In this Goulet Q&A episode, Brian answers 10 questions for our 10th anniversary, which we count from the day we listed our first fountain pen related products on November 17th, 2009. Enjoy!

1) Allen T- Facebook (1:33)

What is one hurdle that seemed overwhelmingly daunting, but in fact turned out to be very simple?

  • hiring, for sure
  • Rachel and I did NOT set out to build a big company, hiring wasn’t even on our radar
  • it was terrifying, and we resisted it, had to hard shift to accept that we needed to do it
  • Leading people is not complicated, it’s just hard, and we’ve been learning and are still learning that every day
  • Dave Ramsey: Every leader has a pile of mistakes they’ve made, you just want to be on top of that pile instead of under it!

2) Gary L- Facebook (4:17)

What is the most surprising thing that happened during ten years of growth that you never would have thought of, or foresaw happening?

  • our strong company culture
  • it definitely hasn’t happened by accident, we have been very intentional about our focus on it
  • awards in our local city and now nationally for being a great place to work
  • it was honestly not something we had any awareness of when we started out, we just thought we’d be a mom and pop working out of our house
  • we largely have just done things we thought were right, very much of a servant leadership mentality
  • we had no perspective on the fact that this wasn’t how most businesses operated
  • we’ve now come to understand why, because it’s a TON of time, intention, and work to build (and keep) a strong, healthy culture
  • the benefits are so worth it, it’s amazing to get to enjoy coming to work each day, being surrounded by others who enjoy (and appreciate) the work environment, I feel so fortunate

3) bradthebear1- Instagram (7:28)

What’s a business/owner activity that you fear that you’ll have to give up as Goulet Pens expands?

  • fear is a strong word, I personally really work to avoid making decisions out of fear
  • but something I certainly realize and acknowledge has to go away are the 1-on-1 personal touches, by me or others as we grow
  • we strive to be able to grow but never feel like we’ve grown, in your eyes
  • there are only 24 hours in a day, and I could easily drown in 1-on-1 interactions to the detriment of the most impactful things I can do as a leader of this company
  • I end up saying no more than I say yes, just because of limitations of time
  • handwritten notes are good example of this, we did them for over 9 years, and they evolved to be simpler and spread across our whole team before we ultimately stopped them
  • to sum it up, it’s the personal touches…we’re not going to give them up in principle, but we will have to evolve what they look like so that they’re still meaningful yet practical

4) Arjan D- Facebook (11:36)

After 10 years, have you seen it all or are there still things that can keep you awake at night

  • we definitely haven’t seen it all, I barely feel like we’ve seen anything
  • there is so much that’s changing in the e-commerce/retail landscape, we have a lot to keep up with
  • Economic nexus (sales tax) is a perfect example, that’s a major tax regulation change that happened last year that’s greatly impacted our business/your costs
  • there will be another recession, that will have unforeseen impacts that we’ll have to navigate since we founded in the wake of the last one, we haven’t had to ride through one start-to-finish yet
  • there will continue to be new challenges, always
  • if I was losing sleep over this, I’d probably have gotten out of this by now, it’d just be too much stress
  • I love it though, and don’t ever lose a night’s sleep because I’m worried about the business, thankfully
  • I handle the stress well naturally, and take each challenge as it comes

5) Elizabeth K- Facebook (20:36)

What are the biggest changes in the market in the last 10 years? In pens or inks?

  • Dept of Education not requiring cursive in schools, sure to have an impact long-term on writing interest
  • the rise of mobile, in terms of people’s lives, shopping habits, use of pens, surely has had an impact
  • Social media, huge impact on the pen world!
  • 10 years ago it was a couple of forums and message boards, some blogs
  • Now it’s more of those, plus all major social media platforms with many sub-communities around pens and writing, it’s wonderful!
  • videos, game changer for education
  • inks have exploded in color and property offering
  • pens have gone much more the way of special editions and seasonals, more small batch/limited runs
  • more youth and diversity in the pen world now than 10 years ago, which makes sense due to more accessibility to all

6) Kent P- Facebook (37:54)

If you could offer advice to the fountain pen manufacturers of the world, what would it be?

  • I have the utmost respect for pen manufacturers, it’s NOT an easy job for any of them
  • I definitely don’t think I know best, I’m humbled when I see the complexity of what they do
  • my advice to them would be to lean in to the accessibility and engagement of the pen community
  • there are more tools than ever to be in touch, create a loyal and engaged following, and learn from your customers directly
  • this has been a huge, expensive barrier in the past and largely has come crashing down with social media
  • if manufacturers posted content, asked for feedback, told their stories and shared their passions, they’d have a very receptive audience
  • the first pen manufacturer that really does this really well, showing the human side of the business (and not just using it as another “broadcasting” platform) will dominate the industry, and no one’s yet to do this well
  • it’s nuanced, it would require vision, thoughtfulness, risk, and dedication, but it’s there for anyone who wants it

7) Carol V- Facebook (45:32)

What has been the key to keeping your business feeling so personalized and customer friendly… as familiar as if were a brick and mortar at the end of the street. I think it is the Goulet Pen video content that contributes to the feeling of “inviting a friend named Brian, to stop by several times a week, and talk fountain pens”.

  • It’s all in the approach and methodology/principle behind it, less about the mechanics
  • our purpose is “To prove that business can be personal.”
  • this can look and has looked like a lot of different things over 10 years
  • our approach will change and evolve, just as customer sentiment and buying/shopping/service needs evolve
  • our approach has been from early on to be authentic to who we are, show that we’re human, and let that humanness lead what we do
  • it’s evolved into strong company culture, superb vendor relations, exemplary customer service
  • when we care, show that, and connect with others in ways that make sense and are practical given the resources available today, we’re living out this purpose

8) ayesha_0222- Instagram (51:24)

We know the backstory of Goulet Pens, but why pens? Why not… wood candle stands?

  • my original vision was wood stuff, no question
  • I made wood pens, wine bottle stoppers, keychains, VT licensed products, you name it, even considered writing boxes
  • I wanted to do a bunch of different things out of wood, but there was definitely just something about pens that jumped out at me
  • my parents bought a laser engraver around the time I was getting into pen making, which worked out to be pretty symbiotic
  • we brainstormed all kinds of random ideas personalizing wood items
  • Rachel jokes about one particular session where we just brain dumped the most random wood/engraved stuff
  • we really jumped the shark when we thought of personalized wood pet urns, so candle sticks certainly would have been on the table
  • largely it came down to serendipity, I felt called/drawn to pens
  • they were fast enough to make where I really felt like I was producing something tangible
  • I used pens, and loved the tactile nature of them
  • Really I just felt a calling, and in hindsight it was just meant to be for me…had I felt that with candle stick holders, I may have done them!

9) verooo1- Instagram (59:11)

How did you manage to stand out from all the other fountain pen retailer companies?

  • I had little perspective on the pen industry as a whole when I started out, mainly because I was new to it all
  • Not knowing anything, everything I learned was from online, talking to the pen community
  • I couldn’t find a single human, a single face of pretty much anyone in the pen industry online
  • it was much more common for people to use their website almost as a mask, with a company name, logo, avatar or whatever with a lot of “we” language (even if they were just a one person operation!)
  • certainly no one was producing educational content regularly, showing themselves and connecting as a human
  • I wanted this so bad as someone new to it all, and saw that creating this would be truly unique
  • I emulated what I saw in another industry, Gary Vaynerchuk with WineLibrary.com
  • And the rest is history, we’ve produced thousands of pieces of content on pens, and that’s been one of the things that have made us stand out the most
  • but ultimately, it’s us as people…even if everyone else was doing similar tactics, no one can ever clone the people we have here at our company, and we were intentional about showing ourselves and who we are as humans

10) @RadioDawson- Twitter (1:07:40)

How have your ideas about running a business (all aspects, including company culture, etc) changed or evolved over the last 10 years? -After seeing the fountain pen world evolve through the digital revolution, what are your predictions for the next decade? How will pens change?

  • I’ve changed SO much about what running a business means over ten years, almost everything
  • basically, everything except our core values, purpose and mission can and likely will change
  • even these can change, with a lot, lot of intentionality and thoughtfulness
  • basically we’ve just gotten smarter, more aware, more experienced…we were 25 when we started, very much diving in with both feet, we had everything to learn
  • it’s not unlike a family…when you date vs marriage vs kids, navigating health issues, crises, job changes etc, how you operate your family can change wildly and you’re figuring things out as you grow, but your values are what you lean on through it all
  • I have no idea how reliably I could predict what will happen in the next decade in the pen world
  • 10 years ago, everyone thought the pen industry was going to shrivel up and die, and they had every reason to
  • I think there will be a recession that will tumble some companies, others will grow and thrive as passion continues to build for niche, analog tools like pens
  • fundamentally I don’t foresee any obvious changes, but I do see more bespoke, boutique, and small batch continuing as a trend
  • I for one am not planning to go anywhere, I will continue to do my part to grow this industry

QOTW: What’s been the most meaningful or memorable thing Goulet Pens has done for you in our 10 years? (1:16:12)

Write On,
Brian Goulet