How an Art Director Left Her Job and Started Her Own Business

By on May 31, 2017 in Community
How an Art Director Left Her Job and Started Her Own Business

Kaylee Conrad dreams of a world where gifts never cease to put smiles on faces and songs in heads. In 2017—on a mission to conquer all mediocre gifts everywhere—she traded in her cushy art director day job to start her work-from-home online boutique, Mailbox Melodies.

Kaylee spends her free time mainlining coffee, DIYing all the things, and listening to music at a level much too loud for her neighbor's taste.

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Kaylee Conrad of Mailbox Melodies.

Finding the perfect gift for every occasion can often leave you scratching your head when staring at your typical gift registry. Should I get them these pots and pans or perhaps this extra large toaster?

That's where Kaylee Conrad of Mailbox Melodies comes in. It's her goal to make gift giving parties feel a little bit less awkward and a whole lot more fun by injecting some humor into the gifts.

Kaylee took a huge risk and left her job as an Art Director in Chicago to start Mailbox Melodies, so we're going to dive into her story and learn about how she started her business and got to where she is today.

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Bridesmaid Proposal Kit

Rising to the Occasion

Every business has a starting point, for Kaylee and Mailbox Melodies, that starting point could be traced back to attending dozens of bridal and baby showers and seeing the same expected gifts be given over and over again.

Kaylee began, "I got to the point where I felt like I had to do something for myself. I had the entrepreneurial bug I guess. I had to go out and make something that was mine without anyone telling me how I should do it."

How'd she land on gift giving as her business inspiration? "I was going to a bazillion weddings, bridal showers, baby showers a year—all the things that typical 20 something women are expected to attend. It was just the awkwardness that I couldn't handle at these events."

But in these awkward situations Kaylee saw an opportunity. "I started making gifts for my girlfriends' showers that were always really well received. All the attendees would be blown away by the originality of the gifts and always got a good laugh out of it."

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"Will You Be My Bridesmaid" Gold Foil Card

Beyond the Gift Registry

When it comes to providing a better alternative to the typical gift registry selections Kaylee said, "It wasn't necessarily that the gifts were bad... it was just that registry gifts are—by nature—expected: plain and simple. No one is ever going to be moved by getting a diaper genie at their baby shower."

On the subject of an average gift exchange she continued, "That’s not personal interaction. That’s not something that I feel like I’m bonding with my friends over. I felt like it needed to mean something more than that."

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"Beach Hair, Don't Care" Hair Elastics

Makin' Plans

So while most people would just continue using gift registries and dealing with the awkward gift exchanges, Kaylee decided she could do better and hatched plans to create something of her own.

"Once I started seeing the response from the gifts I made for my friends, I realized it had the potential to be a bigger idea than what I was giving it credit for."

Getting the initial confidence to make the jump and start your own business can be difficult to overcome. On that subject Kaylee said, "My friends would always encourage me to take these ideas to the market—always telling me that I would surely succeed if did. That support and validation to take the jump was my biggest motivator."

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Full Gift Box Set

Putting the Band Brand Together

One of the first steps in creating Mailbox Melodies was selling posters on Etsy. "Prior to Mailbox Melodies existing I did hand lettered posters online and just sold a few of them on Etsy. Music posters...lyrics and stuff like that. I got a lot of social media attention, but didn’t sell a ton."

She continued, "That was my first baby iteration of doing something for myself. I realized it wasn't going to work and pivoted. It started as something entirely different, but it was a helpful learning experience."

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Yellow Submarine Bath Bomb

When talking to Kaylee about the musical theme of Mailbox Melodies she said, "Music has always been such a huge part of my life. I grew up in a house where my dad was always playing something in the basement, so it just became ingrained in me and I want to put it at the forefront of what I'm creating now."

Kaylee continued, "The products I create moving forward will always have something that's tied to that musical inspiration. Whether it's a product name, design style, or just the theme of the package itself, it will continue to be a visible part of everything I create. Music also gives people something extra they can relate to in my products. It's that sense of nostalgia and the anchor of something familiar that makes them drawn to the products even more."

For finding the inspiration behind her products Kaylee said, "I try to make my products as honest and authentic as possible as well. For example, I have a post-pregnancy package for new moms where I've packaged compression panties as "Mama's New Lingerie" and a bottle of wine as "Victory Vino."

A lot of the products I see out there are so surface level. "Congratulations, it's a girl!" is just really expected and cheesy. I try to incorporate more up-front messaging that will get a good laugh out of someone."

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"Victory Vino" Wine Bottle Label

When I asked Kaylee about how she turns the idea for one product into an entire gift set she said, "I guess thinking of a theme initially. One item always leads to another. So it’s like I think of one main thing, 'I’m doing a pregnancy recovery kit, ok – how do I make this funny? What are all of the horrible things associated with pregnancy?' And then it just sort of grows on itself. Having that core central theme is just a domino effect."

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"I Want to Hold Your Hand" Hand Soap

Create Smiles!

Feel like making your own printable gifts? Kaylee has provided us with an incredible do-it-yourself printables kit with instructions, so you can brighten someone else's day! Just click the download button below to get started.

Free Printable Cards


Download them now

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Download them now

Time to get creative!

Does someone in your life need a little boost in their day? Print these and make it happen.

With a Little Help from My Friends

We first spotted Kaylee's incredible brand Mailbox Melodies through her Made with Creative Market submission.

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Kaylee's Made with Creative Market Submission

I talked with Kaylee about how Creative Market has impacted her workflow, and she had a ton of amazing insights. When I asked her if it helped her save time or money she said, "It's both cost and efficiency for sure. It's the first place I look for assets. Most of the typefaces and textures used in my current packages are almost exclusively from Creative Market."

She continued, "It’s one of those things that obviously I want to make the best use of my time, so I’m constantly looking for textures, patterns and fonts. Creative Market is my first stop for almost everything."

One of Creative Market's most popular sections is our free goods page. On that topic Kaylee said, "I find myself every week when I get that newsletter I’ll download a few of the things just in case I might need them. It’s definitely been a big backbone of starting this up, and the first place that I go to when I’m looking for new stuff."

With so many different shops on Creative Market she commented, "I like the community aspect of it too – all of these individual makers are putting stuff out there, and you don’t get that sense with a lot of other stock type sites. They have more of a corporate vibe."

My Favorite Things

As far as Kaylee's go-to shops she said, "I am really into everything that Hustle Supply Co. does. My design sensibility is more of the retro and vintage kind of thing that I guess is popular right now anyway."

She also said, "I bought a couple of things from District 62 – they have texturizers and stuff that I used..."

"...and then Pintassilgo Prints have a whole bunch of retro looking fonts that I’ve bought a bazillion of. Their typefaces are awesome and they’ve gone over super well on my products."

Inspirational Assets

When I talked to Kaylee about how her products would be different without Creative Market, she said, "I think the quality would be less because some things I will find and then be inspired by them, rather than the other way around. Generally speaking I’ll go and look for something specifically and use it, but occasionally I’ll just be browsing for stuff and be like that would be really cool if I took this and did that."

She also said, "So it’s sort of an inspirational tool as well as a resource. It works both ways."

Kaylee stressed that design assets can be a huge time saver as well, "Definitely things like mockups—I don’t necessarily want to take pictures of every single thing."

"Say I make a greeting card. Rather than taking a photo—and worry about lighting and color and editing—I just pop my artwork into a template and call it a day. There are endless resources for stuff like that on Creative Market and they've been a huge time saver."

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"Hard Day’s Night" Sugar Scrub

Ch-Ch-Ch-Challenges

Starting a small business isn't always sunshine and rainbows. In Kaylee's case she said, "I’ve been struggling with trying to do things in as original a format as possible. A lot of stuff in my shop I’m illustrating and doing on an iPad pro, just because I want it to be something that you can’t replicate easily."

Continuing on that topic she stated, "Many of my products use hand done illustration. The mandalas on my Bridesmaid Box and the patterns in the Postpartum Pack are examples of it. That's something I plan to carry through to all my products, but it's a task that's not without its challenges."

Even while creating original work, Kaylee has found products at Creative Market that help her save time. For example, she let me know, "I used a Photoshop extension I found on Creative Market to make drawing the mandalas easier. It's called Brutus Symmetry. Essentially, you draw a sliver of the design and the extension will replicate the other segments for you, creating a kaleidoscope effect."

Lean On Me

Fear of failure can often lead people give up on an idea before they even start. Luckily, Kaylee has a great mindset about fear and failure.

"Fear of failure can be burdensome for a new shop owner, and having people like that around you to be encouraging and tell you that you’re not full of it is the greatest thing to have, the greatest asset that you can think of to overcome those challenges."

She clearly has a wonderful support system. "One of the biggest things that has been awesome has been having people around me like my husband and friends constantly telling me that it’s going to work. I would not have been able to do it without my husband being amazing and supportive of me to take the plunge."

Even with a strong support system stress can still be a problem that needs to be managed. Since Kaylee's brand is called Mailbox Melodies it's only fitting that her favorite stress reliever is to "turn on some really loud music and just jam through it."

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"Sunnies for my Hunnies" Gold Sunglasses with Hangtag

Don't Stop Believin'

Though starting a small business can be stressful at times, there can also be some incredibly rewarding moments and advantages.

When I asked Kaylee what her favorite part of running her own business was she said, "It’s just autonomy. Honestly that was my biggest issue with having a job. I felt that I had all of these good ideas, but I could never do it the way I wanted to do it. That’s just the nature of having a job."

She continued, "Now I essentially have no clients, except for people who are willingly coming and buying from me. It’s the best position ever for a designer to be in because I pre-made stuff that people now respond to and want to buy, which sounds super selfish, but it’s also really validating because it means that I’m doing something right."

Of course, Kaylee recognizes that this autonomy isn't without its difficulties, "I’ve taken on the belief that responding to the market maybe changing the product offering a little bit can help that process move along and ease the autonomy pain."

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Strawberry Fields Forever Bath Salt

Final Pieces of Advice

Kaylee has already accomplished an incredible amount of things during Mailbox Melodies' short lifespan, so I asked her if she had any advice for other people either doing the same thing or looking to start up their own small business.

"Never try to be something you're not. In my case, I'm not some big company creating products with a staff of 100. It's literally just me and my room full of art supplies trying to get it all done. Not trying to hide that fact or make it seem bigger than it is in reality is something people are responding to. Just be human and be authentic. My old boss gets all the credit for teaching me that."

Authenticity is very important to how Kaylee runs her business and it definitely shows. When you look at the website for Mailbox Melodies you can tell that the brand has a voice that it's proud of.

Inspiration All Around

Hopefully this journey into Kaylee's adventure opening her own small business has been an inspirational one for you. Be sure to check out Mailbox Melodies and show Kaylee some love for taking her time out to give us this incredible interview.

Although only a few months old at the time of this being posted, Mailbox Melodies has already grown leaps and bounds and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for it.

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17 Comments

    • Staff

    Such an enjoyable article! Really loved this line "No one is ever going to be moved by getting a diaper genie at their baby shower" and couldn't agree more! haha. Kudos to you Kaylee, and lovely work!!

  1. Wow! What an inspiration ;-) Thank you for sharing your story and wishing you all the very best as your brand grows from strength to strength :-)

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