Vladimir Gendelman is the founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc. A leader in the professional presentation folders market, Company Folders has been able to compete against industry titans and become one of Inc. magazine’s 5000 fastest growing companies for three consecutive years. Gendelman has led Company Folders since 2003, bringing in clients such as DHL International, Penn State, Sony, and Walter Reed Medical Center.
We sat down with Gendelman to discuss how he founded Company Folders, how the company has grown to what it is today, and any advice he has for young entrepreneurs.
Where did the idea for Company Folders come from?
I have to give a little bit of prehistory in order to fully understand the idea. I grew up in the Soviet Union, and in the Soviet Union everything was owned by the government. There was no competition, and for that reason people pretty much had the same wallpaper. There might be five different kinds of wallpaper, but a few of them are horrible and the few good ones were not the ones people used, so every house you go to has the same wallpaper. The same goes for silverware, clothing, everything. You really had no way to express yourself or to really stand out.
Fast forward to when I came to America, and here there is a variety of everything. If we are talking about wallpaper, we are not talking about five – we are talking about thousands of different wallpapers. And if you do not like any of them, you can create your own. There is everything in America and in large quantities, and people express themselves however they want to.
Around then I was running a computer repair company. One of my clients assumed I could help him with finding presentation folders. I said “Of course, how hard could that be?” I started the research and it turned out that there really was not that big of a variety in the presentation folder market. There were four, six, maybe eight different die cuts and styles you could pick from. Most of them were white paper with three to four color processing. It kind of took me back to my Soviet Union childhood where I actually found something in America that does not have a variety.
Of course, the first thought is “They have to fix this,” they have to have a variety. The second thought was “Who is they?” And the third thought was “Well, why they and not you?” Why couldn’t I be “they?” So, I became “they!”
What has been the biggest challenge running Company Folders?
The challenge for me is always me. There is always something I do not know, and there is always something that I need to learn. There is always something I did not do right and learned from my own mistakes or others’ mistakes. I think it is truly important to always be aware of that because it is very easy to say “Oh well it is because of the economy.” No, it is not; it is because of the decisions that I made as the leader of the company, and those decisions turned out to be good or bad. There is no reason to cover that up. Obviously sometimes the economy plays into it, but at the end of the day it is my leadership. The more I learn the more I grow, and the more the company grows.
What sets Company Folders apart from its competitors?
What sets us apart is exactly why the company was set up to begin with. When I realized that there is no variety in folders, I decided to create a company that actually offers a large variety. Unlike any other company out there, we offer a bunch of different papers – more than 60 different papers as a standard. We offer hundreds of different die cuts (styles of folders.) We offer all the printing methods including four color process and PMS color printing. We do foil stamping, embossing and debossing. We offer an immense amount of coatings for the papers, so your presentation folder can be glossy or matte. We offer all sorts of embellishments, and we have the capability to show that in a very comprehensive way on our folder printing website so that people can actually understand it.
Arguably any other printing company can do that, but nobody can do that as effectively and efficiently as us because we have it as a standard. For somebody else it becomes a custom job which makes it double the price. We also offer lifetime warranties on our paper products, which nobody offers either.
How has Company Folders been able to grow at such a rapid pace?
We know what we are doing, and most importantly we know where we are going. We have an amazing team of people who are really good at what they do, and the product we produce is the best on the market. We also have an amazing customer experience. If you are shopping around, if you are looking at different companies and you compare Company Folders against somebody else, the impression you get up front is amazing. On top of that, when you get your product that is amazing, what do you do? You tell your friends, you come back and order more, and that is what helps us grow.
How has COVID-19 affected Company Folders?
Most of our products are for face-to-face interaction. Our sales went down to very close to nothing. I made the decision to keep all the good people I have, even if that meant I go into debt and lose money, because this was something that was outside of the norm. I felt that it was important for me to make sure my people have jobs and do not have to worry about their well-being. I know a lot of companies cut peoples’ salaries. I did not do that because I asked people to work and people worked; it is up to me to figure out how I am going to pay them. As long as they do their job and do it well, they should not have to worry about getting paid.
We did that and in return we produced a lot of really good work. We have done a lot of things through our website to increase the conversion rate, which means for the same amount of visitors we receive a larger amount of orders. And now when things are coming back our revenues are close to where they were before. Which means once people really start to get out there and order products, we should go through the roof and grow.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs trying to start their own businesses?
Ignorance is bliss. At a certain point when you know too much it is really hard to move forward. My advice would be: do it, and then figure out if it is worth it. Not with everything and not blindly, but if deep inside you feel you there is something you need to do, do not overthink it. Just go with it. The worst comes to worst, you figure out it is not going to work for whatever reason, you can just always come up with something else. It is inaction that kills everything.