The Piper Podcast: Taymoor Atighetchi, founder of Papier on inspiring paper people to fill blank pages

We hope you are enjoying our fourth season of the series How I Grew My Brand. In this third episode Mary Nightingale sits down with Taymoor Atighetchi, founder of Papier, to talk about how he set out to build a category defining brand with a strong purpose – ‘we invite people to discover the possibility of a blank page’ – and a vibrant global community based around ‘paper people.’

He starts off by telling us about the storytelling skills he learnt being an antiques dealer on Portobello Road: ‘That’s where I learnt to sell stories… I think the best way to learn to sell is to sell art, because there is no intrinsic value at all in the object. It’s either a canvas or a piece of brass, really the value is in the story, which is exactly what a brand is.’

Despite being a digitally native brand, Taymoor has a counter-fashionable way of thinking about digital consumption:

‘One of the most fun things about running this business is that it’s constantly challenging preconception. A lot of people think that with the rise of digital, analogue is on its way out but it’s actually quite the contrary. As digital is growing, people want to react or balance that out by consuming more analogue products.’

As it’s grown, the brand has developed an emotive way describing its connection with customers: ‘These books are just empty canvases, but the point is that you give it a title, so that could be “Paris Travels” or “Business Plans” – suddenly that product has purpose.’
Although his business is customer obsessive, Taymoor is frustrated at being removed from the customer. ‘One of the challenges of being digitally native, as opposed to a retailer, is you don’t get to see the customer as much…. To help this, we are planning on opening a flagship store in London and New York.’

In growing Papier, he’s always been open to investment. ‘We’ve always been of the mind that having investors, having partners on board, will get us to our mission quicker and be more likely to achieve that mission. All of our need to raise money has been about proving concepts and then raising money to get the word out there more and more.’

On choosing investors, ‘for us brand was important, so we really wanted to have investors that either had experience in building brands up or, at the very least, could appreciate the value in brand. I think the rarest skillset is empathy, and I think the best investors out there are ones that have founder empathy. That usually means that they are or at least have founders in their own organisations… You can have a connection with an investor who will know what certain parts of the journey feel like.’

You will hear his particularly refreshing take on leadership. ‘I think the evolution of a founder is always that on day one, or the first year in particular, you are “the king” in a sense that you are doing everything. But over time you are giving those responsibilities over. I think that a good CEO should give it over and not try to interfere. The job of a chief executive is to actually try to make themselves redundant over the period of their time as the business needs to function very well without you.’

As something we’ve noticed with founders in many of our brands, Taymoor has enjoyed the process of letting go, ‘I think that’s a journey where it’s very hard to begin with and then something quite pleasant happens where actually you can’t do everything and then you realise everything is running quite well, possibly better than it was when you were running it, and then it’s quite liberating.’

He also has a balanced view entrepreneurship: ‘I think people need to go into it being aware of everything about it. The pressure that you will be put under, the stress that can come with that. All of that is me saying you know if you go to a shop, and you buy something it does have a warning label on it, and I think that should also be the case with becoming an entrepreneur. Every time I tell people, I always say, “Do it” and I don’t want to put anyone off. But do it eyes wide open that this won’t always be easy.’

There’s plenty more in this podcast that will leave you enthused about opening up a notebook and doodling. Enjoy.