On Building A Platform For Font Lovers

Published: June 17th, 2020
Daniel McQueen
The Designers Fou...
from Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
started January 2012
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Hello! My name is Daniel McQueen, I am the founder of The Designers Foundry. We work with designers from all around the world designing typefaces for public licensing via our website and exclusive typefaces for clients too.

Our retail customers range from students, freelance designers to small studios, all the way up to international corporations. We’ve had a successful year, we’re up almost 100% on last, but with COVID-19 we’re forecasting a drop is coming, but we are ready to adapt to the changing industry and support our customers and designers the best we can as we all move forward together.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

I think it came from my grandfather in some way, not that he directly encouraged me but I guess it rubbed off on me. Coming from a middle-class family, in my youth if I wanted something I had to earn it myself. I started off with a paper round which I naturally hated, I moved onto cleaning dishes for a few years and then a supermarket, not being satisfied at all with working for someone else I looked to make money in other ways.

If you’re in contact with a customer use that as an opportunity to make your business stand out. Go above and beyond to impress them and remember you in a positive manner.

By the time I was 17,18 I was really into Apple products, early iPhones, iPods, etc, so I imported cases for them and sold them locally, a passion for motorsport led me to import and selling suction cup camera mounts. I had pretty good success with those, which gave me the confidence to keep pursuing my own ventures while ditching my supermarket job.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey with TDF. How did you go from day 1 to today?

I studied and completed a degree in Graphic Design, focusing on Typography, for the final year projects I designed two typefaces. At the time I was into Tumblr blogging and helped out on the #Design section curating that for them with a bunch of other people. I posted my fonts from time to time, I had positive feedback and people asking to get copies of the fonts, I saw an opportunity to sell them, even though that was never my intention when I made them, my only goal was to get good marks.

It was rewarding, being paid for my university work, seeing others use the fonts I had designed. As my own font sales slowly ticked along, I was making a few hundred dollars a week, I had grand plans to expand and design more fonts. But I soon realized finding the time and managing everything else was unrealistic. Designing typefaces is generally a rather long process.

I had friends who had unreleased, half-completed fonts, so I approached them to work together and help them finish theirs, then release them via my Tumblr blog.

Over time I opened a dedicated website for the fonts as it was growing pretty rapidly. The admin and management were slightly overwhelming, I was working all-nighters after my new day job as a graphic designer at a Museum, I was building and improving the website, the licensing, working on the fonts, designing graphics, advertising, customer service, etc. So I made the call to quit my day job and go full time on TDF and haven’t looked back since.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We were doing about 100% up YOY to the end of the FY of April 1, but with COVID-19, like most businesses, it’s likely things will dip during the next 12+ months. We’re fortunate to be selling digital products. We’re working on a number of initiatives to increase our sales, we’re confident we’ll come out bigger and better from this situation.

In the coming 12-18 months, we plan to greatly strengthen and refine our retail product offerings while also focusing on acquiring more custom typeface leads from global organizations. We also hope to implement a number of upgrades to our online store, some really fun and helpful features are being considered.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

  1. Things always take a lot longer than you plan for and that’s ok.
  2. Get a good accountant, use software like Xero.
  3. Produce things locally if possible.
  4. Outsource mundane tasks, focus on what’s important and will grow your business
  5. It can be dangerous to run your business too heavily according to your own personal tastes or opinions, something you like and put a lot of energy, money into might not be what your customers are into. Always trust your guts, but always consider your data.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our website is custom-built. We used Shopify for a few years, but it’s not great for digital products, especially the checkout. So we built our own system with some help from our long time friend and developer Quinn from Quite Type. Our site is fully automated, customers can test our fonts on our website with ease, select their license, and then checkout with a credit card and have instant access to their ordered software and a receipt. We have plans to add more features to it, but for now, it’s working well.

We use Stripe for our payments, Sendgrid for our email newsletters, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator for our branding, graphic work, and our type designers mostly use programs like Glyphs App for making our typefaces.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

When you’re starting our perfection isn’t possible, so don’t stress on it, build a good base and plan then get yourself out there and improve on the fly.

My main advice would be that your customer is everything, without them you are nothing. If you’re in contact with a customer use that as an opportunity to make your business stand out. Go above and beyond to impress them and remember you in a positive manner.

I can’t say enough about how beneficial it is to give a customer positive and fast service experience. For us these have led to many words of mouth referrals, which are hugely influential, some of our biggest customers come from personal referrals.

Where can we go to learn more?