Melina Walton, 30, is from Melbourne, Australia. She started her gift subscription business, Letters from Letty, in October 2012. Letters from Letty showcases emerging Australian designers by inviting a featured designer to curate a gift box filled with the designer’s unique design pieces once per month. Gift boxes are mailed to subscribers all over the world on a monthly basis exposing them to new designers, artists and brands, as well as sending them a high-quality surprise gift in the post.
Starting the Business
Q: Where did the idea for your business come from? Where were you in your life and career?
A: I worked in corporate communications roles all over Australia and in the UK for the past 10 years. I was doing very well at climbing the corporate ladder but I never felt settled and was always looking for something more. I decided that this desire would manifest in a business where I would be in control of everything and actively began sourcing business ideas everywhere around me.
On my birthday one year I was sent a gift in the post and I immediately wanted to share that somewhat lost feeling with others more often, and a spark was lit. I investigated other monthly subscription models and realised that there weren’t many offering truly high quality gifts, and no one was giving any attention to an industry I was personally particularly interested in, in Australian design.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?
A: As well as struggling to balance life between an intense full time job and a start-up business, which I really did a bad job of for a full year until I took the leap and left my corporate job, I think the biggest challenge was finding people who were in the same position as me, and someone to give me some guidance. I felt so alone and had absolutely no one to turn to for advice or to bounce ideas off. I was walking blind in the dark. I now am part of a group that receives advice and guidance from some great mentors so I feel I have a much greater sense of direction and of trust in the idea and my capabilities.
Q: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started the business?
A: I think that I have learned everything I needed to at the time… well, so far anyway! I don’t have any regrets and haven’t made any substantial mistakes yet (touch wood), but perhaps knowing just what a commitment it would be while working full time would have helped to lower my expectations about the business being an overnight success.
Q: What would you consider your first big success in the business?
A: My first big success includes the results that I have achieved firstly, all on my own in just over a year, and secondly I consider taking the leap from a high-paying role that would have seen me in a very established position high on the corporate ladder to an unknown start-up a significant step in anyone’s career.
I am very proud of being brave enough to take this leap and even though it is still very early days, it is already clear that this was a great decision as the growth of the business is being directly reflected.
Q: What is the toughest thing about getting to the top / staying on top in your industry specifically?
A: The designer, artist and retail brand industry, particularly the fashion industry is very noisy. Standing out in this crowd is very hard and very competitive. This means I am constantly trying to think of ways to be different, and having to constantly make a noise as well.
Q: Where do you see your industry heading in the next 5 years?
A: Subscription businesses and online retail are continuing to grow significantly which is both an exciting opportunity and also a reason for the business to continue to be even better at what it does so we stay relevant and top of mind in an increasingly noisy market place.
Q: What do you plan on doing / changing in order to keep growing in this time period?
A: My dream is for Letters from Letty to be recognised and respected as the thought leader on Australian design, where people can go to find out more about the emerging designer industry and for the website to be one-stop shop for all things design related. The business must continually evolve to remain relevant and also introduce new trends.
I’ll shortly be introducing an online market place where brands as small as market stallholders right through to established brands can sell their goods directly to an interested audience.
I’m also working on offering more educational content for our community including more behind-the-scenes ‘how to’ videos from some of Australia’s best designers and artists which is exciting.
There are also some partnerships in the pipeline and a couple of other exciting plans on the cards, but most importantly, I am always looking for new ways to stand out in a noisy crowd.
Q: What does ultimate success look like to you? How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
A: How long is a piece of string? Letters from Letty will always be constantly evolving, responding, adapting and listening to what our customers want. If I ever get to the point where I don’t have a fresh idea, I am not sure what I will do. There are so many ideas buzzing around in my head, the hardest part is prioritising them all. The only true testament of success I care about right now is, how happy are our customers? They are the reason for Letters from Letty and they will always be my greatest judge of success.
Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs in the near future?
A: With the considerable growth in online retail, for those businesses it really is the competition factor and working out how to have the best product or service to really stand out. Another issue I am seeing emerge is the cost of production in Australia. It impacts the designers I work with regularly and I think this is going to be a growing trend.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in your industry and wanting to make it to the top?
A: Trust your gut. You are going to get some great advice that is really valid, some great advice that doesn’t sit right with you and some really bad advice that you thought was good advice. Take it all on but at the end of the day, you know your market, your customers and your business better than anyone, so trust yourself to decide what the right move is.