Two of my major objectives in my year off were to investigate a not-for-profit business idea, and to get the novel that I have worked on on/off for the past two years published.
The not-for-profit idea is a derivative of the TOMS shoes business model. For those of you who haven't heard of TOMS, the principle is -- you buy a pair of shoes from the company, and they donate a pair of shoes to needy children in the third world. My idea was to try to apply a similar concept to the development of third world drinking water sources, offering an African produced product to people in the U.S. In order to develop the idea, I first wanted to understand the TOMS business model better. As luck would have it, Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes was at Creighton University last night to give a talk, and so I invited myself to go and watch.
Blake was a very good speaker and his talk was very interesting. There were several things that became obvious to me while listening to the presentation. First was the fact that the room was absolutely packed with students -- I would guess around 500. They were wild about anything with the TOMS logo on it, and gave the featured speaker a hero's attention. I was surprised at how much of a phenomenon that the concept had become. As I watched further there were several points that leapt out to me...
* The success of this business is rooted in the simplicity of its mission. TOMS works because people can relate to; not having shoes, to buying a trendy shoe and by doing so helping others, and to the fact that they can visibly demonstrate their support of the concept by wearing the product.
* There was a fair amount of luck involved capturing the media attention necessary to turn this into a viral trend.
* The leader has some real woo -- he is young, hip, good looking, and very well spoken.
None of these things would be as straightforward for me to accomplish with my idea -- a bit discouraging.
After the event, I waited around for Blake to complete an interview, hoping to catch a moment or two with him. My objective was to get an invitation out to their operations in California, and be able to spend some time with Blake and his staff better understanding their model and how it functioned now. I finally gave up waiting when I realized that at least 100 students were also waiting to meet Blake, get him to sign their TOMS shoes, and angle for intern positions and the like. Instead I went home and emailed him with my request.
I didn't make it past his admin assistant. I was politely, but bluntly, told that Blake didn't have time for such meetings.
Between the realization of how hard it would be for my idea to succeed in the same way, and the brush-off, I was heartily discouraged! While I have other avenues to pursue to investigate the idea further, this one would have made everything else much easier.
Then came the feedback on the novel. Some readers of this blog are probably aware that I have had a passion for writing for some time. Over the last 3 years, I penned a novel titled "Leverage", a corporate thriller. Back in October, I finished the third, and I thought final, draft, and began submitting the work to Literary Agents. I think I sent out about 15 queries before Christmas, which all resulted in summary rejections. I started out sending queries again last week when I actually received a response that wasn't a form letter/email. The agent rejected the manuscript based on a sample I had sent him, but offered to provide some critique, if I had a strong stomach.
I took him up on the offer.
It did take a strong stomach to read. Although he did say that the plot looked interesting, and the basic writing style was not bad, he found many many things to point out in just the first 10 pages. I was left with the inevitable conclusion that another editing pass is absolutely necessary, and that should probably be followed by engaging a professional editor to read through the manuscript. When you thought you were done with a project, and then discover you probably have several hundred hours of work yet to do to complete it, it is a blow. Especially when it is the part of the work you like the least.
Today, I was a bit shell shocked by all of this, and probably need a good night's sleep to feel that I have enough energy to get to work on the book and develop a revised plan to put together my business idea.