Why I started Mean Mail
When I’m asked what made me start Mean Mail the short answer is because I couldn’t find a Valentine’s card suitable for my relationship. One day my boyfriend and I were joking about saying what we really wish could be written on a Valentine’s card. “I’d like to keep this when we split up” got mentioned and that became one of the first cards. (We’re still together, in case you were wondering 🙃). However there are many more reasons that made me start Mean Mail when I did. The idea for Mean Mail had been brewing for ages (read: years, yep I’m good at procrastinating) and it reached a tipping point where I had to make it happen.
I saw an opportunity
I felt there was a gap for cards that looked beautiful but were actually quite brutal in what they said.
There are so many cards out there that cheerleader you, but hardly any that tell it like it is. I really believe in honesty is the best policy in so many areas of life. True friends and work colleagues call you out on stuff that’s not a good idea. We all need more of that. The greeting card market is massive and very saturated but I saw an opportunity to make cards that give permission to say what you are really thinking in a sarcastic way.
I wanted to build a brand
I’ve spent years building brands and creative ideas for other people but I have always wanted to do it for my own idea.
One of the most enjoyable parts of starting Mean Mail has been the opportunity to build a brand. It’s different when you’re your own client because it has a start point but no end point, and I found myself being much more critical on the design and strategy. I hesitated so much at the beginning. Mean Mail was originally called something else when I first came up with the idea and I could never get it out of the starting blocks as I wasn’t happy with it. When I came up with the name Mean Mail everything clicked and it really started to happen. When I’ve done projects for clients I invest so much of myself into their project. It’s been exciting applying this energy to my own brand.
To create more
I love to make and create.
The reason I went into advertising is because I enjoy the fast turnover of ideas. I love to problem solve. In advertising you need to come up with new ideas all the time and I love that. You expect the majority to get killed but when your work gets made, it’s so bloody exciting and satisfying. Ideas die for a reason but I saw more and more the reason ideas got killed was because of politics, process and power.
The bigger the organisation, the more political it gets. Good ideas will sometimes never get shown because it might make a creative director in another country look bad as the idea didn’t come from their team. This process as a creative is demoralising and to be honest, it wore me down. With Mean Mail I get to create and execute those ideas on a regular basis.
Because I couldn’t procrastinate any longer
I got fed up of telling people about my idea but not doing it.
They say when you come up with an idea, tell as many people around you about it to encourage you get started. Well I tried this and it didn’t work. Those closest to me know how good I am at procrastinating. This isn’t an excuse but I’ve heard it’s quite a common trait in creative people. I got fed up with myself. More on procrastination another time (I appreciate the irony of this sentence).
To be in control of my future
I wanted to build a job where I have the opportunity to work flexibility, children or not.
I could see where my career trajectory could take me. I could continue to progress up the rungs in a creative department, but really - where would I be going? Financially, the package increases (ok cool) but creatively, you get further and further away from the work and more into the politics and management of people. It got me thinking, is it really worth it?
My bugbear about full time work is traditionally it’s not very flexible. The reason we work 9-5 is a hangover from working in fields and factories by daylight. There’s definite improvements happening daily in this area and people are no longer realising presenteeism doesn’t get the work done but we’ve still got a long way to go on getting a great work / life compromise.
Although it’s come on leaps and bounds, full time employment still makes having children and working a difficult experience. I read an article in the Times money section in 2016 that said a mum with two kids at nursery would need to earn at least £40k a year if she is not to be left out of pocket. You can read it here. Even if she earned £40k she would be left with £4 a day for bills, mortgage, food and all other expenses. How is this ok?
*I wrote this post so long ago that I'm now friends with Annie, the woman in the article above and I've had a baby!
Because I made a ‘bad’ career move
You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
One of reasons that made me start Mean Mail when I did was dissatisfaction in a new job I had just started. I left a full time job that I really enjoyed but had grown out of in November 2016 to go to a smaller company where I’d be working 4 days a week. My 5th day was going to be used starting Mean Mail. However the job was very different to what had been sold to me (more on that another time) so during my three month probation chat I handed in my notice.
In hindsight I should have stayed a bit longer to build up more of a buffer but ‘stay uncomfortable’ has become my motto. It’s all to easy to spend months / years hibernating in jobs waiting for the right moment to leave so I had to go. I’m so glad I did.
Fear was a big reason why I started Mean Mail. Fear that I’d be forever working for someone else full time. Also fear that someone else would make Mean Mail before I did.
I love coming up with creative solutions for things, problem solving was the reason I enjoy working in advertising so much. Over the years I have come up with ideas and sometimes whilst my idea is still on the pages of my notebook, I’ve seen someone else come to market and actually do it. Gutted. With Mean Mail, I was arrogant enough to again believe someone else would go and do it before I did. So I just had to get on with it. I also had a fear of doing the same thing all my life. I didn’t fancy getting to 60 and looking back thinking ‘I wish I had done that’.
This is quite a long post but I wanted to show how there’s usually so many reasons for starting your own company. It’s not a straightforward process. There isn’t a perfect moment to start either, lots of reasons contribute to a tipping point that makes you go for it. For me the catalyst was changing jobs. When I launched Mean Mail it wasn’t completely ready but you know what, you’re never completely ready. It’s always better to just get on with it.
At a talk I once heard a cheesy quote that really stuck with me - ‘you can build your own dream or help build someone else’s.’ Don’t get me wrong, I love coming up with ideas for other people’s businesses and will continue to do so, but I also love creating the opportunity to build something and watch it grow.