August 4th 1999. That was the UK launch of 'Handmade Cards by Dominique'. It was the second week of the summer holidays and I had just turned 13 (I was going to lie and tell you that I was 7 because that would make this story a whole lot less embarrassing but you may as well know the truth). I had spent the previous week making a job lot of horrible greeting cards. I found some fossils of them in an old box last week and I spontaneously crumpled into a cringing mess on the floor. Wonky hand-cut lettering, tiny wire 'sculptures', stick on diamanté stones and an offensive amount of glitter. These were the cards that Brentwood had been waiting for, apparently.
Now, every great business needs a great business card and mine really were something else. I went with a hand-drawn logo on peppermint green paper enhanced by an embossed flower courtesy of my Krafty Kids embossing set. I decided to go for a longer format, more like a bookmark, just to ensure that they were ugly and inconvenient. I then laminated them to give them a full waterproof finish. Patrick Bateman, eat your heart out. When they were done, I packed up my cards into a presentation portfolio, grabbed my best friend and hit the streets. Three hours later, we had covered four roads and earned a whopping total of £13.86. We marched straight to the high street and spent the entire lot on KFC. So that was it. 'Handmade Cards by Dominique' went bankrupt on its opening day and I hung up my glittery greeting card boots.
But it turned out that the greetings gods were not done with me yet. At precisely the same time that a smaller me was sat knee-deep in origami paper and gel pens, another child in another part of the country had just received his first Apple Mac. Whilst I was experimenting with decoupage, he was exploring Photoshop. Where my hands were dragging calligraphy pens across handmade paper, his were dragging a stylus over a graphics tablet. That child was Jack and when we met almost a decade later, two worlds collided. It wasn't long before we found ourselves dusting off my old boots. When I say 'dusting' I mean scouring and scraping and scrubbing until every trace of glitter and sequin was gone. We then painted them black just to make sure. We put all of our skills together on the table and moulded them, sculpted and polished them. We developed new skills wherever we found ourselves lacking and soon it was time for another launch. This time, however, things were different. Instead of craft items stuck together, we worked with humour and design. Instead of a market consisting entirely of three stay-at-home mums, we targeted the nation's best gift shops. This was no 'Handmade Cards by Dominique', this was Lanther Black.
I'm happy to report that we didn't go bankrupt on the first day. Mainly because we have a new and improved business model: Don't spend everything that you earn. In fact, we went a step further than that and didn't take a penny for ourselves for a very long time. Every time we faced a choice between paying ourselves or reinvesting, we reinvested. We booked trade shows instead of holidays and we bought stock instead of steak. At every turn we put the business first. So when the day finally came that we allowed ourselves a piece of the pie, it was truly magical. Our first pay check was small but its significance was huge. We had built a product from scratch, marketed it, sold it and shipped it. We then nurtured it and refined it and then sold it and shipped it some more. The little bundle of crisp notes in front of us were the first sign that the product was ready to do something for us. We worked for many years in the restaurant industry; the shifts were long, hard and stressful but more often than not there was a little pot of gold at the end of them. We spent money frivolously because it could be quickly replaced. I suppose we took it for granted. This small stack of notes that were the culmination of twelve months of work could have been earned in a matter of days in the restaurant but we appreciated every single penny because it was so personal. We had been involved in every single stage of the development of our very own product and we had just reaped our first reward. It was an overwhelming moment. Our proudest moment yet. We grabbed the cash and headed straight for the nearest Nandos. Sixteen years on from my first business venture I have a new product, a new business name and a new best friend but apparently my motto in life has stayed exactly the same: 'Sell cards, buy chicken'.