Mariam Naficy, ’91 CEO
San Francisco, CA
Mariam Naficy is the founder and CEO of Minted.com, a website that crowd-sources design for stationery and paper goods. Mariam’s previous venture, the beauty retailer, Eve.com was acquired by LVMH’s Sephora.
What is Minted? And how does it work?
Minted crowd-sources stationery designs from online competitions; then users in the community tell us which ones to print and sell. We print holiday cards, wedding invitations, birth announcements—all the stationery products that celebrate the occasions of people’s lives. This holiday season we printed photo calendars and we plan to branch into other kinds of printed materials, as well. Our goal is to become the most commercially-successful design community on the web.
What’s your role here as CEO?
I spend much of my time managing people. Since we’re trying to build a consumer brand, I also focus a lot on brand management—both the creative expression of the brand and the merchandising and marketing of the brand. And I focus on the community from which we source design.
Did you always have an interest in design?
No. I didn’t take any art classes at Williams and I deeply regret that! I’ve always been the consummate shopper, though. This will probably horrify all the academics out there but in high school, I spent a lot of time at the mall. I’ve always appreciated great design, but more as a consumer than as someone very studied in art and design.
What’s something about your job that excites you?
One thing that really energizes me is that what we’re doing is not just about making money. We’re giving people an opportunity to make themselves and their designs known. They don’t have to live in New York City or hold a design degree from Parsons. We have some successful designers who are self-taught, who didn’t have the money to go to design school, or who live in isolated areas and can’t easily collaborate with other designers. What they find on Minted is that there’s a community where they can grow professionally. Our purpose is much broader than making a profit. I absolutely love what I do and I hope every Williams grad ends up loving what they do.
The ability to raise capital to create a new American brand is such a privilege. I feel so lucky to be able to do that.
Where did the idea for Minted come from?
I saw what was happening in media, how people were collaborating online to produce content that was better than one individual could produce singlehandedly. Then I saw Threadless.com, a t-shirt company based on design competitions. I felt that if you could do it on fabric, you could do even more on paper. I really buy into the notion of the wisdom of the crowd.
What was your major at Williams?
Political Economy. My mom was an English major at Berkley and she told me not to major in English because I wouldn’t be able to get a job very easily. So while I loved English and psychology and music, I majored in political economy for practical reasons. My mom was right in that I ended up with a lot of good business job opportunities after school; and it pushed me in an area where I probably needed some pushing—the quantitative stuff.
What did you learn from your first job?
After Williams I was an analyst at Goldman Sachs, and that taught me what quality meant. The analyst program is intense, like boot camp. They set the bar really high. I didn’t love finance, though, and I knew I would never be successful in finance. What I did enjoy was the company of my colleagues and also the recruiting process. I learned a lot about recruiting and management at Goldman Sachs.
What did Williams give you that has helped you build a great career?
It’s became clearer over time, particularly when I interview people for jobs, that people from Williams know how to think. I’m not sure exactly what about the experience taught me how to think, but it happened. Maybe it was the analytics. Maybe it was just understanding frameworks for breaking problems down. And also to write – I learned to write at Williams.
How is Williams still a part of your life?
One of the biggest takeaways is my husband. We have this incredible set of shared friends, memories, and values—particularly values around education. It’s very grounding. When I think about what is really important to me today—friendships, the pursuit of intellectual growth, a value for learning—these things all come from the Williams experience.