Serial entrepreneur Charlotte Pearce founded Inkpact in 2013, the service that helps brands engage customers at scale through handwritten, personalised notes.
She now oversees a multi-million pound business, working with hundreds of clients including Sweaty Betty, John Lewis, Mr and Mrs Smith, Moet Hennessy (MOH.F) and Unilever (ULVR.L). The company’s success and human-led approach to marketing has led to Pearce being featured in the Forbes 30 under 30.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was an early teenager and my first boss and mentor, Chris Richards, is an investor now. People don’t always think about the fact that when you run a business, investors effectively are your boss and ones you report to.
I already knew Chris, so I called him my ‘business dad’ for a long time. He was an alumni at the university [Southampton] I was part of and he had been very successful in business and social impact. He had come back to help students look at the work differently and that we could all run a successful business. I remember him saying, ‘Charlotte, no matter what you do I will invest in you’.
When I came up with the idea of Inkpact, I knew him in a different capacity and so I took the idea to Chris. I was 19, I needed his skills and so he put the first cheque into the business nine years ago.
He loved our scribe (writers) element and we now have a community of a thousand. We work with some of the biggest brands in the world, but every time we get a client we bring on the scribes and it impacts their lives. Yes, we make money but the core business model was where we gained a client and we could then help people.
The route is simple. Our client uploads their data and personalised message to our platform; the magic happens when ‘enter’ is pressed and 1,000 scribes get a notification. Our print house will print their notecards with a logo and a footer, which are then sent to the writers who will hand-write every single one, which could number 50,000.
They take a photo and upload it for quality. If it passes the test, they put it into the postbox. We have the technology to get out 50,000 in a week for clients and we are the only business in the world which sends hundreds of thousands every single month. And that’s down to our people and tech-enabled business.
There are so many people out there who have great handwriting who either can’t get another form of employment or their circumstances are different. Further, there has been a recent shift from our clients, who put on the notecard ‘... written from a mother in Yorkshire, with words from our CEO’. The brand then gets more kudos.
We started as a very unscalable business. I was taking pieces of paper to the library for our first scribes to write and for me to check and we are a world away from that now.
What’s interesting now and a lesson I pass on now is that if you think of the biggest scaled businesses today, say Airbnb (ABNB), if someone told them that people wouldn’t stay in other people’s houses, well look at them now. If I think back to our first day and how it would be possible to send millions of notes, if you can turn the unscalable into the scaleable then that is the key — and normally that’s done with some kind of tech enablement.
For us, the human-led approach to marketing is everything. To have that level of personalisation, trust and rapport online in today’s world is really difficult with the channels available for marketeers to get seen. Marketeers today need to think human first and to be different to stand out.
I have always been curious about people and human psychology and that leads me to ask curious questions, like why some people buy, others don’t? Why do some people love some brands and not others? That leads me to speak to brands to seek the answers.
We want to be a £100m business in five years. I love setting overly ambitious targets and timeframes are never correct or accurate, yet I feel like you have to put them out there. We want to put Inkpact in every country and language to allow marketeers globally to have this effective channel to do some meaningful moments with their customers.
My mentor Chris cares about me and the business development. But, if you ask him, he has no idea about marketing and technology — two key aspects of Inkpact — but what he always talks about are the fundamentals.
The fundamentals of every business and person are pretty much the same. He uses his skills to nurture and develop you as a person, while he helps to strip away all the noise and what’s really core and important in a decision. We joke how many times he says ‘fundamentals’, but he always helps bring the purpose back.