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David Wachs | What’s Old Is New Again
Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.
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What’s Old Is New Again
Something that has always baffled me is the way that fashion trends go around in circles, seemingly at whim and without warning (for those of us who don’t attend Fashion Week, anyway).
Round glasses have been resurrected from the ’20s, mom jeans have made a triumphant return from the ’90s, and even shoulder pads have made a brief reappearance in recent years.
And yes, I’m dreading the day that fedoras make a comeback.
While some of these resurgent trends are pretty whack, a lot of them make sense — and it isn’t just the fashion industry that sees the old become new again.
Featured in my newsletter today is David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten. He revived the ancient art of handwritten letters, but with a modern spin… he produces them en masse with the help of 115 custom robots. I’m mind blown! Let’s talk about it.
From New to Old
David Wachs is an engineer and serial entrepreneur who’s managed to exit his first company — Cellit — and launch an incredibly successful second company called Handwrytten, of which he’s now the CEO.
Let’s talk about Cellit first. Interestingly, David started this company as a real estate service.
“The whole purpose of Cellit was to provide information on real estate — so you would drive by a house, text a number, and get info on the house. And then the realtor would capture a lead. We were kind of the first ones doing that.”
It slowly turned into something else, though. As their work grew more and more promotional, Cellit branched out into the hospitality space, and then onto big name brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Toys R Us, and Sam’s Club. It would eventually become a full-service mobile marketing agency.
Cellit was sold to HelloWorld in 2012 which eventually became Merkle; and with that, David knew it was time to pivot.
“I felt that text messaging had kind of run its course. I always felt that way — even when I started Cellit. People are now inundated with 1000s of text messages and emails a day… an average office worker spends about a quarter of their time managing their inbox. It’s all just noise at this point.”
The Handwrytten Revolution
I told you that today’s newsletter guest was someone who resurrected an old trend — and that’s exactly what David did with his next project after Cellit, which he called Handwrytten.
The inspiration struck when David was leaving his old company behind.
“When I left, I wanted to send my employees and my customers ‘thank you’ notes for sticking with me, and helping us grow this business. I didn’t want to send them an email — I wanted to send them a handwritten note.”
He sat down with pen and paper and started writing the handwritten notes. But of course, his hand cramped (we’ve all been there) and he ran out of stationery.
“I thought there must be a better way; a way to scale handwritten note outreach, so that it was as easy as sending an email, but would still be noticed. And it would be easy for me to do. Even better if we could automate the whole process.”
Handwrytten was born — and David started the iterative process pretty much the day after leaving his previous company.
How It All Works
Handwrytten is a software platform where you can use handwrytten.com or their iPhone/Android app, as well as integrate with salesforce.com and HubSpot. The company uses a number of ways to get data in, including Zapier and Integromat.
You order the message, stationery, handwriting style, and volume, and Handwrytten does the rest. But don’t worry — it isn’t run by a factory of workers with impeccable handwriting and carpal tunnel.
“What we actually do is we have 115 custom robots here in Phoenix that write the notes out in pen. Currently, each robot is custom-built; I wrote the software that actually does the writing. But they all can write in realistic handwriting, which is the most realistic handwriting available on the market today.”
What’s more, the company now offers a premium option where you can have your own handwriting style programmed into the robots. I’m absolutely blown away by the tech this guy has developed, and according to David, his robots are top of the range.
“There’s just nobody that comes close. So we’re doing about 5,000 to 10,000 notes a day, on average, for everything from realtors to luxury brands and car dealerships, solar panel installers, etc.”
Why Does It Work?
So we know how Handwrytten manages to pump out thousands of notes every day — insane robot writers. (They’re seriously cool. You can see a video of them in action here.)
But my question to David was… why does this work? What’s the appeal? If we’ve moved way beyond snail mail and into the cloud, why are people using a service like this?
The Uniqueness Factor
“Email is just junk at this point,” David explained. “Sending somebody a text doesn’t really say ‘I care about you.’ But when you receive a handwritten note in the mail, it’s unique now. What’s old is new again, right?”
His explanation reminded me a lot of antique furniture. People love handmade things because they’re unique — and they were made with time, effort, and care.
I also thought about Mother’s or Father’s Day gifts; it’s always lovely to receive a bought gift from your kids, but there’s no denying that homemade gifts feel extra special.
From a customer perspective, we all want to feel that we’re cared about by the brands we buy from — even on a subconscious level. (I don’t think any of us truly believe that a brand cares about us as individuals, but it’s still nice to feel like they do.)
The Spam Factor
“When you’re going through your mail, it’s just bill, bill, bill, bill, bill — but if you see this nice handwritten note, you’ll save that. You’ll open that last.”
I definitely second that one. I know I’ve been way more likely to open and save a handwritten envelope than one that looks like it contains a bill.
Plus, as David pointed out, with so much spam and junk mail floating around, getting an actual piece of mail feels special in itself. It’s not often you get something physical in the mailbox these days.
“Not only will you read it (which is pretty much a 99 to 100 percent read rate, because everybody wants to know who took the time and effort to write a note), but often you keep it.”
The Time Factor
And of course, time. We’re all short on it. We all feel like we don’t have enough hours in the day.
“Nobody has any time anymore, right? Everybody’s responding to 12 emails at once, and their Slack is going off, their Teams is going off, their emails are going off… nobody can sit down to focus and concentrate. So when you receive a handwritten note, you realize time went into it. And that’s the gift that you’re receiving.”
What a beautiful sentiment. If someone takes time out of their day to write you a handwritten note, it really does mean the world — especially knowing how busy we all are.
Of course, Handwrytten is in the business of creating that illusion. And I think it’s one of the most fantastic business concepts I’ve heard in a while. It’s seriously a win-win scenario; the customer feels cared about, the company gets repeat business, and the world gets a little more handwritten love.
The Take-Home: Go Analog or Go Home
When the whole business world was going digital, David and his team thought outside the box — or rather, they went back to an old-school way of thinking. And it’s paid off in a big way.
I’m not suggesting that Apple goes back to making handsets with rotary dials (though I’m sure there are a few of us who would be into that), or that Nintendo starts selling board games again. But there’s always room for old trends to be revived in new and interesting ways.
Let’s look at some examples:
Fujifilm revived Polaroid-style cameras with its line of brightly-colored Instax camera kits.
Impala Skates relaunched the classic roller skate with a modern twist, and they’re now one of the most popular brands in the industry.
Depop gave thrifting a major facelift by providing an online platform for people to sell their retro and vintage finds.
The list goes on — and B2B and SaaS companies are jumping on board as well. Moo.com brings the classic business card into the 21st century with their stylish and customizable designs. Trello revived the Kanban board, a system that was originally developed in the 1940s using pen and paper.
The bottom line? There’s always room for old trends to make a comeback — and businesses that are able to tap into that nostalgia are bound to find success.
Hearing David talk about Handwrytten was such an incredible experience for me. It was a throwback to the movie Her — the one where Joaquin Phoenix works for a company that generates handwritten letters based on a person’s relationship with the recipient. Well, turns out it’s not too far from reality.
If you found this whole concept as mind-blowing as I did, make sure you check out our interview where we discuss Handwrytten, entrepreneurship, pivoting, and more. Remember — if you’re tired of the new, go back to the old. You might just find your next big break.
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Thank you for reading,