Watch the clip and skip all the wordy/paragraphy parts.
The board game Snakes and Ladders is a great metaphor for the life of an entrepreneur. A simple roll of the dice and your path can dramatically change in an instant. The following is a little tale that involves a (fortuitous) ladder.
May 11th was a Wednesday, ordinary in almost every way. I had just finished a late shift working on our 8 month old startup the evening before and back at my day job with a little 4 hour nap in between. Throughout the day, I had noticed some mention of a little Shopify (our platform) contest on Twitter. Didn’t register at all.
Day swapped places with night and I found myself back in front of my laptop punching in for another shift at the mom & pop shop that is our company. In between emails to suppliers, corp blog posts and refining our product packaging, I glanced over to my Twitter stream to notice a reminder tweet from @accordianguy (né Joey Devilla) that the Shopify contest was closing at midnight.
The time was 11:15 pm.
This time I clicked. Win a 45 min Skype session with Gary Vaynerchuk, add your best lesson learnt as an entrepreneur in the comments and best one wins. Gary is a busy man. He does this, this and all of these. Did is kind of a big deal.
‘Sure, why not’ is sometimes one of the most compelling reasons for action. So I added the following comment:
<< Discipline, it applies to every facet of entrepreneurship (and life really). Selecting a set of values and staying true to it. Crafting, nurturing and sharing your brand narrative. Knowing your comfort zone and making a call to jump out of it. Making promises to customers/employees/supply partners and following through. Perfecting a product/service and knowing when to release and iterate. Assembling the right people who share a culture of discipline.
Being completely exhausted and replying to the last few customer emails. Being utterly consumed and realizing that it’s time for family and friends. Having discipline is the common thread. Hard to do but always rewarding. >>
I clicked ‘submit’. The page refreshed, but my comment didn’t display. Hmmm. Moderation maybe? Server congestion? Just to be safe, let’s try this again. So I repeated my actions and clicked ‘submit’ again. This time the comment displayed. The time was 11:43 pm.
By the next morning, I had forgotten about the contest until a fateful email from Team Shopify dropped in my inbox a couple of mornings later. ‘Good news, we selected your comment as the best in the Win a Power Session with Gary Vaynerchuk Contest!
Shut. The. Front. Door.
I didn’t even have the chance to tell my wife and business partner that I had entered the contest. Suffice it to say that we were pretty ecstatic about the turn of events. This opportunity cannot be measured in any typical fashion. Huge.
The Skype chat was to take place the following week. How can we possibly organize our thoughts into a coherent structure so we can maximize this 45 min session without just peppering him with questions? Opportunities like this just aren't common—Gary was a person in high demand, his typical audience fills auditoriums. We decided that the best route was a casual conversation; just enjoy the experience for what it was. When the meeting time was finalized, my wife couldn’t make it since we still worked full time. 1 on 1, just me and Gary V. Breathe, be cool, and don’t talk too much, repeat.
Then came the familiar Skype ring.
Our conversation lasted longer than the scheduled 45 min. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable conversation. It was authentic. And it was game changing experience for me and our company. Five minutes into the chat, you quickly see firsthand Gary’s passion for business, and more importantly his passion to help build other businesses. Instead of a Q & A, it became a brainstorm session. He listened, and then he sprang into action. First, he cracked the window open for us, then he left us a key under the doormat and finally he left the key in the ignition with the motor running.
He introduced us to some really key contacts, along with sharing some very direct and applicable advice, all of which are invaluable; but after the chat he emailed me with a simple tip that really resonated with me.
‘Try to offer your services to these new contacts also, don’t make it just about you.’
This struck a cord with me. When you’re a startup, you are so hungry for a break of any manner (a review, an article, a purchase order, etc.), you forget that it’s still about relationships. What can you do for them also? Building a business and building a relationship are similes.
Having someone like Gary like our product and company philosophy is mind-blowing. He is exposed to dozens of ideas, startups and brands every day. It has definitely given us fuel to keep plugging away. Long nights and long roads are still ahead, but this experience has giving us a big lift. In keeping with the Snakes & Ladders analogy, on that eventful day Gary Vaynerchuk was our escalator.
As a design team, a company and a married couple, decisions flow through a myriad of factors before finding its final destination. One decision in particular has never wavered. The Deckster must be made in North America—without question.
Why bother? When there are simpler, cheaper and faster options just a few time zones away? Simply stated, because we can. N-Product is just us, we have no investors or stake holders to answer to. We want to create a company based on values that we believe in. This is something that is very important to us. We are passionate about our designs and we want to make them with practices that we appreciate.
When the both of us were growing up, there was still a strong and healthy manufacturing industry in North America. At that time, there was a great spectrum of products that still bore the small print of Made in Canada or Made in USA somewhere on their bodies. We like the notion of an idea and its manufacturing sharing the same place of birth.
We are practitioners of the Slow Goods movement, where objects take time to craft, are composed of quality materials and last a lifetime, or two. We have takeng elements of the Slow movement and applied it to the creation of products with our very own Wikipedia entry for Slow Goods. This involves using on-shore manufacturing, sustainable practices and small production numbers. It demands discipline and finding the right partners.
We are but one small company that has helped create this resurgence in on-shore manufacturing. We’re a family business that seeks out and partners with other family owned suppliers and manufacturers. In our small way, we want to contribute to the manufacturing resurgence in North America. Canada and the US has many small, passionate and skilled manufacturers who are motivated to do great work.
We struggled and strived and we are lucky enough to find 3 such partners in our quest to bring the Deckster to market. We believe that this added effort, time and money spent translates into a top shelf design that we are proud to produce and that you would be proud to bring into your life.
As designers, you're always inspired by everything you see, read, smell, taste and feel. From the beginning, our design inspiration for the Deckster's aluminum jacket and the leather bands comes from one single source. Steve McQueen, and his performance as American, Michael Delaney in the 1970 film Le Mans. Michael Delaney goes against the grain and the odds as he and his Porsche 917K competes in the gruelling 24 hr endurance race, set in Le Mans, France. McQueen, looking like badass personified for the entire film, all the while sporting the Tag Heuer Monaco 1133 (B model Calibre 12). An icon wearing a soon to be icon, a match made in sexy heaven.
While we're not certain, but we think this is the first time in pre-Wikipedia history that the saying, "Men want to be him, and women want to be with him" was uttered.
Very. Very. Cool.
As two new entrepreneurs, we get unsolicited advice, opinions, insights, and warnings around each and every corner. While they may or may not add any real weight to our decision-making process, but they still affect us. The only two groups that I can think of that get a heavier dose of advice slash criticism are mimes and new parents.
Today, we wanted to shine a light on a couple of companies who unknowingly convinced us to pursue our dreams. By their sheer example, they help push us over that all-important threshold that transforms an inkling of an idea into a slew of constant of activity that eventually becomes a company.
This admiration goes beyond their product; it extends towards their business values and their obvious desire to do things with their values heavily baked in. Both of these companies create products that complement Apple offerings, the iPad and the iPhone 4, respectively. They both showed that a small company can compete and win fans by focusing their attention on creating a fine product and manufacturing it using on-shore methods. They provided a framework that proved successful in the competitive and ever changing Apple accessory ecosysytem. It's the old school-yard argument for start-ups. If they can do it, we can too!
Being headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, we were introduced to Dodocase through Shopify.com (our e-commerce engine). They were winners of Shopify’s Build a Business Competition. They entered an already highly cramp iPad case market and have since carved a nice slice out of the market share. We are owners of a Dodocase, and as an accessory it has achieved its main goal. We gain more enjoyment out of our iPad by using their product, I can think of no greater compliment.
Studio Neat is the maker of the Glif, an iPhone 4 stand and tripod mount. We found out about them through Kickstarter.com, where their project was successfully funded. The company is composed of two creative people who have no product or manufacturing experience. Seeing them enter the iPhone accessory market helped us be confident in our desire to enter the iPod nano accessory making business. Again, they design and manufacture the Glif in North America. We are not owners of the Glif only for the simple reason that both of us rock a 3G and 3GS, and the Glif only fits with the iPhone 4. But, rest assured that we will be customers as soon as one of us upgrades.
Dan Provost (1/2 of Studio Neat) has an excellent post on his blog about their experience. It's a great read for dreamers who want to be doers.
Both these companies operate in a space that heavily depends on the form factor as decided by Apple. The window of opportunity is quite smal, with a change interval of 1 or 2 years depending on device. And the space is more saturated than a Big One Burger. They have shown that a small company can compete with major manufacturers. If you create from a place of sincerity and thoughtfulness, with hard work success is attainable.
Hey, just wanted to post a quick video of a run through of some early prototypes along with the final model. I talk about the visual influences and decision process we had for the overall design. At the end of video, I give a better sense of the custom Pop+Lock™ mechanism that we are so excited about.
It was shot late at night while the rest of house was snoozing, so you may need to turn up the volume to hear my smooth and silky radio voice.
Sometimes putting yourself out there compels you to act. This tweet changed the course for our entire family for the next few months. While both of us were working full-time, raising our son, trying to remember to walk our dog and making sure our relationship wasn't the last thing on our lists of priorities, something special happened. Together, propelled by our desire to create, we made something.
Something pretty cool.
And to think, I even had 36 characters to spare.