Ampersand Anniversary: a Two-Year Code&Quill Retrospective
We've written a LOT on our blog.
Honestly, it's easy to forget, especially since we keep moving forward. But we noticed that this Tuesday (the day we usually post) coincided perfectly with our very first blog post two years ago—
And then we thought: holy crap, we really have done a lot here.
Can't say all of that content is sterling, but there's something like 100 posts on our blog. If each one is about 1000 words, that's 100,000 words — collectively about as long as a novel. (Of course, week over week, it's seemed more like turning in dozens of 4-page papers.)
We decided to commemorate that anniversary here, and with a change to one assumed convention: this week, instead of speaking as "we," the person behind the keyboard has a chance to speak as himself.
Some of you have seen my name before, but if not, I'm one of the main thing do-ers for C&Q. In short: I oversee content, customer service, and related parts of our logistics. I haven't written every blog post, but certainly most of them—and while some might imagine that's a chore, it's actually been way more fun and educational than I'd imagined.
My team came up with a list of "interview" questions and I've answered a few of them below... so if you wanna know my life, here it is!
What's your starting point with C&Q?
I’ve known Ronak for a long time… actually, I first got to know him when I was his freshman RA in college, of all things.
We lived together the year after I graduated, when I was waiting tables and starting my own little business on the side. By the time our lease ended, Ronak would graduate and found a tech startup, and I would manage to get my own little editing-and-web-design business off the ground. He moved to New York City; I moved back to my hometown in Kentucky.
The next winter, Ronak is selling his startup—and during this time he’s mostly home alone at his desk, waiting for the next call with his lawyer. Likewise, I’m mostly alone at the desk in my apartment. Most days that winter, we'd get on Google Hangouts and just leave the cameras on during the day so we could keep each other company from 700 miles away, almost like we were roommates again.
During this time, Ronak is exploring e-commerce and wondering if he could build a better notebook—given the kind of notebook he was trying (unsuccessfully) to find for himself.
He launches a Kickstarter for what he calls Code&Quill notebooks; next to the Google Hangouts tab, we’d each have a tab open to the Kickstarter. Each time we refreshed the page to another backer, one of us would shout at our computer screen in celebration, like we were storming the beaches of Normandy: “MOAR BAAAAAACKERS!”
When Code&Quill was funded successfully (and then some), Ronak needed to meet with his manufacturers in China and tour their factory, and he invited me to join. Along with Dan—a mutual friend and, conveniently, a Chinese major in college—we shipped across the world. The meeting itself only took about 2 hours, but being halfway around the world, we made a longer adventure of it.
(BTW, Dan is now our custom specialist—so if you want custom notebooks, email him!)
Where did your work for Code&Quill begin?
Once we were back from China, Ronak got a job offer in San Francisco and he invited me to be his roommate there—partly good history, partly the fact that my own business could be run from anywhere. I’d never been west of Chicago in my life, but I was looking for a change—so I packed my car and drove 2,400 miles west to the coast, across the vast expanse of the United States that I’d never seen, to a city I’d never visited before.
Once we got there, Ronak gave me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse: help build this brand we both believe in, whose birth we both witnessed.
I’m (mostly) a writer by trade, so my first order of business was starting this blog. And so, even though my responsibilities have grown over time, Ampersand has been here as long as I have.
How did your other responsibilities evolve—and how did those changes affect the blog?
For a while early on, one of my jobs was to make connections with local retailers (at the time, in San Francisco). This didn’t affect the blog directly so much as it gave me a bigger picture of what customers would be looking for—not just the ones we sold to directly, but the ones browsing in bookstores and stationery shops and gift boutiques. There’s some overlap between our online customers and “offline” ones, but certainly not 100%.
While still in SF, I started getting involved more with our social media, especially Instagram. We realized that one of the things we needed badly was good imagery—if nothing else, so that people could SEE and imagine the notebooks as they might use them. Eventually we got a Canon Rebel for the purpose—but fortunately, iPhone photography plus good lighting can get you really far, especially nowadays. I’m wordy, so being forced to think visually really helped sharpen the blog ("show, don't tell").
Over time, I also became more and more responsible for the logistical and customer-service functions of our company: in short, what happens between the arrival of notebooks at our warehouse and their eventual delivery to the customer, then what needs to happen when something goes wrong for one of those customers. It became a lot easier to understand the natural challenges of delivering physical products—and by understanding those “mundane” parts of our business better, I was more comfortable discussing some of the abstract and creative stuff with customers, like why we’ve designed things a certain way, or how we might be able to change products or develop brand-new ones in the future.
What is Ampersand’s “voice”? If you will, who is the person speaking in each blog post?
This has also evolved over time, but one early decision we’ve maintained is the first-person plural voice — in other words, writing as “we” and “us” and not just “me.” This post is, therefore, a notable and deliberate exception. =]
Beyond that, there aren’t many hard-and-fast rules. We try to keep it light, snarky, even smart-alecky to the extent it sticks. Profanity is allowed if it enhances the writing, but we try to restrain that as a matter of good taste. We want to sound educated without being snobby—that is, that we’re smart people with stuff to say, but who don’t know everything and want to listen where there’s more people can add.
The rest, I think, can be explained by our attempt at generally-good writing. We phrase things shortly if we can; we try to break up text with imagery whenever it’s available; we assume that any reader’s attention span is short and try to respect it. After all, if a huge overarching goal is to provide y’all with value, to give you something you WANT to read, we can’t assume you’ll want to know our every thought.
What are some of YOUR favorite blog posts and why?
I’ll name three.
The first one I’d think to mention is, actually, one of the first posts we ever published: our intro to fountain pens. People have tended to really like the post, maybe because it’s a primer in something paper-related as written by someone who was just learning it himself. That was the first post we wanted to “feature,” in the senses both that we treated it as a “premium” piece of content (we took our own photos and everything!) and that we’d want to share it with other people, especially prospective customers.
The second one is 4 Questions You'll Ask Yourself When You Become an Entrepreneur. Partly this one is semi-autobiographical (who doesn't like telling their own story?), but also, it was just super-fun to write and pretty rewarding to share with our folks, many of whom are self-starters or considering it.
Last but not least, I'll mention one of our recurring posts: 7 Ways Creatives are Using Code&Quill Notebooks. We add 7 new examples and update the post every couple of months—and we have that ability because y'all keep posting cool shit. It's one of our more popular blog posts, but even if it weren't, we'd keep doing it because we continue to be surprised and delighted by what we see (and get to share).
If you're in the market for a notebook, head on over to our store!
If you want more than one, check out our discounted notebook bundles!
If you just wanna say hi or look at pictures, come see us on Facebook or Instagram.