Creative Crushin’: This Couple Quit Their Jobs to Bring Back the Art of Handwritten Cards
You’ve creeped on this type of couple on Instagram. They’re married, they’re creative, and they run a business together that they’re super passionate about. WTF?! Talk about goals. In the case of today’s installment of Creative Crushin’, I’m here to tell you all about Alexis Monson and Santiago Prieto, founders of Punkpost, a company whose mission is to bring the art of handwriting into the digital age. Tall order, yes? Possible thanks to grit, a supportive community of artists, and the internet? Also yes!
Anjelika Temple here, Chief Creative Officer + Founding Partner at Brit + Co, and total hand-lettering fangirl. When I interviewed and subsequently hired Alexis to join Brit + Co many moons ago, I was immediately drawn to her fiery, creative spirit. At the time, her side hustle was called Second Sun and involved handmade pinatas, gold mylar jewelry, and letterpressed cards created using traditional letterpress plates and a hack tabletop printing press.
While working on the editorial team here at B+C, Alexis and her husband Santiago, a designer at IDEO at the time, launched a brand new venture called Punkpost. In fact, part of their launch happened at our very own Re:Make! Within a matter of months, that side hustle of theirs became the main act — they quit their jobs, took a big risk on themselves, and took their partnership and passion project to the next level. Now, a couple years later, I’m honored to share the story of how it all began, and how these two ambitious punks turned a love of handwriting into a business.
First, what IS Punkpost? In short, Punkpost makes it easy to create beautifully handwritten cards, mailed by artists for you. Go to punkpost.co or to the Punkpost app, pick your card, type your message, and enter your recipient’s mailing address. From there, one of their handwriting artists will turn your message into a one-of-a-kind work of art and have it in the mail within 24 hours. You can even add photo prints or confetti to it!
Now, before we get to the Q&A, I gotta drop a plug in here for a collab I’m beyond pumped to announce. We just launched a mini-collection of Brit + Co cards on Punkpost. WOOT WOOT!! Designed by Brit + Co’ers Yising Chou and Sarah Tate, this collab was sparked by Brit + Co founder Brit Morin, who used Punkpost to help send notes of gratitude to dozens of inspiring women in our community as part of her #GiveItAWeek challenge. Be the first to snag one of these cards starting TODAY :)
And with that, let’s hear more from Alexis and Santiago on how this gorgeous idea became a reality.
Brit + Co: First off, tell us a little more about your background. Where did each of you grow up? What did you study? Family life, etc.
AM: I grew up in a tiny town in South Dakota and was always considered a person who “walks to the beat of her own drum.” I went to college in Minnesota, studied business (YAWN… seriously, who lets 18-year-olds make these decisions?). When I finished school, I had no idea what I was going to do next until one of my friends who had moved out to San Francisco asked me if I would move out with him if he gave me six months rent because he was Midwestern homesick. How can a girl say no to that? I moved out without a gig and eventually took an internship at Yelp (after months of odds-and-ends jobs). And that’s what started me down the startup path.
SP: Lex and I really couldn’t have more different backgrounds. I grew up in big Mexico City. I too never really felt like I totally fit in. I went to business school for a few years in Mexico, but it just wasn’t a good fit for me. So I switched schools and started studying industrial design in Mexico. But the fit still wasn’t right. So I started touring schools in the US. My dream was to work at IDEO, so picking a school in San Francisco seemed like a no-brainer, and I enrolled at The Academy of Art, worked my butt off, and eventually landed an internship at IDEO, where I worked as an industrial designer for 10 years, helping companies create products and processes.
B+C: How did you two meet?
SP: I was out with some friends and in walked this girl with long hair and tiny little cocktail umbrellas covering most of that hair.
AM: I had been at the Tonga Room earlier that night… hence the umbrella-filled mane. I was going to meet a friend at another venue, which just so happens to have been the same friend that Santiago was with.
SP: We ran into each other a lot over the next few months because of mutual friends. Our friends kept telling us, “You guys would be perfect for each other.” Then, one night at a mutual friend's rooftop birthday party, I asked her for her number.
AM: Yeah, but then he never called! I didn’t see or hear from him again until I was using a pay phone near Union Square (yes! A real-life pay phone… I went through a period where I didn’t have a phone because I felt like it was a distraction and taking me out of the moment). I was calling my roommate because I had locked myself out of my apartment… again. Santiago walked by and was like “Hey!” and I was like “Hey!” and I explained the situation. He then invited me over.
SP: And she never went home.
AM: He’s joking… but it’s also kind of true.
B+C: When you met and subsequently fell in love, did you also know you’d end up starting a business together?
AM: Definitely not. We just enjoyed hanging out, exploring the city, and riding our bikes together. It wasn’t until we got engaged that the idea of working and starting a business together was something we wanted to do.
SP: We handmade an insane number of things for our wedding, and we really enjoyed having things to work on together every night when we got home from work. We also liked treating our friends and family to an experience that we created with our own two hands.
AM: The whole planning process made us realize how well we work together. We have such opposite and complementing skills that things just worked out nicely. I’m really good at coming up with ideas and rallying a crew to help us complete things. Santiago is good at figuring out how to actually make visions come to life… and also reining in some of my more wild ideas.
B+C: Now about that business, what inspired Punkpost? Gimme the origin story.
SP: At IDEO, I would travel a lot for work. There was a presentation in Boston that I was giving that I was particularly nervous about. Knowing that, Lex sent a card to my hotel in advance. When the front desk handed it to me, I was touched and blown away by this small piece of paper with handwriting on it. In Mexico, the mail is not reliable, so the experience of getting a handwritten card is not something I grew up with. But this experience and the emotions from it were so strong that I wanted to return that same feeling back to Lex. Between meetings, I couldn’t find a card that represented how I felt, I didn’t know where to find a stamp, and I didn’t have time to sit down to write it. So even though I had this good intention, I couldn’t make good on it.
AM: When Santiago got home, we talked a lot about how digital forms of communication, no matter how thoughtful the message, just don’t really deliver that feeling of real connection and real delight. Current forms of communication are broken. There really is nothing that can replace the power of a handwritten card. The thing is, sending a simple card is a multistep process, and the current way you can obtain them and send them hasn’t really kept up with how we all live.
SP: And that’s how we came up with the idea for Punkpost. In the end, it’s a way for people to make good on their good intentions, a hub for real, deep connections and happy moments, all powered by a community of artists.
B+C: Alexis, while you were at Brit + Co (on my team! P.S. We miss you), you worked on Punkpost as a side hustle. When did you *know* it was time to dive all the way in and make it your main hustle?
AM: Santiago and I had created a few products together before we came up with the idea for Punkpost. And while we liked those products, we weren’t passionate enough about them to say, “We really think the world needs this, and we’re willing to give everything to make sure people know about it and that it thrives.”
P.S. I MISS YOU GUYS TOO! And I learned so damn much working at B+C, which has immensely helped me with Punkpost. In fact, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to do it before I saw how everyone rallied at the Brit + Co office.
B+C: Same question for you Santiago. What gave you the courage to leave your gig at IDEO and go all in on Punkpost?
SP: Really, the courage came from the Brit + Co Re:Make event. We built a prototype of Punkpost on a SquareSpace site just to see if people liked the idea. We had a little desk with a little iPad and people could send cards from it. We just wanted to see how people reacted and if they agreed that this was a product that could make their lives easier and better and help them connect with their friends and family on a deeper level. The response was overwhelmingly positive. So the week after that, I left my job at IDEO and started learning to program the app.
B+C: How do you find handwriting artists? Are they mostly professional designers?
AM: So far, we’ve been pretty lucky, and all of our handwriting artists have found us and created this really awesome community, and that’s really what sets Punkpost apart. Our artist community is the soul of what we’re doing. It’s such a supportive, positive, and creative crew. We feel so lucky to know and be able to work with each and everyone of them. (BTW, if anyone is interested, you can apply here).
SP: Punkpost’s artists come from all walks of life. Some people are professional designers. Others love hand lettering. Some are pro pen pal-ers. And quite a few people are naturally creative and don’t necessarily get to use their talents in their day jobs. All of us Punkpost artists want an outlet to practice our passion for handwriting, drawing, and doodling. It allows us to be creative, make something with our hands, and share it with both the sender and the recipient of each card. We get to be part of the special moment between those two people. And the card, although it seems straightforward, is something that moves some people to tears, brightens others’ days, gives people a laugh. People hang their cards in their kitchens and office spaces. They’re so simple, yet so powerful. Cards connect us so well.
B+C: Speaking of art, what do each of your creative practices look like? In the midst of being startup founders and running a company, how do you make time for personal work?
AM: We’re go, go, go all the time, and creativity takes time. Sometimes it feels like a bother or a waste of time to slow down, but it never is. Those moments to breathe are when the best ideas and moments of clarity arrive. So allowing yourself to have that time always pays off when we do.
SP: Punkpost really is our personal work. We don’t see a differentiation between it and our private lives. We’re both always problem solving and trying to make more beautiful experiences. There’s just so much more to for us to create with Punkpost and so much more we want to build with it.
Favorite Quote: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart” ― Helen Keller
Trivia About You: I can’t roll my tongue.
Go-To Karaoke Song: "Shout" (preferable Otis Day & The Knights version)
Favorite Gadget: My Nomiku sous vide. It helps me make insanely delicious food with little effort so I can work while cooking.
Late Night Snack: Stovetop popcorn.
Currently Reading: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
Favorite quote: “The human spirit must prevail over technology.” – Albert Einstein
Trivia About You: I was the youth sailing North America champion for Lasers back in the day.
Go-To Karaoke Song: "I’d Do Anything for Love" by Meatloaf … (but I won’t do that)
Favorite Gadget: My inflatable paddle board. It’s perfect for people who live in small spaces with no storage.
Late Night Snack: A slice or a quesadilla. Yummmm.
Currently Reading: 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik
B+C: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but here it is anyway. What do you love about working together? What are the toughest parts?
AM: For me, it’s the level of trust that is there. We’ve built that up over the years so there are no hang ups and because of that, things can move faster. Santiago gets me. I can also say exactly what I think without any misunderstandings.
SP: The toughest part is turning it off. Since we live and work together, and Punkpost is our passion, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to talk about other things and to take a break.
B+C: What advice do you have for couples considering going into business together?
AM: Get ready for a wild ride. No matter what business you’re starting or who you’re starting it with, there are going to be tremendous ups and downs. That can be hard to go through with your partner… but also, is there anyone else in the world who you would want to or be willing to go through it all with? Probably a select few.
SP: We love working together, but we haven’t conquered this dynamic fully. It’s nice to be all day with your BFF. It’s also intense. We are very conscious this is not normal. But also Punkpost’s community is much bigger than the two of us. Having a talented and supportive community around us truly makes a difference. Also getting out in nature with a picnic makes us remember we’re, like, a couple.
B+C: And finally, what’s next for Punkpost that we should be on the lookout for?
SP: We’re going to be releasing Gift Certificates in the next few weeks. This is something that our users have been asking about for a long time and we’re finally making it happen. It’s going to make the Punkpost experience more complete. Instead of sending an awesome card and a lame email with a code for money sent to them via Amazon, now you can include a gifting option to hundreds of retailers right in the greeting card.
AM: We’ll also continually be updating the desktop version of Punkpost, which is still fairly new, and we’ll start taking pre-orders for the holidays starting in September. The desktop version is geared toward large sends (although you can also send a single card). Think holiday cards, wedding thank yous, and event invites. We’ve seen many businesses using it to connect with their communities. With the desktop version, they’re able to send hundreds of cards in the amount of time it would take them to write one. And no matter how many cards you’re sending, you get the same artistry and thoughtfulness in each card.
B+C: Anything else you'd like to share?
SP: Recently, The New York Times reported on a study published in the journal Psychological Science showing the effects that handwritten notes have on recipients. They found that when people are thinking of sending a card, there is doubt about what the recipient will think: Is it too much? What if I say the wrong thing? And so on. But what they found is that recipients reported that they were “ecstatic” about receiving a card.
AM: If you’re thinking of someone today, send them a card. It makes a bigger impact on them and your relationship than you probably realize.
Talk about a SWOONFEST. Seriously. Is this not a rom-com just waiting to happen? Time to bring back your dreams of sending handwritten cards to your friends “just because.” You can keep up with all things Punkpost on Instagram @punkpostco and be sure to hit up Punkpost.co to send your first card.
I didn't choose the hand modeling life, the hand modeling life chose me ;)
Author: Anjelika Temple (Photos courtesy of Alexis Monson and Santiago Prieto, Sarah Davis Photography; Brit + Co, Kurt Andre; Design by Sarah Tate)