02 July 2015

How daring to be different has helped my business

Matt Nguyen left the corporate world behind to indulge his passion and create his own highly successful business thanks to his desire to do things differently


JOLLY AWESOME, London-based art and design label, creator of design-led cards and art prints inspired by hip-hop, Americana and British pop culture.


“I was creative throughout school – drawing with anything, on anything – but later chose the ‘sensible’ route and did a degree in business and management, as I thought it offered the best employment prospects. During my first semester, I became interested in graphic design after using Photoshop for a class project. I taught myself how to use it and soon blended it with another of my passions – hip-hop music.”

Lucky break

“I started creating mock CD covers and posted them online. One day a DJ from Eminem’s record label came across my work and gave me my first commissioned project. Things grew from there. While studying I continued to freelance, building a large client list that included iconic hip-hop record labels such as Bad Boy Records, Epic and Shady Aftermath, as well as rap artists including Outkast, Rick Ross and P Diddy.”

Creative itch

“I graduated in 2009 and again took the ‘sensible’ route. I moved to London and secured a job with a large corporate via their marketing graduate programme. I moved through various roles, learning the ropes in branding, digital and marketing during a five-year career. In 2013, I got my creative itch back and started drawing again – something I hadn’t done in years. I posted my doodles on Instagram and got a great response.”

Business launch

“Eventually I created a small body of work, which led to several exhibitions in London. I came up with the idea of putting them on greetings cards and got them into two major retailers straight away, later receiving my first wholesale order in spring 2014. That day I set myself a goal of quitting my job at the end of summer. I soon went national with several major retailers, founded JOLLY AWESOME and spent the next few months growing my business.”

Brand values

“I’d never thought about the greeting card market previously; I bought cards out of necessity. People buy cards for what’s on the front, not the brand on the back. Customers tend to have brand loyalty with the retailer, which is why I partner with retailers who share my values and reflect my brand – premium quality, contemporary and design-led. I researched my market thoroughly before starting my business and tested my designs at craft markets. I also gauged response on social networks to see if people got my jokes.”

Being different

“Being different is extremely important in business – especially when you’re starting out. There’s no point approaching a retailer with products that look like something they already stock. And if you imagine a customer stood in front of maybe hundreds of greetings cards, you’re fighting for their attention, so your products must stand out.”

Being authentic

“I use swear words and hip hop references in my work because I love that music. I remain part of that culture. It’s crucial for me that I create products that are an authentic expression of who I am and celebrate my passions. I live my brand and will never put out designs I don’t like just because they’re on trend or because others are doing it. If you stay true and do what you love, you’ll find customers who share your passions and sense of humour – they’ll ‘get it’. The same goes for retailers; because my products were so different they instantly found my brand refreshing. With my cards, you can’t use the references without understanding them, otherwise the people who matter – potential customers – will see it’s not authentic.”

Passion and commitment

“Passion is the driving force of my business. If you’re passionate about something it won’t feel like work and you’ll put that much more effort into whatever you do. If I wasn’t passionate about JOLLY AWESOME and illustrating, I wouldn’t have originally spent my spare evenings and weekends laying the foundations that eventually allowed me to quit my nine to five job and now be building a business with ambitions to sell in countries throughout the world.”

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