From IOUs to I Love Yous, this startup is reviving the lost art of letter writingSindhu Kashyap
The Indian Handwritten Co. is a Bengaluru-based startup that writes handwritten notes for consumers and businesses.
“Sorry we messed up. Please bear with us, we are teething,” said a beautifully handwritten customer care note that 28-year-old Khushboo had received after she sent back a wrong order to a boutique e-commerce company. A thrilled Khushboo went around showing that letter to everyone at her office.
There is something innately personal and beautiful about receiving a handwritten letter. It was something 30-year-old Ankit Anubhav felt was lacking in today’s digital world. Ankit says,
“I am a letter writing nerd. I grew up in a boarding school where we had to write letters to our folks every week. Sometimes it was fun, but sometimes, you ran out of topics to write on; so, I would build upon my fantasies.”
Starting with a basic blog
However, after school, letter writing took a back seat, and with the many different digital messengers and means of communications out there, snail mail just didn’t make sense. But as the years passed, Ankit always found letters better, and was looking at ways to go back to the act of writing a letter.
On this, he found common ground with Jashwanth Cheripally, whom he met through common friends over coffee. Their mutual love for handwritten letters created The Indian Handwritten Letter Co. in Bengaluru in October 2015.
They launched a blog site, more of a hobby at the time, where people could request letters. But within two weeks, the number of requests that they received were too high. Between the two of them, they did over 2,000 letters.
It was in September, when the duo received a big query for handwritten letters from a major e-tailer, that they realised that, in this digital age, many people found the idea of handwritten letters appealing. Thus began the madness, with Ankit and Jashwanth scrambling to figure out everything about the business they were about to enter, from what kind of stationery people would want and shipping options to handwriting tones and content.
They also began to hunt for more people. However, as it turns out, recruiting wasn’t as difficult as they thought it would be. One day, a woman walked into the office and asked, “I am here to meet The Indian Handwritten Letter Co.”
“We were like, ‘Awesome! Please sit down at the table and start writing.’ Today, she heads operations, and helps us deliver letters to our customers seamlessly. For our team, the biggest plus point has been that we all believe in the idea that handwritten letters are still the sexiest way to communicate.” This was half the battle won, as, with the whole team sharing a belief in what the business does, it wasn't difficult to convince them to align with the idea.
Launching as a business
“So, we decided to make it a full-fledged thing, and launched the first cut of the site in April 2016. We are still pushing more and more updates on a weekly basis and adapting to the existing demands from customers,” says Ankit.
The Indian Handwritten Letter Co. (THLC) endeavours to craft high-quality personal letters and business notes to customers on behalf of their clientele, thus making messaging personal and creating a lasting impression on the receiver.
Be it any kind of letter, from love letters and cover letters to sorry letters and resignation letters, THLC helps you craft all of them with ease, and ships them out on your behalf.
Focus on customisation
While attention spans are growing smaller, advertising is getting expensive. Marketers are increasing budgets to have a quicker acquisition of consumers, be it online or offline, but it's not something that is working out, as customer acquisition cost is increasing and inversely proportional to the value it offers.
With THLC, the team claims that businesses have seen a 77 percent increase in conversions from handwritten letters to consumers for a limited period promotion. This, Ankit adds, has decreased mass marketing, and focuses on targeting a specific set of consumers.
All letters are handwritten, and the focus is on 100 percent customisation and personalisation, and not on forwards.
“We not only give people a service that writes letters, but are also in the business of providing them with content for the same. In the last eight months, we have made a gross revenue of Rs 2 lakh, out of which 24 percent has just come from drafting content for people in regional languages,” says Ankit.
Proving people wrong
However, the ride wasn’t easy. During one of their early conversations with a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and VC, they were discouraged, told that their business lacked scalability. Ankit says that the investor told them that if they got 100 orders in this age, it would be surprising.
“Fortunately for us, the gentleman is wrong, but the incident points to the sad reality of some people judging a product on their own experiences and not from the market perspective. We stuck to our gut feeling, and here we are today, almost nine months down the line, with orders going through the roof,” says Ankit.
The team believes that they aren’t targeting a declining market, but are rather addressing a huge problem of 'being personal' in the future. They do not see letter writing as being vintage, but instead believe it to be fashionable, as it can cut through the noise.
Bringing in a differentiator
THLC has divided their strength between two teams, one for businesses and the other for consumers. For consumers, there is a community of people who write letters, who are fulfilling orders, while for large B2B orders, the in-house team of writers handles execution.
The team is currently working on the idea of being community-driven, and they claim that, every day, they get over 20 to 30 handwritten notes from people wanting to join them as writers. They are looking at AI to discover patterns and make content drafting simpler.
They are also introducing a one-day delivery option, expanding the scope of letters with personalised gifts, and, for businesses, they are looking at having a deeper integration and going above ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ letters, to create impactful propaganda for the brand/individual.
A global market
“We are not only an India-focused product, as 12 percent of our orders shipped out are from customers outside India. Thus, we feel the need to expand our community of writers and cater to their needs,” says Ankit.
The space also hosts several other such brands like The Letteroom and The Wooden Letters Company. HelloBond and MailLift have also established a presence in the segment.
THLC adds that the way they differentiate themselves is by catering to both the B2C and B2B segments. “Our biggest strength is our editorial team, which also drafts content on behalf of people, thus making stickiness to our platform a lot more than our competition,” says Ankit.
Currently, they make margins on handwritten letters/notes and stationery kits, and their other revenue streams include letter writing courses and activities, API integrations with corporates, and content drafting in different languages.
The team claims to have over 600 customers, with over 4,700 letters shipped so far and nine corporate tie-ups, and all this without spending a single dollar on marketing. THLC claims to have made over $3,000 in sales, and are growing at 150 percent month on month. Ankit concludes,
“We at The Indian Handwritten Letter Co. don’t wish to change your technology habits, but wish to make that one message a day that stands out, for the simple reason that when you send in a letter, someone takes time to actually open it and see the message. Those 60 seconds are enough for you to convey your message and retain the reader for a lifetime.”