From Finance to Balloons? Claire Hamlett and Laughing Goat Design
Entrepreneurship. Built on Rawls.
Jacob Gordon | May 10, 2023
“I did some different career testing [in high school], and they always said finance for me,” said Hamlett.”
Hamlett will be the first to admit that balloons and a finance degree may not seem like the perfect pairing. Yet, the way she sees things, her business allows her to balance the creative and analytical parts of her brain.
“Growing up, my mom was such a creative person,” said Hamlett, “but my dad's influence is more analytical. The creative aspect is the physical act of doing the balloons, and I'm detail-oriented and love organization. It sounds ridiculous, but it's really playing Tetris with scheduling.”
Hamlett started Laughing Goat Design in June 2019, the summer before her senior year at Rawls College.
“Balloons were becoming more popular with events in bigger cities like Dallas,” said Hamlett, “but nothing was done here in Lubbock. I was just so fascinated at how you can create a big impact just with balloons.”
Rather than a simple name like Balloons by Claire, Hamlett wanted to come up with a company name that captured a client's imagination. Hamlett's father, looking at the baby goats at their home in Snyder, was struck with inspiration.
“He was like, ‘What if we did Laughing Goat? That's a funny name!' We wanted something unique and something people would remember.”
The name would be the first of many contributions that Hamlett's family would give to establish and grow Laughing Goat Design.
It's a Family of Air
While the current core of Laughing Goat Design is Hamlett and her parents, John and Penny, that was not necessarily the initial vision of Laughing Goat Design.
“We've had a couple of different part-time employees, and my parents would help me on bigger installs,” said Hamlett. “It slowly just became a family business.”
Hamlett initially used her grandfather's house in Lubbock as a faux warehouse, storing supplies and creating her designs there. This continued until recently when she was able to move most of the operations into an actual warehouse.
Along with help from her parents, Hamlett also turned to her sister, Sydney, and her husband, Rand, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Laughing Goat Design grew its clientele and the projects became more complicated, Hamlett's parents moved from Snyder to Lubbock and now work alongside her full-time. Her mother helps with the design and creative elements of the business, while Hamlett's father helps with building all of the backdrops, marquees and stands.
“I've loved [working with my family],” said Hamlett. “I think it's such a great dynamic. We do have dinners where we can't talk about Laughing Goat at all. I think finding time to still have fun together and be able to take the business side out of our conversations is important. Otherwise, we'd talk about invoicing or installs all the time.”
Up, Up and Away
Since Laughing Goat Design's first client in 2019, Hamlett estimates the company has done close to 3,000 different installations. Along the way, Hamlett has learned valuable lessons as Laughing Goat Design soared as a company.
The first lesson was for Hamlett to be confident in herself as a business leader and designer.
“A lot of people don't think working with balloons is a real job,” said Hamlett. “When people would question us and my decision, I would start to have some doubt in myself. You never know with trendy items and events how long they're going to last.”
To set itself apart from other, more traditional balloon design companies, Laughing Goat Design focuses on organic displays versus the typical balloon columns.
“We have brainstorming sessions and try to be creative and look at new colors or items,” said Hamlett. “We try to pride ourselves on our product and not just do as many jobs as we possibly can.”
And that leads to lesson two for Hamlett: quality over quantity.
During the spring of 2022, Laughing Goat Design was taking on so many jobs and clients, Hamlett estimated they were completing 10-15 jobs a week.
“That was a little crazy. I don't recommend that,” laughed Hamlett. “We've learned to pick and choose our jobs and to be more mindful that burnout is real.”
Part of this adjustment has meant turning Sundays into off days and Mondays into prep days for the company. It has also meant fewer weddings and more corporate events.
“Weddings are a different animal,” said Hamlett. “We love weddings, but they often focus on trends. You're also setting up in the morning and packing up around 11 or midnight.”
Hamlett also soon realized that companies were interested in more than just their balloon designs; they wanted marquees and stands, permanently.
About two years after Laughing Goat Design Started, Hamlett's father had another idea.
“He had the idea to sell [the marquees and stands] because he was proud of his craftsmanship,” said Hamlett. “He makes them really durable. Everything has to be heavy and able to withstand the wind sometimes.”
Now, Hamlett's father and her husband work together to build and sell marquee stands. In fact, the Rawls light-up marquee seen in the McCoy Atrium of Rawls College is their handiwork.
Entrepreneurship. Built on Rawls.
As Hamlett reflected on her time at Rawls College, a typical 9 to 5 position in the finance world was never really on the table for her. While she enjoyed her courses and the material she learned, Hamlett had a hard time envisioning work outside of the classroom.
Hamlett was initially drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship because of the flexibility it can offer, but that is not actually her favorite part of owning her own business: it is working with returning clients.
“When you work with a returning client, they have a level of trust with you that you don't have with a new client,” said Hamlett. “Having that layer of relationship with clients is amazing. We're able to use our creativity and have fun with it.”
And Hamlett sees her time at Rawls College being instrumental with her company, even if she is not necessarily doing finance work each day.
“I'm so glad I picked a major within Rawls College because you feel the overwhelming sense that people want you to succeed here regardless of what you're doing.”
Hamlett recalled that one of those people who wanted to see her succeed was Bob Ritchey, associate professor of finance.
During her final semester at Rawls College, Hamlett was enrolled in Ritchey's financial modeling course. Spring 2020 also happened to be the semester when Texas Tech went completely remote during the height of the pandemic. Hamlett, like many students globally, struggled mightily during this time.
“I emailed him a couple of times to let him know I was struggling a bit,” said Hamlett. “It was a really hectic time and he showed me grace and helped me on the final project I needed to graduate. I will always remember him and always be thankful of him.”
Hamlett now works to apply the same grace and help to Laughing Goat Design's clients that she received from Ritchey. She sees her installations as more than just a collection of balloons. They help set the tone of an event, and she wants to make sure any event is as successful as possible.
For Rawls College students who want to start their own successful business, Hamlett has advice from her own journey creating and growing Laughing Goat Design.
“If you believe in something and want to do it, really jump in. Thinking back, I have no idea why or how I did this. It seems so scary. I think that leap of faith was huge. If I didn't have that I wouldn't be doing this.”