I recently conducted an interview with Dave Zuverink, Founder and CEO of SlimFold. I was tired of my old, thick, leather wallet and wanted to see if I could replace it with a thin vegan one. I found SlimFold, ordered a wallet, and contacted Dave Z. to see if he wanted to do an interview for CleanTechnica. Thanks to Dave for answering my questions!
You can check out the company’s musings on Twitter @SlimfFold.
The story of Dave Zuverink and SlimFold is a classic small business success story. If you haven’t heard of SlimFold before, that’s cool. This is how they introduce themselves on their website.
“SlimFold makes the world’s thinnest, lightest, and strongest slim wallets right here in San Francisco.”
I was expecting boring wallets. I was wrong. They are colorful, vibrant, and really thin! Best of all, they come in two flavors, RFID- and non-RFID-blocking wallets. What’s cool about SlimFold wallets is some of the products use Tyvek as the source — that famous building and Fedex envelope material. Also, these wallets can be recycled at the end of life.
Here’s my Q&A with Dave Z.:
VG: What was the biggest challenge with starting a small business?
DZ: In the beginning, getting traction is pretty difficult. But once you get traction and have an established business, making sure you’re spending time on the most important thing is very challenging. Just keeping a business running can occupy so much time that 3 or 6 months can go by without feeling like you have accomplished much. If you’re big enough, you can hire a team to take care of some of that work but you’ll probably then also spend a lot of time managing that team. I’ve been finding success recently by applying some of the strategies found in Deep Work by Cal Newport. Like engaging in deep work sessions in my new studio with no internet and no interruptions.
VG: Before starting SlimFold, you were an industrial designer. What were you working on?
DZ: Yes, I was originally trained in Industrial Design and early in my career worked on everything from laser eye surgery machines to tablet computers. But living in Silicon Valley I quickly made the transition to interaction design where I designed mobile applications. That’s part of why it was refreshing to dip back into physical object design when developing SlimFold.
VG: What was your inspiration for SlimFold?
DZ: Essentially, it was the classic story of needing a slim wallet and not being able to find one. But larger than that I started to realize that we were just entering an age where a person could fully develop a mass produced product by themselves. What used to take a whole company could now be accomplished by a single person using rapid prototyping techniques.
VG: I know Kickstarter played a large role in moving ahead. If Kickstarter was not available, what would you have done?
DZ: Kickstarter was another piece of the puzzle that came later, which made it so a person could not only produce a product on their own, but sell it directly to the customer as well. Aside from pre-selling the product, Kickstarter allowed me to develop a direct relationship with customers, gather feedback, and incorporate that feedback into the product … which is essentially what building a brand is ideally all about.
VG: What’s your favorite SlimFold product?
DZ: It would be a toss-up between the Original Soft Shell wallet and Slim Pack Minimalist backpack. The Original Soft Shell wallet sort of came together the quickest and worked just how I imagined after just a couple of prototypes. The material works perfectly with the form factor. The Slim Pack on the other hand was the most struggle, taking over 2 years to develop. I’m happy with how it turned out though.
VG: I found SlimFold by looking for a vegan wallet that was thin and durable. Fashionable was a nice bonus. How significant are vegans for business?
DZ: I think there’s a great amount of synergy between vegans and folks with environmental concerns. My original motivation was more rooted in a combination of minimalism and environmentalism. In fact, I haven’t really shared this but an early name for the wallet was EcoFold! There are definitely folks who learn about the wallets from vegan sites and forums and there’s a nice shared philosophy between vegans, environmentalists, and the BIFL (Buy it for Life) movement.
VG: SlimFold is produced and designed in America. Tell us what made you produce the wallets here.
DZ: For me those decisions are really in service to the product — whatever allows them to be made with the highest quality and in an efficient manner. I also enjoy directly collaborating with factories during the product development process and having manufacturing be close by helps with that. There are other brands which I really respect that have found a way to produce products abroad and also maintain quality. At this point we’ve been able to still make it work keeping things close by and we’ve just opened up our own R&D studio to get more hands on with the product development process.
VG: What are the advantages of SlimFold versus traditional wallets?
DZ: It boils down to a combination of material and construction. Leather itself is thicker than the materials we use. Plus, it’s usually constructed of many layers to make pockets and lining. Instead, ours are made from thinner material and constructed of a single piece of material.
VG: What new products are next?
DZ: Well, with our last Kickstarter we branched out into bags with our first backpack. So overall we’re now more like everyday carry and are planning to flesh out the line with more bags, wallets, and everything in between that you may want to carry in a bag. We’ve got a cool product aimed at international folks which I’m excited about too. I’ve also got some product ideas tangentially related to SlimFold that I’d like to flesh out.
VG: What are you most proud of?
DZ: I guess I’d have to say that I’m proud that my customers have supported me enough to continue to spend my time developing products. As a designer, you learn how to create objects which achieve certain business goals but the purpose is essentially for someone else to achieve their dream. It’s really fulfilling to create the products I want to and deliver them directly to customers. It’s allowed the relationship to evolve from producer-consumer to artist-patron which is really satisfying.
VG: Thanks for your time and the interview!