Okay, so a normal guy wants to send a note to Mom saying Happy Mother’s Day. Simple, non-divisive enough. But, this is the modern age. No one needs Hallmark anymore. He opens an app, types a note, presses send, a computer receives his message and activates a robot to take over production of the “handwritten note.” The robot writes the note with a pen, signs it with the guy’s signature, puts it in envelope, seals it with wax, mails it, and the note is delivered to Mom.
Mom doesn’t know that he didn’t write or sign it himself — it’s written in ink, it’s his signature. Now, Sonny Caberwal — founder and CEO of Bond and mastermind of this plan — says, “The question is, would she care? Would she be like you didn’t sign this card yourself?” He pauses for dramatic effect. “Or would she be like, thank you for sending me a card, because you weren’t going to send me a card otherwise?”
This is the modern age. No one needs Hallmark anymore.
Caberwal and his company Bond, who at the start of the month was acquired by the world’s largest writing company, Newell Rubbermaid, are betting on the latter. In a warehouse in the Hudson Valley that Caberwal dubs “the Hive,” Bond makes the Mark 1 robots. Once built, the robots are transported to New York City, where they work in unison to produce heartfelt, handwritten notes. The Mark 1 robots are squat, four-cornered machines that move an actual pen over a card in precise movements. The pen hovers above the paper and is pulled left and right, front and back by a mechanism that controls the direction of the writing utensil. It can write in 27 different styles (cursive or printed), or — for an extra fee — Bond developed a software that can copy your own ligature, enabling the robot to write the exact same way a user writes.
For those that want the absolute best card writing services, there’s Bond Black. As Caberwal explains, “I went and found what I believe to be the world’s best paper manufacturer, based in Germany, in a village an hour outside of Munich. For generations this family’s been making paper. They grew up in this paper mill and they make paper for the best brands, the royal families of everywhere. Our idea was, can we build something that is just a beautiful experience? So we offer you the world’s nicest paper, and it’s hand engraved by the most experienced hand engraver in America. There aren’t that many of them — there are thirteen in total (I believe). There are six east of the Mississippi and one in Connecticut who is known to have extraordinary skill. We’ve gone to each level to get the most experienced, best person, and that’s what your default is. That’s what you can get.” The service starts at $1,200 a year for 120 cards.
“What we’re not trying to do is copy your handwriting so that it will look exactly the same,” Caberwal says. “Because if you wrote a note ten times, it would be different every single time. Our rending engine, the software that we built, actually renders it differently every single time, so even if you wrote the same thing to a hundred people it would be a hundred different instances of the same thing. It’s a lot of technology, it’s just not as overtly sexy as [the Mark 1], but it’s a huge piece of what we do.”
That note is then moved along by an electrostatic paper handling arm, placed in an envelope and shipped. The cost? $3.50 — cheaper than most Hallmark cards and signed in actual ink.
“I think people are inherently thoughtful, but there’s just too much friction in the process,” Caberwal says. People often neglect to do thoughtful things not because they don’t care, but because they’re busy. So Bond strips down the process and makes thoughtfulness as simple as loading a free app, typing a short note on your phone, finding an address in an address book, signing by tracing your finger on the screen, and hitting send. From there, bots take over.
The goal, also, is for the note to come out as something nice. “We want it to look really good,” Caberwal says. “It’s entirely an aesthetic thing.” And the best means of reaching that thoughtful, meaningful, tangible, aesthetically pleasing thing just happens to be through digital and robotic ways. For some, that may be contradictory. Caberwal, though, just nods and says confidently: “Just happens to be there’s no other way.”