Toby Maurice and business partner Frank Bouchard are taking the term “undo” to the extreme, not to mention around the world.
Unhappy with both the capabilities and limitations of conventional writing tools, the young entrepreneurs created the Wipebook, an erasable physical notebook that blends the best features of pens, pencils, paper and the whiteboard.
“Wipebook started as a MBA class project at the University in Ottawa in 2013,” explains Maurice. “It’s a marriage between a whiteboard and a notebook and is a portable and simple tool for brainstorming and taking notes.”
It’s also environmentally friendly.
“The most amazing feature is that you no longer have to waste so much paper. The whole book is reusable over and over again,” says Bouchard. “This may be the last notebook you will ever buy.”
An intuitive yet innovative idea, the second version of Wipebook – which originally had three co-founders – is taking the world by storm. In an effort to improve the original product, the founders created a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in November 2013 with a goal of raising $4,000. After 30 days, the campaign topped $420,000 – more than 100 times its original goal – with funds raised from approximately 7,900 backers in more than 10 countries, the majority of them from the U.S. and Canada.
“It exceeded our expectations and essentially became an overnight success,” adds Maurice. “We have unique, cool products that fill a void for a wide array of verticals from engineers and IT people to moms and students.”
Fast forward to 2016 and that overnight success has evolved into the Ottawa-based company’s four notebook models, as well as correctable pens found on the Canadian shelves of Walmart and Staples.
“About 85 per cent of our sales are international and the U.S. is our largest market,” says Maurice. While some 70 per cent of all online sales are destined to customers south of the 49th parallel, the firm ships to 68 different countries.
Despite its broad reach, the company plans to continue to focus on U.S. growth.
“We are fortunate as Canadians that we have the largest market just a couple of hundred kilometres or so south,” says Maurice. “This is the market that all companies in the world desire. My advice to any new company is to concentrate on that one.”
Getting to this point may have been a whirlwind and sometimes challenging journey that’s taken a lot of sweat equity, but it’s also provided a number of great business lessons.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work, patience, a few smart decisions and listening to our customers to get this far,” says Maurice. “But the biggest lesson is to really know your customers.”
His one major piece of advice for Canadian exporters is to develop strong linkages and partnerships.
“You need to build awesome relationships with your suppliers,” says Maurice. “It’s imperative that they share your vision.”
Despite its international success to date, the company still has more work to do achieve its vision.
“Success is a funny term. We have had a certain level of success, without a doubt, but we have a long way to go in order to achieve our true vision,” he adds. “Ultimately, our goal is to displace paper that is used for temporary notes and doodles as well as to provide people with a simple, sustainable, environmentally-friendly medium to create something awesome.”
That in itself is a vision, charting a course to success that no company should undo.