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On the future of paper, business in the COVID era and a change of life focus.

Fast Confession – entrepeneur Zuzana Fryaufová: We survived Covid, now we have to survive the paper crisis

Karolína Lišková
31.Dec 2021
+ Add on Seznam.cz
8 minutes to read

Zuzana Fryaufová is one of those women that there’s no stopping of. While she could, she hosted one of the most amazing social events of the year - the Opera Ball; when this wasn't possible anymore, she dove into the PR of the tough sport of MMA. Now, this mom of two has found another industry to not only apprentice herself in, but more importantly, invest in – all of this despite the tough COVID times. In an interview with LP-Life.com, Zuzana talked about the work of printers and bookbinders, and where young_block brand diaries and calendars are heading in this millennium.

Zuzana a zakladatel firmy young_block Jiří.
Zuzana vyrábí diář.
Zuzana pije kávu

In our Fast Confession, you said that you became a bookbinder. How did that happen?

A friend from my youth, who owns a handmade paper products company called young_block in Litomyšl, came to me saying they wanted help with communications. We started talking about it, and I started getting to know their products more. The more I knew about the brand and the people around it, the more I knew I wanted to be a part of it. On top of that, the lockdown was underway, there were no events and I just can't stay idle for long. After about six months of working together, I decided to get into it business-wise. At the moment I own 40 percent in young_block, I'm involved in new product development as well as communications and it's great.

At the end of November, Forbes noticed you as well. How does one catch the attention of such a magazine?

We were surprised, too, because they called us on their own. We didn't make any intentional effort; I just got a phone call from an unknown number with an offer to be interviewed by Forbes. One of the reasons for this is that we do a lot of personalized assignments for big companies. Our clients include Škoda and Mercedes. Over the last year, we have also started to build a greater presence on social media, we put a special emphasis on this channel. In particular, the cooperation with influencers and people who have already built their brand on social media and perhaps want to promote our products has been very successful in the past year and thanks to it, we have managed to move forward a lot again.

I feel like I belong to the last generation that still has a bond with paper and swears by paper planners and calendars. But a lot of younger people probably couldn't imagine using a planner anymore. Is it still worthwhile to be in this business?

A planner is one thing, but paper in general is something else. We don't even have a separate planner in our line. We offer a planner combined with a notebook that can be used to write down ideas. If you need to simply organize your thoughts, you can't do that on any technology. I don't think paper will ever go away. We see that in our clients which include age groups as well.

Luxusní penthous na Praze 1 - 226m
Luxusní penthous na Praze 1 - 226m, Praha 1

The end of the year is also associated with sending various New Year's cards and calendars, which are often unsightly and many times end up unused...

I agree, they're usually not very well done. If they come from clients and partners, they are a certain kind of advertising medium. We are aware of that, but at the same time, we want to do it a little differently. That's why you don't usually find big logos on the diaries we make. Instead, we offer our clients a personal touch and a story. This is what makes an impression and leaves a mark. Because when you write something by hand on paper and send it to someone, you put a part of yourself, some of your energy and your time into it. That's something people appreciate a lot these days. That's why our motto for the 2022 collection is "We can touch you."

Today, the issue of ecology and sustainability is becoming more and more important. How do you deal with this?

We are thinking about it. All our writing pads are completely recyclable. The only thing that can't be recycled is a centimeter of elastic holding the pencil. Otherwise, they're 100% degradable. We're also figuring out how to package them differently so they don't have to be in cellophane. However, the paper crisis came, so to say that we will now be wrapping the notebooks in extra paper is quite problematic at the moment.

Is there a paper crisis?

There is a worldwide shortage of paper, it has been going on for about two months now. There is a shortage of pulp from China, and there is a problem with transport in general. It's a confluence of a lot of factors. We sold out half of our e-shop stock before Christmas and we don't have anything to replenish it with yet.

Won't that be a problem?

It will, but we're hoping that it'll be sorted out after the New year. We're working with what we've got. But it's not like we can get our clients a completely unlimited portfolio of paper. There is also a problem with delivery times. You can't say exactly when the goods will be delivered any longer as well.

How has the coronavirus crisis actually affected your business?

We certainly can't say that it hasn't affected us. We did have a mad revenue loss at the worst stage, in the first quarter of this year, because in basically all the big companies we work for, marketing budgets were the first thing to cut. We were almost at zero for two months in a row. Somehow we managed to compensate for that with our e-shop. But when we evaluated the past year a week ago, we had to conclude that we consider our annual result a success. We only had to say goodbye to one employee. Budget-wise, we are not quite where we wanted to be, but we are certainly no worse off than before the coronavirus. If we can get through the paper crisis, we will be fine.

I remember you mostly as the director of the Opera Ball. What were some of the new things you had to learn? How did you manage to make the switch to be able to function in a completely different industry?

I think it's still very much a learning process; it might even be a lifelong one. It's really not easy, and I prefer to leave the technical stuff to Jiří (editor's note: founder of the brand Jiří Vogel). I stay out of that. But it's not that different a job. When you're passionate about something and you know where you want to take it, it's always part creativity and part communication, which are two things I'm quite confident in. And then it's about looking rationally at budgets and where you want to get to. Fortunately, I'm not alone in that.

So are you content and happy?

I am now. In the beginning, when it was all new and I had to get familiar with a lot of things, I often asked myself what I had gotten myself into. But I'm enjoying it more and more and the idea of where the business could go next and how we want to do it is getting clearer in my head.

Where do you imagine the company in five years?

Well, in five years, Forbes will put us on the cover. (laughs)

We may launch several different product lines. For example, a luxury one for people who are now used to buying Montblanc notebooks in Pařížská, one that we'll keep for our current target group, and then a corporate one that's very personalized. We'll have a complete product portfolio, we'll be like the Apple of the notepad industry. If you buy one thing from us, you'll want them all, because they'll all fit together perfectly.

What do you imagine the annual turnover will be?

I have to say that in this regard, my imagination is unlimited. I can't say what will come in five years.

And what would satisfy you as an entrepreneur?

It may be a little strange, but for me, turnover is not quite the benchmark. I think sometimes it might be better to grow slowly, but to maintain your quality and standard, and to stand by the ideas and the ideal that started it all. young_block started in Jirka's kitchen, the first notebooks were made by following YouTube tutorials. Now we have a turnover in the tens of millions, so if we're in the higher tens in five years, I'll definitely be happy. But provided it's not a compromise on quality.

I'd like to ask about your personal life as well. How do you combine your bookbinding job with your two daughters, your husband and travelling?

It's much easier than when I was doing events, because a lot of things can be done online, which we've all had to learn somehow over the last almost two years. I think every parent knows how challenging it is with online teaching and having kids at home all the time for weeks on end. However, at young_block we're all parents, so we're all in the same boat. We're trying to meet each other halfway in this, and it's coming together very nicely.

Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9, 123m
Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9, 123m, Praha 9

I also know that you often follow and comment on current events. How has what's going on with the coronavirus affected you?

I've had a period of time where I've been watching and discussing everything. It escalated before the big lockdown at the beginning of March, when another two of my friends had their parents die quite young. I was really stricken. It really made me feel anxious and depressed, which usually doesn't happen to me. So I made a conscious decision to create a bit of a bubble of my own and make my life work no matter what was going on around me. Of course, this can only go so far because it's hitting in business, it concerns us through kids and schools.

However, I believe our society is really divided deeply, and I try not to encourage that rift within myself or contribute to it. I believe that you can't even lump all anti-vaxxers together and that maybe it's a bit of a mistake that the government that was in place then couldn't communicate better with them. There was not a single authority, either in the health sector or among politicians, who could speak to them in their language. Of course, there is some radical core full of those who cannot be persuaded in any way. But these are the same people who will assert that the Earth is flat as well. But then there's a pretty large portion of people who either have their own reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated or don't have the right information. They don't have the information presented in a way that would enable them to accept it.

Those are the ones that I think can be worked with, it's just that there's nobody here to do it because everybody gets lumped together, either into the category of stupid anti-vaxxers or stupid vaccinated sheep. There's no effort to gain a collective perception of what is needed at all. This is also related to the fact that the government has acted in a very irrational way, most of the measures are mutually contradictory and make no sense. It bothers me that there is a lack of logic. But otherwise, even in my personal life and in business, I try not to constantly think that there used to be an old world before the coronavirus and that it might be there again one day. I think it just won't ever return, and we have to work with what we have and somehow navigate it.

Finally, I would like to ask, because there's a presidential election coming next year, who would you envision as the next president of this country?

I make no secret of the fact that I would like a female president. I wanted Kateřina Šimáčková very much, but she has now left for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Let's see who brings what to the table, many candidates have not even officially announced their candidacy yet, except, for example, General Petr Pavel.

For instance, I often interview Miroslava Němcová, and I always ask her about it, even though she has not yet confirmed her candidacy...

I certainly wouldn't mind her, but I don't think she has much chance. I'm actually fascinated that none of the potential candidates, male or female, have come forward and announced their candidacy yet. They're constantly zigzagging around it. I would really like to see someone in Czech politics who will finally come forward and simply say: 'I want to do this, I will do my best and I am going for it.' I am getting completely allergic to the messiah complex that Andrej Babiš, for example, has now demonstrated, that he does not want to do it, but if the people want him to, he will sacrifice himself and do it for the nation. I want energy, courage and self-confidence from the future president.

Thank you for the interview.

Fast confession:

What does a diary mean to you in one sentence?

A ritual in a sense and a way to organize your thoughts.

In this digital age, newspapers are on the decline, why not planners?

It's a proven fact that handwriting strengthens your memory and trains your fine motor skills, and you can visualize things better. I think this will always last.

How does the head of the Opera Ball become a bookbinder?

Corona comes along, all the events get cancelled, and a childhood friend owning a cool company crosses my path and takes me right along.

What makes this business special?

A combination of something really traditional, like paper, and adapting it to this day and age, which is much more flexible and fast.

You, personally - would you rather invest in paper, gold, real estate or cryptocurrencies?

Gold.

What other entrepreneurs inspire you?

My husband, I admire how far did he manage to take a simple communications agency.

Which new project in the market are you personally rooting for?

The Replug initiative, which helps people find a healthy relationship with technology in this day.

What would you like to find under the Christmas tree?

A bathrobe.

New Year's resolution?

I never make them.

Comment on this year's election in one sentence.

Pretty funny reality show with a hopeful ending.

What would you wish on our president?

Most of all, good health.

What should change in the Czech healthcare system?

There should be much greater emphasis on prevention and some kind of financial participation of patients.

What would you say to all anti-vaxxers?

That it is a pity that there is no authority capable of talking to them.

What's something no one knows about you?

I won't tell, even to you.
The interviewee asks the editor:

When and to whom did you last write a letter?

Recently, about a month ago, I wrote a letter to a friend who is in prison by some mistake.
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