For the cofounders of Cambridge startup LovePop, working above a nightclub near Faneuil Hall is pure luxury.
Until May, Wombi Rose and John Wise were prototyping and producing their 3-D pop-up greeting cards in a basement in Harvard Square. Next thing they knew, they were sharing TechStars’s accelerator program workspace with 11 other Boston companies.
Now, LovePop’s team of architects, designers, engineers, and Web developers have a space buzzing with laser cutters, computers, and plenty of unbridled energy, and work in what Wise calls “two-week sprints” to create their breathtakingly intricate and whimsical card collections.
LovePop is finding its niche — and getting national attention: Wise, 28, and Rose, 29, appeared on Shark Tank on Dec. 11. The episode featured cards that the LovePop team designed specifically for the investors, such as a New York City skyline and a sports car. Ultimately, Rose and Wise landed an offer of $300,000 for 15 percent of their company.
Filming the episode reminded the pair why they founded LovePop in the first place. “You’re in the middle of essentially explaining what you pour all of your time and energy and passion into,” says Rose. “And that, I think, is the most powerful part of the experience . . . because now we have this opportunity to share [the LovePop] experience with the whole nation.”
Rose and Wise are businessmen (both have master’s degrees from Harvard Business School), but they are craftsmen as well, having met 10 years ago as undergrads at Webb Institute in New York, where they studied naval architecture and marine engineering.
Years later, on a trip to Vietnam during their time at Harvard, the two became fascinated with Kirigami, an art form where 3-D structures are created from sliced paper.
“We’re both engineers, and I’m a bit of an artist as well, and we just thought, wow, this is the coolest medium,” says Rose. “We got really excited about the world of possibilities and all the different things we could make out of it.”
With the help of Vietnamese architect Ha Trinh Quoc Bao, Wise opened his own production facility in Da Nang and assembled a workforce of local craftspeople. Bao now directs the team that churns out 20,000 to 40,000 cards a month. LovePop cards are priced from $8 to $13, and sold online (www.lovepopcards.com), as well as at kiosks in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, South Station, Natick Mall, and the Shops at Prudential Center.
Going into the greeting card industry may seem a far cry from their days in shipyards, but to Rose and Wise, the transition was easy.
“The way we design these cards is actually the same way that you design a ship; because you have all the transverse structures and all the longitudinals, and a ship’s grid structure is built in the exact same slices as our cards,” explains Rose.
And like architecture, LovePop cards feel like miniature structures with permanence. People often buy them as decorations, or as gifts in themselves.
“I think what’s the coolest is when veterans come by, and they love the ships,” says Helen Assefaw, a sales associate for LovePop’s Faneuil Hall kiosk. “They’ll get them just as decorations. . . . It’s great to see how people can really connect to something.”
Assefaw’s favorite LovePop features Santa lounging in a hammock between two palm trees. “I’m from [Eritrea],” says Assefaw, who sees the cards as an easy gift for loved ones around the world. “My family’s from there, and this would be perfect for my grandparents.”
It is the idea of connection, not occasion, that is essential to LovePop’s philosophy.
“All day long, you have all these opportunities to tell somebody something nice, something special, and when you do that, that really lifts someone up in their day,” says Rose. “What we want to do is give people the opportunity to do that more often, and in more ways
In fact, the emotional aspect of card-giving is what compelled Rose and Wise to pursue LovePop full time.
“Building boats and big architecture is really exciting and cool, and you create beautiful things, but there is something very real about the stories that we hear about how people are using these cards to connect with people that they love,” says Wise. “Knowing very directly that we’re playing a part in that, that we have a hand in that, is really powerful.”
Perhaps the best part about a LovePop card is its element of surprise. Unassumingly flat when closed, the creations bloom, elaborately and unexpectedly, as they are opened. Sometimes, the recipient’s reaction can be unexpected as well.
“I gave my mom our whale card, with a mama whale and baby whale inside,” Wise remembers. “My sister was like, ‘Oh, so you’re calling Mom a whale?’ ” For a moment Wise seems transported back to his family tableau. He shakes his head fondly and smiles. “That one backfired.”
Mallory Abreu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.