Learn about David Wachshow and the ways in which his experience in communication helped him create Hanwrytten Notes and cut through the electronic noise.
Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is David Wachs, from Handwrytten. David, welcome to the podcast. Please tell us about yourself and Handwrytten.
David Wachs: Carl, thank you for having me. I have 18 years in the messaging space. I started in text messaging in real estate by texting information about houses. Then, I moved into marketing messaging for brands. We helped Abercrombie & Fitch, Toys"R"Us, Sam's Club, OfficeMax, Marie Claire and Fast Company magazines, and others communicate with their customers via text messages.
I sold that company in 2012. And I realized we’re becoming inundated with electronic communication. Not just text messages – emails, tweets, Slack, Instagram, Facebook, etc. I wondered if I could cut through that noise.
When I left the texting company, I wanted to send personalized messages to thank the clients and employees who’d helped me. What could I send that would cut through the noise? I thought, "Handwritten notes would do it." My employees kept handwritten notes on their desks, and I had them on my desk and at home, so I knew handwritten notes were not just read but also kept. That's how I started Handwrytten.
Handwrytten is a platform for sending handwritten notes. You can use integrations via Zapier, our API, Integromat, SynchSpider, etc. Or go to handwrytten.com, use our mobile apps, Salesforce.com integration, or HubSpot integration. There are many ways to get notes into our system. When you choose a stationery and handwriting style and enter your message, our robots write it out in blue gel pen. We can include your business card or gift cards to major brands. Then we stamp it with a real stamp and mail it within one business day.
We average 4,000 to 5,000 notes per day, although it can be 15,000 per day during the holidays. We use 115 robots to power this. The robots, which are built in our Phoenix facility, are proprietary, laser-cut and 3D printed, and assembled. I programmed them. They create the most realistic handwriting of any auto pen or system out there, and we're proud to be the largest in the world doing this.
Carl Lewis: I looked at the technology on your website. It’s amazing. I'm interested in how people stay in touch with their supply chain, customers, vendors, employees, etc. Do you have examples of companies using Handwrytten?
David Wachs: Our customers range from mom-and-pop stores to Fortune 100 companies.
We have a piano tuner in Pennsylvania. Customers see them once a year because you don't need your piano tuned more than that. After tuning, they use us to send a thank-you note. When the tuner goes back a year later, he often sees those handwritten notes standing on the piano or attached to the refrigerator. I can’t think of any other technology or messaging solution that leads to a year’s retention. Who prints out emails and saves them? Or takes screenshots of text messages and prints them out? These handwritten notes are unique.
We also have a company that puts snack boxes together for offices. If they screw up your box, they send a handwritten note apologizing for the mess up, along with another box of snacks. That second box of snacks has a lot to do with it, but they found the customers they messed up with have a higher retention rate and lifetime value than those they never screwed up with. The natural solution was to screw up with everybody and raise the overall lifetime value of everybody. Handwrytten is used in many win-back scenarios.
Around the holidays, we do a lot of coupon codes. A suit maker who sends valuable coupon codes for holiday discounts using our platform found the coupons have an 18% redemption rate, versus 3%-4% when they emailed or texted the coupon code.
We work with a lot of automotive dealers. They send letters asking you to come into the dealership to trade up your car, get service, etc. The people who get handwritten notes are 23 times more likely to go to the dealership than those who got printed letters. When you adjust that for cost, because handwritten letters are more expensive, it's about a seven times greater ROI.
Luxury handbag and purse companies send handwritten notes when you order online, thanking you for your purchase. They also include them in their holiday catalog. We box up handwritten notes and send them to their catalog shipper. They get inserted with the appropriate catalog, and when you get your back-to-school catalog for this high-end luxury brand, it says, "We thought you'd like what's on page 27," or whatever. We do a lot of that.
We also do birthday and holiday cards, but thank-you notes are our biggest business. I cannot overstate the value of a handwritten thank you.
Carl Lewis: I have handwritten cards from 20 years ago. A mentor sent me a note saying I’d done a decent job, and the future was bright. I still peek at it now and then. I remember every handwritten note, like when somebody gave me a book with an inscription. It's always powerful.
You used the word noise. We live in a world of automated everything, intelligence flying all over the place, and all kinds of data. But this illustrates that what you do with that power is as important as gathering it. People get used to stuff quickly, like automated email and text messages. We all get them, and they're trash. If I could get rid of that stuff, my inbox would be small.
David Wachs: Yes.
Carl Lewis: Very small.
David Wachs: There's a stat – it's several years old, so now the situation's worse – that the average office worker gets 147 emails a day and spends 25% of their day managing their inbox. I don't even read 90% of my emails. I read the preview, then delete. I don't open them because I know they’re automated. Tools like PersistIQ and Reply.io make it look like I sent you an email straight from my Outlook versus MailChimp or something similar, but I know it’s automated, and it's annoying.
What bothers me now is getting emails in a chain. And email number three or four is, "Checking in to see why you didn't respond to email number one." To which I respond, "I didn't know I had to respond to all your spam messages. Where's the unsubscribe link?" It's a problem. And really, it’s laziness. They assume you’ll respond, or they feel entitled about everything. "Why didn't you respond to my spam message?” And there's no need to send a thank-you note or a $10 Starbucks card even though you bought a $50,000 car or signed your company up for a $100,000 contract.
This entitlement mentality is a scourge on capitalism, and people need to realize they should be grateful for what they have. There's a replacement for everything. If it's a product, Amazon has 10,000 similar ones. They could buy the next item and not support you. They could have gone to Alibaba and made it cheaply themselves. There are a million alternatives. If it's a service, you can go on Upwork and find somebody to do it or G2 Crowd and find an alternative. There are even alternatives to Handwrytten. I say we're better than them, and we're bigger, but there are alternatives – so we must be thankful for our customers, too.
Being thankful isn’t just the right thing to do. It keeps you top-of-mind, like the piano tuner. When it's time to renew, get maintenance, or replace something, they’ll remember you because they kept your thank-you card on their desk. People often ask us for ROI, and I say, "There's ROI, but if you're asking for ROI, you're missing the point." It's a bigger conversation than that.
Carl Lewis: Yes. You're mentioning themes that are important to me. They’re probably part of how I set myself apart in my career: the human touch and recognizing that there's still a place for politeness and old skills. The things our grandmothers would have taught us. We call it the customer experience nowadays, but I think we deal with so much volume that taking the time to be friendly is almost an expense in our minds.
David Wachs: Exactly.
Carl Lewis: You're giving us a way to remember the niceties of the world that birthed us.
David Wachs: Exactly. Multiple studies say appreciating what you have and having gratitude is the path to happiness. So, beyond the ROI benefit, there are personal benefits people can reap by changing their mindset to, "How am I going to appreciate this customer/prospect?" Whether it’s using Handwrytten or sending them a bottle of wine.
Carl Lewis: For me, it's doing something and expecting nothing in return.
David Wachs: Absolutely.
Carl Lewis: The secret is, there's always a return. But you can’t quantify it. It's a bit of faith. I’ll do the right thing, and it will take care of itself, me, and everybody else.
David Wachs: I agree.
Carl Lewis: You’ve been involved with technology your whole career. You know how fast it moves. What will Handwrytten do next?
David Wachs: We're getting into product fulfillment. Nothing that can spoil, like food, but clients send us their books, and we put a handwritten note on the plate that goes on the front page and mail them. We're doing custom fulfillment. Could be shirts, inserting a card with shirts, whatever customers want.
We're also getting integrated directly with third-party logistics providers (3PLs), where our solution will be in their fulfillment center. It's a real value-add for them.
Our big strategy has always been to integrate. That's why we're in Zapier and other platforms. Soon we’ll have a Shopify integration, and you can integrate with Shopify, WooCommerce, and Big Commerce through Zapier. You’ll probably have a better, more nimble solution than our Shopify solution, but the Shopify store is a way for people to discover us. Then, some additional plugins for HubSpot. We're a small team, so these things take longer than we’d like, but there's always another platform to integrate with.
Carl Lewis: The one with the 3PL sounds interesting. It's almost like you're going to OEM the product to be specific to that location. They might have many customers.
David Wachs: Yes. We're going to be a store within their 3PL. We’ll have Handwrytten people onsite operating the robots and managing the process. A lot of this concerns licensing open-source software, so it’s difficult to do any other way. If we sold the robots, we'd open ourselves up to licensing issues. I'd have to create a maintenance arm. I don't want to do that. But we have good partnerships brewing with big 3PLs that match up well. They have a facility in Phoenix for us to test with. We'll go global from there. It’s exciting.
On the tech front, we’ll continue building these robots. We have 115 now, but I’d like to get 200 by the end of the year. If you're ever in Phoenix and want to see it, it's fascinating. I never expected to be in the manufacturing business, and design for manufacturability is an interesting thing I never knew about and had to learn. When we started, we were using CNC-machined parts. It took a long time, was expensive, and we had to order a lot of parts at once to make it worthwhile. If we needed a new widget, we had to order for multiple machines, which gets expensive and risky if you're just testing out that new widget.
Then we started printing 3D stuff, which has changed our business. We can print one part in a few minutes to make sure it works. Our 3D printers are manufacturing-grade, not prototype-grade, so they go out on the factory line. But we overdid it with 3D printers and realized they aren’t right for everything. Now we also have laser cutters.
We've brought modern additive and subtractive manufacturing technologies into Handwrytten, and we have best-of-class technology here because of it. It’s a lot of work to write a Handwrytten note.
David Wachs: We're also getting into machine vision and machine learning on the quality assurance side. Stuffing one card a day is different from stuffing 5,000 or 10,000. We have cameras that know which vectors should be drawn on that page. When the page goes under, the camera can look up the order number and determine if it’s the correct vector or not. Quality assurance is already great around here, but as we continue to grow, we want to ensure we dot all our I’s and cross all our t’s.
Carl Lewis: I understand. One of my college jobs was in a mailroom that did a lot of direct mail envelope stuffing with machines. I used to work 48-hour shifts because a mailing had to go out on time. We did 1,000 per hour. And it was painful because the machine would jam every 200th envelope. I'm sure the technology's better now.
David Wachs: As you grow, you find problems you didn't know existed. It's been an exciting growth trajectory for us.
I forgot to mention that the writing on our cards is the most realistic you'll see, except for writing it yourself. We vary the distance between lines and the left margin, so it looks like you're not starting at the same spot on every line. If you gave it to somebody and asked what they think, they'd say, "Thank you so much; that’s very thoughtful." If you asked if a robot wrote it, they would examine it closer. However, people are amazed. We randomize characters, such as crossing two t’s with one crossbar and having different r’s at the beginnings and ends of words. Anything we consider looks like authentic handwriting.
Carl Lewis: I imagine that's a challenge for people. Forty years ago, I had good handwriting. It's gotten bad through the years, probably because I don't practice anymore.
David Wachs: Absolutely.
Carl Lewis: People know that if you wrote a note by hand, it took time because we can't just scribble it out anymore. If I did that, nobody could read it.
David Wachs: That's why they're so valuable. Handwritten notes take time and focus. You can't be responding to three emails at once as you do it – you must be centered on it, and that's the gift. That's the gift more than the $5 Starbucks card you might include.
A cosmetic company employee said the closest thing to sending a handwritten note they do is turning their cell phones off in meetings because it means they’re 100% focused on you. When someone receives a handwritten note, they recognize that you were 100% focused on them while you wrote it. And before that, you thought, "I should focus on that person." That rarely happens anymore, and it's a surprise and delight for the recipient.
Carl Lewis: David, this has been fun. I'm always sharing ways to use technology to stay in touch with people, and Handwrytten is something new. These days, when we’re all trying to stay in touch with our customers on a different level, it’s a great thing to add to a business.
David Wachs: Thank you, Carl.
Carl Lewis: And until next time, everyone else out there stay connected.