Mod Notebooks $91,470 Launch

Jul 9, 2014

Three months ago we launched Mod Notebooks; a paper notebook that syncs to the cloud. This is the story of everything that has happened so far, step by step. Revenue breakdowns are also included below. (EDITORS NOTE: Mod was sold years ago and has since been shut down)

Gearing Up

After months of hard work, we managed to just hit our launch deadline on March 17th. Roughly a month before, Microsoft reached out and asked us to be a launch partner for their OneNote product launch. This was a great opportunity for us but it meant that we had to throw everything we had into being ready in time.

It was tight. Really tight. Our developer was fairly confident that we’d have the store ready in time for the launch but the web app probably wouldn’t be completely finished. Fine, we thought. As long as we could hack together a functioning demo in time that should be enough to launch with. Thankfully people wouldn’t actually be using the web app until they started sending notebooks back in to be scanned. That gave us a bit of extra breathing space.

The other issue was that we didn’t have any notebooks in our hands yet. The first big production run was still being produced. We decided to pay extra for expedited shipping but that still wouldn’t guarantee that they’d arrive on time.

Luckily, the notebooks arrived two days before launching and our developer pulled an all nighter and pushed a working version of the store live with only a couple of hours to spare. We had made it. Just.

The Launch

The launch itself went off without a hitch. We got some great press on the first day (NPR, Gizmodo, Laughing Squid, Cult Of Mac, Uncrate) and received a lot of positive feedback from users.

The one issue we did have was that we sold out of notebooks completely in the first day. This was obviously a good sign but it meant that a lot of people who ordered on the website were disappointed. The next batch of notebooks were already on the way to us but they were still a couple of weeks away from arriving. We apologized to our customers. Most were supportive and understanding (thanks everyone).

The aftermath of the Mod launch party

The evening of launch day, we had a little launch party to celebrate with close friends. This is the aftermath. We were so exhausted and relieved to have hit the deadline that the whole day was a blur.

Marshall being interviewed for the radio

One of the advantages of being based in a small-ish city is that when you launch something interesting, people take notice. Shortly after launching we were contacted by KMOX (a local St. Louis radio station) about coming on to talk about the Mod launch. A few additional local publications also covered us.

Packaging & Fulfillment

We’re planning a more detailed post about our fulfillment center at some point (because it’s so cool!) but the short version is: it’s in a cave. We paid a visit to “The Cave” (as it has now become known) to go over some of the fulfillment logistics. It is a very cool feeling seeing your product being packed and being shipped out the door.

Visiting the fulfillment center for the first time (it’s in a cave!)

It became clear pretty quickly that the packaging sleeve that we launched with just wasn’t going to cut it when we started on our retail strategy. Our original sleeve did an insanely bad job of explaining what mod is and how it worked. This wasn’t a huge deal whilst all of our sales were coming through our website but for retail it wouldn’t work well.

Doing a test print of the new sleeve

We set to work on redesigning our packaging with retail in mind. This is something that we’re still working on perfecting and will probably be an ongoing process.

The new sleeve is much more clear and tries to communicate that Mod isn’t just a notebook and there’s a digital version that goes along with it. Once we had something we were happier with, we ran to Kinkos to do a test print so we could see what it looked like on an actual notebook.

Cutting the new prototype sleeve
Trying it on

Much better! While this is by no means perfect we were much happier with it. Now we could start thinking about our retail strategy.

Bringing Everything In-House

After much discussion, we decided to bring the Mod digitization process in-house. Previously we were using a scanning partner in up state New York. It didn’t seem right that such a core part of the business was being outsourced. This way we could control everything and make sure the quality was always high.

To do this we needed more space. Luckily another office was available right next to our current office, so we snapped that up and started moving in.

Moving into the new office
Decorating the new mod office
Our intern, Jason, painting away.
New batch of notebooks arrives!

After being completely out of stock of notebooks on the website for an unbearable amount of time, the next batch of notebooks (with the newly designed sleeves) arrived! We celebrated with a big box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Microsoft’s Video

As a OneNote launch partner, Microsoft wanted to film a short video explaining what Mod is and how it integrated with OneNote. They flew out a video production company from Seattle to shoot the video. Here’s a behind the scenes shot taken from Jon’s apartment.

Filming the OneNote promo video
More behind the scenes shots from the Microsoft shoot

You can watch the final video here

Getting Into Retail

We did it! Thanks to Justin we landed our first retail deal. He’s planning on writing a post outlining our full retail strategy soon so keep an eye out for that. We have a big retail partner to announce soon as well.

Seeing a product you made on the shelf in an actual, physical store for the first time is a very cool feeling. It’s also fascinating watching shoppers peruse the shelf your product is on and watching how they interact with it.

Mod on the shelf at ArtMart, our first retail location

Custom Corporate Orders

Something we hadn’t considered when we launched mod was B2B sales channels. We received a lot of inbound interest from companies that wanted custom branded Mod Notebooks for their staff or for conferences they were putting on. The idea of branded “swag” that would live on forever in the cloud really appealed to them. Companies like Google and NBC Universal all ordered custom notebooks

Interestingly this sales channel has accounted for a large portion (roughly 35%) of our total revenue so far.

The only issue is there’s a really long lead time. After manufacturing and shipping it takes roughly 60 days for the notebooks to arrive. That’s too long for a lot of corporate clients so we reached out to a local letter press company to see if we could brand the notebooks we already had in stock locally to save some time.

Testing out a local letter press printing company for custom orders

Little Optimizations

We wanted to make sure the notebooks arrived in perfect condition so rather than using cheap bubble mailers to mail the notebooks in we requested that the fulfillment center used padded boxes. Unfortunately the additional weight of the larger shipping box + padding pushed the combined weight of everything over the maximum weight for USPS first class mail (which is 13oz). This meant that shipping was literally double the price it should have been (~$8 per notebook vs ~$4).

Testing out custom packaging options

To solve this we decided to make our own, branded shipping boxes. The box pictured above is the first sizing sample we received from the factory.

It’s light enough for first class!

…and the moment of truth. YES! It’s just under the 13oz required for first class mail.


Total website: $47,870
Total corporate: $33,600
Total retail: $10,000
Total revenue in the first 3 months: $91,470

We’re pretty happy with the results, especially considering we built Mod for $22,450

So what’s next?

In the next few months we plan on focusing more on our retail strategy. Starting off with redesigning the packaging (again) and designing some point of sale materials to help communicate what Mod is and how it works. Expect some more blog posts on this soon!

If you found this post interesting, order a Mod Notebook of your own and experience it for yourself. We’re @Marshal and @Jon on Twitter.

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