Tag Archives: business

Last summer we were still debating how to increase the number of our online followers. Our initial approach was to use our friends as Chinese humour consultants and entice followers through our borrowed witticisms. We realized that in doing this, we were no better than Aesop’s jackdaw, borrowing the plumes of others in order to succeed. By trying to be what we weren’t, all we were doing was complicating our own lives. Each time when we tried to work with our “Chinese humor consultants” to develop new social media posts, or a story for our comic that our Chinese audience would like, we realized we weren’t happy with it, that it just wasn’t us. Trying to follow the mentality of the Chinese people, and be like them only made us look silly in their eyes; not to mention the frustration we were enduring as we nervously followed our number of followers like ticker tape. Somehow it fluctuated, but always seemed to remain around one hundred. One day, in a fit of exasperation we concluded that this approach wasn’t taking us anywhere. We decided we had to take the risk, be western, and ergo, true to ourselves. In essence, we would never be Chinese no matter how hard we tried to tape our eyes to look so.

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Our makeup didn’t go over well either.

Vali, when put under extreme pressure by yours truly, is a font of lucrative ideas. And so it was that under ultimatum, he came up with the brilliant idea to go out to heavily trafficked areas with an easel and hold drawing sessions. Chinese social media certainly wasn’t our strength, so it held that a drawing session would be the perfect opportunity for our target audience to meet us, talk to us, get to know more about what we are doing…and then follow our official WeChat and Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter). With a big easel in tow, a large pad of paper, and a large attractive sign, we set off for the nearest tourist trap. We looked so professional. We also made the effort to create flyers with both our codes to give to those pansies that wanted to “think about it first”.

This method has worked wonders for us. We go out to the 798 Art District and to the famed tourist street, Nanluoguxiang every Saturday. It has been at those times that we have met our fans to listen to their feedback and suggestions about how we can improve and get people to like us.

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Please Like Us.

We have also garnered a lot of business opportunities from this activity, aroused the media interest, educated and established a strong interest with our fans, and met our first potential employees. Having to stand outside for 2-3 hours in the freezing weather was grueling, but it was so much fun meeting and talk to our new fans. Many times it felt like we were in an episode of “The Apprentice”, facing big challenges and combining different creative methods to complete our goals before our sales started in the spring.

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Minus Donald’s sentient hairpiece.

Beijing is famous for pollution, it might be the city’s number one export, but thankfully, somehow every Saturday there would be a strong wind that would blow the pollution away at least for that day. When the fireworks and firecrackers of Spring festival brought with them a blanket of pollution that smothered the city, we switched back to an online mode of operations. This time though, we had followers to help us.

We’ve finally accepted, we’ll never be Chinese.

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A Difference in What Drives Us

As we’ve touched upon before, the thought processes of a business professional and an artist are radically different. 

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This man obviously cared a great deal about his investment portfolio.

Typically speaking the business person aims to explore and research market and consumer demand, these are the marks by which they navigate their path to success.  Great business people can anticipate market demand and offer products to the consumer before they even realize they want it.  They are shepherds to the masses, earning their living by cultivating the flock to desire the goods and services that they are offering.

Artists are motivated by a different force entirely.  The artist explores the self and the mind.  There is no compass to guide, only aimless wandering in a quest for greater expression.  Unlike the business person the artist produces for the sake of creation.  There is often little concern for the market, because the artist generally presumes that no matter what, there will always be someone out there somewhere that is willing to buy.

There are many industries where these two mindsets meet and clash.  Ours is certainly one of them.  This difference was probably no better pronounced than in one particular situation we experienced at our company…

 

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There’s a reason our business cards look like this.

 

At one point we decided it might be in our best interest to draw upon some Chinese influences for our designs.  In order to research this and draw inspiration Vali read through a collection of Chinese horror stories by Pu Songlin entitled Tales from a Chinese Studio.  Many of the stories in the book focused on Fox Spirits.  These cunning creatures were known for taking the form of a woman, seducing a man, and then slowly draining the life force out of him.

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Vali: “In other words, a woman.”

Given this was a common theme and had potential, our cartoonist quickly jumped on the concept and produced this design:

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As a westerner closely involved in the project I’m very fond of this design, but as a business person I felt that it was time to poll the audience.  I kindly asked him to get some feedback from some of our contacts.  Some of you recall however that saying the word “feedback” to an artist is often like saying “bath” to a dog.  Though I’ve come to find it’s not really that, it’s that artists have a different feedback system.  They want artists’ feedback, not consumers’ feedback.  I digress, after few days he came back and told me he had asked some 6 people, and they all told him that they liked it a lot, and that they couldn’t hide the expression on their faces just how much they liked it! The seventh person however, who happened to be a very good friend of ours disagreed, she told him that Chinese typically don’t envision fox spirits in this way.

He rode off the comment, citing this particular friend’s frequent negativity.

So we disregarded the one negative review out of seven, and almost went on to place the first sample order.  The night before, I got a gut feeling that maybe I should run the design by some of my other Chinese friends.  I showed it to two people, both of which said the same thing, “This is not something that Chinese people will understand.  It’s a cultural difference in perception, to us the fox is a bit scary, the colors are wrong.”  In other words, they won’t wear it. My artist was trying so hard to explain to me that this is art: some will see and not understand, while some will see and love it.  The most important thing is that is okay with the design.  As a business person I was struggling to explain that this is not art, this is business.  If we were to make any money from anything, our designs need to be appealing to our customers, and the best way to find that out is to poll the audience.

It doesn’t help that Vali is a life-long skate punk, or that he may well be an eccentric genius.  He’s an iconoclast by nature, show him something done a certain way only for the sake of tradition and he’s prone to fly at it like an Angry Bird gunning for a green pig. 

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You could say he flies in the face of tradition

 

Naturally he also questioned the relevancy of my people’s comments. Frustrated I suggested that we put the design on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) and see what the people out there thought about it. These were random people, so if their comments tipped in my favor he said he would consider changing the fox spirit design.  Naturally I won, and naturally he has yet to revisit the concept.

 

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It’s a Pyrrhic victory.

 

I was hoping that he would learn a lesson from what happened. If we want to become a brand, then we have to stop being only product focused and listen to what our target customers like.  People are very willing to give us their opinion, we just have to listen carefully.  My artist however is still an obnoxious little nuisance, but at least I learned a lesson.  I realized that I didn’t need to search for some mysterious arcane business knowledge, or ask seasoned business gurus what to do to succeed.  I realized that I only needed to listen to my customers and do what they told me.  Very soon, we saw the benefits from it.

 

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How to Train Your Artist! A handling and obedience manual for all managers! (Part 1)

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In this week’s blog we’ll discuss some of the techniques and tricks for training and working with artists.  Having an artist can be a fun and rewarding experience.  If not handled in a stern but caring manner however, you might find yourself in a world of trouble, heartache, and frustration.

There are many varieties of artist, but for the purposes of this manual I will be discussing my breed: the short-haired English-American Cartoonist (referred hereafter as short haired EAC).   I will use this post to discuss the characteristics of this peculiar breed and then move on to more general training trips next week.

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           Let’s get this blog on the road!

The short-haired English-American Cartoonist    

Breed Characteristics

The short-haired English-American cartoonist (EAC) is a clever, creative, talented, lively, affectionate, romantic, proud, brave, amusing, merry, devoted and loving cartoonist with a well rounded sense of humor. They are spirited and obedient, careful and amusing, and like many artists enjoy escapist activities such as video games.  Like all cartoonists, they are half-artist, half-writer.  Due to the trans-Atlantic nature of the breed, EACs travel well. Devoted to their sketch books and lampooning everything they disagree with, they can be slightly difficult to train and housebreak, but not impossible.

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Be nice to me and play with me, otherwise I tear up your stuff and doodle everywhere!

Temperament

This breed is highly intelligent; if you let them take an inch, they can become willful and determined to take a mile. This little cartoonist needs a practical Project Manager (PM) who understands how to be his pack leader.  He needs to be given rules to follow, and limitations as to what he is and is not allowed to do. Do not let this little cartoonist fall into Commercial Artist Syndrome, or else he may begin to believe he is pack in charge.  If you allow this he will take over the business and begin to run the company into the ground with his artistic perfectionism and obscure references that no one else would possibly understand. Cartoonists that are allowed to take over will display many behavior problems, such as, but not limited to, unmet deadlines, large amounts of in-stock product, financial debts, excessive drinking, pencil shavings strewn across the floor, and maniacal laughter at their own jokes. This breed is highly trainable and is able to perform many impressive tricks.  However, if you do not show authority toward the cartoonist, it will be resistant to training.  EACs  are usually only recommended for experienced, well-mannered administrators, simply because most PMs do not display proper pack leadership with artists. Handlers need to be as strong-willed as the cartoonist otherwise this little guy will take over.  If not guided properly the EAC may show moderate to severe protectiveness over their work, a behavior that can only change if the PM offers stern management laced with an even amount of praise and encouragement. When an EAC is shown good leadership, they can get along famously with Project Managers.  With the right owner an EAC can really excel.  Short-haired English- American Cartoonists that have solid business leadership, along with well-placed praise and appreciation are wonderful companions with excellent temperaments.

Health Problems:

Short-hair EMC are an overall healthy breed, but have a tendency to become overweight and lazy if not made to exercise regularly. (They have a penchant for drinking heavily in the studio when no one sees them – this is a serious health risk)  Contrary to how many EACs behave, they are not, in fact “Allergic to Responsibility”.  Be forceful and persistent when giving out tasks.  They should be discouraged from multitasking however, as they are prone to nervous breakdown.

Living Conditions:

Good for apartment living. They are fairly active indoors and will do okay without a yard. They need to get out of the house daily. However, don’t put them in office cubicles or 9-5 jobs! They heavily dislike meeting rooms, and are known to doodle if they have to be there for longer than an hour.

Exercise:

Like most artists, EACs enjoy sessions of play in a pub or other environment with alcohol.  They are prone to restlessness and may become destructive if they do not receive enough exercise or activities to occupy their keen mind.  EAC’s that are mentally stable, with all of their artistic instincts met, will not display these negative behaviors.

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            Oh yeah, that’s the stuff!

Life Expectancy:

40  – 90 years, depending on how angry  he makes me.

Stay tuned for Part Two: ” The Do’s and Don’ts for training your artist.”  (coming later this week )

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A Reluctant Entrepreneur

Kat was on the other side of the bar.  She smiled as she engaged herself in conversation with the others gathered there.  I vigorously shook the cocktail shaker.  The sound of ice hitting metal rang out across the small bar; all heads turned toward me with alacrity normally reserved for gunshots.  I strained the shaker’s colourful contents into the glass.  While all other eyes were mesmerized by the dance of the alcohol as it sashayed into the glass, Kat’s eyes were on me.  This was the fifth original cocktail I had created with the intent to give to the proprietor for free, and though she was still smiling, the glimmer in her eyes belied her thoughts.  It said, “By Gods are you going to hear it later.”

evil eyes  A hundred of these couldn’t save me

I did.

It was a tirade I had heard before, “Why don’t you sell X skill instead of giving it away?!”  Yet another in a series of individuals very upset with me, quite possibly because they had read far too much Rand and not enough Rousseau.  This time it was different though.  This time it was coming from her.  My best friend, this impatient, driven woman who at the same time is quite possibly the most understanding and loving person I have ever met.  Though in not so few words, the base question was this: “Why aren’t you using your talent to make sure both of us have a better life?”  Many people had argued that I capitalize on my skills before, but not until now had I heard it and interpreted it like this.

white-golden-retriever-puppy-53914-mMaybe it was because she used those sad puppy dog eyes.

               Helen had a face that could launch a thousand ships, but only Katerina can make a hard-core anarchist consider starting a business.

I am burdened by many knowledges and skills.  In thirty years’ time I have experienced and been exposed to more than some people venture to deal with over the course of their lives (I’m also very humble).  I have lived abroad on multiple occasions; seen at least 35 of the contiguous US states; speak English, Mandarin Chinese, and French, along with a smattering of Ancient Greek and Macedonian (thanks Kat!); I can play three musical instruments; am incredibly well read by English language standards; have engaged myself in multiple sciences from an early age, starting with Geology and moving on to Biology, then to Developmental Neuropsychology and Linguistics.  I am well versed in history and folklore.  My family history is well known to me and I can trace some branches back to somewhere around 900 AD.  I have managed a band, know both fencing and archery, and have taught myself to use numerous production soft-wares starting from the Adobe Suite, and ranging on into music production programmes, and even into 3d rendering and animation.  My father was a computer programmer and I have been able to punch in basic code since I was five.  I know exactly how your phone works.  I spent close to 6 months in Iraq helping Special Forces track down terrorists that I suspect to this day were more than likely innocent.  I have logged over 200 hundred flight hours as military aircrew, an experience which only reaffirmed my positions that 1) There is no such thing as benevolent government, and 2) as a person brought up in a more-or-less English household, I do not belong in the US.  I digress.  I can cook very well (Cajun is my specialty), and I may have forgotten more cocktails than some bartenders ever learn over the course of their careers.  I can, and have brewed as well.  I have lit a fire on a frozen lake in the middle of winter and kept it going for nearly 20 minutes.  I have learned that I am handy with a rifle, but dangerous with a pistol.  At one point in my life I was also an ordained minister in my faith (hyperlink here).  Once I even managed to watch the Star Wars Prequels without wanting to kill Jar Jar Binks.

jar jarOkay, that last one was a lie. Let’s get that bastard.

        As crazy as all this may sound, it’s all true.  I’ve done all of this and more (except for the Jar-Jar thing).  There is only one thing I’ve consistently wanted to do with my life however, and that is draw cartoons.  I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was six and it has never left me.  I am fascinated by cartoons and animation.  They consume me.  When I was eight, my biological clock was attuned to the time that Inspector Gadget came on.

gadgetGo, Go Gadget Obsession!

So when the message that I should finally try to capitalize on all these experience finally reached me after Kat’s berratio….speech, it was only natural that I place the focus on cartoons.  I wasn’t ready for animation, but I could draw a single shot cartoon like nobody’s business.

Hell-Far-Side-2Except for Gary Larson, that was his business.

I had many friends suggest prior to Kat’s plea that I use my cartooning skills to make shirts, but it had little appeal to me until she said it.  Money had no appeal to me, until she said it.  Because she to me, is the best friend that little boy who spent his life moving around always wanted, the friend you get to keep.  That is worth all the money in the world.  Let’s start a T-shirt company.

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Yes, but Why T-shirts?

Vali was behind the bar.  He had just poured out a fifth original cocktail and once again, everyone was in awe.  He was able to instantly think up five, unique, mind-blowing cocktail recipes, and he just gave them to the owner… for free.

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Pictured: money he’s missing out on.

The question kept running through my mind, “When will he stop giving out his unique  talents and skills as if they were something that everyone else on earth possessed?”  cartoons_superheroe

      He was going to add more detail, but I yelled at him to stop fooling around and get some real work done.

The thought that the man of my life possessed such unique talents, but still seemed so devoid of ambition frustrated the hell out of me. This time I told him “You must wake up and do something with your potential, instead of giving it away for free!”  I laughingly went on ; “If you don’t I will capitalize on each and every of your talents, and turn you into my personal ATM!”

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                                    Or you could say: “My Money Cow”

A few days later, he told me that he was thinking to turn his cartooning skills toward making a unique T-shirt brand and thereby achieve global domination. buy my T-shirts                                          I guess he pictured it like this.

I felt relieved, it sounded a little crazy (especially that part about the T-shirts), but he had finally started thinking about business. I liked the idea a lot and told him that I was willing to give him my support (I’ve regretted saying this many times since).  In my mind we are the “perfect match”  he is a very creative artist, and I know how to exploit him.   I digress, we complement each others’ skills well.  His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.   I lose my patience, he finds it.  He loses his keys, I find them.  I’m insanely practical, he’s practically insane.  It works.

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                             Besides, someone’s gotta open those pickles.

Yet another one of my goals which I will touch on in depth later is to move into consulting.  What I felt I lacked however was some business experience and personal success. Naturally, I thought that if I can manage our T-shirt brand and make it famous, then the people will take notice and trust me – that’s the best advertising I could ever get.

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          That or some of that sweet, sweet Moon advertising space.

All these years of endless frustration resulting from working for Chinese companies that were preaching professionalism, but in reality showed none. Companies where nobody cared about the personal and professional development of the employees, put an idea into my head.   We started  a T-shirt business for our first entrepreneurship effort, with a great vision to create a fun brand and making a name for ourselves in China,  and giving others the opportunity to join in on the fun. I  wanted to set an example in management for young people to learn by. I want to  motivate and help them to realize their own potential independent from the trap that is the modern corporate world. What if I could build my perfect company? What if I could create a place where employees will learn and develop, and be motivated to work?   I already had the perfect test subject, but getting my fiancé to cooperate was more of a chore than I bargained for….

stubborn_mule

                                             “Hi, I’m your new cartoonist!”

Next week:  How to Train Your Artist!  A handling and obedience manual for all managers!

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