Ole Miss student kickstarting stationery, daily planner company

Published 10:22 am Thursday, May 3, 2018

By Haley Myatt

Meeting at 12. Check. Pick up dry cleaning tomorrow. Check. Call Mom. Check.

It was another productive day for Bella Gonzalez. Reciting her to-do list in her head, she began to write each of her endeavors down on paper.

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Working as a marketing intern for Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Maryland in the summer of 2017, Gonzalez had a full plate. She was in charge of handling all graphic design, marketing and brand management. Using a daily planner was a must, but the one she was using at the time just wasn’t fitting the bill.

Gonzalez wanted a new planner, one that was up-to-date and smaller, but there was nothing on the market that catered to her vision. She had used a planner for years and continued to see the lack of innovation in planner designs.

Enough was enough. Where was this planner to assist her in conquering the world one task at a time?

A double major in business and art from the University of Mississippi, Gonzalez naturally has tendencies to have entrepreneurial ideas with a creative twist.

She thought, “Bella, why don’t you just make your own planner? You’re a graphic designer and you know how to market it!” And so, the idea for Lala Letter, a planner and stationery company, was born.

Growing up in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, with her entrepreneurial parents, Gonzalez had always wanted to have her own business one day but never knew exactly what it would be.

The idea for the stationery line began to sprout when Gonzalez realized she needed a project for her B.F.A. thesis for the art department and for the honors college to graduate at Ole Miss.

Owens Alexander, instructor for entrepreneurship and management, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Gonzales’s honors college thesis advisor, said she is very serious about the business and very willing to do the work to figure it all out. He was delighted to hear she wanted to start a company, considering the mission of the CIE is to assist and support student ventures.

“The company is off to a great start,” Alexander said. “She sold all the prototypes she made in a matter of a few days.  She has gotten an incredible amount of early interest in her products.  Of course, winning second place in the Gillespie Business Plan Competition and then receiving a seed money grant from the Rebel Venture Capital Fund speak well of what others think of her prospects.”

Her idea came to full fruition once she met and heard the motivating words of HGTV home renovator and Mississippi native, Erin Napier, at a presentation in Meek Hall.

“I won’t ever forget what Erin said in her presentation,” Gonzalez said. “You are the creative. You make the trends. You don’t follow them. If you say it’s cool, then it’s cool.’”

And Gonzalez knew her idea was cool and worth investing time and money into.

According to Gonzales, she is one of the 76 percent of people at Ole Miss who still use a written daily planner. The majority of her target audience are college women. Gonzalez knows what her “girl gang,” as she calls them, wants.  She heard the requests of 200 women from a survey she conducted and found out what all of the scheduling fanatics of the world had been missing.

Spending nine hours in the art department one late night, Gonzalez cranked out a prototype —the planner of her dreams.

This planner isn’t like others. From hand-drawn sketches accompanying motivating quotes to recycled French paper for weekly layouts, Gonzalez has big business plans.

With her own money and the love and support of friends and family, she proceeded to make 50 planners by hand. Gonzalez sold out her stock before displaying them in the presentation for her thesis project.

Gonzalez is having a Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding program, with a goal of $15,000 to continue making her planners and stationery. The kickstarter begins starting May 2 and runs through  May 22.

With a secured American manufacturer in hand, Gonzalez will produce 1,000 planners by July 2018 if her goal is reached.

“Marketing and design are my biggest strengths,” Gonzalez said. “Being able to have a good knowledge of both helps me to come up with stuff that is different from my competitors. It is what makes me unique.”

Her best friend, Rachel McCaslin, B.F.A. Art major from Mobile, Alabama, agrees that Gonzales’ ability to think with both the left and right side of her brain make her a “girlboss,” a term coined by Sophia Amoruso, one of Gonzales’ inspirations.

“There are very few people that have accomplished what she has at her age,” McCaslin said.  “She’s finishing up her second degree while also running a full-fledged business. I don’t know if she has more hours in the day or something, but her time management and drive are just incredible.”

McCaslin said that LaLa Letter has exceeded what she thought possible in the amount of time allotted. The amount of products and inventory Gonzalez was able to create with the level of craftsmanship and lack of help at the beginning is impressive in its own right.

Gonzalez has a contagious smile and a bubbly personality. In so many ways, her brand is a reflection of herself.

“She wants everyone to feel included,” McCaslin said. “Bella is everyone’s best friend, while somehow making you feel like you’re the only one that matters. She has a whole lot of heart, and I have never met a more inspiring and creative individual that is not only passionate but cares a lot for other people.”

Not only does Gonzalez care about people, but she cares about good causes that make a difference in the world. Every year, 5 percent of all profits made will go to conservation programs and the colors of the planners will correlate with that specific cause. This year Gonzalez wanted the profit to go to ocean and nature preservation in the United States. She hopes that one day she can start her own charity.

“I want to promote positivity,” Gonzalez said. “Lala Letter can’t just make money; it has to help people. Every year, I want my customers to vote on a cause they find important. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”