Angelica Hanley: “Don’t compare yourself to brands with funding instead use it to dream”

Own the room you’re in — I had an opportunity to pitch my business to an accelerator fund this past year and I blew the pitch. I envisioned my audience as people who don’t believe in my vision rather than people who are spending their time listening to me because they see potential in my vision. My […]

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Own the room you’re in — I had an opportunity to pitch my business to an accelerator fund this past year and I blew the pitch. I envisioned my audience as people who don’t believe in my vision rather than people who are spending their time listening to me because they see potential in my vision. My nerves spoke louder than my accomplishments and potential.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angelica Hanley.

Angelica Hanley is the owner and entrePUNeur behind ACouplePuns. ACouplePuns specializes in sparking joy through laughter and that is why the brand strives to deliver the punniest content and high-quality paper goodies. All cards are illustrated by Angelica. She “draws” inspiration from pop culture, things she loves and places she travels. As a military spouse, married to a Navy Pilot meaning she moves around quite a bit. She was inspired to build a creative business she could take with her wherever she and her husband put down roots. You can find Angelica’s punny cards online and in gift shops and boutiques shops nationwide! A card for every imaginable occasion, ACouplePuns delivers sweet messages accompanied by disarmingly darling drawings on superb card stock that is scored, folded and packaged by hand!

Thank you so much for doing this with us Angelica! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

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 on to something special. I also learned how resourceful I was and the value in that.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?

The catalyst was to find connection and community in a new city. Prior to moving from Maryland to Texas for my now-husband, I was growing my own way in a career I had control over with friends who were like-minded and my family within a few hours drive away. I thought I had myself figured out and was thrown for a big ole reality check once the bliss and honeymoon phase of that move settled in. I wasn’t inspired by the work I was doing at my current job and knowing my husband is in the Navy and we’d be moving often I started thinking of things I could do that would move with us and provide me with fulfillment. I dabbled in SO many ideas, again ignoring this creative itch I had. I started pursuing gigs I thought sounded more impressive using skills I had learned from previous roles and fancy buzz words.

The “ah-ha” moment came when I was at a market with a friend and saw these punny towels. You see, at the moment I had still been that silly creative person in my personal life and had built a little reputation for sharing punny content on my social channels. I’d see something and make a pun out of it. I’d be with my husband, make him hold something and make a pun out of it. My friend told me there’s no reason I can’t be selling my punny brain thoughts too. Within a week from that conversation, I started drawing objects and attaching puns to them and sharing them online. Another week after that I started an Etsy shop, got some cards printed, sourced envelopes and set up shop at a local market selling my cards. Fast forward 2.5 years later (and a lot of work in between) I’m now distributing cards to retailers nationally, selling online and have a whole community of punny people who have been part of this adventure with me!

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

You’ll see by my previous answer I didn’t really do much planning prior to starting my business BUT what I do think has contributed to a lot of my success is focusing on one thing and a lot of consistency. Creative and ambitious people can spot opportunities in just about anything and before ACouplePuns I’d try to turn every creative idea I had into a side hustle — but they never stuck. What helped me stay consistent with ACouplePuns was that it fulfilled every aspect I was seeking professionally and personally. You have ACouplePuns at the top and below that, creative, marketing, production, sales, community management, events, etc. I was able to fulfill all of that creative energy by working in all of these areas but under that one umbrella of ACouplePuns. It filled that void I was feeling and gave me an excuse to connect with my community and would be something I could take with me upon our next move.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Start it as a side hustle. You’ll make time for it if it’s calling you and it will feel natural — you’ll realize there are more hours in the day when it’s the right thing. When I had a fulltime job for 2 years, I woke up early, used lunch breaks to run to the post office and would spend time in the evening working on ACouplePuns.

Let’s be honest though, your passion won’t always pay the bills. That doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself from pursuing something because you still have to work fulltime. You can be a successful entrepreneur and still have a job that supports you. You’ll have more flexibility to fund your business and some opportunities that could lead to real growth!

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

It’s all about the people I’m meeting! Seeing someone smile because of a silly brain thought turned into a card never gets old. Keep having new conversations and expanding your network. For me, that’s what keeps everything fresh.

I will say over the past year ACouplePuns has grown and my focus has shifted to less creative and fun to more “work”. I’ve had to learn to let some things go and outsource in order to focus on the aspects that I love and that is the creative and the connections aspect. I’d rather delegate a technical task and provide creative input versus spend hours trying to figure out a program that’s over my head and tedious.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

My business allows people to share special moments and laughter so it’s pretty amazing being able to be a part of that. Brides use cards to propose to their bridesmaids and expecting couples to use them to announce they are pregnant. Creating punny products to help make moments special will always be the root of what we do at ACouplePuns and what I enjoy most.

The downside of my particular business is being so connected to it personally. While this is awesome most of the time it’s a double-edged sword. If something fails, I associate that with personal failure. Also because it’s creatively driven sometimes, like right now with the current state of the world, it’s difficult to find that balance between creativity, fun and respecting the struggles people are experiencing.

I overcome these drawbacks but being very open and honest and having conversations with others who may be in my shoes. What I learned, especially right now is while it may feel distasteful to produce fun content and promote my business, people do need connection and they need joy and ACouplePuns provides that.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I knew I’d be wearing a lot of hats but I didn’t quite know what that meant and how many comfort zones I had hidden within me that I’d have to just overcome because I have no choice — I either get an opportunity or I miss out because I’m afraid — I always choose to suck it up and go after the opportunity.

As a founder, my job is to do everything. I’ve always been someone who likes to wear multiple hats so my biggest struggle is deciphering when I need to delegate work. I’m a one-woman show most days but thanks to a handful of amazing contractors I’m also a leader. Developing into the leadership role and being comfortable with my own voice and advocating for my vision has been the biggest surprise.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

No, not really. Even if my business fails the experience put into it is not something anyone can take away from me so I see it as a springboard to the next bigger and better thing.

Any work I do outside of ACouplePuns I’m very particular about though. It has to provide me with some sort of developmental skills to make me better personally and professionally. I consider myself adaptable and a lifelong learner so any “real job” is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it provides me with opportunities to grow and learn.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

HA! 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 set 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!

This 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.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

My husband. He calls me when I’m bluffing and challenges me to be a better person and business owner. He’s an engineer, Naval Officer, very straight-laced person and I’m …let’s just say more colorful, haha. He helps me separate the personal from the business and advocate for what I think is right— all the time.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Sharing an open and honest story and not trying to be something I’m not. I hope people can relate to me and find some inspiration in my story that leads them to do something creative or something they are passionate about.

Also, ACouplePuns helps people share their special moments so being able to create art and punny art that relates to them and is perfect for a special someone makes the world a better place. We’ve donated cards to many organizations and they are used as pick-me-ups to support women battling breast cancer or to be sent to troops overseas. I love that my business has provided me with opportunities to do good through something as silly puns.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Own the room you’re in — I had an opportunity to pitch my business to an accelerator fund this past year and I blew the pitch. I envisioned my audience as people who don’t believe in my vision rather than people who are spending their time listening to me because they see potential in my vision. My nerves spoke louder than my accomplishments and potential.
  2. People feed off of other people’s success and don’t recognize the work that goes into it, these people will find creative ways to exploit that. Just be mindful of who you work with and who you share things with. And when someone does disappoint you, handle it and move on.
  3. Figure out what you’re good at and delegate the rest — ok, this one is not easy if you’re starting out and scrappy you will have to do everything yourself but as you’re doing everything just be mindful of what it is you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. When you come into opportunities to delegate it will be easier and you’ll make smarter decisions on the kind of skill sets you hire.
  4. It’s ok to say no — I have this thing where I tend to bite off more than I can chew. I like saying yes to every opportunity and have this fear that if I don’t participate in something my business will miss out on a growth opportunity. Turns out this is not true. Slowing down and taking some time to strategize about what obligations are most important has helped me manage what I say Yes and No to.
  5. Don’t compare yourself to brands with funding instead use it to dream — I have a handful of brands I look to for inspiration but have learned that if I want to compare myself I need to look back in their journey to where they were and what they looked like when they were at my phase. At that pitch I mentioned earlier I was told to continue to be scrappy and keep making progress and I learned a lot from that.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

To make the world smile one ridiculous pun at a time! Right now we’re doing this through online content and greeting cards but my dream would be to provide consumers with a full line of products that help spark joy in their daily lives rather than one intimate exchange through a card.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you’re adding value to the world, if you’re doing something different, you’re going to succeed at it” — Holly Thaggard the Founder of SuperGoop.

One thing that has contributed to a lot of the success of ACouplePuns is how I define success. It’s a balance of being able to pay bills, create art, and make people laugh. If we’re having a slow month financially there’s always the ability to create art and make people laugh!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Karen Cahn — Founder and CEO of iFundWomen

I once heard her say she’s a rich woman and she’s self-made and is not afraid to say that. I’ve heard Karen speak on many Podcasts and follow her content online and admire the work she’s done for female founders and how unapologetic she is. She’s created a platform that allows anyone willing to put in the work and means to fund their great ideas.

I think a meeting with Karen would leave me inspired, with tangible projects for growth and that unapologetic nature will force me right out of my comfort zones.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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