Founderoo caught up with Doug and Danika, the founders of D&D Letterpress.
You're going to love this story of Doug and Danika. While travelling they fell in love with letterpress printing and decided to set up their own business back in Australia.
This is a bloody lovely story of the trial and tribulations of starting a business from scratch. Enjoy.
Danika & Doug, what's your backstory?
Doug and I met at the College of Fine Arts, both in our final year of a design degree (doubled with an Art Education degree for me) and we're pretty much inseparable from then on.
After uni we spent nine months travelling Europe, ending up in London for a winter, where our shared love of letterpress grew. We would go to all the amazing markets and collect wood letterpress blocks along the way, not knowing how significant these would end up being when we returned to Oz.
Doug had a bit of an eBay addiction back then (we're still working through this), and we found ourselves bidding on an old 1920's hand-fed and foot-treadled printing press called Wendy that was in an old Lidcombe hospital that was about to be demolished. We had dreams of us being able to start a family, Doug working as a product designer somewhere and me designing and printing greeting cards in my spare time (which we've since learnt does not exist with a young family).
Next thing we knew a crane truck was hoisting this old printing press into my parent's carport, which is where we were living having returned from Europe pretty broke. Neither of us had any printing background, so we both stood looking at this hunk of cast iron not knowing how to work it...or if it even still worked.
We took a little excursion to Penrith Printing Museum to see if we could learn anything about her which is where we met Des, who was to become our teacher and dear friend. Des, who had taught the craft of letterpress at Sydney Tech, spent many hours helping us get Wendy cleaned up and back to working condition so we could print our first job - our own wedding invitations!
The more we learnt, the more the obsession grew, and our poor family and friends had to endure us talking about nothing but letterpress for the next few years. We have since moved Wendy from many carports, garages and studios and acquired a host of other old characters (printing presses) from random places all over the country.
Tell us what your company does?
We couldn’t get enough of printing, we just wanted any opportunity to learn more and print anything and everything that came our way.
For us, it was a bridge between graphic design and object design. We weren’t stuck on a computer day in day out. We also got to see our projects from the concept stage, all the way through to the final product. All the while, having complete control over every aspect.
Those who know nothing about letterpress; it is the oldest form of printing going back to Gutenberg’s invention of movable type for mass production of printed material in the 1400s.
Basically letterpress printing involves a raised plate which is then inked up with a roller and pressed into the paper, leaving an inked impression in the paper.
Letterpress has evolved over the years and is now revered as a bespoke printing method as it leaves a crisp print and deep deboss, often on beautiful fluffy cotton paper stocks.
There is yet to be a digital process that can emulate the same outcome. Because of its premium finish, letterpress tends to attract clients that value craftsmanship and quality.
Our clients range from design studios requiring branding collateral, corporate clients that require invitations for events, to bridal clients who need stationery for everything from wedding invitations to their menus.
How did you come up with the idea?
The business grew organically from our shared love of letterpress. It was initially a side hustle, as we both had to get ‘real’ jobs in the design industry when we returned from Europe.
We would mainly print and learn with Des on our weekends until we found ourselves dropping more and more days at work until D&D Letterpress turned into a real job.
We were also noticing other letterpress studios popping up in Australia and realised we could make a living printing.
How did you come up with the name of the business?
Oh, the name.. We wish we’d spent a bit more time coming up with the name, but at the start, we never knew we’d be doing this ten years down the track!
Our family and friends often referred to us as D&D, and we thought it was important to have the word ‘letterpress’ in our name for anyone looking for letterpress.
Not very creative for two creatives hey :) We have wanted to change the name so many times, but see the value in the brand and name we have created over time. So a word of advice, choose wisely when coming up with a name :)
How did you go about building the product?
There were many late nights and learning curves in the early years, lots of all-nighters quoting, which was the bane of our existence in the first year.
Luckily Doug dabbles in the dark art of scripting, so while I was in hospital in labour with our first child, he was right there next to me, putting together a quoting system to streamline the business.
With neither of us having much in the way of business experience, we fumbled our way through the ups and downs of starting a small business and are still trying to streamline it to this day.
By the time D&D became a full-time gig for both of us we also had a young baby in tow so juggling the two certainly gained us a few grey hairs.
We have learnt a lot along the way and still are, luckily we have spent the last ten years finessing our processes so working into the night is a thing of the past. We’ve finally found a good work-life balance, which can be a hard thing to attain with a small business at times.
What did you need to do for the launch?
The business launched itself organically. We created our own website and social media presence, and it grew from there.
For the first year, we were mainly an online business, so I guess our ‘launch’ was when we presented our work at our first wedding fair which was quite a ‘pinch me’ moment for the both of us as we stood back, taking in our stall and what we had created.
To see people crowding over our work, rubbing their hands over the prints and eagerly writing their names on our mailing list gave us the confidence to keep moving forward with the business.
How have you grown the business?
We're lucky that our printed product gets viewed by many people once it leaves our hands, be it business cards or invitations. It tends to generate interest and a talking point, so we often have people getting in touch who've stumbled upon us this way.
Social media is also one of our most powerful marketing tools, which I’m sure we could utilise a lot better.
We're lucky to have worked with some big clients over the years such as Tag Heuer, Maserati, Penfolds and Hublot to name a few, which we feel gives others the confidence to trust us with their projects.
We’ve also always jumped on the opportunity to collaborate with other businesses to extend our brand awareness.
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
Unrealistic expectations of our clients have given us a few stressful moments over the years.
We've learnt that communication is key. Explaining exactly what we'll be delivering, to ensure there are no surprises for either party.
A large percentage of our work comes from the wedding industry, and we've come up against our fair share of bridezillas. Thankfully most of our clients get in touch to tell us their prints are even better than imagined, which makes up for those trickier jobs :)
What’s your biggest selling product?
Designers and creative studios bringing their own print ready artwork for us to letterpress print. Mostly business cards, with comps, event invitations etc.
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
Dive right in there and give it a go! It’s scary and unknown but one hell of a ride.. and you can learn along the way.
What keeps you up at night regarding your business?
Which direction we should be going, how we can make more money, how we can streamline things, even more, to make our life easier and get through more work in a day, the constant ‘to-do’ list you have as a small business owner?
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had being a founder?
That we can create something from nothing that supports our lifestyle and family!
The realisation that our business could be anywhere! When we were looking to buy a bigger property in Sydney for our growing family, we realised that most of our clients never set foot in our studio, so we could be running our business from anywhere we chose. We decided on a tree change and haven’t looked back!
Have you ever felt like quitting, if so why?
Yes, on multiple occasions! In the early years, burn out was a big issue, questioning if all the late nights, lack of a life and stress were worth it.
We go through ebbs and flows, and 2020 was a big one when we thought it could be the end for us, but there are always different directions we can take the business if needed, so we kept ‘pressing on’ (excuse the pun).
I guess whenever we had these moments of throwing in the towel. We would take a step back and see that the lifestyle we’ve made around our business is something lots of people strive for.
We choose our hours and holidays that work for our family and us, so we don’t miss out on our little people growing up.
What quote(s) do you live by?
“ A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” (Franklin Roosevelt)
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?
Flexibility, freedom, fulfilling.
Where can people find out more about your business?