» Online Retailer Spotlight: JetPens


JetPens founders: Adrian Mak, Lily Kim, and Shu Yao, in front of Stanford University’s main quad arch.

I’d like to take a moment to welcome JetPens into the Rhodia Drive Retailer Spotlight. JetPens specializes in hard to find Japanese pens and stationery supplies. (They also carry products from Exacompta, J. Herbin and Rhodia- including the new Webnotebook.) I, like many of my friends, have spent plenty of drool time (and cash!) poring over their glorious selections of brush pens, fountain pens, and gel pens- oh my!

When we selected JetPens for the latest Retailer Spotlight, I had a few questions for Shu Yao, one of the founders of JetPens:

How did JetPens get their start, and what was the inspiration behind it?

“My friends Adrian Mak, Lily Kim, and I were in our last quarter of study at Stanford University when we decided to start a company together.  We thought it would be fun to work for ourselves on something cool and challenging.  We searched for different business ideas, but chose Japanese pens and stationery products in the end, because there was a pretty big market need (our friends kept bugging us to bring back pens and pencils from Asia when we traveled there) while the products themselves seemed perfectly suitable for an e-commerce shop (they were compact and relatively light to ship).  Thereafter, we invested our savings into the mother corporation of JetPens, PCOW, Inc.; the name was inspired by Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow, which advises businesses to be remarkable in the same way a purple cow would stand out from the herd.”

What was the reasoning behind carrying predominately Japanese stationary supplies?

“In order to stand out from the herd of stationery companies here in the US, we needed to merchandise hard-to-find and yet highly sought-after products.  From our cultural background and previous visits in Asia, we learned that Japanese writing instruments, art supplies, and other stationery products were much more advanced in both form and function than their US counterparts.  Because of long history of writing and paper production, many Japanese manufacturers not only have perfected the science of making top-notch products but also continue to innovate year after year.  Some die-hard fans of these products didn’t have access to these products in the US, while others were just beginning to discover the best kept secrets of Japanese office supplies.  It was a no-brainer to primarily focus on imported Japanese pens and stationery supplies.”

At what point did you decide to start carrying paper products, and what made you choose to sell Rhodia?

“We started to carry paper product in the late summer of 2009, because our customers had been earnestly asking us to venture into this market for years.  Given that they already purchased their favorite pens from us, they would like to shop here for their favorite notebooks as well.  We brought in Rhodia products largely because, again, we listened to our customers’ requests.  Rhodia’s signature cover design and Clairfontaine’s paper quality have won many lovers of these notepads.  Before we started selling Rhodia products, I had already tried out a 3” X 4” orange color Rhodia notepad for myself.  I loved two facts about the notepad: 1. it was very easy to tear off each paper along the perforation; and 2. my fountain pen ink didn’t bleed on the paper.  I definitely understood why there was such a cult following of Rhodia products in the US.  We had to bring Rhodia in!”

Thank you Shu for sharing the JetPens story with our readers!

penefitJetPens Penefit Program Mission
JetPens has a heart for people and education. Every year, JetPens takes on one special community project through our Penefit Program. Past initiatives have included donating fountain pens to inspire interest in writing for students in low-income schools, sending thousands of gently used pens to orphanages in Africa, assisting local church youth groups in acquiring stationery products wholesale, and more.

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Love their reasonable shipping costs and ability to make bulk purchases. Some retailers apparently don’t get that they punish customers who make large buys by gauging them on shipping. Not these guys! 10 packs of favorites are the smartest packaging out there.

Thanks for that interview. I have always wanted to know more about Jetpens and how they got started. I, like many other pen and paper addicts, sit and dream about my ultimate Jetpens’ order. They are a great company and I enjoyed reading about them. Thanks again, Nr

Great choice for a company spotlight. With their products selection and value, Jet Pens has long been a favorite source for Japanese sketching tools and specialty art supplies. It is quite convenient to have year-long access to premium graphite pencils and hard-to-find brush pens online. Before, I was limited to shopping sprees at Kinokuniya whenever I traveled to the West Coast or Chicago.

Thanks for spotlighting JetPens and their story. They have the best merchandise; I love going to the website and just poring over the new things.

This is so neat to learn about a company that I spend so much money patronizing. :)

I wad glad to read this spotlight. Like others who commented, I was also curious about who started Jetpens. Great story of entrepreneurship. I am relatively new (a few months now) customer and love the pens I can buy now. Fine points to my liking have been hard to find…until now.

Great spotlight. JetPens rocks! Purple Cows indeed!

Yay Jet Pens! They are a great company, and also very helpful and nice people.

By Connie Barbour on October 30th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Great article – it’s always nice to know something about the people you do business with!

Great write up, its always nice to see the people behind the business that gets so much of my money. :)

By Bryan Gushikawa on November 4th, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Lily’s already married?

My heart is broken….(;_;)

I’m disappointed; I was hoping they’d sound like jerks so I’d want to stop throwing my money at them. Alas, no.

LOL! Too funny….

I love it when someone takes such a simple idea and makes it grand… Thanks for the enjoyable read. My friend spent a few years in Japan those are the only pens she will write with.



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