1 Hunch + 1 Ounce of Crazy + 1 Pie of Passion = KB Entrepreneur
KB, that’s me, Kathleen Blackwell. One hunch + one ounce of crazy + one pie of passion = 0 to 365 in 90 flat. Yes, I’m about being an artist-entrepreneur for life. In my blogs I explore and espouse upon some of my favorite subjects: Brands, Biz, Beer, Boobs, and Bands.
If you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, a zest for life…if you’re a thinker, a tinkerer, a mom or a dad…if you’ve started something and failed, or built something super successful…well, let me rephrase—if you’ve got a gold record hanging on your wall (with your name it), or you’ve crashed and burned through your last buck—if you love a great beer and a delicious hang, or if you enjoy traveling, chatting, and world cultures…if you sh’izzle at the mere thought of marketing mastery, and if you ask a myriad of kooky questions like me—join me here on my Kathleen Blackwell site for a collection of my latest experiments and sentiments.
Committed to passion, and transparent as heck, I’ll do my best to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty for you. I hope you’ll come along for the ride, and maybe even dig-in a bit with me, too. Please feel free to add to the dust and leave me a comment below—let me know what you “tink.” No charge for the expression—it’s on me, KB.
KB’s Extended BiZMiX: The 5 B’s
My fascination with branding and brands has more to do with liking shiny objects and intuition than elaborate research on what makes a brand truly tick, and stick. I just like the way brands look, feel, taste, and sound. I eat them up.
There is something distinctly sexy about the packaging of a brand, and one of my favorite things to do in the world is to dream up new…brands! One problem I have with that? My brain. I fly to the moon and back with my hot-off-the-sh’izzle brand concoction…in my brain, on paper, as a physical product, as a tight-as-teeth business plan, a website, a logo design, a domain purchase, and an I-just-know-this-brand-can-be-huge sense of gusto. It’s for sure, I certainly can’t stop flapping my lips about it. Oy! I get so excited. Naturally, my desire is to run an empire (wink). The next problem I have? My brain…
My career coach said to me the other day, “Kathleen, consider thinking about it this way: You’re a crazy, genius artist with an innate ability to create on a dime. The universe has chosen you to download a myriad of ideas, and the universe is hoping you’ll grab onto one and take it to the moon. The universe feeds you for free—constantly—so grab an idea-download and take it to the moon!
“Other people don’t have this, they are content to get up, go to the office, come home and live their life with TV and family, occasionally take a trip, and they don’t have the download, the constant stream that’s reserved for right-brain crazy people like you. Therefore, this knowledge is good to have! It let’s you say to yourself, ‘Oh, I’m crazy, I’m crazy good! Oh, I get it, this is a gift!’
“And then we can thank Steve Jobs and Bill Gates because they made it easy for people like us to keep organized. Thank you tech world for making my crazy mind more organized, so I can get stuff done and manifest what matters.”
My love for business stems from an entrepreneurial spirit within, a deep desire to tinker and build a product from scratch. From a simple idea to making it soar, I distinctly delight in the process of business; it’s quite an elegant feat…to get it right.
Have I experienced the ups-and-downs of starting a business first-hand? You betcha. In 2005 I created a brand of designer aprons—Saucy-Wear (100% Yummy!)—and took it from one-off samples I made in the back of my garage to full-scale retail, landing accounts like Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Neiman Marcus, and FAO Schwarz before I could say, “Bon Appetít!”
I had a hunch, and the fastest way to prove out my hunch was to put my [adorable!] apron samples in front of the right audience. But how? Well, I had two college degrees and a Sales and Marketing background working for Sony Classical / Sony BMG Music Entertainment, so I put my noggin to good use.
I was living in Los Angeles and had access to the wholesale markets downtown, so I buckled-up my then 6-year-old and 3-year-old, drove downtown, bought some French-style mannequins and adorned them with my aprons. Then I found some funky fabric and re-upholstered an old restaurant booth, hand-painted a kitchen island from IKEA, hired a graphic designer to make a splashy Saucy-Wear brochure (tip #1 on-the-house: that’s why you have kids…free labor, they make great models), then I rented a white van—sans the seats, with four wheels plus some beginner’s luck—and I loaded that white puppy up and drove it off into the sunset, all the way to Vegas, baby!
It was quite the scene, I felt a bit like Inspector Clouseau driving around with all those French mannequins in the back of that van, but I was on a mission—it was trade show season. Wait, isn’t it always trade show season in Vegas? I digress…anyway, I set-up shop and decorated a very boutiquy-kitschy-cool “Saucy-Wear” booth (10×10) at The Gourmet Housewares Show inside the Las Vegas Convention Center (amidst HUGE brands, like Viking, KitchenAid, All-Clad, Nordic Ware…what was I thinking?!) and low-and-behold—on opening day—after a hunch, an ounce of crazy, a whole-lotta passion—I landed a 2,000 piece apron order straight-up from Sur La Table on my first swing. OMG! Gulp. They wanted how many of my aprons? TWO-THOUSAND—that’s 2,000! Holy smokes, that calls for a table dance Vegas-style—on top of my hand-panted kitchen island in the booth—wearing a Saucy-Wear apron, of course!
Yes, Saucy-Wear worked. It was an adorable, wholesome brand. People loved the aprons. The hang-tags had recipe’s inside, the aprons featured retro-prints and were double-lined with two pockets, 100% cotton, decorative trim…and the girl’s aprons had a linen flower placed just-so. Super sweet.
I went from 0-to-365, quickly—from garage to national retail in 90 days flat. I didn’t even have a manufacturer for my aprons when I drove that lucky van out of Vegas. I had six (6) weeks to ship 2,500+ aprons, as that was the lead-time I espoused, and general good practice in wholesale. My real work had just begun.
By the end of my first year, Saucy-Wear aprons were in Sur La Table chain stores (about 65 the time), 50+ boutiques, featured on the Williams-Sonoma website, in the Neiman Marcus catalog, in FAO Schwarz stores…and I was beginning to make my way to a household brand-name, as I was working on pitches to Target and Walmart.
I was empire building. T-Minus Late? No, t-minus on-time. Score! The timing of my market entry for Saucy-Wear was absolutely perfect. Ripe. So, what happened?
Well, it’s a classic reason hit new-businesses fail—they can’t sustain their own popularity, i.e. the increase in orders. I know, it sounds bizarre, but there’s a sweet-spot in manufacturing where cost, margin, quantities, and shipping versus cash flow can become the kiss-of-death. You need more cash on-hand, or credit, than you typically have, in order to pay the manufacturer to produce your now bigger order.
Naively, P.O.’s in hand, I tried all the institutional ways to find bridge money, namely banks (as I was already factoring), and that wasted an exorbitant amount of my already constrained and precious time. T-Minus Late? More like T-Minus nada. Tip #2 on-the-house: Besides the turn-around time for bank processing, many entrepreneurs have to take financial risks, which can impact their credit scores. Banks don’t like impacted credit scores. Therefore, start early in looking for, and understanding how to raise private capital.
Short story? I was exhausted, my hands were tied, my friends-and-family were just trying to get by themselves, then the market crashed in 2008, which ultimately shifted the way ordering was done.
The market crash of ’08 had a ripple effect, big retailers were forced to put “hold pressure” on the little guys like me. Instead of ordering in bulk, big retailers started to piecemeal their orders, i.e. placing orders more frequently with smaller quantities, thereby placing the burden of holding inventory on me—plus shipping smaller amounts more frequently, which cost me more up-front money. Naturally, they were paying in net-60’s and net-90’s, so that left me holding the money bag, not enough runway in the hole. It was a bit of a chicken-egg kind-of-thing. And, don’t get me started on having manufacturing orders bumped by the big guys like Walmart! Sheesh.
I was manufacturing in downtown L.A. and Shanghai at the time, so I was importing, too, and I simply couldn’t hang on. I needed about $50k to make the ultimate transition—from startup to household. Crazy. If I knew then what I know now, I would have had that $50k.
Do you have a business experience to share? Head down to the comments and let it roll—I’m listening.
What can I say?! How can you not love beer? Beer goes good with everything!
KB’s ‘Ode to Beer’:
“Beer on a belly, under boobs, in a bus. Beer in a belly, with food, how ’bout nuts! Beer on a stick, just one lick does the trick. Beer at a game, in the rain, on the roof, in a truck. Beer on Sunset, over Paris with a twist at dusk. Beer here, beer there, beer anywhere—beer everywhere. Cheers!” – KB
The next time you’re in Austin, give me a jingle and we’ll grab a local Texas beer. My favorite Austin beer is the Live Oak Hefeweizen. In Iceland my favorite beer was the Viking and Güll. In Spain it was Estrella. In Italy it was Peroni. In the UK it’s always a Guinness. In India it was a King Fisher (miss those beers and that experience!). In Finland it was a Lapin Kultra. In Estonia it was a Sakü. And, at The Horny Goat in Milwauke, it was the Pumpkin Ale. Though, I’d drink a Pabst Blue Ribbon any day.
T-Minus Late? No way. T-minus Miller time!
Boobs is a rather silly word, that’s why I like it. Boobs can be bought and sold. Boobs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Boobs mean a lot of things to lots of people, and they can even be controversial.
I chose this topic as a header because boobs symbolize everything from celebrity to cancer, from nature, nurture, to nourishment. Boobs are super sexy and sensual, and nearly 50% of the world’s population has a pair. [“In 2010, the global adult sex ratio was 986 females per 1,000 males and trended to reduce to 984 in 2011,” according to Wiki.] I’m a big fan of moms who breastfeed, and applaud when they do so in public. One of the best takes on the subject is a brilliant and passionate spoken-word piece by Hollie McNish. [Leave my page right now, and go listen to her “Embarrassed” video!] It’s three minutes and thirty-seven seconds well-worth your time. I promise.
Boobs rule the world. T-Minus Late? Only if you wait.
Raised on music. I love everything about the subject. I’ve worked with the big-guns in Hollywood on the business side (Sony Classical / Sony BMG Music Entertainment), and I’ve written and recorded two albums of my own as an indie recording artist. Fun fact: Though I named my son Austin, I was also vying for Marshall…yes, as in the a half stack!
I’m kind of a pop, alternative, grunge-rock girl. Urge Overkill, Lenny Kravitz, Seal, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, U.2., Duran Duran, Oasis…and anything loud, catchy, raw, and tart could be found in my collection. Lately I’ve been listening to Foreigner, Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Journey, Rick Springfield, Rihanna, plus a little Britney.
I was classically trained on piano (National Piano Guild), I played mallet’s in the drum line for marching band and clarinet for symphonic band in high school, I was built on MTV, but after college I didn’t play a piano for nearly 15 years. It wasn’t until a dear friend was selling her baby-grand that I started to tinkle the ivories again. As Saucy-Wear was folding, and my personal life was crumbling, I found my outlet on the artist side of music.
I started writing “pop songs” at 36, and for the first time (outside of a required choir class in college), I started truly singing…finding my voice in the wake of disaster. That transitional time produced quite an organic, gem of an album very near-and-dear to my heart, called To Be Human. Replete with live drums, a trombone, string section, Rhodes, and kick-a** backing vocals by Dot Todman, To Be Human was nominated for “Album of the Year in AAA” for the L.A. Music Awards in 2009. Songwriting and recording was clearly one of my favorite time-periods in life. It etched me, KB, as a person. T-Minus Late? Never. T-minus always. Xoxo.
Shortly after my first album, I went back into the studio with the idea of writing a marketing EP, Knockout, to coincide with a new clothing / fashion brand I was creating for women 35+, called Cougar Rock—a lifestyle brand where each piece of clothing would come with a free song download. I thought that was hip! I figured if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em and distribute music through the back door with a successful clothing line.
I changed sound direction on my EP for Cougar Rock and explored Electronica with my Producer. The only instruments on the EP were a Fender Rhodes, Moog Little Fatty, Drums, Beats, a Hog Fiddle, and Vox. The Cougar Rock fashion brand for women never officially launched, for a variety of reasons, but I guess I’ve got one-helluva business plan to show for it. I still think women ages 35 to 54 are a HUGE market. No, I know they’re a huge market, because I did the research on it for my business plan:
“The Largest Population Group in the U.S. today is Women 45 to 49 who remain the Largest Projected Population Group through 2020—with Women 30 to 59, as a grouping, holding the Largest Projected Population Demographic t through 2020; as well, they extensively comprise the Largest Consumer Discretionary Spending Group (35 to 54) in the U.S. today.” – KB
Stats: U.S. Census Bureau; 2010 and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey; 2009
Lessons learned? Funny, with Saucy-Wear, I had a hunch and some cash in the bank to prove it out at a trade show—that was my business plan, just do it to prove it. It worked. I knew it would.
With Cougar Rock, I still knew it would work, but I had no cash in the bank to make high-end samples and set up a booth at MAGIC (fashion industry trade show), and instead I spent my creative time writing a massive business plan to get seed funding in order to sew a couture clothing line and prove out my hunch. It didn’t work. i.e. You can’t readily get funding off of a business plan, well at least not easily. Investors want to see your traction. Investors want to see what you’re doing, not just read about what you want (hope, one day) to do.
So, I never really got to test the full Cougar Rock clothing line at it’s inception. But a few months ago, I was able to A/B test the brand-name and online audience as a subscription model, called Cougar Rock Box, through Unbounce. The conversion rate? Let’s just say the number of people who hit “get the box” (buy now) was well-within the accepted guideline to…proceed. Green light!
Tip #3 on-the-house: Don’t waste your time creating a comprehensive business plan. If you can’t build it and test it (in real life, right now, and rather swiftly), no amount of the written word or pretty drawing, unless you’re applying for a grant, is going to cut it. If you don’t believe me, just ask Noah Kagan. Though, if anyone would like to try, I have a template for a comprehensive business plan. Let me know and I’ll send you mine, at least put it to some good use. Wow, how did I wind up talking about brands again?
A collection of personal stories and interviews, anecdotes, historical references (from Tarzan to technology), methodologies, and more about time and timing, with a book by KB & team in the works: T-Minus Late…Let them Tap! SHOW UP LATE…For a Better Life.
DISRUPTING TIME MANAGEMENT: From PERSONAL to PROFESSIONAL, How Showing Up Late Will Radically Improve the Quality of Your Life!
KB’s Audacious Revelations:
- Being on time makes you late for living your life.
- Showing up late makes you on time for loving your life.
- T-Minus Late = Time (for an Amazing Life). Show up late—i.e. “do late”—for a happier, healthier, energetic, and a more effective, rewarding, creative, profitable, powerful, and down-right dynamic life.
LEAP OF JOY…Sometimes, you just need to take a grand leap of joy—DO LATE! Step out of your comfort zone, and go for it. The magic happens outside of your comfort zone.
“Western culture has adopted an insular and linear view of time and time management and we have become lopsided in ways that so many people are stressed over things that simply don’t matter. T-Minus Late provides a lifestyle formula [T – L = Time] to free your life and world from stress and facilitate calm.” – KB
Hypothesis: We know that it’s okay to be late. But beyond knowing that it’s okay to be late, you should actually just be late—for all types of things—in order to re-program your brain around what “on time” really means.
T-Minus Late is like a manifesto for those who are always late:
“Don’t take the sneers and derision from those who have nothing better to do with their time than arrive at a movie to sit through twenty minutes of commercials. Don’t suffer the disapproval of people who take your efficient use of time as a personal insult. The truth is that lateness is an out of date concept.” – Eric Edstrom / Author
“I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them.” – E.V. Lucas (Journalist, Charlie Lamb)
Thanks for tuning in, I hope you like what I share, and even if you don’t, thanks for stopping by.
Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you think.
Cheers and Cold Beers.
KB, that’s Me.