Whiteboards – The KY Jelly For Ideas

A blank whiteboard
Image via Wikipedia

My friend Jeremy suggested that people take his blog post titles and write their own story. Considering I just finished drawing pictures and diagrams on a whiteboard for 4 hours, I thought this title was most appropriate. And the fact that I’m writing this post at 3am on a subway should add a little more color to just how much mental lubrication white boards can account for.

Truth is, ideas come and go. I know this because I have an ongoing ideas spreadsheet that has many, many ideas but I also know 98% of them will never see the light of day. At least not because of me. And this simple truth is really the difference between an idea and something that is tangible. It’s being able to take the lofty, grandiose idea and turn it into reality. And doing that is not easy. At all. Its hard, risky, time-consuming, and it’s entirely probable that it will fail.

So what do you do? I say, “fuck it” (as I listen to dirty south hip hop on my iPod). Win or fail, I’ll at least try, and it will start with a 4 hour, lubricated white board sessions. KY style.

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A story of open vs. closed – Men’s suits, ties and shoes

A tailor at work in Hong Kong.
Image via Wikipedia

A family friend of mine owns a large men’s clothing store and for the purpose of this story, we’ll call this store TuxMan. For years, TuxMan would sell suits, ties, shoes, belts, tuxedos and the like to hundreds of customers. He had great products, great customer service, and great tailors. In fact, his service was so good that customers wanted to bring in their own non-TuxMan clothes to get tailored, but he said no. His store policy was that TuxMan would only tailor clothes that were purchased in the TuxMan store. This logic made complete sense and it worked for years. After all, why would he want to do some tailoring for someone else’s product?

Well in the midst of the financial crisis his sales were on a decline. All of a sudden, businessmen no longer wanted to buy new suits. There were fewer customers in the store and lots of suits just hanging around.

So what did TuxMan do when sales started to slip?

Advertise more aggressively?

Offer insane discounts?

Nope…

They let customers bring in their non-TuxMan clothes and have them tailored by his team. All of the businessmen who no longer wanted to buy new suits wanted to get more use out of the suits and shirts they already had. So sure enough, new customers came in the door, got their suits tailored, refitted and upgraded them and then, something great happened. These new customers that did not want to buy anything new ended up buying new accessories for their non-TuxMan suits they were having tailored. Instead of shelling out a few hundred dollars for a new suit, they bought new ties, shoes, and shirts to make their old suits look new. And all of a sudden, sales increased, the number of loyal customers increased, and eventually, more suits left their hangers and went home with happy customers.

Win.

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Moving on from Lotame to SpinBack

Two Paths Through the Tangled Japanese Forest
Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

As of today, I’ll be leaving the Lotame family to pursue a new endeavor called Spinback.com.

Like all hard decisions, this one was not easy but here’s the story:

When I first started Lotame I was in the midst of building a business called TheCampusAtlas.com with three of my engineering buddies from school. But through a coincidental encounter at Mount Snow I met Andy Monfried who was also in the midst of starting a new business called Lotame. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what to do. We had already launched on 5 schools and had about 10 more on deck. So the question was, do I pick up the dice on Campus Atlas and join Andy’s new business? Or do I ride out the true startup wave with my friends and see where the Campus Atlas could go? Well, after living with and interning for Andy for those 2 months in the summer of my junior year the answer was pretty clear.

When I finished the Lotame internship, I ended up working remotely from Madison while finishing up school and as soon as school was done, and as soon as I was able to actually work, I was in the Lotame office cranking out phone calls, emails and all other sorts of tasks. During my time there, we went from a little office in Maryland with just a few folks and $0 in revenue, to almost 70 employees with offices in Maryland, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, London and quite a few dollars in revenue. I helped create new partnerships, new strategies, and new products, but most importantly, I created new relationships with great people. People that I consider family and people who I would do anything for.

And in all my time at Lotame this was the most important thing I learned from Andy. That no matter what happens in life or on any journey you take, the most important part is the people you are with.

But like any journey, there are crossroads and I am presently at one of those crossroads. I now have the opportunity to start a new business with two friends from school in a space that is just beginning to really innovate: the e-commerce sector. So as of today, I’ll be officially teaming up with two of my Badger friends on a new journey that involves technology, retailers, word of mouth marketing, and crazy amounts of hard work.

One of the things that has been evident my entire life is that purchases are never made in a vacuum. Whenever we look to buy something, whether it is a TV, a plane ticket, a new movie, or even a meal at dinner, we almost always ask trusted friends or family for advice. We ask for their opinion. Better yet, we sometimes get contacted out of the blue by our friends with new recommendations and suggestions. In my opinion, this method of product discovery or information acquisition is the single most important way we learn about new things or new products. And now with new communication mediums like Facebook and Twitter, the velocity by which this information can be shared is exponentially greater. At spinback, our mission will be to help retailers leverage the power of this medium in a trustworthy, efficient and innovative way.

So that’s what I’ll be doing in this next chapter of my life. At the same time, I’ll be rooting for everyone at Lotame. Thanks Andy.

On to the next one…

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