Not Impressed by TV Spots These Days

I’m tired of seeing the same old ideas being recycled again and again in TV commercials. It’s obnoxious. Isn’t there someone in the ad agencies who should know whether an idea has been done before?

Here are just a few that stick out to me as just copying one another:

1) Dell vs. Cadillac

In their defense, these two commercials came out at about the same time, so their similarity might be coincidental. But still. It’s just confusing…

2) Coke Zero vs. Ford

Coke Zero was first to the punch with this concept. Ford, thanks for reminding me that “and” is better than “or.” I had forgotten that important concept in the one year since the Coke Zero campaign came out! (Not!)

3) Fidelity vs. Carmax

But what do I do if the imaginary line on the ground is both green and says “Start”?

There are many more examples of uninspired ads out there, and I’ll try to call them out as I seem them.

Listen to Customers, Not Trolls

An article was posted recently in a local tech entrepreneurship-focused Facebook group that a DC entrepreneur would be on Shark Tank. The comment thread was disappointing to me:

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Here’s the rant I wanted to post on the thread but never got around to it:

This comment thread is really disappointing to read. Normally, it wouldn’t be a concern because entrepreneurs run into naysayers all the time when it comes to their business ideas. But to do that in this particular forum is destructive. I know for a fact that there are hundreds of members in this very fb group thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Then they see trolling like this, and then they second-guess their idea, worrying that it will be met with this sort of criticism.

It would be one thing if the naysaying in this case was justified. The fact of the matter is that this particular entrepreneur is shipping (literally shipping—and not just in the overused metaphorical sense) thousands of units of his product to customers who are recognizing a need and paying him the $6.99 or whatever it is for it. He took a lean approach to starting the company, validating a market for his product in the form of having paying customers, and now he’s about to land some huge publicity.

To the folks out there thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship: it doesn’t matter what 4 guys on a facebook thread think about your idea. Get it in front of customers, and let their credit card do the talking. Like this guy did.

As for the relevance of this product to the DC Tech brand, I’m just not concerned that VCs will base their full impression of the DC Tech community on some guy’s side project that was featured on a very physical product-focused TV show. As for whether or not the sharks will invest… who cares? The publicity will be huge.

As for the relevance to tech in general, his sole distribution channel right now is a landing page that he mocked up. Arguably, Amazon wasn’t much different when it first launched (though they weren’t manufacturing their own products). Will eyebloc be the next Amazon? Probably not. But you never know how businesses will evolve as they develop relationships with paying customers.

U-Mask and the U-Tabe (sic?) are obviously a joke, but the fact that the first thought is to put them on AngelList for feedback rather than in front customers is a little concerning. (Again, I know it’s a joke, but wondering if the joke is indicative of the current prevailing mindset among startup founders). Rather than put the idea up on AngelList, why not put it in front of customers to see if they’ll buy it?

We should be more encouraging of people putting themselves out there in front of customers.

On the Shortness of Life

I was doing some cleaning today and stumbled across a piece of paper with a quote I had scribbled down awhile back. The quote was from Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life:

Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace… If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

On the Shortness of Life

This quote really struck a chord with me when I first read it in early 2011. At the time, I had a stable job with a great benefits package in a Fortune 500 company. But I was stuck in a cubicle all day—bearing unnecessary amounts of stress—to try to essentially make the company’s wealthy shareholders even wealthier. Re-reading the quote, I came to the harsh realization that my job situation was forcing me to “regulate [my] sleep by another’s.”

Seneca’s essay definitely influenced my decision to take the leap into entrepreneurship, which I ended up doing within six months, and—despite many difficulties along the way—I haven’t looked back. Thanks, Seneca!

Battle

I had previously started a series of posts on songs that are meaningful for entrepreneurs. I have also found meaningful passages in the last few pieces of fiction I’ve read, so I’ll widen the scope of that series of posts to ‘the arts’ in general—not just music.

lonesomedoveThe inspiration for this post comes from a novel I’m reading, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I’m not even finished yet, but this epic Western is already one of my favorite books of all time.

The following scene—which finds one of the novel’s heroes after he single-handedly fended off a group of enemy attackers—contains an apt analogy for the entrepreneurship experience:

With no shooting to do for a little while, Augustus took stock of the situation and decided the worst part of it was that he had no one to talk to. He had been within a minute or two of death, which could not be said to be boring, exactly—but even desperate battle was lacking in something if there was no one to discuss it with. What had made battle interesting over the years was not his opponents but his colleagues. It was fascinating, at least to him, to see how the men he had fought with most often reacted to the stimulus of attack.

Admittedly, the analogy between entrepreneurship and ‘going into battle’ is somewhat cliché, but this passage digs a little deeper than the simple analogy. Entrepreneurship is so much easier when you have a business partner to talk to about the emotional rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship. I am grateful that my business partner, Lauryn, is right beside me on that rollercoaster. Though, I’m not sure which one of us would be Gus and which would be Call.

10,000 T-Shirts

This past Thursday wrapped up a fun couple months-long ride that saw my friend Kevin, my brother Alex, and myself team up to turn an idea into something that would be worn by 10,000 people. The journey started when we learned about a fan-designed t-shirt contest that the Baltimore Orioles were hosting.

My brother and I had coincidentally thought of some Orioles t-shirt ideas before we even knew about the promotion. Kevin came to us with some ideas of his own, and from there we decided that we would all go in on a submission together. In thinking through all the ideas, we decided on one of Kevin’s ideas, which he had mocked up using MS Paint. From there, we procrastinated on actually putting pen to paper, and it was coming down to the wire:

I started designing the t-shirt, expanding on Kevin’s rough mock-up, using an open-source illustration software called GIMP. I then began adding to the design using Adobe Procreate on the iPad. My dad helped out at this stage, as he is very talented with iPad illustrations. The last stage was to design the back. I had a rough outline that I turned over to my sister, who skillfully made the design of the back consistent with that of the front using Adobe Illustrator. At the eleventh hour of the due date, Kevin submitted our final design for us.

Cream Pie

A few days later, we got the exciting news that we were one of three finalists out of a pool of over 500 submissions!

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It was now time for us to get the word out to friends and family to go vote for our design. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support we got. Friends of friends of friends went to vote for our work. I’m grateful for everyone who took the time to vote for us. It went a long way:

Along with many friends and family members, we attended the Orioles game on September 26. The Orioles printed our design on t-shirts and gave them away to the first 10,000 fans. It was a pretty cool feeling seeing people wearing the shirts and others asking where to get them. Not only that, but we got to go out on the field during the pre-game ceremony, during which Kevin threw out the first pitch. He did a good job (thanks to Josh for the great gif):

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Here are some other shots from the night:

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