Success stories can seem just as fantastical as the fairy tales you (may have) loved growing up: Bold career woman finds herself in the right place at the right time, and poof, her
fairy godmother mentor snaps her fingers, transforming our hero into an overnight success who brings home a 7-figure salary, jet-sets the world spreading her you-can-have-it-all gospel, all while looking awesome and Instagramming the whole thing. Umm...really? Why do we so rarely hear the other side of the story — the false starts, the waves of doubt, the failures, and the fuck-ups? Those late-night worries and, occasionally, breakthroughs that are so relatable to the rest of us?
Introducing Self-Made, Refinery29's newest column spotlighting the real stories that fueled success — the wins, the fails, and the curveballs —proving there's no one path to getting what you want.
We're kicking off the series with an interview with Anna Bond, co-founder and creative director of Rifle Paper Company. Anna and her husband, Nathan, founded the stationery company in the fall of 2009 with a $10,000 investment. In the nine years since, Rifle has grown exponentially, and Anna and Nathan are continually exploring ways to expand their product line, which now includes collaborations with LeSportSac and Keds, among other major brands.
Ahead, Anna shares the challenges of running a business with her husband, her self-care routine, and what's she doing at midnight most nights. (Spoiler alert: It isn't sleeping.)
What do you think the definition of self-made is, as it pertains to you?
"To me, being self-made is creating something without a safety net. We relied solely on ourselves to make our idea work and bring our vision to life without investors, mentors, or a traditional business background to fall back on."
What quality do you think you possess that’s made you a good candidate for self-making your destiny?
"I have a lot of drive, which I actually didn’t fully realize about myself until after we started the business. I’m willing to put in hard work and sacrifice when necessary. I also think it’s vital to see what is best for the business especially when it differs from what you personally want or originally envisioned. Being flexible and open to new ideas helps guide the business in a healthy way."
You’ve chosen to build your business in Winter Park, FL — not in a big city like New York or San Francisco. What are the pros and cons of doing business in Florida? Do you ever think you’ll relocate?
"When we started Rifle, we just started where we lived, and we didn’t give it much thought beyond that. It wasn’t until later that we started to realize our location was unique as buyers and press continually seemed shocked that a successful company they loved wasn’t based in a big city. Looking back, the pros far outweigh the cons. Our cost of doing business is exponentially cheaper, we attract amazing local talent, we’re very focused in our own world here, the cost of living is reasonable, and so on.
"The main con is that it can be difficult to attract high-level talent to Florida. We opened a small NYC studio in Soho last year. Winter Park will always be our base, but it’s nice to have a foot in New York as well."
Tell us a lesson you keep trying to learn, that you hope to master at some point.
"Someday, I hope to master the art of delegation. I often struggle with letting go, but it is the key to finding balance and moving the company forward."
What are the challenges of running a business with your husband? Do you struggle to “turn off” work — or, on the flip side, keep your personal life out of the office?
"Nathan and I have worked together in some way ever since we met 13 years ago (back then I was designing show posters for his band), but it probably took six years or so to really find our rhythm as married business partners. At this point, we can 'turn off' quite easily and sense when the other is not in the mood to talk about work at home. And we have always made a very strong point not to bring our personal life into the office. That isn’t always easy, and I’m sure we’ve slipped up many times, but I think it’s important for our staff to see us work together as business partners first."
What aspect of your path do you think has been the most motivational to other young women coming up through the ranks? How do you share that part of your experience with people?
"I like to think that our story is motivational because we are just two very real, normal people who figured it out as we went. We truly knew nothing about running a business. Initial Google searches included basics like: 'how to print a card' and 'how to ship a package.' We started exactly where anyone else would start who has a big dream but knows little else about launching a business, and we are proof that you really can figure it out and find answers. Back in 2009, while I was planning the company, I was blogging about every step of the way, and I still try to continue that openness on social media as much as possible."
How has your career and business changed since you had a baby? Do you find your ambition and goals have changed? Have your priorities shifted?
"I wouldn’t say that my ambitions or goals have changed for the business. If anything, they have only grown since I had my son. However, my priorities certainly have shifted. My family comes first. I no longer have the capacity to pull an all-nighter to hit a deadline or work all weekend on a new collection. I am forced, in a good way, to delegate and use my time at the office much more wisely in order to have as much time as possible with my family. My hope, and I think it is true, is that the business wouldn’t be affected by the changes in my personal life. It just forced me to work in a different way in order to keep the business growing at the same pace."
Being self-made means committing to self-care, too. How do you fuel and refresh yourself when shit really starts to get hard?
"I love alone time and small breaks to refresh. Sometimes I just need to step back from what I am doing, and it can be as simple as a glass of wine and an episode of Seinfeld to make me laugh that does the trick — anything that removes me from the situation. I find that I work better when I continually make sure to take lots of small mental breaks rather than burning out and trying to make up for it later."
Did you have any idea when you started Rifle that it would grow this big? You’ve been compared to Martha Stewart. Were you always ambitious? Or have you been surprised by Rifle’s success?
"Oh, I love Martha. That is a huge compliment whoever said that. I didn’t think it would get this big, but I always dreamed it would, if that makes sense. I would say yes to both being very ambitious but also continually being surprised by Rifle’s growth. Every time I walk into our warehouse buzzing with over 100 employees it shocks me, and I am floored by what we have built."
What’s your Self-Made Mantra for other women, no matter where they are in the process?
"Work harder than everyone else around you."
You recently hired another illustrator, so this is the first time the entire collection isn’t illustrated by just you. What did you look for when hiring someone for that role? How did it feel to let go of some of that creative control?
"For a long time I resisted getting help. Maybe in the beginning it was endearing that I painted every product but at a certain point it became concerning. And there was no way I could sustain it, as I also tried to cut down on my hours and spend time with my family. It was such a long time coming that it has felt so amazing to have the help.
"The person I hired actually applied to Rifle years ago. Their portfolio stood out, and I kept them in the back of my mind all these years. I wanted someone who both could illustrate and had traditional graphic design skills and the ability to concept. This person had all of that, so I reached out to them recently, and they came on board a little over a year ago. My creative team is also more involved with products in general whether it is illustration or simply design."
What are you generally doing at midnight?
"Working or watching something with Nathan (currently Twin Peaks)."
We know about the problems with the boys' club. What are some of the pitfalls of the girls' club?
"I think women often struggle with comparing ourselves to each other rather than supporting one another."
You started Rifle with $10,000, working out of your apartment above your in-laws’ garage. Do you miss being a company of two?
"I actually do not miss that era at all! It was incredibly hard, very long hours, and lots of tears. I love having our Rifle team to lean on. I suppose if there is anything to miss about it it would be the thrill of the unknown and the lessons that we learned daily about running a business and working together. I would never trade the experience, but I am much happier on the other side of it."