Ashley Jankowski can’t exactly trace the start of her entrepreneurship journey. That’s because, in her mind, she’s always been one.
“I’ve actually been an entrepreneur most of my life. I always had some kind of side business. I’m definitely a big idea person, so I’m always scheming about the next thing I can do.”
Thanks to a degree in commercial photography and graphic design, she found herself thriving in the creative industry.
“The design and creative side is really what I flourish in. It’s where I get most of my big ideas for new projects, products, and services.”
It makes sense then that the creative world is where Ashley ended up. But getting there certainly wasn’t easy! After taking a job immediately out of college, she found herself unemployed only two months later when the company went out of business.
And that’s where she got her next big idea!
“I’m always looking for ways to make life more fun and flexible. I don’t want to be overwhelmed! So, when the company went out of business, I just thought, ‘Well, I guess I could just try to do this job for myself.’ So that’s what I did.”
Starting a business isn’t simple, and it certainly wasn’t for Ashley.
“They don’t teach you any of the business side of this stuff in art school! Of course, now I wish I’d majored in art and minored in business, but it didn’t happen that way. I had to learn to like the business side way later in the process. It took some time to figure out that I could be smart with design and be smart with business at the same time.”
In the early days, Ashley put her focus on the parts of building a business she knew she could do well.
“I was good at getting customers, I was good at marketing, and I was good at talking about what I was doing. I was good at design, too, so that helped! It all combined to help me start before I really knew what I was doing.”
To figure out the rest, Ashley relied on her natural curiosity.
“Curiosity served me well. I asked a lot of questions! That’s how I learned to do a lot of the things I do now in my business. I asked questions, did a lot of trial and error, and made mistakes that forced me to figure out how to move forward and do better next time.”
By 2011, she’d started her own firm. Called Brazen, the idea was that the company would help brands by delivering honest consultations and quality branding. But after only a few years, she found herself burned out.
“I was just tired. And I wasn’t feeling creative anymore. I was taking someone else’s ideas, words, thoughts, and all that and putting them into the world in tangible ways. At a point, I realized I was ready to do this for myself, not for other people.”
With that goal in mind, she focused her attention on building on a new dream: creating a product she was passionate about and sharing it with the world.
“I really wanted to do something fun on the side. I wasn’t even thinking it would go anywhere! It really was meant to be more of a creative outlet for me. My husband and I just started dreaming and thinking, ‘If we could make anything, what physical product would we create?’”
Their answer came in an unexpected place.
“My son had these alphabet magnets, but I found that all my adult friends loved them, too. When he outgrew them and I went to take them off the fridge, all my friends protested. They were having such a good time playing with them! So, I started thinking, ‘I wonder if I can find some that look a little nicer.’ And when I searched, I came up with nothing.”
That’s where The Type Set Co. was born.
That set the Jankowskis on the long journey of figuring out how to create, package, and sell a product. From printing and molds to fonts and colors to manufacturing and shipping, they had to learn it all.
“The first thing we did was buy a 3D printer. We wanted to experiment with what the letters could like in different fonts and colors. Then, we took those to the manufacturer to figure out what we were going to create and how we were going to actually create it.”
While the couple initially thought about creating the sets themselves, they realized quickly they didn’t have the capacity or skill to make it work. So, they hired a designer to create their molds and brainstorm the elements they needed to create a full set of lettering.
“We were looking to really improve on the design of these old-school alphabet magnets, and we really believed in the product. But the journey to get them where they are today was huge and costly.”
By 2017, They TypeSet Co. launched in 2017 just after Christmas. Using website pre-orders, social media marketing, and visits to wholesale markets, they made their first sales.
“We felt really confident in those early days. Nobody was doing what we were doing, and that was a really good feeling.”
The business grew immensely. But with growth came demand, both for their current product and for more kid-friendly aesthetics in the product. So, they decided to set out to make new sets of letters for a younger demographic.
“We got with a new manufacturer and new agent who helped us create foam magnets in custom colors. We released those in 2018, and the reaction was huge. That simple change to make the magnets more kid-friendly opened up a whole market to us.”
Soon, the couple found their products in wholesale markets and major stores. Their biggest milestone? Selling The Type Set Co. letters in The Container Store.
“Selling in a big-box retailer was very nerve-wracking. They want big orders and a lot of inventory, and that costs money. It was exciting to get into places like The Container Store and Barnes & Noble, but it definitely wasn’t without a few hurdles.”
One hurdle for the couple to overcome came in the form of finances.
“There were so many things we weren’t taking into consideration. We didn’t think about shipping charges, or credit card fees, or the margins to bring on a team. So, we had to build a formula to make sure we had the margins to grow this business. We had to get serious about looking at every single detail of our finances.”
Once they did, their eyes were opened to all the ways they could better serve their business and themselves as they grew.
“It was incredibly eye-opening to see where our money was actually going. I was surprised at where we were overspending and was so grateful to have help to make new plans for our company’s finances. It was a game-changer for us.”
Now, The Type Set Co. is growing as they go, working to find new ways to bring their ideas to life and their products to their customers.
“Money helps make ideas come to life. I love being the idea person, and money makes those ideas come to life. Figuring out our finances, for me, meant more freedom to bring new ideas to the market, and that’s something I can get excited about.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Ashley and The Type Set Co are up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Unreasonable Hospitality book by Will Guidara
Ashley Jankowski is the owner and co-founder of The Type Set Co. With her husband, Paul, they have pioneered the re-imagination of colorful alphabet magnets for the modern family home. More recently, they’ve developed a new line of colorful, quote-driven stickers. She’s spent her career in design, photography, branding, and packaging and has been influenced by generations of family entrepreneurs to love the entrepreneurial life. The Type Set Co. is the culmination of a lifetime of passions, experiences, and influences, including a love for good design and wordplay. When she’s not working to bring fun and whimsy to homes around the world, you can find her at home in Georgia on her 11-acre lakefront compound with her family and a menagerie of crazy critters. On a nice day, you might see her in the garden or enjoying the lake life on her family’s sailboat.
January 20, 2023