Today?s blog post was written by Alexis Monson and Santiago Prieto, co-founders of Punkpost, an app/service that helps send handwritten cards and photos as quickly as texts.
Are you thinking about quitting your day job to pursue your entrepreneurial dream full-time? Read this couple’s story about how they managed to leave their corporate jobs and the advice that ignited the start of their own business.
Tell people you?re starting a business, and you?re bound to get advice ? lots and lots of advice. Most of it is pretty good. Some of it is plain bad. And then there?s always one golden nugget that you will come back to time and time again ? that one sentence that really makes you think and that guides the course of your actions.
When my partner and I announced that we were leaving what some people consider dream jobs (Santiago was a designer at IDEO and I was the managing community editor at Brit + Co) to start Punkpost, that?s exactly what came flooding in. Advice.
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.?
A little bit about our company, Punkpost: It?s an app that, through our network of handwriters, helps you send handwritten cards as quickly and easily as sending a text. You devise the message, we take care of the chores, and the recipient gets pure handwritten awesomeness.
So, we?ve got a lot of little fairly complicated elements in this system. There?s the stationery piece to take care of ? finding and working with artists on creation of designs and then letterpressing the designs into cotton paper. Then there?s the app, which lets you order a card + handwriting service. Once your place your order, there?s the community of handwriting artists who we work with to ensure that orders are executed with a consistent quality and in a timely manner. On top of that there?s the stuff that every business deals with ? marketing, customer service, PR, accounting and lots more. So what I?m saying is that ?do everything yourselves for as long as you can? is different for every business. For us it meant Santiago learning how to program an app, both of us learning how to letterpress, me pitching media outlets and running social media, finding artists, both of us writing cards, handling customer service, ordering supplies.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, that?s because it is, but I have 3 compelling arguments why you should consider this the best piece of advice you?ll ever get too:
It?s the Only Way You?ll Understand Your Product
You bet it?s going to take time to teach yourselves all the things that you need to know to make a business work, but you learn by doing. Throw yourself in there and just start. Not only are you learning all the tasks, but it?s the only way you?ll truly understand what you?re trying to offer people ? every single complicated layer of it. And by truly understanding, you can make smarter decisions and waste less time and resources in the long term.
Of course there are things you can outsource when you start your business. For us, it could have easily been the programming of the app and the printing of the actual cards, but by following the Berliner?s 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.
For example, let?s look at programming your own app if that?s what you?re after. With enough cash, there are a few people and services out there who will do it for you. But if you want to be able to refine your offer with customers? feedbak and reiterate? which you most definitely should be doing on a weekly basis, then you need to be able to do it yourself. Fail fast to succeed sooner.
It?s How You?ll Save $$$
When you do things yourself, you?re not having to invest in someone else?s time to do something that you might figure out in as little as a week that it?s not quite the right thing to be doing. So, besides getting programming under our belt, we took on the actual printing portion of our business, which has let us test designs by printing as few as five at a time, so we aren?t sitting on tons of inventory. As everyone knows, the last thing you want to do is sit on inventory or a product that you wish you could change, but you already spent your funds on the last iteration that wasn?t quite right.
And as you probably already know, qualified expertise usually comes at a high price. Keep your team small. Save money. It?s really that easy. When you?re lean and scrappy, you?ll have no other choice but to learn to prioritize and focus your efforts where they matter most and do things that are worthy of your small team?s limited hours.
Laying Out a Foundation & Leading by Example
While it might sound trite, the truth of the matter is if you want something done right, do it yourself. YOU are the one with vision. YOU are the one who knows exactly how you want something executed. And when your business is in its infancy, it?s so incredibly important that you personally lay out the product, the vision and the brand exactly how you want it.
When you have nothing to start with, it?s next to impossible to explain your ideas and expect someone to execute your vision exactly how you want it. There is so much in your gut that?s still unexplainable yet crucially important. You need to build the foundation of this business. Once you?ve laid it out clearly, then you can slowly pass over the reigns to someone who can see the path you?ve traveled and understand the direction you?re going based on the map you?ve already created.
In the beginning, we wrote all the cards ourselves, not because we were trying to perfect our lettering skills (which we did and by the way, lettering is also very meditative and a great way to start or finish your day.) By fulfilling the orders ourselves, we gained 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.
The actual handwriting of cards is just one in-depth example of a task we saw all the way through and worked on for months. Slowly, we are letting go of additional tasks as soon as we fully understand how they fit into the Punkpost equation.
No doubt, you don?t know everything, which is why having mentors is extremely important. Find people or a community you can turn to. Learn from their mistakes, gain from their knowledge and always ask for advice. Have at least a few mentors who can guide you along the way and be there to offer support and reasoning.
As a Conclusion: How to ?Make It Work, People.?
You?re probably thinking this sounds like an awful lot of work and you have no idea how you?re going to do this while working your day job. That brings me to my next point: to make this sucker take off, you?re probably going to have to quit your day job and focus all of your energy on your big idea. And you should feel confident in this choice.
I was recently talking to Gloria Cortina, a successful interior designer in Mexico City. Not long ago, she launched a furniture line. She said to me, ?I truly believe that you can make any idea, service or product work if you?re willing to put in the time.? I completely agree with her. What is the number one reason for small businesses failing? It?s a lack of time and focus. If you truly believe in your idea. Then buckle up. Quit your day job. Do all the things.
Follow the journey of @Punkpostco on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and see how we?re doing and if this advice pans out for us. 😉