After 10 years of working in a corporate media advisory role, Melina Walton decided to pave a new career path for herself. Reconnecting with her creative side, Walton started a business, Letters from Letty, which showcases Australia’s emerging designers, artists and creative brands, in the form of a gift box. Each month a guest designer is invited to fill gift boxes with their design pieces, which are then delivered to subscribers all over the world.
Walton says that while she was climbing up the corporate ladder at a steady pace, she was longing to do something more fulfilling with her life.
“More than anything, I wanted to be so happy working every day that it never felt like work. I also have a passion for design and my creative side was not being allowed to flourish. I was so driven to make a change that I became obsessed with finding a business idea to change my life,” she says.
She spent six months hunting for the perfect business idea; and on her birthday, a friend of hers sent her a surprise gift in the post.
“I don’t even get bills in the mail anymore so I was so excited to go to my letterbox and find such a nice surprise waiting, and I loved the feeling. I began to ponder how to capture and share this feeling with others more often, and so the concept of monthly surprises in the mail seeded in my mind,” says Walton.
She started investigating monthly subscription models, and realised that most other services were posting samples of products. There was nothing in the design space, where subscribers would receive high-quality hand-made goods.
“Australian design is appreciated here and abroad and this niche allows us to engage with people who are really passionate about design, and generally having nice things! Our gift boxes are designed for females and we mail gifts such as artworks, handbags, homewares, jewellery, and stationery,” says Walton.
She launched Letters from Letty in October 2012, with the only original cost outlay needed for branding, website development and packaging. Her knowledge of web development and background in communications were significant advantages – especially in the early stage of the business.
“Letters from Letty has grown organically through social media, press, key blogger interest and word-of-mouth. The fact that the business required little outlay was also an appeal of the model,” says Walton.
“I didn’t have any investors or other funding support, but I knew the outlay was such that I could afford the minimal startup costs myself and just get things running in a basic form. As more sales came in, I had more money to spend on more things like advertising.”
Walton started investing in advertising shortly before Christmas last year. She found Facebook marketing and social media competitions to be the most effective in generating sales.
“But it has to be constant and consistent. You have to constantly work your social media strategy to engage your customers if you really want it to work,” she says.
Walton’s greatest achievement with the business to date is one that resonates with many startups: leaving a high-paying corporate job to start a business from scratch, and still be successful.
“It is still very early days of me actually working on the business closer to full time, but the time that I am now able to put in is being directly reflected in the growth of the business as well,” she says.
The biggest challenge, on the flipside, has been finding a healthy work/life balance. In the first year since launching Letters from Letty, Walton was working full time in a high-intensity and fast-paced role, still climbing up the corporate ladder.
“I was working on the business in the morning, before my full-time job started, at lunch, after work and all evening and weekends, just to keep it ticking over without any time to invest in growth activities,” says Walton.
“I didn’t get any exercise for a year, I barely saw my partner, family or friends and never turned off.”
But she realised that she couldn’t maintain this lifestyle. Despite her efforts, the business was experiencing the growth she anticipated. She was too focused on day-to-day activities, and couldn’t establish long-term strategies.
“I decided to take the leap into the unknown. I’ve now learnt that was a great decision because I have more time and energy to put into the business; and as a result, the business is growing,” says Walton.
“Leaping from high-paying job to very small startup with the hope that it would grow with more time and effort was very scary, but it seems to be paying off.”
This year, Walton plans on investing in content marketing, offering real insights to subscribers with behind-the-scenes interviews and educational advice from Australian designers. She also plans on establishing strategic partnerships with businesses that have a similar audience.
On a final note, she offers her top tips for aspiring founders:
Get a mentor – Approach people you aspire to become. Engage with like-minded people who aren’t as close to your business as you are, and can offer objective insights on it.
Trust your gut – While taking into consideration the respected advice you get, always remember to trust your gut. Every step of the way, you’re going to get people telling you what to do, what they’ve done, what you shouldn’t do. It is great to listen and learn, but at the end of the day, you know your business, your vision and your customers better than anyone else.
Luck doesn’t just happen – I believe that you put yourself in a position to make the most of opportunities by a lot of hard work. Work hard and if you’re putting your energy into the right things, good things will happen.
Have a million-dollar mindset – When I started Letty, I truly never even thought ‘what if it fails?’ It didn’t cross my mind for about six months until I started to get a bit worn-out as the business grew. The business wasn’t doing any worse; in fact it was growing so there was no reason for my fears, but I was tired. However, I never lost my million-dollar mindset and so I have pressed on.
Celebrate your wins, no matter how small – It’s good to stop and reflect and you will find even more energy when you see how far you have come.
Letters from Letty currently has 4 payment options: one-off, quarterly, every six months, and yearly. The pricing depends on where the subscriber wants their gifts delivered. They business will also soon launch a rolling subscription where subscribers pay month-to-month, rather than the current up-front payment format.
For more information, visit www.lettersfromletty.com.