SendAFriend: How a 21 year old from Jackson, Missouri formed a $7.5 million care package business
By Monica Obradovic
Many 21-year-olds spend their time studying for college and working a part-time job between classes and enjoying their carefree early adult years. Not Tyler Macke.
Instead of going to college, Tyler created his e-commerce brand centered on love, smiles and giving back.
Through SendAFriend, customers can send care packages of cute stuffed animals with a personalized message to anywhere in the world.
SendAFriend first began in 2018 when Tyler was 18 years old. He found a supplier in the U.S. that wholesale stuffed animals with a consistent look. Tyler's mom, Darla Macke, helped fill orders and get packages out the door.
What began as a small startup in his childhood bedroom quickly turned into something much bigger. Once the pandemic hit, Tyler's business ramped up exponentially.
By March 2020, Tyler and his family were taking up to four SUVs to the post office everyday. Business got so busy that working out Tyler's family's house no longer seemed feasible.
SendAFriend now occupies a 9,300-square-foot warehouse in Jackson and has a staff of more than 20 employees.
Since 2018, the business has delivered more than 225,000 care packages to customers around the world.
"When the pandemic hit, it was kind of bizarre," Tyler said. "We had the perfect care package product for people who couldn't see each other anymore."
How does SendAFriend work? Customers go to SendAFriend's website — www.sendafriend.co — and pick from a selection of stuffed animals, each labeled with cutesy, alliterated names such as "Louie the Lobster" and "Pokey the Panda." There's then an option to add a personalized note or other items such as silk roses or stickers.
The care packages will ship anywhere in the world. They arrive in sky-blue boxes designed by Tyler with the words "Someone loves you" printed on the sides.
One thing that was important to him at the beginning of the business was to make sure it gave back to the community in some way.
Since the business first began, Tyler pledged 10% of each sale to children's hospitals.
SendAFriend recently launched GiveAFriend, a donation program bringing stuffed animals to patients in pediatric hospitals across the Midwest
"I thought having a charitable aspect to my brand was important," Tyler said. "In this day and age, I feel like the conversation of CEOs not giving back can get really, like, muddy. I just wanted to establish ourselves to be a little different from other businesses that don't do anything."
So far, SendAFriend has donated more than $600,000 to children's hospitals around the country, according to Tyler.
"I thought this business had potential, but I didn't think we'd get to this point in the third year of operating," Tyler said.
Tyler's mom, Darla, now works full-time as SendAFriend's director of operations.
Tyler's passion for business budded early, she said. Darla and her husband run Black Forest Haunted Ghost Town in Cape Girardeau. Tyler grew up helping with the attraction's operation, marketing and web design.
In the sixth grade, Tyler fashioned wallets out of duct tape and sold them to friends at school.
"There was always something he was either making or selling," Darla said. "He always had some kind of idea."
Tyler said he never had the "aha! moment" many business owners speak of when talking about how they developed the idea for their business.
"SendAFriend actually started as just the name itself before I even had a concept of what the product or service was," Tyler said. "I just knew what I wanted the website to be."
Tyler first burgeoned into the world of business through graphic design. He started playing on Photoshop during his early teens. While he was a junior at Jackson High School, Tyler created StickerGrub, an online sticker printing business.
At 15-years-old, he freelanced graphic design work in between classes (and, sometimes, during) for businesses online. He created a network of clients using Twitter. Influencers on other social media sites had him create marketing and merchandise items for them.
"By senior year, I was basically working full time on top of going to school," Tyler said.
But after a few years of working for other people, Tyler decided to do something for himself, so he started SendAFriend.
To boost business, Tyler utilized social media. He said marketing was always his biggest struggle, so he hired a media buyer to handle Facebook and Instagram advertising. Afterward, business took off.
SendAFriend garnered more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and 22,000 likes on Facebook, he said.
Now, about 25% of SendAFriend's orders come through TikTok, a social media platform where users can post short videos they shoot and edit themselves.
Social media helped perpetuate SendAFriend's brand of positivity, lightness and love -- which is ultimately at the core of why Tyler said he started the business, why he donates a percentage of sales to children's hospitals.
"It's about spreading love to people and surprising someone when they least expect it," Tyler said. "We really try to take our mission and take it a step further by spreading love as much as we can."