Business Advice caught up with Huetribe founder Tineka Smith to find out how she constructed a deal with industry leader Scribbler which now stocks her cards in 16 of their national stores.
Who are you and what is your business?
My name is Tineka Smith and Im the founder of . it’s a greetings card publisher and e-tailer that produces and distributes design-led occasion cards for the minorities market, including interracial and LGBTQ couples. Huetribe
Where did the concept come from? ?
The idea for Huetribe came after years of trying to find cards that reflected interracial relationships, like mine. I would search online or in stores to find something that was suitable, and failed.
When I got engaged, I wanted to find a card to give to my then fiance. He loves riding bikes, so I wanted to find a card with a black woman and white man on a bicycle together.
I had really hoped that, in this day and age, there would be more options for interracial cards; instead, I had to resort to buying a card with a white couple on a bicycle together. That’s when I thought: this is ridiculous.
My social circle is very international and multi-cultural, and the problems I encountered as a consumer shopping for greeting cards that reflected my relationship were the same for my Asian, black, Latino or mixed raced friends.
The last straw happened when my husband bought me a greetings card for our anniversary that featured penguins – because it was the only one he could find that had a ‘black and white couple’ on it!
The hilarity of the situation all but masked our frustration with an inconvenient truth: that our love was not deemed relevant enough by publishers to create a quality product that adequately celebrated it.
it’s ‘small? things like being able to shop for a card that reflects your life and your relationship status that indicates a much bigger, more significant vision.
it’s a vision that illustrates a society that acknowledges, accepts and respects you as an individual and that of the life you live whether you’re Black, White, Asian, or identify as LGBTQ.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?
Like many startups, funds for investing in a business can be a challenge. I knew this going in and didn’t want to take out any business loans so I spent a year saving up before launching.
It definitely takes a lot of faith to invest hard earned money into a business you don’t know will flourish, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and keep pushing even when the results are discouraging, I believe that eventually, it will really pay off.
I also didn’t know much about the greeting card industry when I first entered it, so I embarked on a VERY steep learning curve. I made quite a few mistakes but I think in the beginning it’s important to make a few mistakes so you don’t make drastic ones later on. ?
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Getting distribution of our products nationally via a major retailer, Scribbler. In turn, Scribbler has become the first ever UK high street retailer to carry a card range dedicated to multiracial and LGBTQ representation.
it’s a small but significant step in promoting social inclusivity and celebrating the beauty of diversity in relationships. Huetribe is now in 20 stores across Wales, England and Scotland and that number is growing.
What marketing strategies have you used
Our overall marketing strategy is Business to Business, but that wasn’t always the case. We first started out with a Business to Customer strategy but quickly realized that if we wanted to our cards in stores, then B2B was the best way to go. Our main marketing strategy is digital but we put a lot of focuson cause marketing, relationship marketing and word of mouth advocacy.
In five years? time, Ill be?
Still growing and managing Huetribe! I love what I do and we’re already seeing positive changes being made within the greetings card industry from our advocacy on diversity in greetings cards.
After achieving distribution in Scribbler stores, in five years time I believe we’ll see our cards stocked in many more high street retail chains.
Who are your business heroes and why?
The African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist Madame C.J. Walker. I love her quote: ‘I got my start by giving myself a start.’
She invested in herself when she couldn’t find backers for her business. Moreover, she created a company to address a problem she herself was experiencing, but most of all, she had a real passion for empowering women.
Inspirational and enterprising female figures like that don’t come around very often. My role models are mostly intelligent and strong black women who work hard to change the world around them for the better.
This includes some of the women in my family like my mother and cousin, who is also an entrepreneur. Any person that has to fight for what they believe in a world that might not necessarily be in their favour is inspiring to me.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Protect your business assets through copyright, if you can. Research your market and really understand how your consumers tick by conducting surveys. And take note from the age-old adage: The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
Make a lot of noise about what you’re doing, speak to everyone you possibly can about your business; you never know where your next client or deal will come from! Most of all, make sure you’re enjoying the journey. It’ll mean you’ll stick it out when the going gets tough.
What’s your favourite way to spend downtime? ?
I love reading books historical books, particularly on World War 2, as well as watching world cinema, particularly stories with narratives about struggle, resilience and triumph over adversity. I also love doing dance classes. Ballet has always been one of my greatest passions.
Last series you binge watched?
? The Alienist.
What three things can’t you live without?
Music, friends and massages.
What app do you use the most?
Whatsapp! It’s great for overseas business calls.
What song is always on your playlist
Seven Wonders by Fleetwood Mac.
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