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EPISODE 54

Written in Stone: How and Why to Implement Personalization

With David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten

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Keepsakes, momentos, treasures, heirlooms — whatever you call them, everyone has certain things that they hold dear. For many people, hand-written notes fall into that category. In a world filled with 240-character tweets, rapid-fire text messages, and a stuffed email inbox, getting a hand-written note means more than ever. Even if it comes from a brand.   

Personalization is one of the buzziest words in ecommerce, and every business is trying to find a way to give its customers the best, most personal experience possible. David Wachs is helping them with that.

David is the CEO of Handwrytten, which uses robots to send personal, hand-written notes, which have a 300% higher open rate than other types of communication. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, David explains why personalization is the way of the future. Plus, he dives into the thinking behind subscription-based services and what it takes for your subscription to stand out to investors. David also shares the advice that he received from Conan O’Brien that has stayed with him his entire life.

Main Takeaways:

  • This is Getting Personal: Over the last few years, consumers have started seeking more personalized experiences. There are many ways to create those experiences in-store and online, but ecomm businesses have a personalization advantage due to the data they have access to. Brands that can tap into that data and then follow through are the ones that stand out.    
  • Subscribe Here: Subscription services are popping up everywhere. When done correctly, subscription services provide a recurring revenue model, which is something most investors look for. However, creating the right model takes time, effort, and experimentation, and it’s important to be willing to put in that work to find the model that is best for you and your customers. 
  • Here’s Some Advice: When one piece of advice sticks with you 20 years later, that’s something worth paying attention to. Tune in to hear what words of wisdom from Conan O’Brien have inspired David every step of his journey.

 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“Handwritten notes not only do they get opened, but they get treasured.”

“Handwritten envelopes, just the envelopes, have a 300% or a three-times greater open rate than printed envelopes [and] response rates are anywhere from 20 to 50% higher.”

“One thing investors are looking for is a recurring revenue model… So, we wanted to come up with a structure for a subscription model that would work. It’s tough, because unlike an email provider or a CRM provider or anybody else, we have hard costs. Forget about the cardstock and the labor that goes into every card and all that, we have a 55¢ stamp on every card. That’s expensive. So, it took us years to think of a way that would make this work. What we decided was you prepay for credit. … we wanted to provide value, we don’t want to rip anybody off, but we needed a recurring revenue option.”

“Some of our clients come to us and do a one-off campaign or one-off promotion, and then they’ll say, ‘Oh, that was the greatest promotion we’ve ever done. We’ll reconsider it again next year.’ You’re thinking, ‘Why is it a promotion in the first place?’ That should be an ongoing part of your CRM outreach strategy….I think that model of moving it away from being a promotion to being a part of your CRM strategy is really what needs to happen.” 

“Online brands actually have the advantage over traditional retail, because they have the home addresses of the clients where the retailers may or may not depending on if they’re in the loyalty program. Online brands have this huge benefit of creating a one-to-one personalization opportunity through handwritten notes that brick and mortars might not.”

“I still think there’s a huge opportunity here. Quite frankly, people are very lonely right now. Any handwritten mail will get savored and opened.”

 

Mentions:

 

Bio:

David Wachs is the CEO of Handwrytten. A serial entrepreneur, David’s latest venture, Handwrytten, is bringing back the lost art of letter writing through scalable, robot-based solutions that write your notes in pen. Developed as a platform, Handwrytten lets you send notes from your CRM system, such as Salesforce, the web site, apps, or through custom integration. Used by major meal boxes, eCommerce giants, nonprofits and professionals, Handwrytten is changing the way brands and people connect.

Prior to his current initiatives, David founded Cellit, a mobile marketing platform and mobile agency. Under David’s leadership, Cellit became a leading player in the mobile marketing space and invented the concept of mobile customer relationship management (Mobile CRM). Cellit developed one of the most robust and widely-used mobile marketing platforms in the world, delivering millions of SMS and MMS messages to consumers on a daily basis. With a marquee client roster including Abercrombie and Fitch, Toys R Us, Sam’s Club, Chicago Tribune, For Rent Media Solutions, Pizza Hut and more, Cellit was recognized as one of the top 500 fastest growing companies in America, as #262 on the Inc. 500 in 2010, delivered many award-winning mobile campaigns, and built one of the best teams in the mobile industry. Cellit was sold to HelloWord (f/k/a ePrize) in January of 2012.

David is also a frequent speaker on messaging technology and has presented for the Direct Marketing Association, South By Southwest, Advertising Research Foundation, and the National Restaurant Association. David has been featured on the front page of the Washington Post, and has been interviewed by Direct Marketing News, Crain’s Chicago Business, the American Express OPEN network, AMA’s Marketing News, Bloomberg Radio, and others. He has been quoted in numerous articles, including The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Variety, Startup Nation and US Banker Magazine.

David writes for Inc. Magazine with his column “Stepping Away from the Day to Day.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles, co-founder of mission.org. Today on the show, we have David Wachs, the CEO of Handwrytten, spelled with a Y. David, welcome.

David:

Thank you so much for having me.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I’m really excited to have you on the show. I just went down a great wormhole of watching your robots write letters. I think that’s a great starting point to hear how you came to be at Handwrytten. What brought you to found it?

David:

Yeah, so this is actually my second venture. My first one was in the text messaging space. So, I started that one before the iPhone came out. We rode the wave of mobile technology with the iPhone and all that. By the end, we were sending millions of messages a day on behalf of major brands, like Toys R Us, a lot of brands that are now bankrupt, but no fault of ours, but Toys R Us, Sam’s Club, OfficeMax, Abercrombie & Fitch, etc.

David:

What we did was we helped them connect with their customers through text messages. And then we also did iPhone apps and Android apps and all that, but our core was really text messages. What we found was, it really, really worked. I mean, these were not spam messages. These were people opted in, so they actually wanted to receive Abercrombie & Fitch offers, etc, straight to their cell phone. When we sent out those offers, they’d have literally lines out the door.

David:

We worked with Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which is a big smoothie shop chain. Every time they sent out an offer, I’d walk into a Tropical Smoothie. I’d say, “How’s this mobile thing working?” They didn’t know who I was, and they’d say, “Oh, my gosh. Every time we do it, we have to staff up, because we sell so many smoothies.” So, I knew we had something good. But at the same time, I helped create a monster, because everybody nowadays is getting inundated with probably 50 text messages a day from family and commercial texts and right now, political texts, several hundred emails a day.

David:

I think the average office workers receives about 150 emails a day and spends 28% of their time sorting through all that email. And then you add stuff like Twitter and Facebook and Slack and all the Instagram, all these other electronic forms of communication. Maybe I’m just old, but for me, it all just becomes noise.

Stephanie:

It’s very noisy right now, especially with the political texts that I’m getting.

David:

Oh, my God.

Stephanie:

I’m getting like five a day. Stop it. I don’t want that anywhere.

David:

I know, I know. It all just becomes noise. The average 35 to 44-year-old receives nearly 1,600 texts a month. The average 18 to 24-year-old receives 4,000 a month. So, what I know and what you know is no matter how personalized that email or that text looks… Hey, David, thank you so much for your purchase of this coffee grinder or whatever. … that text was automated or that email was automated. We immediately discount the value of it, right?

David:

Half of them or way more than half, I never even read, because you just know it’s automated junk. And then junk mail, the slick stuff that comes in your mailbox goes directly to your trash can. But what I realized right before leaving, my last company, is handwritten notes not only do they get opened, but they get treasured. I have a bookshelf behind me at my last job that had the handwritten notes I received. My salespeople had all the handwritten notes they received. What I wanted to do was when I sold my last company is I wanted to send handwritten thank you notes to my employees and send handwritten thank you notes to my best clients, thanking them for helping me build up this company and sell it and all the rest.

David:

I started doing that. I sat down with the best intentions. Very quickly, my hand got sore or I ran out of stamps or I screwed up a card and I had to get another one. I just realized there had to be a better way. So, that’s a long explanation on how I ended up with Handwrytten, which is what we have today. What Handwrytten is a combination of software on the front end and then robots on the back end. So, you visit handwrytten.com or use our iPhone app, Android app, Zapier, Salesforce.com Integration, which is a big integration for us, and I know a sponsor of the show, HubSpot integration, all these ways to get your handwritten notes into the system.

David:

And then we use robots, real robots that we have a patent pending on and I can get into how we develop those, but they’re custom robots we built, robots holding real ballpoint pens that actually then write out the notes and mail them on your behalf. The end result is completely indistinguishable from a human.

David:

We’re doing this for large brands and small brands and individuals. Consumers can go on and send their mother a birthday card, for example, all the way up to major brands.

Stephanie:

Though your mom might know. She’d be like, “That’s not your handwriting, Stephanie.” Do you guys have any tech that maybe could mimic handwriting, where I could go in there and write up a couple words, and then your robots come in and write it similar to my handwriting?

David:

So, not exactly. What we do is if you really want your handwriting recreated, we have worksheets for you. It’s like you’re back in middle school. You have to fill in all the letters and all the numbers multiple times, because we need multiple variations, and we need ligature combinations. So, like two Os together, two Ls together. Do you cross your two Ts with one crossbar or two? We take all that into account. We create a very robust handwriting just for you, but it’s an expensive onetime thing. So, pay for it once, it’s yours. It’s in the system. You can use it as much as you want, no additional charge. So, yeah, but most of our clients or businesses not you sending to your mother. So, for them, it doesn’t really matter as much.

David:

Honestly, I dissuade people from creating their handwriting style, because it is so expensive.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So, tell me a little bit about maybe some case studies or the ROI that some of your clients are seeing when they send out a note that looks personalized versus just a typical letter, something that’s written up by a computer and is very obvious?

David:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I have a bunch of stats here, but I don’t want to constantly give you footnotes on the stats. So, if I say any stats that are of interest to any of your listeners, just visit Handwrytten.com. That’s Handwrytten with a Y. You can pull up all the resources and double check, be a fact checker, etc. But handwritten on envelopes, just the envelopes, have a 300% or a three-time greater open rate than printed envelopes. You just Google that stat and that pops up everywhere. And then also response rates are anywhere from 20 to 50% higher.

David:

We work with a bespoke suit company based in Canada. They send out coupons every year around the holidays. Those coupons come with a handwritten note from their CEO and his handwriting style with his signature. Those coupons have an 18% redemption rate when usually the company’s coupon redemption rate is closer to the 3 to 5% rate. So, it’s been very effective for them.

David:

We have other clients… Let me see here. We have some retention improvements. So, we have a client that does meal box or actually snack boxes for offices. Basically, they’ll send you a huge box of snacks every two weeks with like beef jerky or crackers and cookies and all that. What they do is if they accidentally send your office the wrong snack box, they’ll follow up with a handwritten note and the right snacks. Now, obviously, the additional snacks help increase retention, but the handwritten note doesn’t hurt.

David:

What they find is if they screw up a client and they send them this snack box, that customer ends up having a greater lifetime value than if they never screwed up in the first place.

Stephanie:

That’s smart. I mean, not only are you getting more times to get in front of that customer, but then you can show them how great the customer experience is even when things go wrong. Yeah, it seems like you’d be a lot more memorable by actually messing up. That’s pretty smart.

David:

Yeah, and then we have some side effects of these, because most people just get one or two handwritten notes a month now, not like the good old days when they receive a bunch. People literally Instagram and tweet these things. So, we work with a company called VNYL.

David:

What they are is they are a vinyl record subscription service. So, if you’re really into old school vinyl, they will look at your Spotify account and your other… I don’t know about Pandora, but your other music services. They’ll see what you listen to. And then they’ll send you vinyl records that they recommend based on your habits. With those vinyl records, they’ll include a handwritten note written by us. So, every day we’ll write up a whole bunch of their handwritten notes, send them back to VNYL. They’ll get inserted with these orders. Not only people love those notes, they then post them on Instagram and on Twitter. That creates a viral aspect that then helps drive more business back to VNYL.

David:

We’ve seen the same thing with a morning YouTube show. It’s one of the largest morning YouTube shows on the planet. They’re a client of ours. They were launching a fan club, where you’d pay 5 or 25 bucks a month or whatever to be a part of their fan club. The first thing they’d send you was this handwritten note from the two hosts of the morning show.

David:

What’s funny is they didn’t change up the language on that note at all. Everybody got the same note with the exception of dear Stephanie or whatever, but the rest of the note was identical. All these people are posting these photos of this note to Twitter over and over again. I mean, it’s the same note just different names over and over. People were so upset if their note did not arrive within a few days. You know what I mean? They were so looking forward to receiving a note from these two YouTube guys.

Stephanie:

Are there any backlash on that? Because I could see some people feeling like maybe they were tricked, or especially earlier, when you’re talking about retention. If someone is sending out a set of vinyl records every month and see similar handwriting or the exact same one every single time, it seems like there could be a risk of someone saying, “Hey, this isn’t actually authentic. You tricked me.” Have you seen that backlash, or how do you guys approach that when it comes to a subscription model with someone who’s maybe sending out a same snack box every month with a note in it that people will eventually be like, “Oh, yeah, this is obviously not a person writing it. It’s the same every single time”?

David:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, with VNYL, they’ve got a number of personalities that are the box curators. So, there’s like 10 some odd people that are responsible for making these recommendations. Each one of those people was assigned one of our handwriting styles. So, if you get a note from Cody, it’ll be in Tenacious Nick. Our handwriting style is called Tenacious Nick this month. And then next month, you get a message from Suzy, it might be in Chill Charity. The following month if you get one from Cody again, it’ll be back in Tenacious Nick. So, you’ll associate Tenacious Nick with Cody. And then that’s how that works.

David:

We have not seen a backlash. With the morning YouTube show, I was shocked that they didn’t see it because they weren’t… We vary stuff on the notes. So, in fact, we worked with a home fitness gym thing. They wanted a note from their founder included with every one of their products. They were annoyed with us that there was variation in the writing. We said, “Well, this is-

Stephanie:

A good thing.

David:

“… this isn’t a print product. Every line’s not supposed to identically look like the other card.” They were just not a great client for us, because of that. They wanted everything to be exactly… That’s not how people write.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s actually the exact question I was going to ask. Do you incorporate errors or smudges? How do you think about building the technology behind the scenes to make it more real?

David:

Yeah, for sure. So, we actually built our own font engine for one, leveraging some best of class technologies underneath it all. But we do stuff like the left margin of the card is not straight. So, it’s not like every letter of every line starts on the same exposition as the line above it. There’s what we call jitter. It moves in or moves out very subtly, but a couple of points. A point is a 72nd of an inch for those that don’t know, but yeah. So, we move those letters in and out, so that there’s some variation there. We also do the same thing with interline or intraline, I always screw that up, but the spacing between lines.

David:

So, one line might be slightly closer to the line above it and slightly farther from the line below it than the next one and vice versa. So, there is some line spacing stuff going on there. Then, like I said, the letters themselves alter quite a bit. We’ve got at least four or five copies of every letter plus ligature combos. So, you might have three copies of an L, but then we also have three copies of two L’s together. So, there’s a lot of variation in going into our handwriting. We get this a lot. We don’t curve the text. So, there is a little bit of maybe over precision on the text is fairly straight.

David:

Now, the page might be slightly rotated, so that the text runs up the page ever so slightly or down the page ever so slightly, but it’s not like the text is going to be on a roller coaster and go up and then down and back again. It’s relatively consistent. We are working on that, but it has not been a problem. It’s still very much passes most people’s internal Turing tests of what looks human versus what looks robotic. So, yeah, we don’t want to overdo it. The line jittering and the left margin jittering is all very, very subtle. So, that it’s not like creating some uncanny valley that looks totally bogus. You know what I mean? So, those are some of the things we do there. We work with a mattress company. In every mattress box, there’s, “Thank you so much for buying our mattress.”

David:

And then there was what I call a doodle. So, they made I think like eight of these little pieces of art. So, the words, “Thank you for your mattress,” were not in one of our handwriting styles. It’s a direct replica of somebody writing that. And then below that, the doodle is a direct replica of somebody drawing a doodle. So, it could be moon in the stars or there’s one of somebody sleeping in a bed with a little thought cloud showing what they’re dreaming of, a little cat.

David:

What was cool about that is with eight variations, if you buy two mattresses from them, one might have one little note from one guy in it and then the next mattress might have a note from somebody else in it. So, it looks really, really real. And then you post those to Twitter. It really shows up well there. So, that’s what I recommend doing. If you’re doing the same note over and over in volume, let’s just mix it up a little bit. It doesn’t cost you really anything more after you get going. You have some great variation.

Stephanie:

I saw you guys moved to having a subscription model, which a lot of guests who come on the show, they talk about thinking about doing that or some of them have recently. How did you guys know it was the right time to move into a subscription model?

David:

That’s a great question. You’re the first person to ask me that.

Stephanie:

Good.

David:

Yeah, so there’s a number of reasons we did that. I will be bluntly honest, because I think it’s of most value to everybody. Number one, I’ve self-funded Handwrytten to date for the last six years. I intend to continue doing that. However, we were just written up in the Inc 500. We had a good placement in the Inc 500. That created a lot of interest by investors. One thing investors are looking for is a recurring revenue model. While most of our clients recur every month, we have like solar panel installers that send thousands of messages a month. It’s not structured as a recurring revenue model. It’s just whatever you do, you pay for the next month, you don’t do anything, you don’t pay anything for it. So, we wanted to come up with a structure for a subscription model that would work.

David:

This is more the PR-friendly answer, but they’re both totally true. On the flip side, we have customers that wanted to send a lot of notes a month but didn’t want to do them all at once and didn’t want to do a huge pre-pay buy. So, before this, there were two ways to get discounts. One was to do a huge pre-pay, where you say, “Okay, I’m going to send 10,000 notes for the next couple months, and I’ll pay for that at a discount;” or go on our website and bulk upload a spreadsheet of 10,000 notes. For a lot of people, those two models don’t work. What if I’m sending 10 cards a month, but they’re spread out over the course of a month? I mean, I’m still sending 10 cards, can’t they get a little bit of a discount on that?

David:

So, we tried to come up with a model that serves them. It’s tough, because unlike an email provider or a CRM provider or anybody else, we have hard costs. Forget about the cardstock and the labor that goes into every card and all that, we have a 55¢ stamp on every card. That’s expensive. You know what I mean? So, it took us years to think of a way that would make this work. What we decided was you prepay for credit. That credit, it goes on your account. So, you pre-pay 35 bucks, you get 35 bucks of credit on your account. But that credit also gets you a 15% discount on all orders for the month, so not just on the orders you spend the $35 on. After you exhaust that 35 bucks, you still get that discount moving forward for the rest of the month.

David:

So, that was the model that we came up with, because we wanted to provide value, we don’t want to rip anybody off, but we needed a recurring revenue option. It is strictly an option. You can use our service for the rest of your life without ever using one of these subscription models.

Stephanie:

I think the one thing that came to mind was I’ve been listening to a lot of different interviews of SaaS founders, talking about how the subscription model, the future is not as much about getting into a long-term contract. It’s more actually pulling back to where you only pay for what you use. It’s not actually locking you into a contract anymore, because a lot of people are nervous about that or maybe prepaying. So, were there any surprises that maybe you guys have seen within the last week and a half as you implement this or pushback from customers or anything where you’re like, “Oh, we weren’t expecting that”? The consumer maybe thought this one thing, but actually, our plan was different. We adjusted it. Anything that you had to change after launching?

David:

Yeah, there’s a few things. Nothing that was a got you and nothing we’re really changing. It was more interesting. Okay, so we had somebody cancel their plan today. They signed up and then immediately canceled. So, if you sign up and you get the 15% off, that’s 15% off the cards. That’s not 15% off gift cards, which should go without saying, but maybe we have to add some language to the FAQ and all that, because I mean, that would be an arbitrage opportunity for somebody. You go on our website. You buy a Visa card for 15% off. You then take that Visa card and buy more Visa cards for… You know what I mean? So, that’s just crazy town.

Stephanie:

It’s good you didn’t figure that out the hard way.

David:

No, no, this pre-pay for a while has always locked you out. I mean, when you pre-pay for something, you’re pre-paying for the service, not for gift cards. It clearly does not work. I mean, it could be a huge issue. So, that was one. We had a woman that was very upset that she didn’t get a discount on her gift cards, and we refunded her. We have a money back guarantee. So, if anybody uses our service and they don’t like the service, they don’t like the handwriting, they don’t like the card quality. They don’t like the subscription, whatever, we’ll just give you your money back.

David:

I think more companies need to broadcast their money back guarantee, because even if they don’t think they have one, they have one. On our website, we have our money back guarantee. Before that, if anybody called and complained, we still gave them their money back. We just didn’t advertise that we had a money back guarantee. So, we gave the service without getting the benefit, if you know what I mean. Side point. So, point number one was people were shocked that you don’t get a discount on gift cards creating an arbitrage.

Stephanie:

One person, but yes.

David:

Yeah. Point number two, I’m surprised that… So, we have a 10% plan, a 15% off Plan and a 20% off Plan. We might go 25%. But I’m actually surprised so many people subscribed for 10% off. I didn’t realize 10% off would move the needle where people would be willing to subscribe. But if you’re in that area where you send that many cards, why not subscribe? So, that’s great. I’m glad people are using it. In fact, it’s our most popular plan right now.

David:

So, that was two, and then three, which I expected. But my expectation was realized was people we have a cancel at any time type offer. So, we have a lot of people signing up for the 10% off plan, sending five cards, and then canceling the plan. That’s fine. If they want to do that, I’m not going to stop people from doing it. It’s more important to us to be transparent and create a plan that has no lock in and deal with the people that are just trying to take advantage of it. If they want to do that, fine.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I mean, it also seems like that you’re still getting that sale and you’ll probably be remembered in the future. They’re like, “Oh, that was a good experience. Okay, I’m going to go back again.” So, maybe it’s not as harmful as… Even though initially, you might be like, “Oh, that’s annoying,” but maybe the future customer that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.

David:

Oh, yeah. No, I mean, it’s totally fine. I’ve still sold them five cards or whatever it is. So, it’s no big deal. It’s funny how people will go out of their way to save 10%, 10% for me doesn’t really move the needle but whatever.

Stephanie:

I know. Yeah, that’s very interesting that, 10% moves people to act like that. I think the biggest thing that you are also saying is like the clarity in the subscription model, which I think is really important and that a lot of companies don’t get right from the start, because they can make really confusing ones.

Stephanie:

So right now, it also seems like there could be… Well, twofold, either a big opportunity in direct mail or it’s noisier than ever, because brands know that people are home and they’re starting to do direct mail where maybe they weren’t doing that a year ago. So, how are you thinking about direct mail right now and making sure that your notes are getting opened? Is there still an opportunity, or is that dried up with where we’re at right now?

David:

So, I will say we are the largest handwriting provider in the world. Based on our volume, I will tell you there is room for improvement. We have very large brands using us, but it’s still just a drop in the bucket of everybody that could use us. I think a lot of brands just don’t even know it’s an option.

David:

There’s the BCG matrix, which is like the hardest thing to sell is a new product to a new customer. If you’re an office supplier and you start selling your existing customer a different type of pen, well, they’re an existing customer and they’ve already bought a pen from you. So, that’s an easy sell. If you’re selling a new customer a pen, people know about pens do an easy sell. But if you’re selling Joe on the street that you’ve never met a handwriting service, it’s very hard. So, there is a bunch of that. We’re doing our best to raise awareness. That’s been targeting quite frankly, a lot of Facebook advertising. We used to just go after Google and SEO, SEO, that type of stuff. But now, we’re trying to drive awareness through Facebook and LinkedIn and all the rest.

David:

But yeah, I think there’s a huge opportunity for brands to do this, because nobody is doing it or very few are doing it in a consistent, structured manner where some of our clients come to us and do a one-off campaign or one-off promotion, and then they’ll say, “Oh, that was the greatest promotion we’ve ever done. We’ll reconsider it again next year.” You’re thinking, “Why is it a promotion in the first place?” That should be an ongoing part of your CRM outreach strategy.” Right now, we’re developing a whole program just for automotive dealers to do just that, where you buy a car, you immediately receive a handwritten thank you. A couple weeks later, you receive a service offer, birthday card, happy holidays card, etc. It just repeats without the dealer even having to think about it. I think that model of moving it away from being a promotion to being a part of your CRM strategy is really what needs to happen.

David:

But a lot of other online brands actually have the advantage over traditional retail, because they have the home addresses of the clients where the retailers may or may not depending on if they’re in the loyalty program. So, online brands have this huge benefit of creating a one-to-one personalization opportunity through handwritten notes that brick and mortars might not. So, there’s that. And then also right now, it’s at the disservice of large B2B brands, because they might have your work address, but then they don’t have your home address. So, they’re left out of the shuffle too. But even before this COVID crisis, we were seeing online brands take much better advantage of this than in-store.

David:

I can give you a perfect example here. We work with a very high-end perfumery that makes a very expensive cologne and very expensive perfume. Everybody that’s buys this cologne and perfume from their website, they received a very beautiful handwritten note, thanking them for their purchase, etc. But if you walk into a department store, I walked in there with my wife and kids. We’re walking through the mall, and we walked into this department store prior to COVID. I found the product and I was showing it to my wife. A store rep came over and said, “This is the product.” I said, “Oh, yes, thank you. I’m just showing to my wife because we send out your handwritten notes.” She said, “No, you don’t, I have to send my own handwritten notes.” I explained what I meant.

David:

She said, “As a store rep, we’re supposed to send handwritten notes, but we’re too busy talking to customers like you, finishing up a sale, cleaning up the merchandising of the department, doing whatever else is required. We never get around to it. So, even though we have the best intentions in place, because it’s not automated for us, we don’t get to it.” We’ve been pushing this perfumery to offer the same service to their in-store experience, which would create a much better personal one-to-one experience than the online only.

David:

Where we’ve done a really good job of this or really the client that we have… It’s all about the client. It’s a high-end luxury leather goods company. They make handbags, purses, shoes, that type of thing. Every time you make any purchase whatsoever in one of their retail outlets, a handwritten note goes out from our service. But it’s signed by the store clerk that you worked with or it has their name and their phone number at the bottom of the note. So, we automated what this perfumery didn’t, basically. We tied it to the end. But short answer your question is I still think there’s a huge opportunity here. Quite frankly, people are very lonely right now. Any handwritten mail I think will get savored and opened and really showing that-

Stephanie:

They need a good handwritten note.

David:

They really do.

Stephanie:

Now’s the time

David:

Yeah, people have the time for it. I think at an abstract level, so two things. One, maybe they might not believe it’s actually handwritten if they start getting thousands of these a day or something, which will never happen. But they might say, “Oh, gee, this is not actually handwritten.” But that doesn’t stop people when they get their Christmas card from the president, depending on what election year it is. But if they get their Christmas card from the president, they probably realize the president didn’t sit down and sign a Christmas card to them. But it almost doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts and there is that they went above and beyond just laser printing a note. They figured out a way to send me something that seems really personal.

Stephanie:

So, I wanted to circle back to what we were talking about earlier about investors and how you were self-funded for the last six years. I want to hear a little bit about why you’re thinking about bringing on investors now and what that thought process is like.

David:

So, this really has more to do with David Wachs than Handwrytten. So, this is my second venture. My first company, that text messaging company, also was self-funded. I built that up and I was able to sell that off and do pretty well. That was a true startup. There were a lot of nights where it was just me in an empty room with a two-liter diet Mountain Dew sitting by my side as I program.

Stephanie:

Nice, healthy.

David:

Classic, stereotypical startup image, I lived that. But that company actually took off a lot faster than Handwrytten. This time, I decided, “Okay, well, I’m just going to invest my own money, I’m going to build it up.” I never really considered venture until this year when we got on the Inc 500. The problem is or the problem I see is we’re in a bit of a doughnut hole. Had we gone for venture early on, we would have been great, because then we would have had an idea and no track record. We would have built up this company.

David:

We would have taken up an S ton of cash, garbage truck cash. We would have invested all of this advertising and built it up really fast. But instead of doing that, I grew profitably and organically, I reinvested profits back into the company, so our growth trajectory is much slower. Because of that, now venture capitalists don’t even really want to talk to us. Oh, you’ve only grown at this rate, not 50 times. I’m like, “Well, yeah, because I’ve grown smartly and profitably.”

Stephanie:

That seems to be a focus, the tides are turning a bit. I mean, there was, for a long time, just grow as quick as you can, we’ll give you a bunch of money. You don’t even have to figure out the business model. Do you even have a business? If you want to pivot halfway through spending all the money, it’s fine, but I am starting to see a shift now, where, yeah, they’re looking for companies actually grow sustainably, at least some VC firms around here. So, I don’t know if you experienced that yet.

David:

Honestly, I’ve been so busy. So, we entertained a few VC phone calls. They were very, very nice people and very, very big firms. They basically said, “Oh, well, you haven’t grown enough this year.” I said, “Well, COVID has been going on. So, there’s that.” Because not a lot of our clients were retailers, so we lost that business, etc. So, to answer your question, part of it was I’ve actually worked in VC. I’ve worked for two different VC firms, but I’ve never taken VC.

David:

I thought it would be good for me personally to go through that experience of receiving VC, having somebody else to report to from a funding perspective. And then potentially down the road, really working for a VC firm as a partner or something like that. I thought that would be my next transition, because this is company number two. I don’t see myself going through this process again. So, that was the thought process of, “Well, if I take VC now, we could really blow this up, because I’ve got a well-oiled machine here that just needs money to scale, that needs to scale advertising.”

David:

The technology is pretty much done, although we’re doing some really innovative stuff in machine vision, machine learning, which I can talk about. The idea was, “I haven’t done it before. Let me give this a go, if anybody’s interested.” I had a handful of conversations, they all went the same way. I’m short on time these days. So, I was just like, “Well, let me get back to the grindstone and maybe worry about that later.”

Stephanie:

Got it. Cool. Yeah, thanks for answering that. I was wondering where you left off with that. All right. So, we only have 10 minutes left. So, I was going to shift over to the lightning round brought to you by our friends at Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready, David?

David:

I will do my best.

Stephanie:

All right. That’s all I ask for. What one thing will have the biggest impact on ecommerce in the next year?

David:

Personalization. Whether it’s a handwritten note or an experience that’s personalized when you visit a website or anything else, I think standing out through personalization, there’s been study after study by companies like Segment that say that’s a huge opportunity.

Stephanie:

Do you name your robots?

David:

No, we name our handwriting. The robots are numbered. So, it’s 1 through whatever, 95 right now. We used to have an animated robot, and he still is on our website. If you buy a card, you’ll see this little animated robot at the end. His name is Pinbot 2000, because when I was growing up, things that ended in 2000 sounded very futuristic even though [crosstalk 00:44:47].

Stephanie:

Yeah.

David:

His name is Pinbot 2000.

Stephanie:

I like it. What’s your favorite handwriting?

David:

I like Tenacious Nick. If you visit our website, it’s a very sweeping block print.

Stephanie:

[inaudible] check it out. What’s up next on your reading list?

David:

It’s funny. I’ve got a bunch of books here. This one is by the head of sales for HubSpot, Mark Roberge? I hope I’m pronouncing that right. It’s called the Sales Acceleration Formula. It was recommended to me. So, I figured I’d read it tomorrow when I have to fly to Chicago.

Stephanie:

Very cool. What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

David:

My brother actually is a bigwig at Netflix, but what I’m watching right now is on Amazon. It’s The Boys. I’m trying to finish season two.

Stephanie:

Oh, is it good?

David:

Yeah. It’s a dark superhero tale. The one I liked on Netflix… It was 40 minutes and was great. I think it’s called Cubers. It’s great. If you don’t care about Rubik’s Cubes at all, which I really don’t, it was still wonderful. It’s the story of two Rubik’s Cube masters. One of them is autistic, and the other Rubik’s Cube master, who is just a really nice guy in Australia. The friendship that evolves through these two Rubik’s Cube masters. That’s really good.

Stephanie:

That’s interesting. If you were to have a podcast, what would the podcast be about and who would your first guest be?

David:

That is a great-

Stephanie:

It can’t be about handwritten notes.

David:

No, no, I think it would be about one-to-one marketing though, which is very much in the same vein and probably a sucker answer that I’m giving you. But it would be how do you market to people on a personal level that doesn’t come across as junk, because everything’s looking like junk?

Stephanie:

Yup, I like that.

David:

That would be what it is, and I apologize in advance for that answer.

Stephanie:

No, I like that one. I mean, I think it’s much needed now. Who would you bring on as a guest?

David:

Joe Polish, who’s a marketing expert. He’s quite good. Dean Jackson who he works with would be a good guest for that. There’s probably somebody from Segment as they have a lot of data that backs it up. So, I’d want to talk with them.

Stephanie:

Cool. All right. And then the last one, since you’ve started a company before and you’ve sold it and started another one, what piece of advice would you give to a new entrepreneur who’s starting up a new commerce company?

David:

Commerce or not, the one piece of advice that I give to everybody was told to me in person over dinner. So, this is a little bit of a humble brag by Conan O’Brien. So, when I was in college, I used to be in this group that would bring speakers to campus and we brought Conan O’Brien. So, the guys that organized got to sit down and do dinner with him. This is a long time ago. So, he was relatively starting out on having his own talk show back then.

David:

But the advice he gave us was, “Always get in over your head.” That has stuck with me for 20 some odd years now, always get in over your head. I mean, people give you advice every day, but how much of it sticks for 20 years. The way I interpret that is if you don’t get in over your head, you’re never going to grow. You’re just never going to pull yourself out of your comfort zone and really do something bigger than you thought you could do. So, I think about it all the time.

Stephanie:

I like it. Okay, Conan, coming in with some good wise words, pretty good. All right, David. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. Where can people find out more about you and Handwrytten with a Y?

David:

Handwrytten with Y, so you can visit Handwrytten with a Y, H-A-N-D-W-R-Y-T-T-E-N.com. We have @handwrytten on Twitter, Handwrytten on Facebook. Personally, I’m @DavidB, as in boy, Wachs, W-A-C-H-S on Twitter. You can find me there, although I don’t tweet very much. If anybody wants to try the service, there’s two things I’d say. If you go to the business page, you can actually request a samples kit for free. That samples kit will have all sorts of different handwriting styles for you, including Tenacious Nick, my favorite, but they’re all good.

David:

The other thing is if you sign up and you sign up with an email and password, you can enter a discount code. Enter discount code ‘podcast’, and you’ll get $5 in credit that you can then use to send yourself a card or somebody else’s card or send your first card, whatever. So, that’s available for you too.

Stephanie:

Awesome. All right. Well, thanks so much, David. It’s been fun. We will have to have you back in the future once you can see more about your subscription service and all that. So, thanks for coming on.

David:

Awesome. Thanks, Stephanie.

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