Friday, November 22, 2013

Quick lesson

In the summer of '97, my friend Cassie and I formed a calligraphy business. Having taken a six-day course in early June, I expertly hocked the goods to our ever-expanding client base... guilty parents.

"Would you like your stationery to have the Victorian border? Or the double Victorian border, available for just 2 cents more per sheet?" I'd ask sweetly. 

The client knew to order the double Victorian border. And at ten cents a sheet, boy did they order them. The common request was for 50 sheets per customer, likely because they felt bad offering us anything less than $5. 

We began working for several hours per day to fulfill the hundreds of pages, always listening to Hanson's Middle of Nowhere album.

After a week or two of this, our hands began to hurt. My muscles were cramping and on occasion, searing pain shot through my digits. That's right. I had a classic case of Eleven Year Old Calligraphy-Based Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. 

The promise of straight cash - nearly $30 each* - and some intrepid efficiency methods kept us going through our darkest hours. 

We started to listen to one Hanson track, Lucy, on repeat. "It's better if we don't know how much time has passed," we reasoned wisely. 

When the pain proved too much to handle, we would numb our hands in a bucket of ice water we kept in the sink.

Common sense set in, and we stopped taking clients shortly thereafter. But we did fulfill all outstanding orders, on time and as promised. 

I learned three important business lessons from this endeavor:

1. Soundtrack is crucial
To this day, I have very specific music needs when I work. If I need to crank something out in an hour, I put on the Garden State soundtrack. If I'm working on something I hate, I ramp up productivity by listening to Nicki Minaj because she can make anything fun. If I'm having a crisis of confidence, I go all millennial and listen to R. Kelly's World's Greatest on repeat.

2. Partner with people who won't give up - and who have good snacks
I vividly remember wanting to toss in the towel when I became temporarily hand-crippled, but Cassie made me keep going. She also acted as quality control by tossing out pages that didn't meet our high standards. Perhaps most importantly, Cassie had endless supplies of Cool Ranch Doritos and Tab soda, which we raided constantly to keep team morale high. 

3. If you're doing twice the work, charge twice the amount
The double Victorian border was a series of cursive "Cs", with a second layer running below in the opposite direction. I risked PTSD of the phalange-al variety to recreate it for you:

Charging only 25% more for the "DV" was foolish. It's a gorgeous, original creation that exquisitely exudes the time period after which it is named. Plus, it was a bitch to get the corners to match up perfectly.

Lemonade stands are for amateurs. Who else has a badass entrepreneurial story to share? 

*Yep, we calligraphied over 600 pages of paper in a month and made $30 each.


Emily Anne said...


If I didn't know you, I would absolutely think this story was made up.

Also, you should NEVER listen to R. Kelly's World's Greatest on repeat.

LH said...

This is the most amazing story. I can not believe you did this. This would be a great Moth story.