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Traverse City Startup Story: Inspiration, Conspiracy, and Introducing Susie Q

When Ignorance is Bliss

The “rose colored glasses” phenomenon is probably a good thing when it comes to entrepreneurship. If someone could have perfect foresight and know what they’re getting into before starting something new, they may never move forward in the first place. It’s only after taking a leap of faith, when you’re knee-deep in the muck and have crossed the point of no return that the difficulty of the path usually becomes clear. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned during our startup journey so far is how much there is to learn! The learning curve is steep, and as with most things in life, it’s easy to overestimate the positive outcomes and underestimate the challenges you’ll run into.

At the same time, this is the best part of the adventure. It’s from the long slog that we derive a sense satisfaction from our work. It’s the discomfort that we feel that fuels our growth. And it’s the experiences of others, who have made it to the other side, that provide us the encouragement and inspiration to keep pushing forward.

We’re experiencing and learning lots of new things each day. Since so many of these lessons are universal, across both business and life, we decided to start sharing our Startup Story – openly and transparently – so that others could learn from our good, bad and ugly. We’ll be posting about our Startup Story every Monday (and sharing our normal blog content on Wednesdays) leading up to our launch this spring. Accordingly, we’ll be using this space as a journal of sorts, where we do a weekly post highlighting a few things we learned (good or bad), or something that inspired us, during the prior week. We’ve done a couple of Startup Story posts (here and here) in the past couple of months. In light of the positive reaction we’ve received from our readers, we decided to do them more frequently.

What inspired this initiative? For one, the excellent Startup podcast (one of our favorites), in which Alex Blumberg details his own startup journey. For two, Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work. In it Kleon writes: “The act of sharing is one of generosity – you’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or entertaining to someone on the other side of the screen.” This process helps us. It would be amazing if something from our experience helps others as well.

February 7, 2017

“Conspiracy Against the Laity” – When Building a Business, Don’t Get Bogged Down By Jargon

When our business launches, we will be offering only original goods that we designed. This includes a few apparel items that are being made – cut and sewn – by our production partner in Michigan (who we’ll introduce soon). In the days to come we’ll have a lot to say about the process of researching and selecting a manufacturer in the apparel industry. It’s an interesting industry with its own customs, traditions, methods and, yes, language.

It’s not uncommon for distinct industries to develop their own language. Over time, industries, like cultures, create jargon – a type of shorthand that industry insiders use to communicate with one another. Jargon, however, is problematic for newcomers to any industry. Customers/clients/patients can get frustrated by the density of jargon, and turn away from an industry in frustration due to their inability to gain clarity.

This is not an original thought. In the early 20th century George Bernard Shaw wrote: “Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.” Jargon is a symptom of the conspiracy. The legal profession, for example, use language and terminology that is nearly impenetrable by non-lawyers.

The cut and sew manufacturing industry has its own jargon – although to a much lesser extent than the legal profession. Over the past couple of months we’ve waded through it and gotten up to speed, learning about terms like “grading,” “interfacing,” and “notions.” It’s not impenetrable, but it can be intimidating if you’re just starting out.

Interested in learning more about this industry and the unique language it uses? Click here for a “glossary of terms” resource that we found helpful.

February 9, 2017

Oh Susie Q Baby I Love You, Susie Q

There has never been a better time to build a direct to consumer e-commerce business. Even five years ago, the process of building a website that could safely, securely and effectively allow a user to add an item to a virtual shopping cart, process a credit card, and determine shipping preferences was a huge and expensive undertaking. We know this from experience. We’ve been designing and building websites for clients for over ten years.

Today, all of the software tools exist to make it relatively easy and inexpensive to do what was nearly impossible just a short time ago. That said, the more “off the shelf” the solution, the more generic the result. Therefore, many entrepreneurs still proceed as we are, by leveraging “off the shelf” tools while working with a good developer to build something truly unique. This approach requires an investment, but far less of one than used to be the case.

We’re excited to roll out our new website in a couple of months. This past week we began handing off design files to the backend developer we’re working with for this project. But we don’t want our brand to exist solely in the digital world. For years we’ve spent far too long behind computers while running our businesses. In this new initiative we want to be outside, interacting with people, hosting events and making an impact in the communities we serve as much as possible.

At the same time, we decided early on that we did not want to be tethered to a traditional retail space. A retail store would allow us to interact more with people, but would restrict some of the freedom we seek.

Our solution to this dilemma? Inspired by the food truck culture in Traverse City, we decided to build a mobile shop and event space that we can take with us wherever we go.

Meet Susie Q. She’s a 1968 Williams Craft camper whose name was inspired by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1968 hit song of the same name. Susie’s a sturdy gal with a vintage style who loves to have fun, and she’ll be undergoing a major makeover in the weeks to come.

We’ll have much more to say and reveal about Susie. Stay tuned for the transformation!