My name is Keisha DePaz, the founder of Punch Street, a recently launched greeting card startup focused on young adult and urban teen culture.
Two weeks after Punch Street’s launch we were featured in Forbes.com. Later that night, after some fearless marketing on our part, we had our Forbes piece read and retweeted by the actors who played Omar and Rhonda Pearlman from The Wire — the HBO show that was the catalyst for Punch Street; a highlight for us which we will never forget. Yet, rewind to just a couple of weeks before that point and we were ferociously scrapping the Punch Street site together and fighting tooth and nail to have our launch even happen.
Let me tell you a bit more about the beginning of my journey. My role as startup founder is actually my second career. I started as a summer associate and then worked for 5 years as an attorney at a top Manhattan law firm, starting at age 24. After watching an episode of The Wire, I was inspired to start creating and designing street style greeting cards to embrace modern young adults and teens. I would work on my idea during late nights and weekends while I was still an attorney. With the support of my family, I eventually left my high-paying legal career and comfy lifestyle to fully pursue my dream.
Going back to the day when I put in my two weeks’ notice at my old law firm – my apartment was already sold, my custom website had just begun coding, hundreds of greeting cards were already designed, and my bank account was plush with money and savings. I felt prepared, ready and hopeful. I thought I would be telling you a different story; one in which I was on an express lane to launch. Wrong. I didn’t escape life and I didn’t escape brick walls. I’ll tell you about one startup struggle in particular (although there are so many more).
When I started, I had my mind set on a fully customized website. I worked so hard — oh, those 3am nights — to work on my “perfect site”. By the time I handed off my “road map” to the developers, I had almost 60 pages, back and front of all the features, buttons and custom designs that my little heart desired. After a month or so, when I was supposed to get my first look – the developers asked for a little bit more time. I gave them more time. When their time came around again, I received nothing and instead got word that the main developer ran off to a foreign country! Alarm bells went off while I was told not to worry. A replacement developer was swiftly found who is nothing but amazing, but the work had to start over again. Delay. I gave a little bit of leeway time and when I checked in again it was like pulling teeth. Still no clear communication. I couldn’t get my questions answered. As you can imagine, I was not pleased. I saw a skeleton of the site and was told they were hard at work on the “guts” but it wasn’t presentable for me quite yet. I did not believe what I was being told so we started looking for other developers on the side. In the end we didn’t find a third set of developers that we could afford to pay for the custom site and (long story short) the second developers never did come through either – failing on their promise to give us a working test site the day before a huge investor conference.
During this time, my brother desperately began to learn how to code and although I wanted to learn as well, with a heavy heart I headed back to work as an attorney to ensure we were financial stable. By returning, my faith and belief in my desire to launch Punch Street was tested. The temptation of a secure legal career staring me once again in the face as I continued to pour my heart into a startup that just wouldn’t move closer to being coded – much less launching. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of having to step back in one direction wondering if I would ever get my shot to step forward in the opposite direction again. In the backdrop, we were losing team members who probably thought our launch would never see the light of day and there were whispers that maybe I should just go back to being an attorney. I realized that I was staring a brick wall in the face but I kept gathering my strength to charge ahead. I wanted what I wanted.
In the end, the Shopify platform helped me topple that sucker down.
One day in late October 2012, my brother and I were on a flight coming back from the Dublin Web Summit, a European tech conference where Punch Street was invited to showcase. We were depleted yet strategizing on the plane what would be the next best steps for our site. “Christmas is around the corner. Let’s sell without a site through email. Then we should just sell off of Facebook? Maybe Etsy?”
The next day, my brother and I tiredly attended a meet-and-greet for startup entrepreneurs. At the meetup, I unabashedly spoke about my developer issues. I learned that developer frustrations were a common theme, with other teams being left to dry with non-working sites too. I was glad to hear that I wasn’t alone. I was advised to try Shopify. The next day I checked it out and signed up. I started testing it out immediately and thought it would work. It would still take some clever implementation techniques to get the Punch Street site to function the same at the core but I knew we could figure it out. The team (the small one that was left) and I were ecstatic. We shifted into full gear — slashing features to fit the new platform and slashing products beyond our core to speed up the launch time. We worked as if we were possessed (!) – designing and typing out pages and creating new platforms for our products. By this time it was around Thanksgiving and only my brother and I were available to keep charging ahead. Our Thanksgiving weekend was shot. In fact, our lights blew out and we plugged in an old electric lamp to get us through the night! That’s how badly we wanted Punch Street to happen.
In the end, we got in orders from friends, family and colleagues before we even went live, all while working so hard with Shopify’s recommended developers to make the launch happen. What a world of difference in our experience! The official Punch Street launch happened on my lucky numbers — 1/11 of this year.
Although there were so many other ups and downs that I have experienced in such a short time and we haven’t “made it” in any sense of the word, I am beyond happy to be working on my dream. I truly believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I believe wholeheartedly Punch Street will continue to find its way through.
I end repeating something I heard in a lecture:
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
– Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
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