You’ve heard the saying that there’s a greeting card for just about every conceivable occasion?
Not so much in this case. At least not for Toronto entrepreneur Daniel Malen, who with his friend, Toronto artist and performer Mark Uhre, decided to crowdfund their very own line of LGBTQ inclusive greeting cards. The success of their project, Mark It Proud, is turning heads so we spoke with Malen to find out the secret to their success:
Yahoo Canada Finance: You managed to hit your targeted goal of $3,600 on Kickstarter in just five days. Why were you so successful so quickly?
Daniel Malen: I love wasting hours in Chapters and Indigo looking at cards. But it always bothered me that there was no selection of gay and lesbian cards. There might be one card in among the aisles with thousands. The idea actually crystallized after my wedding last summer. My husband Aaron and I received eight identical wedding cards.
YCF: Your business is a partnership with Toronto artist and performer Mark Uhre. How did that happen?
DM: I’ve been friends with Mark for years and my husband and I received one of his original watercolours as a wedding present and I thought, “we have to do this.” The artwork on the cards is all his and the name of our company, Mark it Proud, is a tribute to his amazing talent.
YCF: How did you decide to crowdfund?
DM: We knew we couldn’t just build a website and start selling cards. The whole impetus for this is inclusion and community and we thought Kickstarter was a great way to involve as many people as possible. It’s like a democracy where you put out an idea and people either support or reject it. Once the artwork was done, we came up with a pitch and worked on building the Kickstarter process. Once approved, we launched our campaign June 1st and within five days we had exceeded our goal of $3,600.
YCF: How did that make you feel?
DM: Proud, surprised and excited but initially I was nervous. We really believed in this idea and thought it was great but you never know how people are going to react. And all of the money is not just from my mom. You see people donating and at first, it’s just friends and family and now basically we have strangers and that’s the nicest thing – people we don’t know at all investing in our idea. We’re so lucky we live in this incredible, accepting and liberal city but there are parts of the world not there yet and we want to be a part of something that really helps people.
YCF: There are a number of gay greeting cards available online. How do you differentiate yours?
DM: I think we will stand out from what's currently online because our artist, Mark Uhre is exceptional. We are also designing not just one or two cards, but a complete lineup for all sorts of occasions. Some familiar like a wedding, a baby or Valentine's day and some more special and unique, like "coming out." We're also using our cards to raise money for LGBTQ-inclusive charities with a promise to give back 10 per cent of the proceeds to such worthy ones like the It Gets Better Project, You Can Play, The Trevor Project, and more locally, The 519 in Toronto.
YCF: How do you and Mark earn a living?
DM: I co-own a cold-pressed juice business with my sister called Total Cleanse and Mark is an artist and actor currently performing on Broadway as Enjolras in “Les Miserables.”
YCF: What’s next for Mark it Proud?
DM: The Kickstarter campaign goes until July 5 so people can donate up until then. It’s funny, I feel like this business is not really about the money. But the more we raise, the more we can create and turn this into a legitimate real company. We want to reach out to Indigo and Hallmark and say “you need more than just one same-sex card in your aisles.” We want to get these cards out into the world and we know there are people rooting for this project.
YCF: What do you mean when you say you hope your initiative is a launching point?
DM: I remember hearing Dan Savage, the LGBT activist, talk about being at the movie theatre as a kid and seeing two men hold hands. He thought: that’s me. That’s what I want. That’s kind of what we’re trying to accomplish with these cards. I think of a kid in a card shop in some small town and there’s a greeting card for a Mr. and Mr. and that speaks to him. He’s represented, as he should be, right alongside his straight friends. That’s what we mean by inclusive. There are shops on Church Street that sell gay cards, but people shouldn’t have to go to the village for a gay card. They should be everywhere.