Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

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!

web screenshot

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):

kevin

Here are some other shots from the night:

big screen

SAMSUNG CSC

 

My exciting new opportunity

I am happy to report that I have joined Stories Inherited, a company that helps families document, preserve, and share the life stories of loved ones. Along with publishing traditional hard cover books for its customers, Stories publishes beautiful interactive books which can be viewed on an iPad.

I’m excited to join Lauryn, the founder, in bringing innovation to the important personal history industry. I will be using my experience to grow Stories’ distribution on the web.

What excites me most about Stories Inherited is the excellence of the product itself. Stories is a member of the Association of Personal Historians, and Lauryn takes serious care in how she documents the life stories of her clients. The result is a beautiful product that will last from generation to generation, and I am excited to be a part of it.

 

 

The Overlooked Benefits of Selling Low-Priced Items

Upon entering the world of business, my initial research and general intuition had me convinced that selling higher-priced products was much more desirable than selling lower-priced products. I would find myself thinking about how dollar stores have to move so much volume of product to be able to afford rent, labor costs and other expenses. That type of business – with a low selling price and high volume – just didn’t appeal to me. I was more excited by the opposite model: selling higher-priced products, where only a few sales were needed to cover costs.

For example:

Item

Tier

Profit Margin

Price

Quantity Sold

Revenue

Shoes

Medium-End

60%

$100

600

$60,000

Car

Medium-End

60%

$30,000

2

$60,000

A quick note regarding the above table: when I refer to low-priced products, I do not mean cheap or low-quality when compared to similar products. I am referring only to the price of the item relative to other products in the universe of all products. This is why I am comparing a Medium-End-tier pair of shoes with a Medium-End-tier car.

My initial thinking was that – profit being equal – selling cars is much more desirable than the shoes.

My latest experiences in and around online business have really made me reconsider that initial thinking, primarily because of two opportunities that lower-priced products provide.

Opportunity #1

Lower-priced items, which inherently require more volume to be moved, provide more touch points, or connections, with customers.  Zappos refers to these touch points as opportunities to wow customers. These touch points are opportunities to win a customer for life and to enlist an evangelist of your product.

Opportunity #2

In an online setting, a customer’s entire social graph is as close as one click or even zero clicks (if you automate things with your customer’s permission) away from the point of sale of your product. That touch point can be very meaningful if the customer decides to share information with their social graph about their experience with your business.

My hypothesis is that – assuming that you take advantage of Opportunities #1 and #2 above – marketing costs for the next increment of revenue ($60,000 in the example) will be more improved – relatively speaking – for the lower-priced item over the higher-priced item, due to the power of social media and viral loops.

The hypothesis, if true, isn’t incredibly groundbreaking or even very useful, because there is always a product priced lower or higher than yours.  The point is not to switch to selling a lower-priced product.

The take-away would be to make sure you are taking advantage of every touch-point or opportunity to wow your customers, and make it easy for them to tell their friends about their experience dealing with your company. For what it’s worth, if you’re ever envious of other businesses selling higher-priced items with lower volumes, just remember that – thanks to your higher volumes and more touch points – you can tap into a faster viral loop than the higher priced guys.

Forget the Stock Market. I’m Investing in My Own Startup.

On July 11, 2011, I began selling my stocks and investing my savings into my own startup.

Obviously, the downside financial risk of investing in my own startup was much greater than the downside financial risk of investing in the S&P 500; my shares in my startup could very well be worth zero at some point, while that will (most likely) not be the case for the S&P 500.

It turns out that the risk in investing my time and money in a startup of my own was actually much more mitigated than it appears at first glance. Here’s why:

Education

Over the past year, I have learned an incredible amount about business in general and specifically starting one. Don’t get me wrong, I am not on the MBA-hating bandwagon, and I do not regret receiving my MBA one bit. However, I learned a lot more in this past year starting my own company than I did in my two-year MBA program. And spent a lot less money.  I’ll go into the value of the MBA in a later post.

By investing in a startup of my own, I was investing in my continued education – kind of like a MGSD (Masters of Getting Stuff Done) degree.  So even if my shares in my startup are worth zero eventually (hopefully not), it’s easy to chalk it up as an investment in my continued education.

Control

When individual investors first start investing in stocks, they are taught that – as partial owners in the company – they can help steer the direction of the company through voting on their shares. Nuh-uh… at least not for the average U.S. individual investor. As much as you’re told otherwise, you really have no control over the direction of a public company in which you invest. And for the few votes you get, you receive thick stacks of legalese from groups trying to sway your vote one way or another.

As the co-founder of my startup, I am one of only two people in control of my startup’s destiny.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Focus

As much as I tried to tell myself I was a buy-and-hold / set-it-and-forget-it investor in the stock market, I wasn’t. I knew it’s not worthwhile to watch the daily movements in the market, yet I would do it anyway. Watching the stock market is an unhealthy addiction. The pangs of anxiety from a down day in the stock market can’t be good for the blood pressure. Chip Conley’s guest post on Tim Ferris’s blog is excellent, and Conley’s anxiety equation is very applicable:

ANXIETY = UNCERTAINTY x POWERLESSNESS

Investing in the stock market is riddled with anxiety, because a) it is full of uncertainty (which is why most professional investors don’t beat the market), and b) you’re powerless when it comes to its random movements.

I no longer helplessly watch and stress over the fickle movements of the stock market, because I have a more important, worthwhile, and healthy thing taking my attention: my startup. As stressful as running a startup can be, it is a much healthier stress. When it comes to your startup, you’re not powerless and you can limit the uncertain things.

Forget the stock market. Invest your money and time in your own startup. You’ll come out ahead regardless of share price.

 

 

Does the 10,000 hours theory apply to mastery of creating successful startups?

I have a long way to go before this question could possibly apply to me, but I was thinking about whether the 10,000 hours rule – the one that Malcolm Gladwell refers to in his writing – applies to creating successful startups. The rule says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice, with a focus on improvement, to master a specific skill. 

Does the 10,000 hours theory apply to mastery of creating successful startups?

The argument for “No”

This camp would argue that it’s too difficult to define mastery for this particular skill because:

  • Being a founder of a startup requires not one skill that can be mastered, but rather a combination of many different skills  skills that you do not necessarily need to master to be at the top of your field.
  • Wildly successful outcomes can happen without mastery and can happen much sooner than the elapsing of 10,000 hours.

The “No” camp would also argue that it is too difficult to measure ‘hours of practice’. Do the hours get ‘logged’ only while founders are actually doing things related to their companies? That would leave out the hours that they spend thinking about their startup outside the office. Since they are always thinking about their startup, do all of their waking hours get logged toward the 10,000-hour tally? For that matter, what if they even dream about their startup in their sleep – do those get logged? etc.

The argument for “Yes”

This camp would argue that a person’s ability to juggle all of the different startup tasks in an optimal way is indeed a skill, and one that can eventually be mastered after hours of practice. Just as master investors have honed their skills at asset allocation, master startup founders have honed their skills at resource allocation.

To counter another one of the arguments above, just because someone had a quick, successful outcome does not mean they have mastered the skill. 

What I think

My thinking on this (not-even-necessarily-existent) debate is: I guess it doesn’t really matter whether the 10,000 hours rule applies here or not. Just keep doing, shipping, learning, learning from failures, and doing again. Eventually your track record will be much more telling than a theory that says whether you’re a master or not.