Episode 084 : Using Technology to Personalize the Art of Service with David Wachs

David Wachs is a serial entrepreneur and his latest venture, handwrytten, is bringing back the lost art of letter writing through scalable, robot-based solutions that write your notes in pen.

Developed as a platform, Handwrytten lets you send notes from your CRM system such as Salesforce, the website, apps or through custom integration. Used by major meal boxes, e-Commerce giants, nonprofits and professionals, Handwrytten is changing the way brands are connecting with people

Prior to his current initiatives, David founded Cellit, a mobile marketing platform and mobile agency. Under his leadership Cellit became a leading player in the mobile marketing space and invented the concept of mobile customer relationship management (Mobile CRM).

Cellit developed one of the most robust and widely-used mobile marketing platforms in the world, delivering millions of SMS and MMS messages to consumers on a daily basis. With a marquee client roster, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Toys R Us, Sam’s Club, Chicago Tribune, For Rent Media Solutions, Pizza Hut and more, Cellit was recognized as one of the top 500 fastest growing companies in America, as #262 on the Inc. 500 in 2010, delivered many award-winning mobile campaigns, and built one of the best teams in the mobile industry. Cellit was sold to HelloWord in January of 2012. 

Question

  • Could you share with us a little bit about your journey?
  • How has the experience been since you’ve launched Handwrytten? How successful has it been? What have your clients been saying? Has it really created a better client experience?
  • In terms of mentioning that it’s not as authentic, if you’re working with a brand, for example, do you get the actual handwriting of the CEO or the business executive that you are sending the note from and a robot is able to copy that person’s hand writing to the T?
  • What’s the one online resource, tool or website or app that you couldn’t live without?
  • Could you share with our listeners maybe one or two books that you’ve read either long time ago or recently that have had the biggest impact on you?
  • Could you tell us one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about – either something that you’re working on to develop yourself or your people?
  • Where can our listeners find your information online?
  • Do you have a quote or a saying that during times of adversity or challenge you tend to revert to it and it kind of helps you refocus?

Highlights

  • David shared that he went to school and university and tried to get a degree that would set him up to do entrepreneurship. So, he thought being an engineer would be a good way and being a software engineer would be better because then you don’t have to have any hard capital expense of machinery and equipment to start a business, all you need is a laptop computer.

So, he went to school for business and engineering, computer science engineering, and entered the workforce with a very boring job doing consulting for large brands, just basically market sizings and what he found to be rather dull stuff when he really wanted to start something. Did that for a few years, did investment banking and then he ended up at a venture capital firm in San Diego, which was an absolute disaster.

He thought it’d be the best job ever, his boss, the partner of the company was a crazy man, he had David doing such fun tasks as organized his truck tires for his Mercedes G wagon and he had him clean out his closets and he spied on him.

He actually set up a camera in a garden owl that he placed outside David’s office, so, it was just like this little plastic owl with a camera in it and one day he looked outside his office and he saw this camera and he almost threw it against the wall. But that job did not last long, he actually got fired, they blamed some stock transaction on him that he had absolutely nothing to do with, he had no idea what they were talking about, but they needed an excuse to blame somebody for this, they blamed it on the youngest guy in the office and he ended up back at square one.

He didn’t have a job; he didn’t have any savings because he had spent all his money paying off school debt, he had quite a bit of school debt. So, instead of saving a little nest egg, he spent it all on school debt and did not plan for the future.

So, he recommends to anybody out there while it’s great to pay down school debt, always keep a little cushion on the side just in case. So, he moved home, he didn’t know what to do, he moved back, he was still relatively young in his late twenties, moved back to Arizona where he grew up into an apartment that his father had and he kind of decided what the heck is going to be his next adventure.

So, actually his father said, “Couldn’t you do something with blackberries and barcodes to get information on houses?”And this was before the invention of the iPhone and he said to him, “You know, I don’t know about blackberries and barcodes, but what about text messages? You could just text in for info on a house, get the information, and then the realtor could get a lead.”

And so that is what he started, he sat at a computer for a year, came up with this thing called ‘House for Sell’ and then quickly pivoted House for Sell because he thought realtors were kind of a pain in the neck to deal with.

So he created a second product under the Cellit banner called Coupons App and Coupons App was designed to be used by restaurants and bars to send out like drink alerts and happy hour specials and that type of thing.

But it quickly got picked up by large brands like Abercrombie and Fitch and Toys R Us, that type of thing. So, that’s kinda how it all happened. Other than taking a free place to live from his father, he didn’t take any investment in that company, he ended up with a quarter of that company for a relatively small investment but it was the best investment he ever made and he’s happy that he was able to support him and the rest of his family with that. Sold that company, he did pretty well on that and what happened, fast forward 7 years when he sold that company, he realized that here we are in a day and age where everybody receives 300 emails a day, you receive something like not a 100 but 80 text messages a day, you get Slack messages and Twitter tweets and Facebook posts and everything just becomes noise.

And he thought, with all the electronic communication out there and with traditional print media, junk mail, for lack of a better term; it all just gets thrown away. You realize when you receive a personalized email message from your sales rep at wherever, that it’s not real, that it’s just automatically generated, everything is fake and everything comes to you by the hundreds so none of it matters.

So, he thought, “Well, what matters?” And he was walking around his old Cellit and he realized that people saved and savored handwritten notes they received, not only did they read them, they kept them, they kept them on the back of their bookshelf, on their bookshelf in their office or they’d magnet them to their refrigerators at home and they were considered kind of a treasure.

So, he thought being the lazy guy that he is, “How can I automate this?” Because every time he’d send a handwritten note or want to send a handwritten note, he’d go to the store and get a birthday card for a family member, he’d promised himself he’d send that birthday card and then he’d get caught up in things or not have a stamp or whatever and it just became this whole thing and then before you know it, there’s a crumpled up birthday card sitting in his laptop bag, not being used and never would go out. So he thought, how can we automate this? And that’s where Handwrytten came from. He wanted to create a company that made sending handwritten notes as easy as sending emails or SMS or Slack or everything else.

Yanique shared that it’s very interesting, your search that you did in terms of people holding on to handwritten notes and not just reading them, but keeping them because here in Jamaica, even with my clients, I find out it means so much to people when they do receive, as you said, an actual handwritten note, it means that the person put intentional effort and thought into what they were doing and it wasn’t just a generic thing that they sent out to the masses.

  • When asked about the experience with Handwrytten, David shared that it was slow to take off, when he started the company in 2014 it took two to three and a half years to really get going because there’s nothing really like what they’re offering out there. So, it’s not just about somebody comparing their handwriting service to another handwriting company, there really aren’t too many out there, so people don’t even know it’s an option.

Now they’re seeing a lot more interest in the service, they do about 120,000 notes a month currently and it’s growing at about 300% a year, or at least it has been over the last few years, hopefully, the growth will continue. They do all these notes by using robots and they’ve got just shy of 90 robots currently and they build about three robots a week now using their own technology, which is wild and he can get into that. But as far as statistics, he has a lot and he can pull those up, but the average handwritten note, the open rate of handwritten notes is about three times what a print piece is.

So, just by having a handwrittenenvelope, the open rates are much higher but beyond that, the read rate, redemption rates are all substantially higher than traditional print media and oftentimes electronic forms of promotion. So, for example, they work with a Bespoke clothing company that they’ll make suits for you, they don’t mention any of their client names, but it’s a company where you can provide your measurements, they’ll get a suit made up for you and they opened up a store, a series of stores recently, so they’re not just online, but they were sending out a 700 gift card coupons to their best clients and they sent them using our service with a handwrytten envelope and a handwrytten note from the CEO and they had a 17% redemption rate in gift cards, in a 300% return on investment on the overall promotion. So, it was very successful for them. They’ve worked with them a few times and they’re eager to work with us again.

He stated that when Yanique kind of gave that very generous overview of him at the beginning, she mentioned that they work with meal boxes, they work with one meal box, and in the United States there are all these companies that will ship you the ingredients for a nice meal and then you put it together yourself, they work with several of these brands and one of them sent out a handwrytten note in every box welcoming new users to the meal box programme.

They’ve done over 25,000 boxes with their notes in them and they see it improves customer retention by 10%, just having these little handwritten notes in the box. They work with Amazon brands that are selling products on Amazon, they find that it both increases good reviews on Amazon, which is what they’re trying to do as well as reduce bad reviews because what they do is in the box of the Amazon product, they say, “If you’re having a problem with this, please contact us directly. Don’t just post a review on Amazon.” And they find that it drastically reduces, every time his clients include these with their boxes, they find that some of them are using it more to reduce bad reviews than increase good reviews basically. But the examples kind of go on and on.

They work with realtors and it increases their return rate of their clients, mortgage brokers are the same thing, all the way up to major car manufacturers and Italian fashion brands. So, it’s kind of universally applicable to anybody that thinks a handwritten note might improve their relationship with their customer.

Yanique shared that she imagine it’s applicable to any form off literature or mail that you would send out, say for example, it’s applicable to maybe a bill versus let’s say a promotion versus, let’s say just an information pamphlet. Can it be applicable in all areas?

David shared that they tend to focus on thank you notes and follow ups after purchases. Sending out blanket notes to mass groups can get quite expensive with handwritten notes because, if you think about it, a junk mail piece, when you print that, that’s it. You just print the junk mail piece and it gets a pre sorted stamp on there and it’s quite cheap, with Handwrytten, they start with that printing, so, if you take a junk mail piece, often it’s printed on cheap stationery, they’re going to need something printed on nice stationery with your logo so it looks like a true piece of stationary. So, that’s cost number one.

Then they’re going to write on it and they’re handwriting machines are a little bit on the slow side, they only write about as fast as a human, but they don’t stop and take coffee breaks and their handwriting never gets worse over time, so that’s going to be much more costly than junk mail and unfortunately, there’s not much they could do it about it.

And then finally, they’re inserting that in a real envelope, they’re not just like folding it over and gluing it and printing their address on the back like you’d get with junk mail. And then the last step is they put a real stamp on it, it’s not a metered mail stamp that you’d see on a piece of junk mail, it’s a, a real forever stamp. Like a sticker you’d get in the States, it’s real; it’s that little sticker that you place on a package.

So, the whole thing looks real but the problem, he would say the downside of it is going to be more expensive than a junk mail piece. However, you got to figure out what the right tool for the job is and he thinks in saying thanks or asking for a referral or asking for a review on Amazon or Yelp or whatever, you’re going to want to do something that’s kind of a bit more premium.

And especially if your client base is a bit more premium, you might want to consider this. So, he’s not going to say they’re right for everybody. They did do a huge mailer for a jewelry brand that was opening up a new location and they wanted to send a handwritten note to everybody in the general area and while it worked great, it is going to be much more costly. So that is one thing to consider.

Yanique shared that you’ve really master the science of ensuring that the quality is not watered down in maintaining consistency of the experience in ensuring that your clients have quality handwritten notes. I listened when you gave mention to the fact that the robots don’t get tired or what time they don’t take coffee breaks and the quality of their handwriting doesn’t deteriorate over time, which with human beings it will because in thinking of myself when I’m writing, if I’m writing an excess over a period of time, if you look at the first page of what I wrote versus the third page, the handwriting does start to look a little different, the letters are not probably formed as neatly and written as cautiously as you had started out before. So that’s a really, really good that you’re able to maintain that consistency.

David shared that a lot of people, a lot of brands would love to send handwritten notes to everybody, real handwritten notes written and as nice handwriting as you have but it’s just impossible and that’s why the robots come in and is it the most authentic?

It’s a little bit not, and you’re right, it’s not totally authentic, but it’s closer and it shows an additional level of thoughtfulness than laser printing something and sending it out the door. But most of their notes are rather short; they’re 500 characters or less and that’s a couple of reasons. Number one, for cost consideration, that’s important. And then number two, they find that people don’t want to read novels, they want to read a very short thank you note from you, thanking you for your business or providing you a coupon code or whatever. But they don’t want to have to sit down and read, people’s attention spans are really on the low end these days, so they just want to get right to the point and that’s what they help them do.

  • David shared that they can handle CEO’s handwriting, although most people opt for using one of their predesigned styles as they’d been put through the ringer. You can see all those handwriting styles at handwrytten.com/features. If you want to create your own handwriting style, they absolutely do that. It’s a very involved process, they have you repeat the alphabet multiple times, like three to five times in both upper and lower case so that they could capture all the nuances and randomness of your writing because they’re not creating one A or B or whatever, they create multiple versions so that your handwriting looks random or more random, imperfect.

They also capture all the subtleties of all the ligature combinations. So, two Ts together, two Ls together, two Os. How does an A look at the beginning of the word versus the end of the word, double SS, any accents, smiley faces, if you use those or frowns or whatever, they can add all those to your handwriting along with a custom signature so that if you write your name differently then you would write any other word, they can capture that too.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to send the exact same note over and over, not personalized in any way, we can duplicate a note exactly. So, why would you want to do this?If you’re doing an inbox, thank you, where you don’t know the name of the person, but you want to provide a really organic looking handwritten note, they can do that by recreating your handwriting exactly.

So, unlike turning your handwriting into a digital handwriting style and then you type in a message and they recreate that, now they’re just duplicating your note exactly, and when they do that, they often include funny doodles or the note is really scrawly and kind of hard to read. However, you want that to look, they can do that as well.

  • In addition to handwriting, if you want to use their service, they do a gift card insertion, they do full fulfilment, and so, if you come out with a book and you want to send your book with a handwritten note to 500 people, they can do fulfilment. And business cards, so if you have business cards you want to include with every handwritten note, they do that too. So, really they’re just trying to become you’re a digital secretary for lack of a better term.
  • David shared that there are several online resources. They use Slack a lot, just to communicate with their office workers. They also communicate with their robots through Slack. So, the robots will actually let them know when they’re low on ink or out of paper or jammed, this way there’s not just beeping going off all over the office all the time, people get targeted alerts on their phone when things happen. They also use Help Scout to manage customer service requests; he thinks that’s a phenomenal tool. If he had to pick one tool, however, he would have to say Zapier. They use Zapier for everything and Handwrytten is actually a zap as well. So, you can trigger handwritten notes from any zap action basically.
  • When asked about the books that have had the biggest impact, David shared that the one that stands out is absolutely the most impact is The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Micheal Gerber, it’s an oldie but a goody, really talking about how a business owner should not be working in the business, but on the business, it’s a simple idea with powerful ramifications. Another book isTraction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman, which is really talking about the entrepreneurship operating system of how to run a company; he’s reading that currently, that’s quite good. When he picks books, he picks very nuts and bolts, not high level highfalutin ideas, he likes to really kind of get into the weeds. So, Traction has been a good book as well and Traction kind of takes you through building out your three year timeframe, your one year timeframe, your five year time frame, kind of the unique processes to your business. It helps you with hiring and helps you with meeting taking and how often you should take meetings, it’s been a very interesting read.
  • David shared that in the short term they’re rolling out a new website. He’s hoping it’ll continue to make them look more and more professional, he thinks they do look professional currently, but their new website is super cool and he suggest to anybody look at handwrytten.com after March 1st. There’s been a lot of love and care that has gone into that website and branding. As far as people go, Handwrytten is really kind of restructuring or continuing to build out and grow, they’re kind of a six year old startup at this point and they’re looking to hire more and more vertically focused salespeople. So, they just hired somebody in December to focus strictly on healthcare, they’re now hiring people for the automotive vertical and some others as they just continue to grow. He loves that they’ve built this into a 25-26 person company and there’s a lot of room there to create jobs.

People say, “Aren’t your robots taking away jobs?” Well, not at Handwrytten, at Handwrytten robots are creating jobs, so nobody here would have a job without these robots. So that’s kind of fun.

The technology is always very interesting here, they use 3D printers and laser cutters to build these things and it’s just really cool to see how they can build them better, faster, cheaper while maintaining the quality of the end writing or improving the quality of the end writing.

He does sometimes not take Michael Gerber’s advice and he work in the business, he’s the guy that programs the robots and they’re doing some stuff on a security, so God forbid somebody were to steal a robot, they’re locking them down so they’d be useless.

There’s just little fun stuff like that whichappeals to his geeky side. But yeah, he would say that just that he’s excited to continue improving the brand of Handwrytten and also this fulfilment offering, build out their warehousing fulfilment capabilities so that if people want to have them ship products for them, they’recapable to do that.

  • David shared that listeners can find him at –

@DavidBWachs – Twitter

David Wachs – LinkedIn

www.handwrytten.com

  • David shared that when he was in college, going back over 20 years now, he had the fortune of going out to dinner. He used to be in a group that would bring speakers to campus and they brought all sorts of great celebrities and people to campus and when they do this, sometimes they’d have the opportunity to go out to dinner with them or speak with them one on one.

And he had the opportunity to meet Conan O’Brien and you wouldn’t think he has words of advice, but his words of advice to him was, “Always get in over your head.”And it’s funny when he was on that Inc. 500 list back in 2012 or 2015, that was the quote he wanted to use, but a buddy of his also was on the Inc. 500 list with his company and he had told him that quote and he stole it from him or stole it from him who took it from Conan O’Brien. So, he thinks about that all the time, in tough times, always get in over your head. And it’s not over, you don’t lose until you quit in the business game, there’s no end, like a ninth inning or whatever, it just doesn’t just end like that. So, you only lose when you give up or quit or whatever. So, hang in there and always get in over your head.

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