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Joanna and Jonny over at Letterfolk have taken the good old fashioned letterboard and made it a contemporary household staple. In business for not even a full year yet, they have boomed and show no signs of slowing. The couple is a dynamic pair of wordsmiths who make magic outta letters. You don't believe us? Go check out their Instagram where every single caption will give you all the feels. And our favorite part about them is considering all their talent and success, they still manage to remain down to earth and approachable. Bravo you two. The whole world is cheering you on, one witty quote on a letterboard at a time.
Purchase a similar mat to Joanna's here.
We think you're awesome. Give us a little background about yourselves.
Johnny and I are both word people. Johnny's background is in advertising copywriting — in other words, putting witty words to commercials, print ads, etc. I'm a copy editor, which means I have a nerdy passion for all the ins and outs of the English language. I guess you could say we're letter folks. Ha! Who knew we'd start such a fitting business together?
Now tell us the story of the creation of Letterfolk and how have you driven Letterfolk to grow to where it is today?
The idea for Letterfolk came while we were living in New York City. Our second daughter was born in April 2015, and we found ourselves trying to find a fun, creative way to track her monthly milestones. Let's be honest — I was trying, and Johnny was playing along to appease me. Johnny had the idea to find an old-school letter board for her monthly photos, and I thought it was a fantastic idea. We liked the idea so much that soon we were trying to hunt down a huge one to hang in our tiny NYC apartment. One late-night conversation snowballed into the next, and we were suddenly considering designing a line of letter boards fit for the home. It was a fun and exciting time, and what ensued was months of research and work to make it happen. We finally launched our products at the end of October 2015. We've been passionate about Letterfolk from day one and love the product even more today than we did at the start. Working on our own business has been super rewarding, and knowing we're running the show has been a huge driving factor in doing the very best we can with each day.
You guys have definitely exploded! What things have really worked and been key to your growth?
We've gotten lucky that our product is one that people naturally want to photograph and share on social media. Quotes are very shareable, and people personalize their letter boards and want to share it! We had no idea just how much people would share our letter boards when we first started, but it's been incredibly fun and rewarding to see so many people's creations.
You are a husband/wife team. When is that tricky? When is it awesome? As spouses and business partners, how do you juggle work and home life?
Johnny and I are very different, which works really well when it comes to running a business. Johnny loves to go full steam ahead on 10 different projects/ideas at once, while I prefer focusing on one thing at a time, so we balance each other out really well. I think we've both grown to appreciate each other's strengths, and we love brainstorming new ideas together. It gets hard and stressful when we don't have enough hours in the day to do all that needs to get done. When we're both stressed and overworked, it shows, and that can spill over into our marriage. We can't just go home and leave work at work because there's no separation between work life and home life right now, so we're looking for ways to better separate the two. I think we've found that we have to leave the house in order to truly unwind and not do work. Johnny's been really good about making sure we get regular date nights.
Do you mind sharing with us a little bit of what your typical day looks like?
We have a one-year-old and three-year-old, so much of our day revolves around our girls! We all get up around 7:00 and get showered/dressed/fed. The girls are then taken care of for a few hours while Johnny and I work together. We may spend time answering emails, taking photos, or going to our warehouse. We typically plan the night before how we're going to spend those precious few hours of kid-free time together. The girls then come back home, and we all eat lunch and put the girls down for naps. Johnny and I both work while they sleep, or I sometimes try to catch up on housework or laundry. When the girls wake up, I spend a few hours with them while Johnny works for a few more hours. We then take a break for dinner and bedtime. Johnny and I try to relax with a show and some ice cream once the girls are in bed, and then we're back at it again! Nighttime is when a lot of our planning, brainstorming, and goal setting takes place. We also play catch up if we've gotten behind on anything throughout the day. We try to start winding down around midnight, but we're night owls, so depending on our work load, we stay up later some nights. We also try to take turns to go running or go to the gym most days, which we just fit in during whatever spare moment we can!
What could you gather and gather and never have enough of?
Time. Is this everyone's answer? I feel like it should be. That's been the hottest commodity since starting our business, and we're still on a never-ending search to create more of it.
Growing a business is hard. What are some hurdles you've faced that you're proud of overcoming?
We've had a few moments when we've realized that we need to step out of our comfort zones in order to grow. And it's been hard every single time. But it always ends up being worth it. Moving the business out of our basement and into a warehouse made us pretty nervous initially, but we knew it had to be done. Hiring our first employee was super hard for us — putting part of our business we'd dedicated so much effort into and putting it in someone else's hands. I'm so happy we've made the leap each time because each uncomfortable change has been a catalyst for growth.
Failure can be a great teacher. Do you have any not-so-great business moves you've made that you wish someone warned you about?
We've had so many learning moments along the way! I feel like we learn something new every day. I'm not sure we would have changed this since it was our only option at the time, but running our business out of our basement the first few months was surprisingly stressful. There was absolutely no separation between our home and business. And oftentimes inventory would end up in our dining room and living room. Our product is so large that it quickly took over entire rooms if we weren't careful. Moving into a warehouse felt extremely risky and so official, but it was one of the best business (and personal) decisions we've made to date.
What has surprised you, if anything, as you have started and run your own business?
Running a business is complicated! Months and months went into getting to the point of selling our letter boards. And then taking our business to the next level inevitably adds a new level of complexity as well. Johnny handles most of the technical business stuff, and we have an accountant making sure we have all of our financial (and tax) ducks in a row. But in the beginning, Johnny and I looked at all our fellow small-business owners with a whole new perspective and level of respect, and we'd say to each other, "This is hard! How do so many people do this?!"
Speaking from experience, what do you think are some of the most important traits of an entrepreneur?
Being okay with surviving on very little sleep.
Any tips or advice you have for someone who is chasing their dreams?
Chasing a dream doesn't mean disregarding reality. Start small, be okay with your current 9-5, and maximize every available hour from 7:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. But don't feel like you need to quit your job tomorrow or spend money you don't have. Be patient, and take the plunge only when you (and your budget/time/etc.) are ready.
We love hearing people talk about their goals and aspirations. What are some of yours professionally and personally?
We have lots of hopes and dreams for Letterfolk. I think our biggest professional goal right now is to not take this moment for granted. We're trying to always improve our business and keep a big-picture perspective because it's very easy to get stuck in the weeds of the day-to-day. Also, a fun little fact: Johnny and I are big personal finance nerds, so many of our personal goals have to do with really nerdy things like maxing out our retirement accounts and contributing to our daughters' college savings plans. Checking those goals off our list gets us weirdly excited. I think our biggest personal goal, though, is to strike a better work-life balance.
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