Sam Franklin is a busy, busy man. The 22-year-old entrepreneur has been on leave of absence from Washington University in St. Louis for the past year while building up his online invitation business, Greenvelope.com.
“I tried doing the business and school for a while,” says Franklin, who was majoring in entrepreneurship and marketing. “It was pretty crazy trying to balance a full-time job and the workload at a top university.”
Four years ago, at the age of 18, he couldn’t believe that 1.2 million couples would use Evite, arguably the most popular invitation website, for their wedding invitations despite the advertisements that appear throughout the user experience.
“I wanted to create a service without ads where people would create an elegant experience that really emulated opening the paper envelope,” Franklin says.
So he got to work.
“It was my first company and first online business endeavor,” he says. There was “a big learning curve in working with developers, in finding out what I wanted took longer than I thought.”
It took more than a year of design and coding, but at the beginning of 2010 Franklin launched Greenvelope. And he hasn’t looked back.
“Business is going really well,” he says. “We’re growing pretty significantly every month. It’s an exciting time.”
The company currently consists of Franklin, a full-time programmer, and a stable of contract developers across the world, people he found through online freelance services.
When he started Greenvelope, which he touted as an elegant, environmentally friendly alternative to paper invitations, he didn’t have a plan or structured goals.
“This is going to be a fun kind of project and I just want to make it as big as I can,” he says he thought at the time. “I’ve matured in my thinking since I started four years ago.”
With more defined goals and a structured plan, “so far it’s definitely in line with my expectations,” he says. “The sky’s really the limit with the Internet and how many people you can reach.”
The environmental angle to Greenvelope is one Franklin takes personally. Having grown up on Mercer Island and spending as much time as possible in the outdoors, he says he is passionate about protecting the earth. Each quarter, he gives a percentage of his revenue to the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which promotes conservation and land preservation efforts between the Puget Sound and Central Washington.
“That’s the organization that seemed really aligned with my mission,” Franklin says.
Many of his customers see the electronic invites the same way.
“A lot of people have a green-themed Bar or Bat Mitzvah,” he says. “A lot of kids are excited about going green.”
Of course, saving on the costs of printing and postage are a big draw as well.
Right now, Franklin is busy on the design front. In addition to implementing a program in which he’ll be working with independent designers for the invites, early next year Greenvelope will expand from its current offering of approximately 150 templates to nearly 500. That includes offering a larger palette of events from which to choose, such as bridal showers, engagement parties and graduations.
“The system is already built, so a lot of [the work is] getting these new designs into the system,” Franklin says. “That’s how we’re really going to expand.”
So the question, then, is given his education from getting his hands dirty, will he go back to college?
Maybe at some point, but “there’s a lot of schools of thought that entrepreneurs can’t really learn in the classroom,” he says. “I know personally that I learned so much from a variety of things, from accounting to legal.”
Though Franklin has his real-world entrepreneurial experience, “I also think school was valuable for me. I wouldn’t say it’s not worth going to school,” he adds. “I think the perfect combination is to go to those couple of years of school, make those connections, and get the experience. Then, if you have the opportunity, go off and continue to do your own thing.”