How two girls and a startup brought letter writing back in vogue
A crisp handwritten scrawl on a piece of paper might be a relic from the past - what with WhatsApp and messenger ruling the way the world communicates. Yet, celebrating the art of letter writing in this digitally galvanised age is what these two entrepreneurs are sharing with the world.
Invoking the beauty of that ordinary slip of paper inked with a special message.
[LtoR] Shivani Mehta, and Harnehmat Kaur, co-founders of Battees
The two best friends-cum women entrepreneurs had started a letter-writing initiative - Battees which has today taken a life of its own.
Both National Institute of Design students, Harnehmat Kaur and Shivani Mehta started Batees six years ago as a labour of love that has now turned into a self-sustainable business with celebrities like superstar Amitabh Bachchan and lyricist Gulzar joining in the passion-turned-business initiative.
The co-founders candidly pipe, “Battees has always run as a passion project, without demanding too much.” Today, it runs as a full-time startup.
Battees - like the colloquial batteesi (showing all 32 teeth or smiling ear to ear) is a Delhi-based startup which designs and executes campaigns, products and events that promote handwritten communication. Most recently, it organised a flagship event titled Daakroom in the capital where around 50 schools participated by writing letters to the Prime Minister, Army jawans, and Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. From all the letters, Battees will choose selective few to be sent to the PM and jawans.
“Battees primarily believes in spreading smiles by using postcards and letters as a medium and reintroducing writing by hand as an important part in today’s digital era,” says Shivani Mehta (27), co-founder and design lead, Battees.
Fast friends Shivani and Harnehmat shared a common love for handwritten letters. Shivani was also a part of the global postcard sending and receiving project postcrossing[dot]com earlier as every time she wanted to send a postcard, the post office’s collection of tourism postcards disappointed her.
At NID, both friends decided to put their passion to good use – they set up a small stall for postcard writing at a World Post Day event. “The turnout was magical,” recalls Harnehmat Kaur (28), also co-founder and creative head.
At the stall, they sold postcards at Rs 30 each, and promised customers of Rs 10 and a stamp if they came back with a written postcard.
“We started Battees as best friends who were passionate about letters and postcards going to loved ones and putting a smile on their faces. At NID in Ahmedabad, we put in about Rs 10,000 from our pocket money (for the stall), and made Rs 14,000 with about 500 postcards written and posted by students and faculty,” says Shivani as she recalls how college mates wrote to parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends.
The faculty and friends came back with stories about how happy people were to receive letters and that was when Shivani and Harnehmat realised the impact a simple letter had on a person’s life.
Passion to business
The duo then dabbled in letter-writing products, activities, events and ideas to evoke an interest in putting pen to paper.
“Our letter writing kits and postcard diaries were very well received. To be more effective to a larger audience, we started customising events to promote letter writing along with causes like environmental sustainability – the ‘Back to Soil’ campaign with paper manufacturer JK Paper, student welfare - letters to parents of tribal students with the ST&SC development department, Government of Odisha or heartfelt marketing campaigns like ‘Letters to Supermoms’ with JK Paper and letters to jawans with SOCIAL, Chandigarh,” Shivani adds.
The co-founders tell that they look for people and brands who believe in the same and can align their products and events with Battees so that both can be promoted.
Their events and campaigns have seen more than 50,000 in attendance. Thus, they decided to start up with SH Enterprises LLP in 2015 to run Battees and re-establish the relevance of handwritten communication. Collecting funds of Rs 1.5 lakh from family and friends, they put up a postcard writing stall at Comic-Con Delhi in 2015.
When letters flourished into a business model
Interestingly, this Rs 1.5 lakh was their first and last investment. From then on, they grew steadily. The startup covers organising costs with sponsors, earns marginally from product sales like letter writing activity kits and boxes.
“We offer customised immersive experiences by designing products and services. We have a network of schools across the country where we primarily conduct events,” says Shivani.
The revenue is dependent on the three to four events Battees does per year. “We have been able to generate revenue of up to around Rs 25 lakh a year, and are constantly pushing to do bigger events. We try to maintain a 30 percent profit margin, and even withdraw our salaries, and most of our profit is invested back into the company,” tells Shivani.
A unique business setup
The common narrative of a startup is not just blood and sweat but time and effort, but the duo believes otherwise. They manage the startup so efficiently that they have ample time for studies, explore other businesses, and personal lives too.
“We have built Battees on a flexible model with a solid network. We take on projects across the country as per mutual consent with the client, which is why we do limited events,” Shivani adds.
While the duo runs the show, a network of schools, volunteers, team members and organisations help in their campaigns, events and projects.
Their larger aspiration is to “not just make people write letters once but get them invested and engaged in it as a way of communication in this digital era,” says Shivani.
The sky is the limit
Battees scaled even further in 2017. The startup launched its flagship Daakroom which started from Prayagraj (Allahabad) at Kumbh Mela followed by a second edition at Chandigarh. Both events saw the participation of over 50 schools and approximately 10,000 students in the respective regions.
“During both events, we saw the support from celebrities in the form of letters written by Amitabh Bachchan and Gulzar. Our campaign “Letter to my Supermom” and “Back to Soil” saw children write around 62,000 letters to their mothers and 10,000 plantable postcards, respectively,” Shivani adds.
The future looks experiential
The duo wants to set up an experiential store to celebrate the power and beauty of letter writing next. Not looking for external funding, “We are open to collaborations with stores and cafes for events or campaign-specific sponsorship or partnerships,” says Shivani.
(Edited by Suruchi Kapur-Gomes)