How we used a side business to promote our company

By Calvin Benton

Around five months ago I went to a poetry evening. I had never been to one before and, to be honest, I felt a little out of place. This probably played a part in where I ended up in the conversational hierarchy of the pre-poetry mingling… I began speaking with someone who was on their own in a corner. He turned out to be one of the poets: presumably, everyone else knew that he was a poet and that he was probably trying to mentally prepare for the performance. As it began to get closer to the start time, the rest of the poets came and joined our conversation. Six poets and me :)

After the event, I walked back home. On my way, I bumped into one of the poets and we ended up having a chat. After a bit of chit-chat, and some compliments from me on his performance, it turns out that in a previous life he was a greetings card writer for a big greetings card maker.

Being as obsessed with 500 Days of Summer as I am, I had lots of questions. What was your best selling card? How many cards did you have to crank out a day? How did you come up with the phrases? He told me all about the day-to-day work and how his creativity was often quashed. For example, sloths were particularly “in” one season, so a least one card in every collection needed to have a sloth-related pun.

The next day in the office, I told my colleague Will about meeting a real life greetings card writer. We discussed how hard it must be to have to write greetings cards that are bland, sentimental and completely avoid saying how anyone really felt. “We’re a cool hip mental health company!” we thought. “Let’s launch a greetings card brand! It will be so cool that it will drive millions of hits to our site!”

We wanted to move away from bland cards which proclaimed euphemisms like “With sympathy”.

Over the next week, Will came up with five card designs aiming to say the things people were really feeling, and wanted to say, but just weren’t saying. We hired an illustrator who knew one of our colleagues for £200 to draw the pictures. After trying lots of different colour, layout and font combinations we settled on our favourite designs.

- Our longlist of potential designs

Our strategy was fairly simple:

  1. Design the cards
  2. Put them on a Squarespace site
  3. Try to promote the website.

We included a link to our main website at the bottom of the Punchy Cards website to try to convert some of the traffic back to Spill.

We ended up receiving 43 upvotes on Hacker News and we were on the HN homepage for roughly 24 hours. We had to post Punchy Cards on HN twice before it received any traction.

We received around 2,000 hits from Hacker News and we went from page six on Google to page one rank one overnight for “Punchy Cards”. We received £12.00 in card sales from people who found us on there.

We also posted on Product Hunt but we only received 2 upvotes and 3 views :(

Next, we emailed out a bunch of British journalists to tell them about Punchy Cards. We were featured in an article in Stylist (which is quite a big deal in the UK). We were on their online site as well as in their print newspaper. This resulted in 14 direct site views and £0.00 in card sales.

We were also featured in (a much smaller publication than Stylist). Here we received 248 site views and £36.00 in card sales revenue.

Finally, we received 144 Google search hits which I believe was due to the Stylist article. This resulted in £18.00 in card sales.

So far as promoting Spill, the project generated 98 clicks through to see the Spill website.

We really enjoyed creating Punchy Cards, and the premise is aligned nicely with what we do at Spill (talking about how you really feel). It didn’t take too much time to set up and is really cheap to run. We also made some money back in card sales (90% profit margin)!

We plan to spend a few days over the next week creating a new range of cards in time for valentines day as we didn’t really target a specific event the first time — something that journalists usually like to use as a hook.

I hope that this gives you an understanding of the process of coming up with a “marketing idea” that’s related to but separate from the main brand, ways in which you can distribute it and also the result that we had — something to benchmark against. If you have any questions you can email me out at and if you’d like to read more writing from Spill you can take a look here.

Thanks for reading!