Chairgami Founder Zachary Rotholz ('11) Talks Business With CEID Student Innovators

After making a success from the singular and deceptively simple idea of folding cardboard into furniture, Chairigami founder - and former Mechanical Engineering student - Zachary Rotholz is packing up his New Haven storefront and moving the business entirely online.

Rotholz will be attending the graduate design program at Stanford University in September. Before moving on, though, he met with students from the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design summer fellowship at his Whitney Avenue store to talk about the ins and outs of turning a good idea into a thriving business. 

 The students in the CEID fellowship certainly have no dearth of good ideas, but Rotholz cautioned that good ideas alone don't make a successful business.

"Your designs can be great, but if you're not a person who wants to talk to people about it," he said, you'll have a tough go at getting your business off the ground. And, indeed, Rotholz has fun talking about his furniture. He hung from a cardboard bunkbed to demonstrate its strength, showed off the large Lego-like blocks that kids can use to build forts and gave a quick explanation of how he makes prototypes of his creations. 

College students looking to furnish their dorm rooms were his first target audience. But his products proved a little pricey for that market. He found his niche at tradeshows, where buyers were interested in the novelty of the designs and the conversations that they sparked. It's hard to predict who will be interested in cardboard furniture; a clergyman who travels a lot of his work recently bought a cardboard pulpit from Rotholz.

Rotholz said the move to Stanford will give him the chance to collaborate with other folks, a welcome change after going it alone for most of Charigami's history. It won't likely have much impact on sales. Only about 10 percent of his sales come from the storefront. 

"It's basically my studio, to show people what I'm doing," he said. Most of his business is done online or at tradeshows.