Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mikons and the Hijacking Maven

I have made all the classic mistakes that one can make on the Bootstrap journey through the Valley of Death and lived to tell about it.

Sitting on my couch watching the 2004 Tour De France was the seminal moment that changed my life and moved into Ideation. Indeed on that hot summer Texas night my mind was awhirl with ideas, fantasies, and dreams. I am a Maven and I like that place. But I moved quickly from the idea stage into what I loathe to call the Valley of Death. And I have been there for two full years ignorantly and painfully playing the Frank Sinatra refrain, "I did it my way."

Now I realize that I had never really moved out of Ideation. I was just incognito in Ideation walking through the VoD. You see, I loved my ideas for using symbols to connect people. But I wanted the Universe to conform to my notion of how to role it out.

My confusion was due to my narrow-minded attachment to a quote by George Bernard Shaw: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. I still believe that to be true, but the insight that I have now is that there is a profound difference between "the world" and "the Universe."

This is my story of my journey through the VOD.

It was July and Lance Armstrong's last year of the Tour De France. Nike commissioned a graffiti artist named Futura to design forty-some icons that commemorated and symbolize Lance's heroic life. I saw Lance use these icons as a medium to communicate his life with others.

By October a team was assembled. By January we were programming Mikons - a social website that connects people through their own personally designed icons. We made cool app that was an on-line vector graphic drawing tool where people could draw their own symbols. We were really proud of it. By June we launched.

I was convinced that people would come to the site in hoardes to make their Mikons and put them on t-shirts and stickers sold through the site. So I bought a $14,000 printer-cutter to make shirts and stickers and bought server space from a high-priced scalable server farm. All this under the idea of "build it and they will come." Well they didn't. We burned through $80,000 the first year and another $80,000 the second year.

My answer was to keep coming up with ideas to improve the website and applications for mikons. I was stuck in the Ideation and DEMO cycle and couldn't move to the true Valley of Death: the SELL process. The cowardly Maven inside of me didn't want to face the prospect of selling. So I distracted myself by feeding my Ideation junkie with more useless and costly mikon applications.

In the Spring of 2007 we wanted to leverage SXSWi by introducing mikons there. But how? Lorin Rivers, a fellow bootstrapper was consulting with us and had a stroke of insight: let's make a set of mikon badge stickers as iconic identifiers that attendees can wear and use to express themselves and network with others. We made 5000 sticker set and put them in the schwag bag. They were a big hit.

Soon after, I forgot about the success of those stickers and how people heralded application of them to connecting with other in such a setting. The Universe began to do its work and in September other conferences began asking for them. But I wanted to sell t-shirts, and make cooler applications for mikons. Certain friends and fellow bootstrappers kept telling me to follow the money. I chose to follow my own ideas. Thus I chose to continue to suffer.

Someone at the initial team meeting of mikons noted that uses for mikons would arise that we never considered. That is what happened with what Bijoy coined as the MikonMixer Stickers.

Finally, I surrendered and began to only focus on selling MixerStickers. So far in March we have orders three deep and bookings of almost $2000. It was our highest revenue month ever.

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