Banking on Big Skinny

Former Webster man designs wallet that stays slender
By Pamela H. Sacks

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
2005

Kiril Stefan Alexandrov’s wallet is getting fat off the Big Skinny.

Mr. Alexandrov, a multifaceted entrepreneur, has designed what he bills as “the world’s thinnest wallet.” He calls it the Big Skinny, a bow to film noir, he says, when actors were “so elegant and skinny.”

“I got tired of sitting on a big wallet,” says Mr. Alexandrov, who lived in Webster for several years when he was a youngster. “It started to hurt my back, and it wasn’t much fun. I did it out of desperation in my need for a thin wallet.”

Mr. Alexandrov had some downtime early last year and decided to see if he could solve his problem. He had worked for IBM, run a literary magazine, and founded a biotechnology company. On top of that, he had been exposed to the fashion world through his sister, Etel Alexandrov, a designer of upscale knitwear for children, which is sold in Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Macy’s, among other retailers.

Designing the perfect wallet represented a new challenge.

Mr. Alexandrov conducted careful research on what people carry in their wallets and then tried a series of designs. He tested dozens of materials and ended up using a lightweight, resilient microfiber with a special rubber backing. “When you’re biking, or running, or sitting, you don’t want anything sliding out,” he says.

Mr. Alexandrov sells the wallet on his Web site, www.BigSkinny.net, and he is now marketing it to stores nationwide. He was told by several people familiar with retailing that he could charge as much as $50. He resisted and priced the wallet at $19.95.

“I wanted to make sure everyone who wants thinness can get it,” he says from his office in Cambridge. “I wanted it to be more democratic.”

Mr. Alexandrov has a good feel for the democratic spirit, not to mention the American dream.

He was a child of 4 and his sister was a babe in arms when his parents, both doctors, escaped from communist Bulgaria more than 30 years ago. They were granted political asylum, Mr. Alexandrov says, and joined family members already residing in North Grosvenordale, Conn.

After a brief stay, the Alexandrovs moved to Webster, where Mr. Alexandrov’s father found work as an inhalation therapist at Hubbard Regional Hospital. Both parents learned English and eventually were licensed to practice medicine in Massachusetts.

During those years, the family lived on School Street and, later, “behind McDonalds, which was a great place for a kid,” Mr. Alexandrov says with a laugh.

“I didn’t speak any English,” he remembers. “The first thing I learned was the Pledge of Allegiance. I tried making the sounds. Then I understood the words.”

After several years, the family moved to Pennsylvania, where Mr. Alexandrov’s father found a good job in the medical field. Mr. Alexandrov discovered his penchant for business while studying at Gettysburg College. Upon graduation, he took a job at IBM in Maryland.

But Cambridge captured Mr. Alexandrov’s imagination, and, soon after moving there in the early 1990s, he founded The Boston Book Review. He served as president of the review, while earning a master’s degree in English at Harvard University Extension School. At its height, the literary magazine had a staff of 10 and nationwide distribution. It was printed at Saltus Press in Worcester. Bob Kuchnicki, Web/production manager, recalled the youthful editor arriving with his copy.

“We’d make proofs,” Mr. Kuchnicki says. “He’d come back and check the proofs and make changes, and we’d print it. We did mailing and distribution for him, and we loaded all we could get of the extras into his little Miata two-seater.”

Then, at the height of the high-tech boom, Mr. Alexandrov got involved with a couple of MIT scientists who had an idea for a startup.

One of them had figured out how to attach molecules to DNA, RNA and proteins, making them visible to the naked eye and much easier to control in experiments. Mr. Alexandrov drew up a business plan, and he and one of his colleagues entered a series of high-level competitions in 2000.

“It was the right way to kick off the millennium,” Mr. Alexandrov recalls excitedly. “I was the most fun anyone could ever have. It was getting up at the crack of dawn and asking, What will happen today? I was still running the book review at the time. I never felt more alive.”

The team won the MIT 50K Entrepreneurship Contest and the Stanford Global Entrepreneurship Challenge. Mr. Alexandrov closed down the book review – a labor of love – and became CEO of Genigma Corp.

By 2004, Mr. Alexandrov had moved on to international relations through connections at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He was asked to expand the nonprofit International Economic Alliance and became its executive director. The group sponsors symposiums to advance international trade and investment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Alexandrov has big plans for his wisp-thin wallet, which has been featured in Boston Magazine and in publications across the country. He says the orders are flowing in, and other Big Skinny designs are in the works. He is willing to do whatever it takes to sell the Big Skinny concept.

Not long ago, he could be found manning a vendor table at the Cambridge River Festival.

“I was swamped with men and women who were fitting all their normal wallet stuff into a Big Skinny,” he says. “In a few hours, I sold almost a hundred. It was so much fun.”