It’s a lot harder than you think!

Tellinga creates personalized hand-drawn greeting cards that tell your story through snail mail

Please introduce yourself and your startup Tellinga to our readers:

My name is Alex Kurkowski, and I am a Houston, TX native.  I have an undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University, an MBA from Rice University, and a career in the pharmaceutical industry.  I am also the founder of Tellinga where we send personalized greeting cards that tell your story through snail mail. 

How did you get the idea of Tellinga?  

Already equipped with a career, and now maintaining a new MBA workload proved to be a tall task.  I noticed that all my free time started to slip away, and so did a lot of my relationships with friends and family.  To keep in touch, I started snail mailing them epistolary (literary/artisanal work in the form of letters) style illustrations.  I would draw pictures in story form and snail-mail them out to loved ones piece by piece over time.  Imagine a comic or any book with images being taken apart page by page and then those pages snail-mailed out one by one throughout weeks or even months!  

For my friends and family, it was always a way to stay connected and create fun, personalized stories so that they could look forward to checking their mailboxes every day. My family and friends always enjoyed these stories because they were always goofy, consistently sent over time, and they were always drawn as the main characters in their own personalized “mailbox movie.”

Why did you decide to start with Tellinga?  

Tellinga started for three reasons: 

We live in such a digital world these days as we are always emailing, text messaging, and following each other’s social media accounts. Things such as traditional snail mail have somewhat been forgotten and for those that still frequently check the mailbox are often disappointed by the number of bills or junk mail.  Tellinga offers a way to tap back into the tangible and traditional by providing a product that you can touch and feel on a deeper level rather than staring at another screen.  It provides that old level of eagerness and anticipation of looking forward to checking your mailbox every day. 

It is the same exciting feeling of when you were mailing letters with a pen pal or loved one growing up, looking forward to that new edition of your favorite magazine, or the expectation of receiving a greeting card from a loved one.  The goal is to provide an extremely personalized gift that brightens a loved one’s day by delivering little hand-drawn story surprises in their mailboxes. 

It gives people the chance to be a character of their own mailbox story sent out piece by piece. 

Greeting cards for lack of a better word, suck.  They are templated without any real personalization or meaning.  Messages are usually generic, lame, and flat out cheesy.  Greeting cards also provide zero additional benefits.  Sure, maybe you put one up on your fridge for a week, but nobody truly enjoys it.  When people usually receive a greeting card, they fake smile, say “thank you,” and toss it out when nobody is looking. 

Why? It’s because there is zero additional use because of its lack of meaning and feeling.  Lastly, you only receive greeting cards one time in one occurrence or situation.   I honestly don’t know how greeting cards have survived this long.  Tellinga is the perfect solution to these problems.  Tellinga offers 100% personalization/customization allowing the customer to have whatever they want. Messages are told in story form, which is more heartfelt and personal than standardized templates. 

Tellinga also provides additional uses including framing, putting on your refrigerator, set as the profile picture on your social media pages, and you can even create your own reusable storybook for your coffee table or book collection. Lastly, you receive Tellinga hand-drawn cards over time to enjoy multiple times rather than just the one and done occurrence.  

Tellinga is truly where greeting cards meet storybooks meet snail mail!

Tellinga delivers a new platform for young and eager artists to express themselves artistically while pursuing a path of personal and economic prosperity.   Currently employing 25 talented artists from across the nation, Tellinga provides younger artists a chance to demonstrate their hard-earned art degrees by sending 100% hand-drawn storybook greeting cards as unique gifts by snail mail.

What is the vision behind Tellinga?

In late 2019, we plan to integrate a “sharing economy” model to quickly on-board aspiring artists similar to Airbnb and Uber.  In late 2019, we plan to start on-boarding writers/novelists to write love letters, poems, or any fun story to send through the mail.  This model will provide the artists and writers flexibility to price and schedule their own work.  We also plan to implement a subscription model so that Tellinga can take care of everyone’s greeting card needs.

How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?  

When I reflect starting Tellinga one year ago, I believe I was where naivety, meets stupidity, meets confidence which can be a deadly combination and to be honest there is a big part of me that still feels this way.  Equipped with a career in pharmaceuticals, attending grad school at Rice, and trying to maintain a relationship with my girlfriend encouraged me to start Tellinga. 

I wasn’t developing a cure for cancer or a new driverless car, so I thought it how hard could sending hand-drawn art through the mail be?  This part of the story can now be titled “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I knew that I had to create a website (which I have never done before) and hire artists (which I also have never done before nor where to start) but lacked complete vision on everything else. 

I didn’t know where to find artists, if they would want to work with Tellinga, and how I would compensate them, that I would have to form an LLC (where to go and how to get started), create contacts for the artists (where to go and how to get started), create operational polices, pricing strategy, where and how to find the materials from stamps, cardstock, and envelopes, what exactly the product would look like (quality) or what I wouldn’t that to be, social media campaigns with Hootsuite planner for brand new platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr (all new to me), running social media ads on facebook/Instagram, reach out to the press and bloggers (or if this was the right strategy).

And what our messaging would be, how to collect and start email campaigns, how to create unique content with Canva or filmora, implement a review system, use QuickBooks (lots of problems here),  track orders, customer service, install a 150+ affiliate program, search engine optimization using Ahrefs, use of digital marketing CRMs like Buzz stream, acquire customer feedback and use surveys, and creating/shaping company culture.

 This is all just to name a few all the while I was maintaining a career in pharmaceuticals, attending grad school, and in a loving relationship.  Major shout out for those that have children because I have no idea how you could do it.  I have wasted thousands of dollars and hours on what I like to now call dummy taxes. And i have gained 25 lbs. from the terrible stress diet (always delivering food due to lack of time with uber eats).  I have not slept for more than 5 hours in so long I can remember.  The sacrificed time with close friends, family, and my girlfriend have been unreal (I feel like Howard Hughes after locking himself in his room during a challenging time of his life).  

Constant frustration and irritation with myself for my lack of knowledge or understanding with a new platform, process, or procedure.  The scared feeling you get sometimes of waking up early to start the day because you know how hard that day is going to be.  The feverish notetaking on my cell phone all day after a new thought enters my mind.  The obsession and consistent consuming thoughts.  Learning new things in the leadership program at work, new knowledge in grad school, and all the things listed above made it challenging to focus on leadership.  

The past year has easily been the hardest, and in a weird way, I think only other entrepreneurs can understand the most satisfying of my life.  I say all of this as if Tellinga has taken off and doing extremely well, but we are still struggling and finding out way.

Who is your target audience?  

18-40-year-old male and females looking for a better greeting card experience (Really its anyone of all ages and genders looking for a better greeting card experience).  We are also targeting retirement communities, hospitals, military, any company looking to say “thank you” to their clients, gift shops/gift baskets, and parents of college students. 

What is the USP of your startup? 

Tellinga (like telling a story) is a Houston, TX-based start-up that creates personalized hand-drawn greeting cards that tell your story through snail mail. Story recipients receive illustrated stories about themselves based on unique preferences. It can be fun, dramatic, thoughtful… anything!

Here’s how it works:

Select your story length (options-one day, one week, two weeks, or one month)

Upload a photo and add a description of your desired story (you can reminisce a memory from your past or create a brand new story

Our team of talented illustrators and artists will start working on your story

A few days later, the designated recipient of the story will start receiving unique hand-drawn greeting card-sized illustrations every other day in their mailbox until the package ends

Can you describe your typical workday?  

Monday through Friday: Career all day long and Tellinga all night long.  Weekends:  Tellinga all day and all night long

Where do you see yourself and your startup Tellinga in five years? 

Obviously, buying Amazon and taking over the world! Just kidding.  1.  A significant alternative to the traditional greeting card such as companies like Lovepop and Feltapp.  2.  Built-in subscription and Airbnb sharing economy models that on-board artists and writers to make it fun to check your mailbox again!!!

What three tips would you give to the founders? 

It’s a lot harder than you think.  Prepare for the worst and expect the best.  The little things tend to pile up and drive you crazy.

Launch as soon as possible and let the customers and market drive pivots/modifications on your product.

Watch out for the hustle and grind addiction.  I have gained 30 lbs in one year throughout my startup venture, and I’m not paying for it.  Continue to eat right, occasionally exercise, and maintain relationships with loved ones. 

More information you will find here

Thank you Alex Kurkowski for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

Sabine Elsässer

Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

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