Love of fonts drives business

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 02/01/2014

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Daniel McQueen loved doodling letters on his notebooks at school. When he studied design at CPIT, he discovered the art of typography. By the end of his studies, he decided to turn his new passion into a business.

It takes time and effort to create a good quality font, and most designers sell their creation for hundreds of dollars. But for McQueen, it does not have to be that way.

As a student, he had looked for places to sell his fonts, more for exposure than for money. He was also frustrated to see how fonts were an exclusive, expensive product. He wanted to offer fresh, high quality fonts for everyone - from huge international brands to design studios all around the world, and students making birthday party invites.

So he set up his own web store. Fonts are available from $10 for personal use, to students or for non profit licence. Commercial licence can go up to $60.

"It's about sharing ideas, knowledge and creations rather than being too precious about making money."

A font does not have to be a big investment, he says, and his customers often come back to buy more fonts for new projects. But low price does not mean low quality. McQueen says he refuses about nine designs out of ten.

"Initially I did take pretty much any font just to build the collection up and keep people interested in coming back. But now they're gone and it's all about the quality."

McQueen's presence on social media helped him kickstart the business in 2012.

He had a blog on blogging site Tumblr, which made him an editor for its design section.

This gave McQueen access to an audience in the hundreds of thousands. The base helped him promote Ten Dollar Fonts to design magazines, websites, and blogs. Some ended up featuring his products, which gave him access to big name designers and international brands.

"The first six months, I spent a couple of hours a day spamming the internet, just trying to get my stuff out there. Now I spend about half an hour a day. I like to keep an active social network going," McQueen says.

This means regular updates on his Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. And McQueen does it with flair. He mostly shares information that is relevant to his audience and does a minimum of self-promotion - too many promotional updates put people off, he says.

"Without my social media channels I wouldn't work."

McQueen finds fonts in his strong network of designers and students who want exposure on his site.

Because it takes more than 50 hours on average to create basic characters, getting people on board was hard at first, McQueen explains.

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"You get emotionally attached to your work - selling it for only ten dollars can seem tough. But more people will buy it for $10 than for $350."

A quarter of the designers featured on Ten Dollar Fonts are under 30, the rest are designing fonts on the side as a hobby.

"It's more about the craft than making a profit."

Ten Dollar Fonts has been profitable from the start.

McQueen set up the website himself with help from a web developer friend in Auckland, and started working on the business at home after his day job in a museum.

The website picked up when its fonts featured famous designer's sites. From there, McQueen invested in higher quality products. When he began making more money from his site than at the museum, he quit and set up a small office at the NG building on Madras St.

The small initial investment turned into a turnover in excess of $100,000 in the first year.

McQueen is delighted.

"Working for myself is fantastic.

"I didn't start this for money, I started because I had a passion for typography and it happened to grow."

- BusinessDay

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