enterprise

The worst job interview

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting me to apply for an open job position. Writing a novel is all well and good, but until that sells I need a job to pay my bills. I was more than qualified for the position and I figured I would apply as a safety net. I bought a new interview outfit, updated my resume, practiced my talking points, and then showed up. You know what they say about  99% of success is just showing up? That’s b.s.

Over 200 people showed up for this “job interview,” which was more like a cattle call. It took place in a school auditorium with terrible acoustics so everyone was yelling to be heard. The heat was turned up, so the room stank of sweaty wool suits. I waited  in line for a half hour to talk to H.R. and when I finally got to the front, I was sat with 9 other people at a round table. We all had to go in a circle pitching our qualifications. One after one, I listened to the other candidates amazing backgrounds. Even though I knew I would be amazing at the job, I couldn’t compete with the 9 other people at my table let alone the 190 other people in the room. Nor did I want to.

I was herded to the next H.R. table where the person took one look at my resume, with two years of experience in a director position and three years of experience as the vice president of a company, and all she said was, “Wow, you’re really unfocused.” At which point I collected my things and left.

This terrible experience was exactly what I needed to get the ball rolling on my website for Brutal First Impressions. I am far too creative, curious, and, yes, unfocused, to mold myself into some boring job. I can’t and don’t want to compete in this kind of demeaning job market so the only solution is to create my own job market.

I’m really hoping Brutal First Impressions will be successful and I can look back on this terrible job interview as a catalyst for a great career, but for the meantime, I’m still pretty bitter.

I Have Gone Insane: Brutal First Impressions

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

On the subway ride to Central Park, I clutched my sign and bit my lip. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” I said to my husband. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.

I made my way through Central Park, searching for the perfect spot: one with lots of foot traffic but still quiet, and I set up my sign and hat. I took a deep breath and prayed that no one would beat me up. Immediately people stopped and stared. Then the cameras came out. I started panicking that I would soon be ridiculed on the internet like the typewriting hipster.

A few months ago, I had the idea of starting a business called Brutal First Impressions. Most of us surround ourselves with people who wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings. While this can be good for our egos, it can also hinder our growth, and we can become comfortable with habits that might be off-putting for others. I figured that for a small price, I could be the one to tell it like it is: put on some deodorant, that shirt is terrible, you talk too much when you’re nervous…that kind of thing. But first I wanted to gain some experience. Why not try it out in Central Park!

The first guys to try it out.

The first guys to try it out.

I set the price at $5. At first, the people walking by would take pictures and laugh, saying, “that’s the best idea ever!” but they weren’t paying me for it. As soon as I lowered it to $1, people started lining up.

I asked each participant for their name, a handshake and a smile. Then I would ask them to take a few steps back and walk towards me, and then turn around slowly. At that point I would critique everything that I saw.

Here is some general advice I had to give almost everyone:

  • Make eye contact when you shake hands
  • Show your teeth when you smile
  • Keep your chin up when you walk

I couldn’t believe how many people needed that advice, and as soon as I said it and they tried it out, they seemed like new people.

2012-10-31 22.28.02It wasn’t easy being mean. A crowd would typically form around whomever I was critiquing and I could tell that they wanted to see tears. At one point I told a guy he had dandruff, and his friends practically cheered. I told another guy that he needed to pluck his uni-brow. When the crowd ohhed and ahhed at this, I asked to see a show of hands for who thought he should pluck his eyebrows. Almost everyone raised their hands. When I wasn’t mean, people would start heckling me saying, “Come on, this is supposed to be brutal.”

2012-10-31 22.23.04The whole time I was doing this I kept expecting someone to ask me my qualifications. I had my response all figured out: I’m classically trained in art and literature so I have a discerning eye and a critical mind. I learned how to evaluate presentation styles from my years as a teacher and teacher trainer. But the only person who asked for my qualifications immediately answered for me: “You’re a woman. Women know how to criticize.”

I was surprised that people were really interested in my story. At one point I had four guys sitting on the bench next to me asking my life story (ladies, this is a great way to pick up men if you’re interested). Everyone wanted to know how I got the idea and how much money I was making. So here’s the grand total…for 3 hours of sitting in the park, meeting interesting people, I made $43. I definitely want to try this again. I think I could make a lot more if I get better at working the crowd.

Originally, I wanted to do this because I thought it could help people present themselves better. At the end of the day I realized that I helped in a different way. I got people to laugh and not take themselves so seriously. I got people taking pictures and saying “only in New York.” I figured someone’s going to go back home and talk about the crazy lady they saw in Central Park. As an aspiring writer, I feel great that I gave someone a good story.

Warby Parker; how all stores should be run

My new glasses.

You might be wondering why I’m writing about an eyeglass store on my blog that’s supposed to be about following your heart and soul (HeSo). I hate shopping for glasses, but I stumbled upon a store that made me enjoy the experience so much I talked about it for days afterward.

After doing some more research, I found out that this was definitely a HeSo inspired endeavor. The company was started by four friends who were tired of cool glasses costing so much. They opened up a store that would provide the designs that they liked for an affordable price, and they named it after two of their favorite Jack Kerouac characters. To add a cherry on top, they partnered with VisionSpring to provide glasses for people who cannot afford prescription glasses. For every pair you buy, they donate a pair.

Shopping for eyeglasses can be very stressful – you’re basically picking out a new feature for your face. I usually run into clerks who get pissy if I want to try on more than three pairs of glasses. A few weeks ago I decided I want an artsy looking pair of glasses, so I popped into the local Cohen’s Optical. I tried on every pair (to the sales clerk’s dismay) and only ended up liking one pair. Even after getting a $100 discount the glasses with lenses were going to cost over $400! That’s when I remembered a local news show that was highlighting an eyeglass store with a social mission. For every pair you buy, they donate a pair to children who cannot afford glasses. They have distributed over 150,000 pairs in developing countries.

I visited Warby Parker’s showroom in a trendy office space in Soho. One-half of the office was taken up by desks and people busy at work. The other half was the showroom. As soon as I arrived a friendly girl introduced herself and told me to make myself at home and try on any pair I like. The people helping were not pushy at all, but they gave honest opinions. At one point, I tried on a pair and the woman next to me said, “oh god take those off right now!” I appreciated the honesty. It felt like I was shopping with friends.

I stayed there for about an hour trying on every pair, and I never felt pressured to buy. They were playing awesome music and everyone trying on glasses was dancing around. When I finally settled on a pair of reddish-brown sexy librarian glasses, they suggested that I walk around the office and introduce myself while wearing the glasses to see if they felt comfortable. There are mirrors all around the place, so they told me to occasionally look up and catch a glimpse of myself with the glasses. That would give me a much better idea of how the glasses looked without posing.

I walked around the office, and everyone was so nice and they all seemed to really enjoy working there. One guy asked if I wanted to help with their bifocals project which just meant that he wanted to measure the distance between my eyes. Then he gave me a card for 15% off. Someone else gave me a lollipop. The lollipop threw me over the edge – I was ready to make the purchase.

The really cute thank you card that came with the glasses

I was afraid of how much it would cost because the place felt like a very expensive, trendy Williamsburg boutique. When they told me my total was $85 I asked them ‘how much do the lenses cost?’ She laughed and said that price included anti-reflective, polycarbonate lenses. I wanted to run out of the store before she realized that she undercharged me. Then I asked, ‘well how much does it cost to donate a pair?’ She laughed again and told me that was also included in the price. I’ve never paid so little for glasses and actually enjoyed the experience.

My glasses arrived at my doorstep three days later with a great thank you note. They even called me that day to see if I received the glasses and if I was happy with them.

Here’s the extra cool part…if you don’t live in the area, they will ship five pairs to your house for free so you can try them on. I will never shop anywhere else. I really appreciate their work model.

So now without further ado, Here are my new glasses…

My new glasses! You can see my Reilly painting in the background.

Would you go to this conference?

 

While I was in a D.C., I met a guy who’s throwing an after party for a conference on the West Coast. We got to talking about popular conferences, and something started tingling in the back of my brain. By the time I got back to the hotel the tingle became a full blown thought. What if I started my own conference for the HeSo project?

Would you come for a weekend conference in NYC and hear stories from people who followed their dreams and started living a life dictated by the whims of their heart and soul rather than their fears and apathy? Would you attend a panel discussion on dreams vs reality? Would you network with other people who want to start living a HeSo life?

I’m really interested in your opinions on this. How much would you pay for this? How many guest speakers would you want to hear? How many days would you go for? Do you have any guest speakers you would recommend?

Please bombard me with your thoughts and suggestions 🙂

 

Lessons from the Shark Tank

Whenever I tell someone that I’m working on developing an invention of mine they immediately tell me I should go on the Shark Tank. If you’re not familiar with the ABC reality show, entrepreneurs go in front of a board of venture capitalists and make the case for why they should invest in the start up company. If the investors like the idea they’ll invest their own money in the company, if they don’t they’ll rip it to shreds. I started watching full episodes on ABC.com and I’m hooked. Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Be shameless. You need to be able to walk into a store and make that manager carry your product. You need to go up to strangers and convince them that their lives are incomplete without your product. You need to be willing to make a fool of yourself to stand out and be memorable. Embarrassment is not failure, anonymity is failure.

2. You are an important part of the product. Some of the best bidding wars happened when the investors didn’t particularly like the product, they just saw such a huge drive in that person that they wanted to be involved in whatever they do. You need to be likable and relatable.

3. You can’t help others until you’re successful. This is the hardest lesson to swallow.  There was an entrepreneur who was trying to revive his small town with a manufacturing company. He was making a great product but at a loss because the cost of labor was so high. The sharks wanted to be partners with him, but they wanted to manufacture the product in China. The man said absolutely not- it went against his beliefs.

I sympathized with the guy because when I first had the idea for BeddyBye I had grand plans of reviving manufacturing in NYC, and hiring new parents as consultants, and providing state of the art free day care and the list goes on. Daymond John, CEO of Fubu, is one of the sharks and he asked the entrepreneur how long he could continue making the product at a loss, and the man said a few more weeks. At that point he would be broke, and couldn’t help himself let alone his town. Daymond stated that if the product was made for less money he could then hire sales reps, website developers, customer service, office managers, and so on. He would be able to help a lot more people if his focus was on success rather than martyrdom. Damond said “first you have to make it, then master it, and then you can matter.” You’ll be able to do a lot more good once you have some money behind your beliefs. Just look at George Soros.

4. The best ideas are the simplest. These are the ideas that make you say, “I can’t believe that doesn’t exist already.” That’s what I said when I first came up with BeddyBye, and I was shocked when I couldn’t find anything like it online. Look around your house and see if anything would be completely different with a slight modification. One woman got $50k for her product that was basically a towel with a slit in the middle to cover kids when they’re changing at the beach or pool. Another guy got $100k for a water bottle that unscrews at the bottom and top so you can clean the bottom. I know I’ve thrown out bottles that get gunk stuck on the bottom. So simple!

So how has this Shark Tank marathon helped my small enterprise? While I’m waiting for the last bit of bureaucracy to go through on my LLC, I’m going to focus on being a good salesman. I had another small business idea rolling around in my head. The start up costs are lot a less, and success will really depend on how well I push it. This will be great reinforcement of lessons 1 and 2, since I can be shy and intimidated easily. I will post more about  it soon!

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Discouraging News

So I talked to a manufacturing consultant who specializes in baby products and he told me it would be crazy to move forward unless I have $100,000 to spare. I feel pretty sh*tty. If I manufacture in America the prices are two to three times higher than manufacturing abroad. If I manufacture abroad it only makes sense to order in bulk (minimum of 5,000) and at that quantity the cost of cargo shipping is insane. It seems like there’s no way to just try it out and see if it works. It’s either all or nothing.

I asked him how normal people get into manufacturing. For instance, in the last week when reading about how successful entreprenuers started their business I’ve come across these two lines:

“I didn’t intend to make a big business it just sorta happened.” (insert cute shrug)

“My husband said stop talking about it and just make it.”

The consultant said, when someone says “it just sorta happened,” that translates to they inherited a ton of money and they got lucky. And that “husband,” was probably the owner of a Fortune 500 company.

At this point I would like to offer a positive spin, but I’m not really feeling positive. I just don’t see how to move forward. This has been keeping me up for the last week. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep until 5am.

😦

Flying Pigeon

I´m taking a break from sharing about my time in Spain to tell you about my friend´s HeSo inspired enterprise. I recently bought an awesome bike from Nathan Einschlag. We used to teach at the same school until he left to live in China for two years. He fell in love with the bike culture there, and more specifically the legendary bike called Flying Pigeon. He recently bought 140 of these bikes to sell in the States. First read the interview then visit his website so you can ride your very own flying Pigeon!

Where does the name Flying Pigeon come from?

It comes directly from the Chinese factory in Tianjin. The name represents the liberation of the Chinese people after the Japanese invaded China in the late 1940’s. The  image of the Flying Pigeon is actually a representation of a dove symbolizing freedom. The Flying Pigeon bicycle has a rich history in China and has been named a “national treasure” by the People’s Republic.

That´s a lot more history than a Huffy. What made you want to sell them?

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, oh, wow, I want to become a bike salesman. It was much more than that. I wanted to bring something tangible from China to the United States almost as a cultural exchange. There are a lot of people in the States that have never ridden or heard of Flying Pigeon bicycles, and a lot of people who have negative stereotypes about China and their craftsmanship. Bringing the Flying Pigeon bike to the States was a way for me to help immerse Americans in Chinese culture as well as continue my love of riding bikes here in the States and also show that China has great products that can stand up to American standards.

It took a lot of guts to buy 140 bikes. Can you describe some of the anxieties you felt before making such a risky commitment, and how you got past them?

A friend of mine once asked me what I would do if fear didn’t exist.  There comes a time in your life when you want to experience more, do more, and learn more. I made a choice, and stuck to it. Fear and anxiety were just motivating factors, not inhibitors like so many people let them be. Life is about risk and reward. Without the first you can never have the second.

I completely agree. Part of my motivation for the HeSo project is to make fear a motivation rather than an inhibitor. A lot of people use money as an excuse for not taking risks. How did you finance your enterprise?

 I was lucky enough to find an investor who believed in my idea and in me. I’m not an advocate of spending money foolishly, but I say if you are driven and have a plan, then do what you have to do to get there. Scared money doesn’t make money, as the old saying goes.

I´ve never heard that expression, but I like it. How do you plan to sell all of those bikes?

I’m starting from the ground up. Literally- flyers on light-posts and hitting the streets to meet people face to face. I’m taking out craigslists ads and putting bikes on EBAY. I’m going to be hitting the bike store circuit pretty hard this upcoming week to stir up some interest on the distribution front. Word of mouth has proven to be the best so far, but getting the company name on blogs (thanks) is also the direction I’m trying to move in. I really want to get to know the customers buying a Flying Pigeon bicycle. When you buy a bike you’re not only saying you like the bicycle, but that you trust the company name and believe in what I’m trying to do.

Why should someone buy a bike from you?

I think people want to relate to other people in life. People want to be heard and comforted. People want to get their ideas out and ultimately want to trust and be trusted. I want to create a brand where these feelings and emotions are felt with each purchase. When I started NYC Flying Pigeon I wanted to make sure that each of my customers would be fully satisfied with a purchase, and that they would be walking (in this case riding) away with something unique and rich in history, much like each of us is. Each bike is limited in quantity to 40 pieces. These aren’t bikes that you can just go down to the store to buy. They are durable, and have been
spotted all over the world, from Paris to Argentina to Montreal. If you are looking for a bike that will last you a lifetime and has more flavor than your neighbor’s bike, Flying Pigeon is definitely the bike for you.

Describe your perfect day on a Flying Pigeon.

Cruising down a Shanghai street on my way to grab some dumplings with a beautiful lady on the back of my bike.

These bikes are selling quickly so get one soon and enjoy the fall on your new Flying Pigeon!