After graduating in 2012 with a BFA in Design, Sarah Rubenstein chose to stick to the one thing that always brought her joy: shopping. Retail and design go hand-in-hand, as Sarah describes, “Shopping is everything from getting a beautiful email in my inbox, to the design of the packaging when the product arrives at my door.”
Sarah landed her first design job after graduation at the online luxury shopping network, RueLaLa. “I loved it because I got to work on a team of creatives from all different backgrounds,” shares Sarah. “Being young and still trying to figure life out, I felt I needed this first job before I could even think about starting my own business.”
After a few years, Sarah started her second job at the menswear start-up, Blank Label. “I was hired to be a designer for marketing, but ended up getting to know all the other facets of the business, such as customer service, sales, operations, and finance," she says. While working full time and learning these skills in her day job, she and her brother Lee started building their own business on the side called ArtSnacks.
ArtSnacks is a subscription box of unique, high-quality art supplies. Every month, subscribers discover new products, limited-edition tools, exclusive supplies, and useful techniques through the service. Sara and Lee encourage subscribers to create an original piece using only the supplies in their monthly box, and share it with the ArtSnacks Community as part of the #ArtSnacksChallenge.
Two years in, Sarah and Lee took a huge professional risk. They quit their desk jobs to pursue ArtSnacks full time. After several years, the company continues to grow and has proven that taking risks can be worth it.
Recently, the company launched two quarterly subscription boxes: LetteringSnacks and WatercolorSnacks. Each comes with an online class, hosted by a professional artist who walks the artist through how to use the products, and a watercolor or hand lettering project.
The user can even interact with ArtSnacks on mobile with the community app ArtSnacks Mix. The app encourages users to post artwork, get feedback, meet like-minded creatives, and interact with the ArtSnacks team. Additionally, the company provides and manages an online store that sells individual boxes or supplies.
As for Sarah, she was the driving creative force behind ArtSnacks. Her graphic design background shaped the ArtSnacks brand. “My business partner and brother, Lee, helped me with the naming. But the rest of the brand was up to me—designing the logo, picking the color scheme, and writing the voice of the brand," she explains.
Besides branding, another key component of graphic design that shaped the business was problem solving. Starting any business poses specific problems, and Sarah stayed ahead of them from the start. “I asked myself many questions: What’s the customer's life cycle once they become an ArtSnacks subscriber? What if someone’s box gets lost in the mail? What kind of content do artists want to watch on Instagram Stories? We solved these problems with drawing diagrams on whiteboards, late-night phone calls, and constant feedback from our customers."
The initial planning and insight have paid off. While Sarah still maintains administrative and business duties with her brother, she is a graphic designer first. “I get to create something new almost every day. Sometimes, I’ll spend my morning designing emails, then after lunch, I’ll set up my photo studio to take some product shots. I do spend a lot of time in Google Spreadsheets, but I usually have Photoshop open at the same time.”
Sarah’s Top 6 for Starting a Business
As a design student at Lesley's College of Art and Design, Sarah had never thought about nor had any interest in starting her own business. However, things changed as she began working for online businesses and gaining professional experience. Her advice to students now? “It is totally okay to change your mind. If you’re unhappy with something, or have that gut feeling, listen to it," she says.
Here are Sarah's top 6 pieces of advice for students who are thinking about starting a business.
- Tell your friends about your business idea. Not only will they give you honest feedback, but they will also hold you accountable to make it happen.
- Define what makes your business unique. This will help you stand out from your competition.
- Get on social media. Word travels fast on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
- Start your business now. There’s never been a better time to build something out of nothing. When you're in school, you have resources and people to ask for help.
- Don't wait until it's perfect. Your idea shouldn’t be perfect from the start, it just has to work. Building a business is a process, so you’re bound to hit some obstacles and make mistakes along the way.
- Seek help from others. Find someone to proofread your website. Ask someone to test your product. Put together an advisory board for guidance. The help you receive from other people is invaluable.
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