Anyone who has a long-distance BFF knows the struggle. Big life events (new job, baby, engagement, new pet — the list goes on!) come up all the time, and there just isn’t enough PTO to go around to book a trip every time you want them to know you’re thinking about them. That’s where Small Packages comes in: an online gifting service that lets you get in on the special events at an affordable price. Their founder, Julie Schechter, is a lesson for us all on finding the time to do your passion until it becomes your full-time gig. Read on about how she created Small Packages and her tips for funding your business in the beginning. (It’s so good!)
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
Camp counselor! That’s pretty great training for anything you want to do in life. If you can entertain 20 sweaty, overtired kids using nothing but a bag of crayons and a bag of candy, you’re about as resourceful as you’ll ever need to be.
You have experience in law! When did you realize your passion for this?
I’m not sure I did realize a passion for law before going to law school. I worked for AmeriCorps straight out of college, and was trying to figure out what to do next. Law school appealed to me for a lot of the same reasons it does for others, I think I’m pretty verbal, and I thought I could leverage a law degree to make a difference in the world.
That wasn’t really how it worked out: I discovered very quickly that practicing law was not for me, and I pivoted within a couple of years. That being said, I’d absolutely do it again. Being in law school stretched my brain a few sizes, and I met an entire network of people that I love and that I keep in contact with to this day. It also taught me that, given enough time, I can figure anything out. I often outsource legal matters today, but I’m not intimidated by contracts or starting huge projects.
Small Packages is an online gift company that lets you send love to your friends quickly and affordably. We offer pre-curated care packages based on different occasions, from break-ups to new babies.
Will you explain what Small Packages is, and why we should all try it?!
Of course! Small Packages is an online gift company that lets you send love to your friends quickly and affordably. We offer pre-curated care packages based on different occasions, from break-ups to new babies. Each box type comes in three different price points ($35, $50, and $100), so you can choose one that fits your budget. You come to the site, pick a type of box, a price, and then write a message to your recipient. We handwrite those messages in a letterpress card that comes tucked into the box.
And that’s it! Small Packages is a way to send care packages to the people you love, without having to scour the internet and spend hours in line at the Post Office. You can send one in less than five minutes — I’ve timed it!
How did you come up with the idea for Small Packages?
I’ve moved back and forth across the country so many times, and now I have really close friends spread all around that I hardly ever get to see. I’m really close to my people, and I always make a point to be there for the big stuff, like weddings. But it’s always really bothered me that I couldn’t be there for the other occasions, like the baby showers or the housewarmings. Those events are really important too, but you just can’t be constantly on a plane. No one has that kind of time or money.
When I couldn’t be there myself, I wanted to send something in my place. I wanted it to be something tangible that my friends could hold onto, since that feels so much weightier when our world is digital. I couldn’t find anything in the market that felt personal. I wanted a truly curated care package, one that wasn’t full of cheesy filler. It had to be something I could be proud to send, and not really expensive. So, I figured I’d try creating it!
When I couldn’t be there myself, I wanted to send something in my place. I wanted it to be something tangible that my friends could hold onto, since that feels so much weightier when our world is digital.
You worked full-time as you were creating Small Packages. How did you do it all?
Coffee. I wish I were kidding, but that’s really the glue that holds it all together. The time to work on the company had to come from somewhere, so I took it from mornings, nights, and weekends. I don’t really have much personal downtime, but that’s OK for right now. Everything has a season, and I think it’s important to recognize that. This is the sprint, as the company gets off the ground. I don’t have to be able to maintain this pace forever, just long enough to get traction.
The other important piece is outsourcing. I wanted to do everything myself at first, to save money, but the reality is that I don’t have some of the necessary skills. I had to find graphic designers, photographers, website developers, and digital marketers to help fill in what I lacked. The great news is that those skilled technicians also have to start somewhere: if you’re willing to work with someone who’s also building their portfolio, you can accomplish so much more.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually get up at 5:15 to work out at the gym in my apartment building. I shower, get ready, and commute in, arriving in NYC by around 8:30. I work on Small Packages until 10am, when I head into my day job. I’m there from 10-6, hop on the PATH train back to Jersey City, and squeeze in another few hours of Small Packages work (fulfilling custom orders and scheduling social media) before I turn it off around 11pm.
Saturdays and Sundays are my main time to get ahead, whether that’s planning the box types we’ll roll out next, or researching vendors. I try to schedule tasks so that during the week, I only have to execute: I return emails, put out fires, etc. It helps to save the more creative work until the weekends, when I can sleep in a bit and then tackle bigger-picture items with a rested, totally one-track mind.
The time to work on the company had to come from somewhere, so I took it from mornings, nights, and weekends. I don’t really have much personal downtime, but that’s OK for right now.
What advice do you have for women who want to start a company but don’t have the money right away?
It really depends on the type of company you’re trying to start, but you often need less than you think. For example, I priced out every last thing I would need in order to get Small Packages off the ground, and then worked backwards to come up with funding strategies.
I decided I’d crowdfund to raise some of the capital, but I needed money in order to fulfill the crowdfunding prizes. So, I decided I’d do a friends and family round of investment in order to raise those funds. But, I needed a compelling video to demonstrate the level of professionalism and planning I was going to bring to this venture.
I did have enough saved personally to create the video, so I started there. The video meant I could pitch my friends and family investors, which then meant I could execute on the crowdfunding. As long as you can see how each step builds on itself, you really only need enough money at the beginning to start, not to go the whole way.
One note on raising money from friends and family: do your research very carefully on who you can ask for money. Accredited investors are the only people who are legally allowed to invest in companies, and someone needs to make over $200k per year or have $1 million in assets (beyond their primary residence) in order to qualify. This distinction (and the vehicle you use to memorialize the investment, such as a SAFE note) are really good times to consult a lawyer. This is an area you really don’t want to fool around with on your own. The good news is, there are plenty of legal-help entities popping up now, many of which are run by female attorneys who are eager to help female founders.
I priced out every last thing I would need in order to get Small Packages off the ground, and then worked backwards to come up with funding strategies.
You used iFundWomen to help get some of the capital raised to start Small Packages. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are interested in using a crowdfunding platform to raise money?
I’m a huge proponent of crowdfunding for two reasons. First, it puts capital in the hands of people who don’t have access to institutional investors. Second, it demonstrates whether the market wants and needs what you’re creating. If you’re publicizing your campaign like crazy, and no one beyond your core network is interested, that’s a really important sign: maybe the need doesn’t exist. The inverse is also true: when you have a really successful crowdfunding effort, that demonstrates proof of concept, and that’s crucial when you’re looking for additional funding later on.
The type of crowdfunding platform matters a lot too. Kickstarter has been around so long that it has its own network effects: people hang around on the site looking for projects to fund, and so you’ll likely get eyeballs on your campaign that you didn’t send there through a direct link. However, they also have a lot of rules about what sorts of projects are allowed, and depending on what you’re creating, it may not fit within those strictures. If you want to go that route, you want to submit your project for approval well before you’re going to go live, so that you can be assured that it’s good to go.
I personally went with iFundWomen, which is different in a few key ways. First, only projects being created by women are allowed on the site. Second, it’s not an all-or-nothing model (like Kickstarter). This means you don’t have to reach your project goal in order to keep the funds you accumulate during the campaign period. If you get funded 65 percent, you keep it. Crowdfunding is an enormous amount of work, and it’s nice to know that you aren’t going to lose all your progress if you’re short by a dollar. Finally, the iFundWomen platform funnels 20 percent of its profits back into active campaigns on the site. Small Packages was a beneficiary of this model, and it pushed us a significant amount of the way towards our goal.
Oh and also: customer service! Crowdfunding is a stressful process — you’re contacting everyone you ever knew, and you’re putting so much on the line. It means a lot to be able to check in with the people who are running the show. The iFundWomen team was easily available via email, and always got back to me within a few hours. It made a huge difference.
You’ve grown Small Packages SO much in the last year. What’s your secret?!
I don’t know that there’s a secret. (And if there is, I wish someone would tell me!) We’ve grown largely from word of mouth, which is great. I will say that I focus incredibly hard on customer service: if someone’s unhappy, even if it’s because of something beyond our control (I’m looking at you, U.S. Postal Service) I try to go above and beyond to make things right. Ultimately, we’re in the trust business — clients are coming to us because their friend is experiencing joy or heartbreak, and they’re trusting us to magnify the good and make the bad a little better.
Who are your role models? Why?
I’ve been leaning really hard lately on the other women I know who are on the same entrepreneurship track. It’s a tough road — you’re constantly second-guessing yourself, you often feel you’re not doing a great job at anything, because you’re trying to do everything — and having other women walking alongside you (even if they’re not working with you) is just the greatest feeling.
I’ve had entrepreneur friends who have turned into investors and advisors like Hitha Palepu and Janna Turner (the founder of @StyleHouseCo), and those who act as brand partners, like Jolie Ankrom (she actually has two businesses, because she’s a boss: @marigoldcurated and @brimpapery). And I’ve recently developed a fantastic group of friends in Jersey City, organized by Annie Evans Trotta. She’s heading up partnerships at this great new beauty platform called Regi, and she’s connected a whole group of women who are all getting their own businesses off the ground. I’ve learned so much just from sitting and talking to them. I’m finding that role models don’t need to necessarily be in your lane or even ahead of you on the track. They just need to be people from whom you can learn and gain inspiration.
You’ve moved all over the country. What advice can you give for women dealing with long-distance friendships?
Plan ahead. Whether it’s a girls trip six months from now or a phone call next week, literally nothing in my life will happen if I don’t plan for it and put it in the calendar. I’m too tired and distracted otherwise, and the same is true for all my friends. But I never underestimate the power of sending funny texts just to say “I’m thinking about you!” Oh, and care packages never hurt!
What about your work gets you excited?
I love seeing the notes that women write to each other in these Small Packages cards. I tear up reading them all the time, because they’re such kind, moving messages of solidarity and encouragement. Every time I see one, it reminds me that that’s what I’m building: another opportunity for women to connect to each other and make those bonds even stronger.
Plan ahead. Whether it’s a girls trip six months from now or a phone call next week, literally nothing in my life will happen if I don’t plan for it and put it in the calendar. I’m too tired and distracted otherwise, and the same is true for all my friends.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
I think that’d be a tie between passing the California Bar Exam and reaching my crowdfunding goal for Small Packages. Both experiences were the result of insanely hard work, and they’re also lines in the sand that you officially cross. Sometimes it’s really nice, in the messy everyday of progressing in a career or starting a business, to be able to check something major and solid off the list.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Stop focusing on what other people think of your career goals and ambitions, and go use that energy to make something valuable that matters to you. I did that, eventually, but it would be great to go back in time and harness all that brainpower for something that would serve me (and the rest of the world).
Stop focusing on what other people think of your career goals and ambitions, and go use that energy to make something valuable that matters to you.
Julie Schechter is The Everygirl . . .
Go-to brunch spot?
Whealth Cafe in Jersey City. The owner, Dave, is an absolute gem, and food is delicious and super fresh. They also do meal prep delivery, which I’ve just started getting and is making my life so much easier.
Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate cups
The Greek islands, with a stack of books and a carafe of red wine
Movie you could watch over and over?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’d love to hear what she’s going to tackle next, and how I could help.