01. Vicky Simmons from Mean Mail

March 2024

Innovating in an oversaturated & declining market

Straight up advice from straight talking brand Mean Mail

We sat down with Mean Mail founder, Vicky Simmons, to discuss how she successfully disrupted an oversaturated and declining market.

Below is a transcript of the interview.

"My one piece of advice if you're starting something new would be - know you're gonna fuck it up but it's okay."
- Vicky

01. Why disrupt this market?

I'm a big believer that side projects keep the day projects fresh, and Mean Mail was the one I thought about for years, and it just I couldn't stop thinking about it. I was like, I need to make this one happen.

02. What was your eureka moment?

Early on, a few months into my business. I noticed, like a multimillion pound stationery brand in America started doing their own version of Mean Mail. I was shocked, but it made me realise that wow, if these guys are copying what I'm doing, then I'm definitely onto something.

03. How do you manage copycats?

Actually, I'm working on a side project about how to deal with copycats because I've experienced it so much and I've been in situations where I've managed to get an apology and compensation.

There's a company in the UK, and the founder was like “I think I've copied you, what do you think?” I was in shock, I just started crying. 

But you’ve just got to remember that if people are copying you, they're one step behind.

I'm sure you guys have had loads of rip offs of these [gestures to mahabis she’s wearing], and it's just like, how dare you?

But people know who the originals are, so you just got to keep innovating and doing new things.

"you’ve just got to remember that if people are copying you, they're one step behind."
- Vicky

04. Where do you get your ideas from?

I've got a big thing about originality. It's really important to me. “I love you now get off me!” Was [a card] inspired by me hugging my boyfriend when I came home after a night out being like Love you, he's like right, OK, get off, get off.

05. Why do Mean Mail cards work?

I think Mean Mail cards work because they say how you truly feel rather than what you're supposed to say. So they make people laugh when they need a laugh.

"Some people have described the cards to me as being a bit like therapy, which I'm honoured to be involved with in a sense."
- Vicky

06. How important is jumping on trends?

I am both pro and against jumping on trends. I would say I really like cards that capture the zeitgeist.

I did a range of cards inspired by the Gwyneth Paltrow court case because it was kind of so ridiculous and so hilarious, and it felt like we were all in the grip of this news story.

In general, as long as you're doing really small production runs, I think it's great to be involved with. But I'm way more for building a sustainable brand where you get real longevity out of things.

So yeah, short runs on anything that is trend led for sure.

07. What's the best way to set up a new business?

I set up the online store on Shopify, make sure all social channels were in exactly the same handle, so you're unified across everything. I would probably focus business on tiktok over Instagram.

I would partner with Starling for banking and have it set up from Day one, and I'd also apply for my trademarks.

08. Three things to get right from day one?

Product photography is like your number one like get that right and good branding. You shouldn't have to, like go through a brand refresh like every so often to stay relevant. 

Keeping it lean. I think keeping ego out of it as much as possible because I know people wanna go and get a studio space, keeping it as small as you can and not expanding before you really need to as well.

09. Hardest thing about building a brand alone?

I think the biggest issue when you're an independent or small business is that when mistakes happen you carry the weight on yourself so much more when bad things happen. Put those to bed and then just continue on and just learn from those mistakes and not not be too hard on yourself.

A few years into my journey, I invested in card clasps, a  low tax sticker to keep the card and the envelope together. They ended up damaging my cards, and I lost thousands of cards. And my mistake is I invested into 20,000 of these stickers, and I just wouldn't have invested if I'd known that they were going to be such a nightmare.

That was a really hard one to kind of work out.

10. How important is sustainability?

If you're gonna set up a business, you gotta make it sustainable from the get go and know the cradle to grace lifetime process of your product. 

In terms of the greeting cards, like I'll write them, I'll survey customers to see what they like and see what gets more of a reaction. Then I'll always print a much smaller print on now, so I'll start with a 100 of the design and just see what the salary rate is on that and then expand.

11. Common mistake you see other brands doing?

But I see so many small businesses on Instagram. They don't focus on the fact that customer is first like you need to work out what they want.

It's not about you, it's about them. That's why three of my favourite cards are “ It's always about you” “just don't be yourself” and “nobody cares”.

12. What would you tell yourself on your first day?

It's gonna be really hard and harder than you ever imagined and make sure you're mentally resilient for what's gonna happen.

"It's like champagne and razor blades, because the highs are so much higher. But the lows are so much lower as well."
- Vicky

13. Advice for someone who wants to go out and create something disruptive like this?

I think one piece of advice, I would say, is to remember to enjoy it.

At one stage I was, if good things happened, I'd write them down on a post it note and I stick them on the back of the door. And anytime I was having a bit of an off day or a no day, I'd go read that.

Interview with Vicky Simmons from Mean Mail

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