In a fast-paced world teeming with technology, one man is slowing things down to a snail’s pace.
“I’m in love with snail mail, always have been,” says Alex Kurkowski, who founded Tellinga, a company whose name is sort of shorthand for “telling a story” and whose goal is to artfully convey stories and have them delivered to non-digital mailboxes.
Kurkowski, 32, who's now based in Houston, says he began the startup while studying for an MBA at Rice University. Now, he has a lineup of 25 talented artists across Texas who work behind the scenes crafting stories for the venture in hopes of brightening someone’s day and bringing excitement back to their mailbox.
“Essentially, I’m trying to reimagine the greeting card,” he says. “Instead of a typical card, I’m trying to create an experience.”
Kurkowski, who already had a full-time career in the pharmaceutical industry, says he noticed his free time slipping away while he was in college. To stay in touch with family and friends, he started snail mailing them epistolary-style illustrations.
“I would draw pictures in story form and snail-mail them out to loved ones piece by piece over time,” he says. “For my friends and family it was always a way to stay connected and create fun, personalized stories so that they could look forward to checking their mailboxes every day.”
After telling a few college friends about his new hobby, they suggested that Kurkowski turn it into a business. He says he took their advice and now likes the fact that the business gives young artists a chance to demonstrate their hard-earned art degrees. The hand-drawn stories are often humorous, mostly illustrative and completely customizable. Some also contain words. And since there are no particular style rules, the artists are free to create at their whim.
“It’s totally up to them,” he says. “We have several artists that are creating in multiple styles.”
Whether a story will be wordless, comic book style or some other design, is determined by how the artist receives the story, perceives it, and then decides to create it, Kurkowski says.
“Got a Tellinga for my kids who loved being drawn as super heroes and getting actual mail,” Jonathan Martin shares on Tellinga’s webpage.
While there are no set-in-stone policies, artists are guided by a customer’s personal input. For instance, people can choose between black and white or color illustrations and select the duration of the story, which can last one day or be parceled out over a month. They then upload photos and share a description of the desired tale, which can be either factual or entirely made up, dramatic, humorous, hopelessly romantic and everything in between.
Kurkowski says a few days after the artists get the information, the designated story recipient begins “receiving unique hand-drawn greeting card-sized illustrations every other day in their mailbox until the package ends.”
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“Sometimes (the artists) need to go a little off the cuff,” he says, “but for the most part, customers provide enough description to create something.”
Some stories consist of “made-up weird stuff,” Kurkowski says, but about 75% of the orders placed so far are stories reminiscing about a first date, college events, or they follow the story path of children, a house and a dog. Whether they are shared as a joke or in some fun, dramatic way, “There is a lot of love injected into these stories,” he says.
Kurkowski works on Tellinga with all the extra time in his day, he says, adding that the grind has been both exciting and exhausting.
“I’m trying to kind of tap back into the tangible and physical and the real side of life,” he says. “We live in such a digital world these days as we are always emailing, text messaging and following each other’s social media accounts. Tellinga offers a way to tap back into the tangible and traditional by providing a product that you can touch and feel on a deeper level rather than staring at another screen.”