I can’t tell you how excited I was to be tagged in this Tweet from the one and only Richard Simmons!
— Richard Simmons (@TheWeightSaint) April 13, 2014
I can’t tell you how excited I was to be tagged in this Tweet from the one and only Richard Simmons!
— Richard Simmons (@TheWeightSaint) April 13, 2014
I suppose this is fitting. Since I’m pretty much the Michael Jordan of stick figure cat drawing, how long could my retirement last?
The last couple of months have been great. I’ve spent some excellent quality time with my family, and have nursed a few other creative projects as well. But now it’s time for me to take those dusty Sharpies off the wall and get back to doing what I do best. To paraphrase “Rowdy” Roddy Piper from the cinema classic They Live, “I’m here to draw cats and chew bubble gum. And I’m all out of bubble gum.”
There’s nothing quite like a hiatus to give you renewed focus and energy around a project. And now that I know which pitfalls led to my burnout, hopefully I’ll be a bit better equipped to navigate the next thousand drawings or so. Besides – I’m a bit too OCD to let a project stop after drawing 16,237 of anything. This cat drawing guy needs a nice round number before I can pack it in again.
I’m back in the game. I’m going to admit that the business side of this project really crushed me. Running a business is not my expertise. So this time around I hope to treat it like more of a personal adventure, and remember that it’s the connection with YOU that makes this so awesome and fulfilling. I like drawing cats for people. It’s a form of expression and connection that I feel is valid and important. As weird as it is, it’s an extension of who I am as a person, and it didn’t feel natural to put it to bed.
So hey, fella or gal…
The time has come to hang up my Sharpies for a spell and put cat drawing to an end (for a bit?). On January 17th I’ll be taking my last orders for custom cat drawings. For now.
Why January 17th? I came up with the date about a month ago. I took to Twitter and asked for a random number between 1 and 31. The first response was 17. Retirement… crowdsourced! Whoopy!
This was originally going to be a permanent retirement. But as the 17th has approached, my feelings on the whole thing have softened a bit. So let’s not call this a retirement. Let’s call it a temporary hiatus.
As glamorous and profitable as it may look on TV, Facebook, and Twitter, being a Cat Drawing Guy is a lot of hard work. After hustling and burning the midnight oil on this for a few years now, I’m ready to be a little selfish with my free time. I’ve maintained a full time job through all of this, and my third kid was born just a couple of months after my original Shark Tank airing. When things are humming, there’s no way to serve all of my responsibilities without going a little crazy.
This isn’t a complaint, and this isn’t quitting. I’ve loved the challenges, opportunities, and friendships that have grown out of this silly social experiment. But it was never my goal to become the Cat Drawing Guy full time. I’m a serial creative. I like to make things. Lots of things. In addition to some extra family time, I hope to spend more time on a slew of other creative projects. This will be a very busy year for a project that’s very close to me, a TV homage to cable access shows of the 1980′s, Steve Gadlin’s Star Makers.
I’m not sure when I’ll pick up my markers again. I’m sure I’ll wake up one morning itching to draw cats again, and I’ll quietly start taking orders again. If that’s something you’re interested in, I encourage you to follow me on Facebook or Twitter, where I’m likely to make such an announcement.
When I started I Want To Draw a Cat For You! I never dreamed it would explode the way it did. I have always taken pride in how it grew from a small social experiment into a legitimate business with a bona fide billionaire investor. There are a lot of new pressures that come along with that success that I wasn’t prepared for. I take absolutely no shame in admitting that.
I’m re-energizing myself by returning to the root of it all – my passion for creating art and experiences that delight and confuse. Hopefully you’ll join me. And if not, you’ve got until the 17th to get your cat orders in.
When I started my stick figure cat drawing company, I never expected to draw 13,000+ cats. I remember celebrating my thousandth cat drawing. Little did I know things were just getting started. Once my Shark Tank appearance aired and drawing hundreds of cats each week became a “normal” part of my life, the numbers in the lower left corner of each drawing stopped surprising me. While every request has been pretty unique, there are types of cats I’m asked to draw all the time. I’ve drawn many birthday cats, anniversary cats, graduation cats, and cats riding unicorns. One of the true joys of this project has been to see how people use my drawings. Here are five types of cat drawings I never expected to draw.
The “I Quit” Cat
While making elaborate dance videos or bringing in a marching band seems to be the hip way to leave a job nowadays, it was truly an honor to let my Sharpies do the talking for one recent customer. I have to imagine that delivering the message via stick figure cat drawing had to soften the blow for her boss a bit. And at least now he has an original piece of art he can hang on the wall to remember her by!
The “Honey, I’m Pregnant” Cat
Yes, believe it or not, a handful of women have used my stick figure cat drawings to let their husbands know that they were pregnant. Holy cats! I even had one woman email me every week while she and her husband were “trying” so she could properly time the cat drawing message.
The “Will You Marry Me?” Cat
Proposal cats are a phenomenon that delights me to no end. I’ve helped about 10 couples begin their engagements. I bet every single one of those marriages is going to last. And to this day, not one potential bride has said “no” when proposed to with one of my stick figure cats. It’s a surefire way to get that yes, gents! Some of my “cat drawing couples” have been kind enough to send me photos of the happy moment. Check out the gallery here!
The “It’s Over” Cat
On the flip side, I’ve also helped end a handful of relationships with break-up cat drawings. I suppose if I’m going to be spawning eternal bliss through marriage, it’s only fair that my drawings deliver the bad news as well.
The “I’m Sorry” Cat
I love drawing apology cats. Mostly because it’s fun to imagine what terrible things people did in the first place.
The wonderful thing about being the cat drawing guy is that I know the orders I get will continue to surprise me. I invite everyone to use my almost supernatural cat drawing skillz to deliver a message to your friends and family members. The sky’s the limit – no message is to small or too large to be accurately conveyed through my photorealistic stick figure cat art!
Here’s to another 13,000 surprises.
Some days I’m feeling a little mischievous. This short conversation actually brought me to tears with laughter. Catharsis comes in really strange places.
Can you believe that the Harry Potter book series is ONE YEAR OLD today??
— Steve (@CatDrawingGuy) August 1, 2013
@CatDrawingGuy much older than 1 year bro
— Subtext (@subtext_uk) August 1, 2013
— Steve (@CatDrawingGuy) August 1, 2013
It’s not my birthday. It’s not even my half birthday. But for some reason I saw my age on a sheet of paper yesterday and had a bit of a panic. I’m 37 years old. And on my best days… my best days… my maturity level rides at about a 27. I’m not trying to make some trite point here. Yes, we all know that time flies, and I’m hardly the first person to turn around and wonder where those last ten years went. Maybe it’s a product of being a younger sibling that I walk around assuming everyone around me is older than me. Some days I have to almost audibly remind myself that I’m a 37-year old guy with a whole lotta brains, and need to start wielding that age with some authority. So if you see ol’ Steve waving a big stick around, that’s why.
Several months ago through a fortuitous connection I was able to sit down with the president and creative director of Recycled Paper Greetings, a subsidiary of American Greetings. I was there to pitch IWTDACFY as a line of greeting cards. The meeting went very well, and they teased me with visions of end caps at Target featuring my cards and other merchandise. A few weeks later we set up a second meeting, and I was tasked with refining my collection. The next step was going to be test marketing in a small selection of Target stores around the country.
After a few weeks of sitting on my designs, the brush-off came by way of email. I had let my imagination get carried away, so the short email that squashed this dream was a little tough. That it came on day one of a family vacation made it even worse, as I then had a whole week of downtime to spend thinking about it. Had you asked me a week earlier, I would have told you that I was incredibly confident that my brand would soon be found in every Target store around the country.
I’ve spent my adult existence wooing the curators. Every benchmark of my success is carefully guarded by people whose job it is to open and close doors for the people they deem worthy. I’m always a curator’s nod away from all sorts of mad success, and no matter how much I believe in my product, my stick figure cats, my game show concepts, my documentary ideas – there’s usually a single curator that stands between me and the mass distribution channel I desire.
Thankfully there’s some success to be had with self publishing. But producing my game show pilot on a $6,000 budget and airing on a local station is no match for having Comedy Central put $50,000 into it and airing it on national TV. Using Moo.com to self publish my own line of greeting cards is swell, but it’s a far cry from having someone else do all the work and putting my drawings on shelves in 1,800 Target stores around the country.
So as is my way, I spent a lot of time thinking about this latest rejection, and how I could spin it around into a success story. But as my Shark Tank episode quickly becomes “that funny clip from a few seasons ago” and interest in stick figure cat drawing is at an all time low, the question that kept ringing in the back of my skull was, “is this thing over?”
When I launched this project, I never expected it to run into a legitimate business. And after Groupon and Shark Tank turned it into a “thing,” I always wanted to be the first person to know when it was over. I did not want to be the guy that drew cats for people long after it was cool. But when something is the defining nib of your existence for two years, rational perspective becomes a slippery eel.
I have no answers yet. This will play out in one of three ways. I’ll pick a nice round number and stop drawing cats when I hit it. Or I’ll just let it fizzle and become a shrinking hobby. Or one day I’ll just collapse from exhaustion over my Sharpies, refund a bunch of money, and become the J.D. Salinger / Rick Moranis / Bill Watterson of the custom stick figure cat drawing world.
I say all this, yet I’m just beginning to dabble with custom 3D cat figurines, have an iPhone app launching very soon, and will be self publishing my own line of greeting cards (because they’re good, damn it!). Sometimes the threat of an ending is enough to kick me into creation overdrive.
The unrest that comes with this lull – it’s a familiar feeling. It’s the primordial soup from which all of my most exciting projects are born.
I always have a hard time sitting still while I wait for that lightning bolt of inspiration to strike.
For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of worms. I’m sure I’ve written about this many times in my life, but after my experience this morning I’m compelled to write about it again.
My fear of worms transcends your run of the mill fear. I’m not afraid of worms in the way I’m afraid of monsters, death, or the dentist. This fear, when confronted, has tangible and immediate physical effect.
When I see a worm, I get a pit in my stomach and my legs go numb in the thighs. It doesn’t last very long - just a quick second or two. It gives me just enough time to look like a frozen idiot before I idiotically leap to the side.
This doesn’t happen when I see a photograph of a worm or a video of a worm. And my body is smart enough to know that colorful gummy worms pose no threat. But when I see the real thing on a sidewalk, my brain and body just go crazy nutso.
At 37, I’m still clueless as to the origins of this fear. I have no terrifying worm stories from my childhood. There have been no worm-related injuries or deaths in my life. I can only guess it’s some evolutionary response back from prehistoric times, when worms were 50-feet long and ate people.
I know that I am faster than a worm, and I know that I could probably best most worms in hand to hand combat. I know that worms do not squirt poison, and I know that worms will not attack, even when provoked. I know that if you stripped me naked and coated my body head to toe in squiggly worms I would emerge from the experience without a nick. I am the first to admit that this is a completely irrational fear. Perhaps what’s most scary about it is that I have no rational control over my response.
This morning was pretty rough. I walk to the train every morning. The very last part of my walk involves traversing this long and narrow sidewalk:
This sidewalk is part of an incline up to the train platform – so once you start walking on it, there’s little escape other than pressing forward to the train, or turning around and walking back to street level.
I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but this morning this sidewalk was absolutely striped and dotted with dead and living worms. It was tortuous. I’m sure I looked like a fool as I hopped and skipped along. I was like an over-excited tightrope walker, tip-toeing from side to side, trying my best to keep my eyes focused straight ahead. “Don’t look down… don’t look down…”
But of course even looking straight ahead, I could see them basking all over the sidewalk. Most of them lying still, but enough of them moving slightly to induce downright panic.
It’s the way they move… the way their bodies seem to create and delete their own mass at will… that really makes me squirm. They seem to defy science and logic in the way they slide their terrible bodies across the sidewalk.
Though to look at how I skip and prance up the sidewalk with my half-numb legs, you’d probably come to the same conclusion about me.
I do not think I will ever get over this fear. It seems too sewn into my mental fabric. I’ve been able to make it this far without having to have any serious confrontations. When fishing, I’ve used hot dogs, bread, and minnows as bait. And somehow I was spared any science unit that required the dissection or handling of worms.
At some point I’m sure one of my kids will bring a worm into the house. Or maybe I’ll have to rescue one of them from a worm on the playground. I can only hope the other parents are far enough away to not see the embarrassing gymnastics my body goes through in my heroic act, and close enough to call 911 when I collapse to the ground.
Last year I spoke at Delight 2012 in Portland, Oregon. Below is a clip of a portion of my speech:
Read more about the event and see this clip in context on the Delight website!
I got an email yesterday from a guy who seemed very excited about my company. He was a big fan, and wanted to ask me a few questions. As I read through the questions, I realized this was just a clever sales pitch. His email slowly and skillfully morphed from a fan letter to a pitch for his social media and marketing skills. A few minutes later on Facebook, another Shark Tank entrepreneur complained of receiving the exact same email. Then another. And so on.
Since appearing on Shark Tank I’ve been assailed with every sort of sales pitch you can imagine. But the bulk of them center around this new service that seems to have sprung up sometime in the last 10 years… social media management. These people want money to take the social media burden off of your shoulders. They create schedules and plans and charts. They employ robots to take over your voice on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. They chart conversions and ROI and all sorts of complicated things that you, as a busy business owner, just couldn’t possibly have time for, right?!?!
I call bullshit. One of the worst tricks a small business owner can fall for is that they don’t have the time or wherewithal to represent themselves and their company on social media. And one of the quickest ways to cheapen and dilute a new and growing brand is to replace its heart (you) with a robot holding a schedule and a chart.
Social networking should exist as a natural extension of your business/product/brand. It should never be lumped in the category of advertising or PR. For both of those things, I highly recommend reaching out to outside agencies. But for social networking, your young business/product/brand is best served by letting your natural voice and natural schedule do the talking.
An example – this email I got yesterday mentioned my blog, and reminded me that I should really be blogging at least twice per week to maximize the time people spend on my sites. The solution, I assume, was hiring someone to create a stream of “relevant” content to post on a more regular basis. But in my mind, that goes counter to everything I should be trying to do. I post my blog on the I Want To Draw a Cat For You website because I feel the person drawing the cat is as important as the drawing itself. And I present this blog as a completely sincere and transparent look at the entire process. The minute I cheapen that by letting someone else blog in my voice, this whole piece becomes nothing more than an insincere marketing tool.
Social media professionals would have you believe that distinction is meaningless. Content is content. But the truth is content without heart and sincerity is not really content. It’s garbage. The internet is littered with it. And consumers… I mean people… see right through that. We all do. Don’t we? It’s all around us. We put up with it to a degree, but I’m not going to pay someone to add to that white noise on my behalf.
The same goes for how we approach Twitter and Facebook. Only have time to Tweet once every couple of weeks? Wonderful! That’s probably how often your customers and fans want to hear from you, anyway. We’ve all been guilty of Tweeting when we don’t really have anything to say. And when we do it, we look as stupid as the guy at the party who’s shouting when everyone else is using their indoor voice. Does your product/brand/service lend itself to more frequent Tweets and posts? Hooray! So long as the noise you spout comes from a sincere place, you’ll stand above the garbage.
Social media professionals want you to believe that you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to the social tools at your disposal. I would posit that if you can handle yourself at a cocktail party, then you DO know what you’re doing. As with most enterprises, it boils down to the advice your parents gave you when you were 5. Be yourself.
Forget the tricks, forget the schedules, forget the charts. Just speak from a place that is open, honest, and sincere – and then relish in the deep connections you’ll make with your customers.
That’s a shame, really, because these days being an entrepreneur is pretty sexy. It’s sort of the thing to be. And over the last year or so, I’ve been tricked into believing that I’m one of these things. But I’m not. And that’s actually pretty okay.
Oh, I’m a serial creator. I just can’t stop making things. But while an entrepreneur makes things to generate sales and profit, I’m just out to create head scratching moments. For instance, when I created the Timekeeper Willis Workout DVD, and the 1-hour film Silly Faces, it was not so I could become rich. It was so that thirty years from now, someone would find one of these relics sitting on a bookshelf, watch it, and marvel that such a thing was ever created. It was to create the puzzling and out-of-context found footage of my children’s children’s children’s generation.
When I comissioned a script from a Kenyan email scammer… when I convinced thirty people to lick pickles to silly music… when I had a group of friends fail at pranking people in jean shorts and blank ballcaps… when I tried to sell t-shirts with two movie titles on them… when I sat in study hall creating the anti-comic with a ball point pen and a stick figure cat… none of this stemmed from the motivation of an entrepreneur. All of it was born from the chronic illness of thinking up silly things, needing to make them real, and slurping up as much attention and validation as I could.
I am not an entrepreneur. I accidentally became one for a while, though, when I started a stick figure cat drawing company and took it to a show called Shark Tank. Shark Tank is a TV show for entrepreneurs. And when the king entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, invested in my company… I, too, became an entrepreneur. For a little while.
But after a year of wearing that mantle, I’m excited to take it off. It’s exhausting. How do I know I’m not an entrepreneur? Because I spent the last year surrounded by them. Talking to them. Listening to them. Trying to be like them. And holy balls if it ain’t crystal clear – I’m not one of them.
Oh, I will still be doing my best to “grow my brand” and sell a mess of stick figure cat drawings. You see, I really do like drawing cats for people – meaning I love growing my customer base, and making people happy or confused by doing what I do.
I create because I love to create. This one time I accidentally created a business. And that’s fine. But I’m not ready to run it like a business. For me, it’s a launch pad and an opportunity to make more people scratch more heads.
So please don’t call me an entrepreneur. It’s a fine thing to be, but it’s not who I am. There’s no better and faster way to make me tune out than to talk to me in entrepreneurisms.
There’s nothing more depressing than talking about the human experience and the user experience as if they are one and the same.
What drives me to create is no more or less pure than what drives the entrepreneur. My currency is attention, and the satisfaction of making something where there was nothing. And I’d say in that respect, I’m just as much a billionaire as Mark Cuban.