Slim Fold has been the force behind the world’s thinnest, lightest, and strongest slim wallets and bags, designed and made in Northern California. The creator, Dave Zuverink and his team have launched three successful Kickstarter campaigns, which have collectively raised over $500,000. In this interview, Dave shares how to stay creative and design products that people want and love.
How did you develop your artistic mind?
I was always interested in making things and made products from a very young age. I started off as an undergraduate as a physics major, intending to study mechanical engineering. During this time, I did an informational interview with the architect, who introduced me to the discipline of industrial design. I was always more interested in how things worked—and worked with people. This led me to study human factors, a subdiscipline of industrial design. It is more focused on the way people use things and less about the way they look aesthetically. I ended up finishing up at San Jose State with a master’s in human factors.
How has your childhood influenced the work you do?
My parents always gave me the freedom to explore things that I wanted to. We lived in Manhattan, and I remember going to a lot of museums on a regular basis. They were very supportive of the things that I wanted to do.
I was into skateboarding and wanted to build a ramp in the backyard. They said I could build the ramp. I don’t think they knew what they were getting into, because I drew up the plans for the ramp, ordered all the materials from my savings, and a big delivery truck showed up with pallets of sheet plywood. We ended up building a 28-foot-long, 4-feet-high, 16-feet-wide half pipe in the side yard. Luckily, I built it with screws.
What led you to create Slim Fold?
I had the problem of not being able to find a wallet that was thin enough for me. Going back into my model-making, industrial-design roots, I started sketching and experimenting with Tyvek as a material. When I investigated the process that it would take to actually make one at high enough quality that I would want it, I had to make thousands of them. I decided to do it, and that led to me having thousands of wallets.
Back then there wasn’t an e-commerce ecosystem like there is today. If you came up with an idea for a product, there wasn’t necessarily as direct of a path to make it or to sell it. We were just starting to enter an era where it was possible for a person by themselves to completely produce a product. I happened to already have training in product design and development, but even before that, you couldn’t just send a digital file to someone and have something physical comeback that was holdable.
How are you currently getting feedback from your customers?
I do get customer feedback at every phase of the product-development cycle, all the way to asking what I should make. There are two general phases—making the right thing and then making the thing right. Both are critically important. If you make the wrong thing, nobody cares.
Sometimes we will do a survey. If I have a few potential ideas, I will simply email my customers and say, “What should I make next?” and give them those ideas while making room for them to list their ideas. I answer some of the customer service emails daily, especially ones that have product suggestions. Then, as a product is developed, we will pose a question to either customers who have given us feedback in the past or to people asking for a product for whom we have something in development. It draws back to my user research background at Adobe where I was conducting interviews with people about what their needs were and what problems they had.
“There are two general phases—making the right thing and then making the thing right. Both are critically important.”
How do you balance two conflicting ideas of making what customers want and the Steve Jobs way of thinking that customers don’t really know what they want?
There two elements at play. One is the balance of solving problems as opposed to building for this specific thing that someone wants. The other is the balance between art and design. The key is to really listen to what the pain point is behind what they are asking for. This is often the root of the misunderstanding. You do not want to take that to the extreme and say, “People don’t know what they want, so I’m just going to give them what’s best for them.” It does not give the customer as much credit as they deserve. It is better is to acknowledge the reality of their pain and try to understand every aspect of it. Then, when you come back with a potential solution, you can see what their reaction is to it. If you did a good job, they are going to put together that your solution solves their pain.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
There is a lot of interest in people doing their own thing with e-commerce. I am really excited about that opportunity. The way that I did it was to maintain my career long after the business was growing and sustainable. It is a path a lot of people don’t necessarily consider. They feel like they have to do one or the other. You don’t have to quit your day job, jump off a cliff, and try to build an airplane on the way down. If you can keep your job, invest your time and a bit of money into your side project, you essentially become your own patron, and it takes the pressure off you.
This article originally appeared in Issue 11.2 “Device”