a consumer set that were obsessed with the category.

So there was a real lack of a brand there. so I really loved that challenge of actually saying, well, this is a category that. That needs to be brought into the modern age. These are [00:09:00] consumers that are looking for a brand that they can be part of, as opposed to, as you say, engineering problem.

 You know, when people talk. about Setting up businesses. And what advice I always say, just do it as quickly as you can a, because you'll talk yourself out of it or because smarter people than you will give you good reasons not to do it.

And you're entering a market where you're gonna have to acquire customers and basket values et cetera, et cetera. and if you took that to say, well, yeah, probably good, point. I won't start it. Then you won't ever try and solve that problem in itself, or at least try to experience it yourself.

So, you know, in reality, how did, we solve that? Well, You know, in the stationary category, baskets are built up by multiple products and they're very high margin. so the combination of those two things means that, you know, we, as a business can be profitable on each acquisition that we, we make.

but a lot of it is boils down to execution as well. so being able to execute on the brand, the way that the brand communicates through [00:10:00] advertising, through marketing, that allows us to, That.

we now know is the virality in the product as well. So if you have a product that people either gift or people distribute, so wedding stationary being a good example of you sending that to hundreds of people, you're gonna get a nice chunk of organic acquisition as well. That helps with your acquisition costs.

So all things I know now, but I did not, forecast any of that on day one.

James: Yes, really, really interesting. And you might have answered some of the questions I'm about to pose now, but you've recently announced a large series C round taking total funding to like over 65 million from top investors, such as barge, DMG ventures, jam jar, and Felix capital. So top, top investors, uh, you mentioned starting with just a pitch deck. Now you've gone through all those funding rounds. So what has the funding journey been like? And. You mentioned a few things there, but [00:11:00] what else do you wish you'd known earlier that may have helped you with funding? 

Taymoor: I mean, the first thing to say to any listener is it, it's a choice to take that journey. it's really important that prospective entrepreneurs don't think there's any one route. there are plenty of. Absolutely astonishing successes which have raised very little or no.

So, it's a choice to take that journey and one that needs to consci Going through those motions earlier on and knowing kind of what that would look like and how that is something that's always useful, to know, but in reality, what that looks like over time is effectively a journey that's accelerated.

and that's the choice that I made and, many entrepreneurs that take capital make, which is they're trying to get from a, to B faster. And if capital gets you there faster, then capital can be a really good way of doing so. But there are times where capital can't speed up a journey. So for us, it's about making mistakes faster.

It's about trying things faster as well in we, as a business. [00:12:00] Entered the us market, in our third year of trading, whereas many businesses, especially born in the UK may not do that for decades and they'll be building their UK. So that's an example of, I think, what that funding journey does and looks like it allows you to try a lot of things much faster than your other one.

I would, because you have that that's really there to test and.

Hector: what are some of the, Some of the things that sort of keep you up at night when running PAE. 

Taymoor: I'm 

luckily a really good sleeper. So not many things keep me up at night, but, it's different things depending on where you are in your journey. you know, for any entrepreneurs out there who are about to embark on fundraising, then that's definitely something that's you on your mind, which is, you know, how successful is this capital raise gonna be?

when you're not. You're kind of thinking much more about the issues or the challenges that the business is facing at any given time. for me, I think the thing that I spend most of my time thinking about is, the people side of the business. you know, making sure that [00:13:00] we've got people that are happy, that are engaged, that are motivated and driven and, that we can retain some of the best talent that we have.

I think that for me is always something that that's on my mind.

Hector: And I wonder how, you know, you've talked about the sort of free viral marketing, which is super interesting, which, is basically that your products are kind of mass leafleting built into the product. But I wonder how you've kind of the performance marketing side of things, kind of change over time. 

Taymoor: I mean, we, we are still trading at acquisition economics that are better than they were several years ago. So for us, we've had a unusual trajectory where they haven't Been going up, but been either flat or, declining. And that's in part because, I think there is that natural virality effect, which only gets bigger and better as the business and brand scales.

I think, for the listeners who are well into their performance marketing or, or thinking about that, it is in itself.[00:14:00] differentiates different consumer businesses. You've got to be good at it. there was a time that probably you could have a fantastic product, fantastic brand and didn't have great performance marketing and could get away with it that now the bar is so high.

You really do need to be fantastic at both the brand, the art and, the math, the data and the science that sits under it. You know, we have a team of over 20 people in our performance marketing, uh, organization. We do everything ourselves. We don't outsource it. we build our own attribution models in house.

So, For anyone looking at PAER and seeing what is a really beautiful brand, what sits behind that brand is, often what I call our secret superpower, which is data, and a hell of a lot of very sophisticated data and very smart people that are, very finely tuning our marketing engine day, day out to be able to acquire, profitably.

And I think that is just what any consumer [00:15:00] business these days has to do.

Hector: Can you lift the lid at all on the data side of things and, you know, any practical, you know, hints at what you guys have done to scale those marketing efforts, to build your brand fast, anything like, like that, any clever tips that our listeners could benefit from? 

Taymoor: well, 1, 1, 1 tip really comes down to how you attribute in your attribution. what I would say there is increasingly now making sure that for anyone who is still using just a simple last click attribution, that they really do migrate away from that. at, we look at a variety of touchpoint, including an exit survey and.

That's so critical. And that was one of the things we introduced a year and a bit ago, because increasingly the way that consumers consume media is through things like video. and that could be through a TikTok reel. It could be through a YouTube video, and those are increasingly not necessarily click through type, ads and they are ads that people [00:16:00] are seeing and eventually going through.

So you really do. Need to understand how or what first took the customer to your site and the most old fashioned question at the end of an, a checkout that says where'd you first hear about the brand is still incredibly useful and incredibly powerful as part of that attribution mix. So that's, a tip.

James: Yeah, that's really interesting. Just like, instead of trying to guess, through like macros and things, you just ask them. and I was gonna ask you broadly about hiring and growth, but you mentioned there that you've got. A 20 plus strong team of kind of growth and performance marketers. Where's the best place to hire growth people from.

And what kind of skill sets do they need?

Taymoor: So growth or performance marketing is a relatively new. phenomenon or concepts. So actually it's in some ways easier now than it was maybe five or six years ago because the training grounds exist, whether they are through agencies [00:17:00] or through brands and people are. Learning by doing, and there are many more practitioners of it.

in terms of where you find those people, I mean every consumer brand now has people in the business who are, are doing that. And in terms of what you look for, curiosity is really important, because these platforms and these channels change. And so you need to be naturally very curious about.

What things we can do differently. Um, what we can try differently. And of course, you've.

Hector: kind of zooming out a little bit from that. I wonder how your role as an, as an individual has changed from, that zero to one kind of first year or even pre-launch, to, you know, now, now running a team of over a hundred and, idea on you, whether you prefer that very, very early stages you spoke about at the beginning, it's, you know, often what entrepreneurs seek is the building.

zero to one type stuff. I wonder what, what that journey has looked like for you.[00:18:00]

Taymoor: So that really early bit, is definitely a lot of fun. It's where. you're effectively the salesperson, the head of op the head of HR. You, you are a bit of everything and, it's absolutely, the training ground that any entrepreneur wants to go through or why they, do it.

And that does change. I mean, my role now, I mean, most of those. Bits I've mentioned now have been taken away from me. I'm I've, you know, whether it's people in HR and ops, you know, those are now part of different departments within the business. And so the role of the founder is almost to becomes to almost not metal too much.

I think the biggest challenge entre face is they can't really. Get with that program of being pulled away from the coal face. and you hear so many stories of, you know, founders walking in and saying, oh, let's do this now. And let's do that now. And, it can be quite difficult for a business.

So part [00:19:00] of my job is to not metal, uh, and to be so basically very conscious about where I, apply myself, where I can be valuable, and. Three areas. One is strategy. So I have, or any founder or entrepreneur has the one advantage they have over everyone else in the business is they have more context than everyone else in the business.

Cause they sit literally across everything. And by having that, you are able to be. You know, kind of 30,000 feet above and think more strategically than everyone else in the business. And that's not because the founder is, smarter. It's just literally, because they're at advantage point that's higher than everyone else, so they can think, so strategy is kind of one of that, those areas.

Second is on people while I'm not leading. HR and people function. I have an important role in making sure we hire the right people. We're shaping culture the way it should be. and I have an important role in being very direct with people at all [00:20:00] levels to say, thank you and well done. I mean that as time goes on you know, that impact is even larger when the business gets larger.

if the CEO or the founder is reaching out to people to say, they've done a great job and. Is on that funding journey, right? managing the partners that we've got on board. And by that, I mean our investors who, become part of that journey, making sure that they very much also feel part of that team and that journey.

So those are kind of, that's how I split my time.

James: Yeah, it's really interesting. And we've had a few guests talk about of trying to get out the way of their teams. And so it's interesting to hear that that's, uh, something that you've noticed as well. And you touched a little bit there on culture. So how have you approached culture at PAER and what would we notice if Hector and I came in for a day and spent a day with the team, what would we notice about the environment. 

Taymoor: there's a few things people notice, uh, when they come into Papi, the [00:21:00] first which I love is, it's not immediately apparent. who's senior and who's not. So it's very, very flat and that's, you know, partly by design in terms of how we structure the layout, the business, but it does feel like a group of, and we are now about 120 people, all contributing to this bigger purpose and this bigger mission.

It's not immediately apparent. Who's in charge, which I love. we want the space to feel like a studio in that respect. the other thing I think people definitely notice is the creativity. If you walk around Maison Pape, every inch of it has been designed. Every piece of furniture has been bought, um, through auctions, all around Europe, all the walls aligned with a lot of, of our prints.

And you will literally see people. Creating artworks that we have print designers, and artists who are, who are working. So you'll feel that creativity, which is a core value, at Papi and I hope, and most people, whenever they do meet with, perhaps they feel that kindness, it's a very kind organization.[00:22:00]

and it's very thoughtful. and I don't think it's a coincidence that's in part because the products that we sell are. At the heart of that, right. this is a product where people are sending notes to one, another people love, writing. so as a result of being interested in the category, I do think we also attract really kind and considered people

Hector: I wonder what, what excites you the most about the next five, 10 years for, Pape? 

Taymoor: I'm partly biased because I'm currently doing this recording from New York and therefore, whenever I'm here, I'm definitely thinking much more about international, but that is the bit that excites me at the moment. most, I think, we have a really clear ambition, to build a category defining brand in this category and.

In order to be truly global, we need to really make the us a very big part of the business. And that means significantly, you know, 70, 80% of the business. And, and so what [00:23:00] excites me is, actually starting to feel this brand live and be global. that doesn't mean shipping globally, which a lot of brands do that really does mean having, people.

Here in New York who are, you know, under the Papi umbrella who are wearing the PA name and having that kind global team. That's something that for me, is new and, a big part of my learning journey and something that I find massively exciting.

James: Yeah. I'm not surprised it would be exciting to be kind of taking your business global. as much as we love understanding more about the business and you've already given some really interesting operational insight into what you've done on the journey. We also want to get to know you a bit as a founder and understand a bit about what so.

what are you looking to get out of your career? I mean, do you have a personal mission statement or anything like that? Like what's really driving you 

Taymoor: no, I don't, I don't have anything as grand as a person, personal mission statement, but [00:24:00] I do definitely feel compelled to make some kind of mark. and that's definitely not in a, power. Want my name on a building type way, but just. I think anything that I can do that leaves an imprint on people.

and I always think about that. Trying to be multi-generational I think as humans, most people want things that outlast them. I think that's why you could argue if we're gonna get very philosophical people have children, and in some ways building brands and building businesses is a bit like that.

You want something to to be left there. You want a mark to be made. and that for me is what I will continue to. What.

Hector: legacy is definitely, probably something actually that we haven't. Talk to our, guests enough about, but I'm sure they all feel similarly about it. anyway, TA more, it's been fantastic having you on the show. We like to finish [00:25:00] with the dinner party guest game, where you may invite three people of your choice, dead or alive to a dinner.

Who would you have? I wonder. 

Taymoor: I'm not gonna use any of those three seats on friends or family, so I'm gonna apologize to family for that reason. So the first person, is linked to my absolute obsession and passion with cooking. I cook the whole time and Anna Delante is an Italian chef and cook who is pretty much the.

The godmother of all Italian cooking, especially in the UK, she's 97 years old. She's a force of nature. I've never met her. but I would basically spend half the time just talking about her trips to Italy, which I also love and cooking. So Anna will be. One, by the way, another apologies.

The last person guest I'd want is another entrepreneur. Cuz we just talk about the impact of iOS 14 on CPAs or something. Boring like that. So I would have an artist as, the second, I studied history of art[00:26:00] and I probably have theta gates. who's an American based black artist who I've been a long admirer of.

And partly the reason I'd have him is he is effectively a philosopher as well. And I would just be mesmerized and want to talk to him, and get as intellectual as I can and not talk about, iOS 14, as I said, and the third person I'd have is not alive. And that is, the one and only Fred mercury, from queen.

The reason I'd have Fred mercury is I live next door to where he lived, London and. all I know of is the incredible parties that he had in that house. If you've seen BA Bohemian RH, you'll, kind see some of those parties, but I would just want to hear about those parties and potentially recreate a bit of that dinner party.

Hector: Awesome. I think that's three marks for originality. Isn't it, James? 

James: Yeah, 

? absolutely. 

Hector: pay more. It's been an absolute pleasure to have you on it's. been great hearing about how you have made a stationary brand, so dynamic, and [00:27:00] it's also been great hearing about how you've, Lots of tactics like using your, physical product as a sort of viral marketing tool.

also interesting to hear about the vantage point of the CEO, which you put concise here and is often overlooked. the context that a CEO has that makes them able to make these big strategic decisions. So lots of insight, lots of anecdote. It's been fantastic having you on the show.

Thank you so much.

Taymoor: Likewise. Thanks for.

So that's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed listening and learn a little bit more about how to build a unicorn. We have just one more episode in season three, and then we'll be back soon after for season four. To make sure that you never miss an episode, please subscribe to riding unicorns on apple, Spotify, 

or wherever else you get your podcasts. Thanks again for listening.