How Tatiana Sánchez Launched a Successful Gift Store in Less than a Year

Starting a business is easier said than done—from startup costs to finding suppliers and endless unexpected challenges. This week we’re chatting with Tatiana Sánchez, founder of Unelefante, to learn more about the nitty gritty of how she took the idea for her party supply company and turned it into a reality.

Read part 1 and part 2 of Unelefante’s journey.

Give us an idea of your timeline. When did you first get the idea for Unelefante, start hiring people, line up suppliers, etc. all the way to having physical products to sell?

Tatiana Sánchez:

  • Feb 2012 - Market research and first drafts.
  • March 2012 - Product design, materials/suppliers research, first prototypes.
  • April 2012 - Final name (UNELEFANTE) and branding.
  • May 2012 - Costing with selected suppliers, production of boxes and tassels. Website design.
  • June 2012 - Website and social media launch. First sale.
  • First employee was until the next summer.

Let’s talk startup costs. Can you provide a breakdown of what costs went into getting Unelefante started?

Tatiana Sánchez: Everything went to materials and equipment which basically consisted on: balloons, paper tassels and strings, helium tank, cardboard boxes, paper, envelopes, stickers, hand stamp, basic office supplies and a printer. The rest was subsidized by us (studio and utilities).

Did you have investors? If so, how did you work to line them up?

Tatiana Sánchez: I began with what the cash I had on hand and my friend put the same amount which was less than $2,000 USD.

What was your biggest expense in founding Unelefante? What ended up being way more affordable than you’d imagined?

Tatiana Sánchez: There were no big expenses at the beginning. We now have a van for delivery, it's the most expensive asset at the moment. Custom packaging ended up being very affordable.

What resources were the most helpful in getting the business started?

Tatiana Sánchez: Our website is our engine, our lover, breadwinner...We take good care of it. We began with Wordpress and Woocommerce and last year we moved to Shopify. Everyday I check on it to see what can be added or removed, we're always changing things. Another very helpful tool is Xero. Having our financials in order on the cloud is the best thing we've ever done. We also work a lot with Mailchimp.

How did you go about finding suppliers? Who did/do you work with?

Tatiana Sánchez: It depends on the material, in the case of the balloons, I looked for the best quality available in Mexico. Qualatex has operations here, so it was very easy to supply our balloons. Our printers are also in Mexico, our big kraft boxes are made by Blue Box and small packaging, greeting cards, labels, envelopes, etc., are made by Sifer. We always look first in Mexico and is important to have a recommendation from someone else.

When did chocolate bars become part of the products you produced? How did you then expand the business?

Tatiana Sánchez: At the end of the first year the first chocolate product was added. Around one year later or so, around May 2014, KNSTRCT, a design blog, posted the Pollock bar and it went viral, immediately we began receiving orders from the US and Europe. Very soon we were selling in department stores and specialty boutiques. A distributor from Japan contacted us later and very soon he introduced our chocolates to high end stores, museums and coffee shops there. We're very thankful with them.

Who did you turn to for packaging your products? Is this question about the design?

Tatiana Sánchez: I make most of the packaging designs but we've had collaborations for the chocolates. In the past, we worked with La Tortilleria (also from my town) for the bark bars. And last year all bars were rebranded to relaunch at Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Almost all new illustrations are made by Pau Masiques, a Catalan artist living in Mexico (also in my town).

How do you feel that the packaging for Unelefante is successful in communicating the values and mission of your brand?

Tatiana Sánchez: I love our packaging. They are playful, colorful and rich in elements that remind us of our childhood, a loved one, a happy tune, a birthday party, the biggest present under the Christmas tree...Our brand is about maintaining alive wonderful experiences and creating new ones.