Angelica Hanley of ACouplePuns on growing her business while staying 100% true to herself, and the biggest lessons she has learned over the years
Describe your business in a few words?
ACouplePuns specializes in sparking joy through laughter and delivers the punniest content and high-quality paper goodies for every special occasion and moment in-between. Whether your bestie loves her house plants, binge-watching Friends, or drinking coffee, ACouplePuns has a punny card for that!
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I’m married to a Navy Pilot and we move around every couple years. I was inspired to build a creative business I could take with us wherever we put down roots. I’ve always been someone who is my best self when fulfilled professionally and creatively so I knew I needed to take ownership of my career in order to make this lifestyle work for me and my family.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
My background is in marketing and advertising. I started working in advertising when I was in college and fell in love with the creative process. Seeing creative ideas combined with strategy turn into campaigns that influence people and make them feel something is what I’ve always loved about the industry. I worked for a few agencies and was fortunate to have roles that were dynamic and required me to be on my toes, resourceful, and manage creativity with deadlines! All of this gave me the foundation to start my own business. I was able to fine tune my creative process and leverage skills that helped me lean into my sense of humor, and love for puns to grow the brand.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No but when I reflect on my childhood and young adult years, what I’m doing now makes total sense for me!
Ever since I was young, I have always been the comedian of my friends and family so for me to turn my love for laughter into a business comes to no surprise to those who know me. The desire to create unique things and make people laugh followed me into adulthood but I never thought I’d be able to couple this fun playful side with being a professional or that I could be taken seriously. Even in college, I chose a major that had nothing to do with what I’m doing now because I never believed creativity could be something outside of a hobby. I went to school right outside of Washington D.C. so I thought success looked like going to Law School or going into Politics — it turns out I struggled to focus and I was not the best student. I LOVED learning but my performance in school never reflected that. While I may have been just getting by in my classes one thing I did master was hustling. I always had a side gig, a job, or found myself in a leadership role of whatever organization I was participating in or volunteering in. I remember offering my creative and coordination skills to help a group of engineering students find clever ways to involve the campus in rallying for their renewable energy project to receive a state grant. It was in these gigs, jobs and random projects that I learned the worth of my soft skills and that creativity is more than doodling or taking an art class, it’s what connects people and if you can make people smile then you’re onto something special. I also learned how resourceful I was and the value in that.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I launched my business on Etsy in 2017 with zero strategy. It was a fun hobby for me that I quickly learned could be more once sales started coming in and I did my first pop up market. I had landed my first national retail account and STILL called this a side hustle. Talk about imposter syndrome.
I say this but in reality I was acting on instinct — marketing comes natural to me and given my background in advertising, I understood how to use digital & social media marketing to reach strangers but I was also connecting with the locals through pop-ups.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I have a lot of passion for what I do and creative energy and sometimes It’s difficult to tame. I also have a fear of missed opportunities. All of this mixed together used to result in me biting off more than I can chew and not giving myself adequate time and space to prepare. Passion and drive have gotten me through many doors but as we started to grow I learned I needed to take a step back and prepare more. This story is one that led to a lot of reflection and me taking a different approach to how I run my business.
Almost two years ago I was invited to the headquarters of a popular messaging app to pitch to its executive team after applying to their accelerator program. This was a dream come true for ACouplePuns – storytelling, connections, and content-driven-commerce… our bread and butter!
It was a total shot in the dark, and I didn’t think there was any way I’d get an actual interview but I made it to the final round! They wanted me to pitch in LA so that’s exactly what I did!
I quickly learned, unlike myself, some of the other companies were pros at this accelerator pitching thing. They had teams with expert roles, years of experience, and thousands of followers… no wonder they were there. I wondered when I’d be at their level. I felt like a total underdog and the doubt started to creep in. I was not thinking about how I built a nationally distributed retail brand from the ground up but was thinking about the team I didn’t have and the perfectly detailed business plan I didn’t have!
From what I can remember, I’m pretty sure I championed my speech at 3.0x speed with about 20% of the intended content. I took up two of the five available minutes. It was a mess. The pressure got the best of me; I totally bombed it.
At the end one of the execs who I think could tell nerves got the best of me came to chat and we ended up having a fantastic conversation! He was impressed with my creativity and all that I was able to do on my own. It wasn’t advice he gave but it was questions he asked me that made me realize what my weak points were. He wanted to know how I could sustain the growth they could get my business with their platform …. and again I fell short.
I’d say I learned this the hard way but in reality I grew so much from this moment and am kind of glad I bombed that pitch!
Another story is about my first trade show…
My first Trade Show in NYC was a setup disaster that small business nightmares are made out of. I had spent thousands of dollars on the booth fees, travel, and preparation for this show. Upon setting up, my booth did not fit in the allotted space, my vinyl logo for my booth was not the right color and the pretty desk I ordered for the space was broken — so I was there at this world-class trade show with nothing. We ended up ordering a new vinyl logo from a shop in California that was still open due to the time change and they overnighted it to NYC. I ended up hiring an onsite contractor to just set up new walls as I should have originally. We spent a lot of extra money, but it was worth it — we opened a lot of new accounts and made some relationships with big retailers! Oh, and we learned A LOT, lol!
The following year when I set up I was not stressed at all. The absolute worst happened the year prior so I knew every possible set up disaster and went into the show with ease. Needless to day, we nailed it!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
The business I’ve been able to grow and people I’ve been able to share laughter with while staying 100% true to myself.
We’ve won some pretty cool awards, landed press features, sold on shelves in popular stores and met some amazing people but none of that compares to how fulfilled I am knowing that I get to bring myself to work and I’m doing something that sparks joy and helps people share their special moments. 🙂
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Last year we lost a majority of our wholesale business due to the pandemic and shops closing their doors. We were able to stay afloat because I’ve always been conscious about our overhead costs and having multiple sales channels. We were still able to reach customers through online marketplaces and invested time in setting up our online wholesale presence while things were slow on that end – prior to COVID we attended trade shows to grow the wholesale side of the biz. I also invested in rebranding and building a new website to better represent the brand for our online customers. I focused on content creation and sharing our story and was able to land some press features. Finding ways to stay consistent during the pandemic and be a corner of happiness for people allowed us to come out of it on top!
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
It’s always been my dream to grow this brand to be more than just greeting cards and paper goods. I think it’s safe to say you’ll be seeing more products for not just our customers to gift but for them to enjoy themselves.
It’s a goal of mine to continue to grow the digital content side of the business and use our puns to land brand partnerships and do more collaborations.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
SLOW DOWN! 2020 forced me to slow down and take inventory of what’s important for me and my business. Prior to 2020 I was moving a million miles per minute and saying yes to every opportunity that came my way and I found myself burnt out.
I learned to put strategy and priorities first and choose the things I say yes to based on that. I’m much happier, productive and sales are still increasing!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I run a shop that is based on puns and I used to get in my own head and think no one would take me seriously. Today we’re a brand people go to when they want to share their most special moments with the people they love and our products are sold globally. Believe in yourself, your vision and stay consistent – it will pay off!
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Being honest with myself and leaning in on my support system. This year has been a unique one for me personally to say the least.
My husband and I recently got stationed in Florida. My husband left for a deployment in January and two weeks after he left I found out I’m pregnant with TWINS! We’re expecting in September and I have to say I’m just proud of myself for keeping it together mentally and am even more proud of all of the work I’ve done over the years to grow this business. While growing a business to keep up with our livestyle I didn’t realize I was simultaneously preparing myself to enter the mom world. I’m feeling prepared and confident and am so grateful for everyone who has supported my shop over the years and made it possible to do what I love and be present for my family.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Today, YES. But I think it’s easy for me to say this because I have found that balance after years of burning myself out. My bootstrapped business is thriving right now because I once had no balance and put 100% of my energy into growing the brand and putting myself out there.
When I first started ACouplePuns I had just moved to a new city and had no friends and family nearby. What I lacked in a social life I filled with growing my business. As my husband and I moved and found ourselves closer to friends and family, and starting to have different priorities in life I had a lot of conflicts because of the pace I originally set for myself and business.
Hustle culture is a real thing and I’m happy to be on the other side of it with strict boundaries and in touch with my values but I do think there is a time and place for putting all of your energy into your work. You just have to be aware of the things you’re sacrificing and make sure you set some boundaries with yourself and those around you.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I am 100% Greek and growing up I competed in Greek dancing!
I won the POTY (Punniest Of The Year) Award at the National Pun Off in Austin, TX.
I met my husband on Tinder. He was stationed in Japan and I was living in Maryland. The first time we met was me flying to Tokyo! Pretty crazy to think this business now exists because of that. 🙂
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Make a good breakfast.
- Silence my notifications.
- Work in my office, not on the couch. WFH life can be rough!
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Bringing yourself to your work and your community! I’m so excited to be part of a community of like minded women who are all following their dreams and putting themselves out there no matter what phase of entrepreneurship or their career they are in.