Sandy Bledsoe is the Dungeon Master—his actual title—at Coral Sword, Houston's premier board game Twitch stream specialty coffee bar. He's also the co-inventor of a wallet that may just be the perfect solution for coffee professionals. Called the Wallaby, it's capable of carrying your cards, some cash, a cupping spoon, and houses a customizable notebook for all of your cupping notes, coffee musings, and—for retail managers—milk orders.
Bledsoe and business partner Alex Pagliere launched a Kickstarter campaign this month and are halfway through funding the campaign with over $11,000 pledged as of press time. Just $15 will get you two Joeys, and $22 will get you two Wallabies right now on Kickstarter. We spoke with Bledsoe digitally to learn more about the project.
How did this project get started? Who is involved?
Our first product, The Wallaby, was born in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle four years ago while I was visiting my dear friend (and now business partner) Alex Pagliere. I had been using the back pocket of a Moleskine notebook as my wallet, but the pocket had come apart and my stuff kept falling out. I was fed up. I turned to Alex and said something like, “Why can't the pocket in this thing actually hold my stuff?” He's a design person, so he jumped up and started carving up a cereal box with his X-Acto knife, and then we stapled in the guts of my cannibalized Moleskine. That cereal box prototype was a hit when I showed it to people; some friends even tried to buy it from me. That’s really how The Wallaby was born.
How has the product evolved over the years?
The overall design hasn't changed very much since the original cereal box prototype, though we replaced the original name “CR Brand Signature Pocketbook Wallet” with “Wallaby”. We retired the X-acto knife and started die cutting the covers, which are now made from a fiber-reinforced paper that behaves and wears a lot like leather. The paper that we selected for the interior pages is the right balance between bleed-resistance and thickness so you can actually use both sides of the page but without unnecessary bulk. We use a faint dot grid pattern that’s really the best of lined, grid and blank paper. We’ve focused on elegance, toughness, and utilitarianism. You could call it concise—more with less. We’ve also introduced a smaller size, called The Joey, which is still a wallet and a notebook, but slightly smaller than a deck of playing cards. Perhaps the most exciting change we’ve made recently is an environmental partnership that allows us to plant a tree for every notebook that we sell.
Tell me more about the Kickstarter campaign.
Alex and I have had other jobs and other businesses over the years that have kept us from really focusing on CR Brand. We'd talk frequently about getting things rolling, but it wasn't until Hunter Pence, my business partner at Coral Sword, invited the business and marketing wizard Gary Vaynerchuk onto our Twitch stream, where Hunter brought the product to Gary's attention. It was actually after getting some positive feedback from them that I called Alex and said “We HAVE to do this!” The next day I was talking at the cafe with a customer named Van, who happened to be a cinematographer and social marketer, and he jumped at the opportunity to work with us to get a Kickstarter campaign off the ground. The campaign ends at the end of October and folks can expect to have their rewards before the end of the year. We’re hoping to raise $25,000, build up our e-mail newsletter, and help some people get organized in their lives through our product.
You're the Dungeon Master at Coral Sword—what does that entail?
Coral Sword is (to my knowledge) the first board game cafe in Houston. We serve coffee, tea, beer, wine, and some simple gamer grub. We have a library of free-to-play board games, with titles like Battleship, Connect Four, Catan and Cards Against Humanity, and many many more. I am blessed with wonderful business partners Hunter and Alexis Pence, Ming Chen, and Greenway Coffee. On the worst days at work I unclog toilets and solve problems like “why is _______ broken/leaking/missing.” On the best days I get to make guests and staff feel recognized and special, and I get to watch people make wonderful memories in the cafe with people that they care about. My favorite thing about the service industry has always been the tremendous power that we have to make someone's day. I want to say it was David Schomer (quoting Randy Pausch) who introduced me to the idea that, “Experience is what you get when you don't get what you expected.” I think of my job (in any environment really) as constantly trying to improve the experience of everyone involved.
Have you used your notebook for coffee purposes?
First of all, everything I do is for coffee purposes (lol). Maxwell Mooney was the first person to use our product for cupping notes while green buying. But David Buehrer was the first person to realize you can use a Wallaby to hold a cupping spoon while you write cupping notes. Several folks have also used a Wallaby to journal and take notes at origin, but also just while traveling in general. In fact, that has been one of the happiest surprises since undertaking this project—seeing the clever and amazing ways that people use our creation has been inspiring.
What's next for CR Brand?
The Wallaby and The Joey serve a pretty awesome community of people, who (like ourselves) are focused on self-reflection and self-improvement, as well as documenting the many splendors of life. We had no idea what these folks would do with our products, but now we get to watch people hack and modify them, and I love hearing things like “I use this to take notes in my EMT class” or “I use this to practice Katakana.” We want to continue nurturing and listening to that community and seeing what people do with our products and what they use our products to achieve. I’m turning 35 this first week of October. The business started as an open excuse to stay close with a good friend as we grew older and grew physically apart. The possibility that what we’ve created might help someone else do something so meaningful in their own life is incredible. AND we get to plant trees because of it? Come on.
Photos courtesy Sandy Bledsoe.