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I’m a serial to-do list maker. I have digital sticky notes on my desktop and handwritten Post-its and random scraps of paper all over my actual desk. It can be a bit overwhelming—not to mention wasteful when I end up with piles of paper destined, eventually, for the trash or recycling bin.
I know I’m not alone: 3M manufactures more than 50 billion sticky notes each year.
That's only $1 per issue!
Anthony Franco had an idea to make those little pieces of paper reusable and more effective. The self-proclaimed “serial tech entrepreneur” had already started and sold four Colorado companies, including, most recently, EffectiveUI, a user experience agency. After running a meeting for C-level executives, a saleswoman approached Franco and shared that she thought many of the conclusions the group had reached had been wrong, but she’d been uncomfortable speaking up in the room. “I set out to solve her problem,” Franco says.
First, he tried an app, but no one on his team at EffectiveUI used it. So, he went back to basics. “When the real work gets done in a meeting, what do we use? We use whiteboards and Post-it Notes. It changed the way we collaborated in a big way,” he says. “The game-changing idea was you take it off the wall, carve it up, and give everyone their own personal whiteboard to do their own personal thinking. It eliminates groupthink and the requirement of speaking up. There’s something about this temporary, ephemeral nature of dry erase and it being personal.”
The design spurred him to launch M.C. Squares in 2016. The Thornton company’s first product was a tablet—basically, a handheld dry-erase board for classrooms. Teachers would hand them out, allow the students to work individually, and then have them connect their work magnetically to a larger whiteboard at the front of the room. It allowed for solo creative thinking and team achievement, Franco says, in the same way he’d noticed in the boardroom. A study done in collaboration with the University of Denver backed up his suppositions: Using the tablets improved students’ overall test scores by 40 percent.
In late 2018, M.C. Squares launched its first consumer product: reusable sticky notes. The product lineup has exploded since then, with calendars, weekly planners, whiteboard notepads, and other office essentials, all of which can be reused up to 2,000 times. They stick to any shiny surface (and my office door) sans glue and without leaving ugly marks. The key is a flexible BubbleBond micro-suction technology, for which the company holds a patent. That’s what sticks to your fridge or mirror, while the front is dry erase.
The best part, though, is you need a damp cloth or tissue to remove any text, so an accidental swipe of the arm doesn’t make your hard work disappear. That’s courtesy of M.C. Squares’ “Tackie” markers, which are made with wet-erase ink and available in a rainbow of colors and various thicknesses. You can also scan your notes using an app, making them easy to save and send. (Prices start around $20 for six-packs of reusable sticky notes and $30 for planners and basic whiteboards.)
The brand is growing 300 percent year-over-year, and its revenue approached $3 million last year. Two appearances on Shark Tank and a deal with shark Kevin O’Leary didn’t hurt the bottom line either. (During the first show, Franco wore a very on-brand, sticky note-themed suit jacket.) “It established our brand as a credible brand,” Franco says of the experience.
Made-in-Colorado fans will be happy to know that all of M.C. Squares products are manufactured at its wind-powered factory in Thornton. Since its founding, the company says it has saved more than two billion sticky notes from landfills. (Franco estimates that a six-pack of reusable notes replaces 12,000 paper sticky notes.) The company’s other environmental initiatives include planting trees in conjunction with Trees for the Future and switching to using reusable zippered bags as packaging.
Recently, M.C. Squares has shifted its focus to lifestyle needs—products that fit in a living room or kitchen or bedroom, where work is actually happening these days. New additions include “Today is the Day” daily planners and meal, fitness, and grocery planners. “We’re thinking very deeply now about how do you organize your life with our reusable products? How do you organize your family? How do you organize your meals? How do you organize your schedule? And do it in a way that feels like it belongs in your home,” Franco says. Expect trendy patterns and product bundles—more “fashionable” offerings—in the coming months. And by next year, you may even see the online-only brand in retail stores.
“People…want more out of the office supplies they’re buying. Something that is more premium, that fits in the way they want to work,” Franco says. “We’re answering the call.”