Nathan Butorac has been an entrepreneur since he was 11 years old. Like many kids trying to make a quick buck, he began by mowing lawns in his neighborhood. As he grew older, his ideas became more ambitious, although not always accompanied by success. After college he tried several ventures, including a failed attempt at building a software application. After moving to Houston and splitting with a co-founder with whom he was working, he found himself back at the drawing board in terms of what he wanted to build and do with his life.
His approach to creating a new business by himself was to find something low cost (a business he could start with less than $1,000), where he wouldn’t have to focus on day-to-day operations. So naturally, mailsnail.com was one of his first ideas. He thought it would be a clever idea to mail actual snails to people in your life, but quickly (within 12 hours) discovered through his research that unfortunately the EPA doesn’t allow you to ship snails across state lines. So, it was back to the drawing board again.
THE POWER OF PINATAS
Although snails wouldn’t work, Nathan knew he was on to something with his mailing angle, and began to research lists of items that you could ship via mail without packaging them. Piñatas were one of the items that kept popping up on his list, so he decided to test his idea out. He immediately began buying domain names, marched to the party store, bought some piñatas, and mailed them to his parents house to test it out. Once they made it there safely, he knew he was on to something, and in January of 2016 Piñatagrams was officially born.
Now with his idea in hand, Nathan packed up some piñatas and got ready to go formally launch the idea at SXSW. He went all out with guerilla marketing, handing out flyers and distributing 100 piñatas to the local pedicabs to help him get exposure for what he imagined as a B2C model, where consumers could mail piñatas to anyone, anywhere in their life. This approach worked, and he left SXSW with traction and new customers. By the time the business turned a profit, Nathan had only invested $500 of his own money. A few months later, Yext, along with a few other companies, reached out to him about ordering a couple hundred piñatas, and Nathan saw an opportunity to create a B2B side of the business as well. They wanted to find a way to contact hard to reach prospects, and these piñatas, packed with custom business collateral, were just the trick. And with that, the B2B arm of the business, as of 2017 known as Better Than a Letter, was formed.
Since founding Better Than a Letter, Nathan works to find creative ways to help companies engage with their leads in meaningful ways–less noise, more impact. He enjoys having a company that can allow others to have more fun in their business interactions. He’s been a one man show since Piñatagrams’ launch back in 2016, but since officially launching the B2B arm this year he’s added another team member, David Valentine, to work alongside him. As a team, Nathan says their goal is to get connected with any company that thinks Better Than a letter could be a solution to help them get in front of potential leads. “We’re happy to help ideate and bring that out,” he said.
Not without challenges throughout the growth of this business, Nathan has had several learning opportunities along the way. Although they’ve sold close to 15,000 piñatas to date since launching, it has been difficult to trust the seasonality and cyclical nature of the business so far. He also had the challenge of creating his own supply chain without any prior knowledge or experience. When he first began shipping piñatas, he was purchasing them all as the orders came in from a local party story and mailing them himself. That obviously doesn’t scale, so he secured a manufacturer and fulfillment center to handle all of the orders which allows him to focus more on developing the product itself instead of shipping it.
When asked about his advice for other entrepreneurs, Nathan’s passion for hard work and a lean approach to building a startup shine through loud and clear. “People get caught up in the “get rich quick” schemes with e-commerce,” Nathan said, and he would caution them again this, encouraging them to do their research first and actually validate their business idea before throwing any significant amount of money at it. He also believe in creating something that doesn’t take a ton of cash up front. “My goal was to create a business with less than $1,000 to start,” he said, and he was able to accomplish that goal with Piñatagrams and Better Than a Letter.
In regards to the startup community, Nathan offers encouragement for getting out and participating in the community. Better Than a Letter is based in Fort Worth, and he is one of the many entrepreneurs working to build up the startup community there. He challenges anyone interested in entrepreneurship or starting a business to join them and have a hand in shaping what the community has to offer in terms of technology and new opportunities.
Stay connected to Nathan here.