Eric Bannasch for Punkpost
So, we also started building a community of writers who could make each message look like a little piece of art.
Two years ago husband-and-wife duo Santiago Prieto and Alexis Monson left their prestigious jobs at IDEO and Brit+Co and embarked on a mission of helping people send cards with the ease and speed of text messages. They’ve noticed that in the world of social networks and instant messaging people are still longing for that human touch and real connection and thought of a great app idea that would make sending thoughtful handwritten messages really effortless. However, in order to grow Punkpost from an app idea to a real business that launched in the summer of 2015 these Millennial entrepreneurs had to learn skills that span a century — from the art of letterpress print to coding to beautiful lettering and card design. Alexis Monson shares the Punkpost story with Ideamensch.
Where did the idea for Punkpost come from?
Santiago was on a business trip with his IDEO team a few years ago and when he got in his hotel room, a “Good Luck” greeting card with a handwritten message (from me) was laying on the pillow. Santiago, being from Mexico where the greeting card tradition doesn’t exist because of a poor postage system, found himself speechless filled with emotion and awe. This experience got him thinking about ways of making such handwritten greetings part of our everyday lives. Greeting cards are still the best type of communication to amplify and affirm your emotions. And, ironically, thanks to Facebook, handwritten cards are more relevant than ever because we’re more connected than ever. So an idea of an app that saved time on going to the store, getting stamps, writing and mailing a card was a great start.
However, prototype testing clearly showed that simply automating the process wasn’t going to work. So, we also started building a community of writers who could make each message look like a little piece of art. The Punkpost service has now been running for over 8 months with cards sent to over 60 countries already. The whole process is enabled by the Punkpost app, where you can choose a card from a very curated list of exclusive letterpress artwork and send cards as quickly as you’d send texts.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
We still start the day with writing a few cards for Punkpost customers. In the beginning, we wrote all of the cards ourselves which took a lot of our time, but also helped us gain great insight into the exact amount of time various orders can take, what our customers expect in the way of lettering and what additional features were necessary for the writer’s app before we could start engaging external writers. Based on our experience, we were able to put together a Writer’s Style Guide, which our writer community now uses on a daily basis, and we have amazing writers to help with the daily orders. So, for us, it’s more a meditative activity, as well as an opportunity to stay in touch with our customers’ interests. Later in the day Santiago works on perfecting the app, strategizing and preparing for investor meetings while I collaborate with the artists on new card designs, manage the writers’ community, incoming orders, customer support, and marketing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Very quickly. We are still a small team and can immediately test various ideas in action — be it a special holiday-themed promotion or an app feature. We discuss pros & cons, assign responsibilities and just go for it with the motto of “let’s try stuff!”
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love seeing how people appreciate technology and all the ease it brings, but we still yearn for some tactile/human elements and we aren’t willing to give them up. We are really excited about the traditions that can stay relevant with the help of easy tech like Punkpost. Say, when it comes to greeting cards there’s an unspoken truth that people aren’t willing to part with. “You matter to me.” “I thought of you.” “I took the trouble to share with you this thing I like.” Lettering is also getting more and more popular again (in fact, some of the most popular classes on Skillshare have to do with something related to lettering or calligraphy!). We are so glad to see emails from people daily that write us to offer help with Punkpost orders and writing the cards. We just love their lettering flirts that they send as samples and they often inspire us to try new ideas within our writers’ community!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Making lists. Looking back and analyzing what is working and what isn’t and making changes quickly.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Oh man, I’ve had lots and lots and lots of jobs that most people would consider bad jobs. I mean I’ve done everything from cleaning hotel rooms to working the checkout line at a grocery store to mowing lawns, but I wouldn’t really consider any of them “Worst jobs.” Every experience I’ve had has given me a different view and made me more empathetic. So while there are jobs that I would ideally not do again, I genuinely appreciate everything I’ve done. I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve worked with and the actual job itself. I guess maybe the biggest learning from those jobs is to appreciate people and try to be understanding of situations and realize that everyone has feelings and is just trying to do the best they can do and be happy and be accepted.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Learn how to properly test an app. When the app first launched, we got a really good piece of press that gave us over 600 downloads on our first day… Unfortunately, the app was crashing left and right. So it was this weird excitement of people checking out the app, but not being able to check out the app… We realized that we should have tested the app a lot more before launching it and got back to work that same day to introduce a quick update with the needed fixes.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
MAKE LISTS. AND PRIORITIZE. Then focus on each item one at a time. Yes, you have a million things to do. Just keep plugging away and adding things to your list. Talking about future plans but getting things done in the present.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Want it more than you’ve wanted anything in your life. Believe in your product and the idea behind your product. Stick to what you know you have to do and what the messaging should be. Never falter on what the core business is.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When it comes to all things tech, there are never-ending bugs to work on. APP CRASHES galore. You just have to hang your head. Talk to your users and apologize and thank them for being patient and understanding (which they usually are) and then fix it and move on. Sometimes you literally feel like someone punched you in the gut. But you can’t just lay there. You just have to be like… well that happened. Let’s fix it and move on.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I always thought there should be a munchie delivery service offering custom-made and delightfully disgusting things like Cheetos covered in melted cheese and hot sauce or a s’more made with Poptarts rather than graham crackers.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Prizes (free cards) for our community. We announced an Instagram selfie contest that we called #SoVogueSoPunk with Punkpost followers submitting their selfie versions of our fashion-inspired “So Vogue” cards. The customers who submitted their pictures were obviously having lots of fun with the fashionista-like selfies and got really creative, and we had a blast spotting new photos, regramming the best on our social media and picking the winner. We ended up giving out extra free cards simply for participation, but it is so extremely rewarding to share our love for snail mail and give an opportunity to send a heartfelt love note or a personal handwritten hello to a friend far away that it was really the best spent $100.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use various Google services for teamwork and email distributions, Dropbox for storing and sharing our assets, Hootsuite and various social media platforms for our social activities, Hubspot for newsletters and obviously many more software programs for prepping card designs, photo/video editing, etc. Since we are a self-funded startup at the moment, we stick to free or inexpensive services which are easy-to-use.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Let My People Go Surfing. Patagonia is an inspiring brand… which is way more than a brand. It is a lifestyle that they live within the company. They respect their people and want them to live life to the fullest. I’m not down with companies that just want their employees to work ridiculous hours to push their product. That is unsustainable. Appreciate everything that your people give you and give back to them. Let them love coming to work every day. Let them love building your brand alongside you.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
We were asked a few times “What’s the best advice you ever got when starting your business?” or “What advice would you give to those who are just starting out?” Santiago and I both point to the same source for our golden nugget tip. The advice came from Andy and Rachel Berliner, the founders of Amy’s Kitchen. It was shortly after we both had quit our jobs to focus on Punkpost full time that we met the two for lunch. They gave us tons of advice as a couple who also founded a company out of their kitchen. They told us things like, “When you’re not working, talk about things other than work” (something that continues to prove next to impossible for us). But of all the wonderful encouragement and advice they gave us, the one thing that stuck out in both my mind and Santiago’s was this: “Do everything yourselves for as long as you can.” By following this advice, we’ve learned and continue to learn so much. It’s truly the only way you’ll understand your product or service fully, and while it’s not going to save you time, it is going to save you money by knowing exactly what you want and need.