Lessons-a-plenty, and Possible Demise of the Shoe

Well, it’s looking like the shoe may be joining Three Legged Jeans and Car Seats for Unicycles in the dustbin of history.

As usual, some background for readers seeing this post without reading the previous three: I’m the dude with no business experience and no Princeton education trying to see if Tim Ferriss’ entrepreneurial models from the Four Hour Work Week, written in 2007, are applicable today in 2013. (I recommend reading the post called “Pilot.”) I’m blogging about my experience because – what the hey? – I would want to read a testimonial from an average Joe trying this stuff out before I took the plunge.

The premise of Four Hour Work Week is that practically anyone can liberate him/her self from the office grind by founding a low-input-high-output retail business lending itself to easy automation, called a “muse”. If you’ve read the previous posts, you know that at least one of the entry-points that made Mr. Ferriss’ case studies so ideal is anachronistic – the model assumes vanishingly low advertising costs, which are a thing of the past – and the ratio of muses that will fit the model to muses that won’t is pretty low. Neither of which should discourage you. If it was easy, everybody would do it, and if everybody did it, it would be no fun. No – what we’re after is an accomplishable, but trying, challenge, like special forces training or climbing Everest. That’s part of what enables the abundance – Hell Yes I’ll tell you about my success story because you still have to put in the time and think of your own and traverse all the Unknown Unknowns before you get to the promised land. It’s like a frontier rife with deer – they’re there, but you gotta learn to shoot ’em.

The purpose of this blog is to parse the distance between Four Hour Work Week and real life experience – and since Mr. Ferriss didn’t set out to write a catch-all but rather to outline a broad set of operating principles, there’s plenty of room to fill in detail.

Heretofore I had two muses – an instructional drum DVD (probably delivered digitally ala Louis CK) called The 80/20 Drummer (the8020drummer.com – look for it soon;) that I’ll tell you all about because if you’ve put in 20 years studying music you can probably make your own, better, version and if you haven’t, you won’t bother, and a second muse, a specialty shoe that I’m cagey about for reasons that turn out to be the exact reasons it’s probably not a good muse for me, as I’ll discuss below. The shoe is a product aimed at a demographic I belong to – urban crossfit or endurance athletes with day jobs – and for which I discovered a need and no product to meet it.

So this post is meant to fill in some of the detail missing from the last post, in which I described challenges with the shoe driving me back to reread some source material and reexamine some interviews, and boy did I ever get an earful of details today. Up to this point, I had discovered that the shoe market tested successfully (albeit expensively), and I would need to move on to design and production, with enough dry testing (soliciting orders through a website, collecting only contact info and no credit card data, then sending an auto reply that product is on back order – a useful way to test the effectiveness of advertising by seeing how many people who see your initial ad make it through your site and eventually click “buy”) to ensure I’d cover my initial investment of tooling, manufacturing the initial run, shipping, etc. I’d been referred to an expert designer whose resume boasted work for every major shoe manufacturer, and after the non-disclosure agreement was signed, I sent a detailed email outlining my launch plan and budget, and asking if he felt he could fit into my schema. It took me 55 minutes today on the phone to sus out that the only model the designer was aware of was one in which I’d need to cough up $70k for design, prototypes, and tooling, without seeing a red cent in revenue.

The fact that all my prospective designer’s previous experience was with multi-national companies who could afford to eat a couple-hundred-grand on an idea that didn’t sell made him the wrong guy to envision whether Nate’s micro-startup could weather the storm, and I quickly dashed off an email to another entrepreneur with a successful muse to see if I was getting the whole story, but it was looking like “strike two” for the shoe. Now, a lot of successful muse examples on Tim Ferriss’ blog are physical products that required design and overseas manufacturing – Summer Jasmines, Ear Peace, the MMA bags guys, the iPhone Wallet, but I was beginning to understand a new operating principle for muses.

The more you need to outsource, the more you’re going to pay.

Treat this as a corollary to my advertising lesson of last week, which could be paraphrased “the less patient you can afford to be, the more you’re going to pay.” With respect to the outsourcing, let me offer my drum DVD by way of contrast (www.the8020drummer.com – take your drumming from ho-hum to wow in record time, launches soon, etc;). We’ve established that you can’t buy your way to the top of google with Adwords anymore. Search terms cost 50-100 times what they cost in 2007. And you can’t spend $6,000 to get a prototype just so you can dry test.

The more you leverage skills and connections you *already have* the more money you can save, and the more patient you can afford to be.

I studied drums for 20 years, and recently I solved the problem of diagnosing and improving my condition – being underrated despite my many years of work – successfully, giving me both the skill of drums and the meta-skill of knowing how to improve on the drums quickly. I also taught myself videography in the last six months just for fun, and as part of producing a web show (www.shedscienceshow.com, launching soon;). Point being, I can make a DVD and sell it on a website for practically no startup costs. Now, if I had come up with the idea of an innovative way to play the piano, and I needed to hire a pianist to consult with me about the viability of the method, then star in the video, then I needed to hire a videographer, you can see the layers of cost piling on.

The reexamination of source material I alluded to yesterday reminded me of two crystal clear criteria for muses to be viable – low initial investment and quick order-to-manufacturing time, and the shoe fails on both of those counts. We’ve established that rising advertising costs (not to mention more discerning consumers with years of banner-ad-rage built up) narrow the field of acceptable muses still further, and two of my go-to podcasters on the subject, Pat Flynn and Dean Dwyer (check them out) seem to keep harping on the same theme. “Get Rich Slowly.” Leverage your existing skills as much as possible, and build a following the old-fashioned way.

The good news is I also have a large enough data set to do a pretty good 80/20 analysis (Paretto’s Law, where 80 of the outputs come from…this is exhausting, just google it!). 80 percent of the hassle and heartache in my life has been coming from the shoe and my day job, and 80 percent of the reward from my web show, the drum DVD, and this blog. I’m still on the lookout for a third muse, and I’m doing some research to that end, but for now, this is where I’ll leave you.

Keep mucking, musers!

(photo below is the story board for my DVD)



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