Today, January 27th, marks the one year anniversary of my original Shark Tank airing. One year ago I huddled in my living room with a very small group of family members… my wife and kids, my parents, and my sister’s family… and watched myself cut a deal with Mark Cuban for a piece of my stick figure cat drawing company on national TV. Anyone who knows me is undoubtedly sick of this story by now. I’ve written about it on every conceivable anniversary… the anniversary of my taping, new year’s, etc. And every time I write about it, I pretty much say the same stuff. So bear with me while I do it again. Every stab at putting this experience into words is just a way for me to try and process one of the most disruptive experiences of my life. The past 365 days have been the most physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing of my existence. So that warrants a melodramatic blog post or twelve…
One of the things I’m most proud of is how I kept the outcome of my taping secret from my family in the months between taping and airing. I had actually taped my segment in early September, 2011. The 5 months between was so painful. It was like an epic game of capture the flag. I had crept behind enemy lines, snagged the booty, and had to sit on it for months on end. It was hard to think of anything but Shark Tank in those awful months. My deal had closed pretty early, and I was given assurances that my episode would likely air. But the company line from casting to taping was always that your appearance on Shark Tank wasn’t final until you saw it on TV with your own eyes. There was no guarantee I’d be scheduled. When producer Clay Newbill called me with my airdate in December, I was over the moon. And when I was given the okay to tell people I would be on the show from the Sony PR rep, I was finally able to breathe again. But the outcome of my episode was shared only with a handful of people.
That night was pretty crazy. I had an appearance on the local ABC news in the morning, then took the afternoon off to sit with John Williams on his WGN radio show. I spent the rest of the day leading up to the airing compulsively testing my web site, doing what I could to make sure it would be able to handle the onslaught of traffic Shark Tank was sure to generate. In fact, as the clip aired I was barely watching the screen. I was sitting there with my laptop and iPad watching Google Analytics real-time data. I had forgotten that I was one of two people in the room that knew what was about to happen – when I made the deal with Cuban on TV, the room exploded as my family reacted. The shouts and screams caught me off-guard, and my body froze up. Then I felt my thigh vibrating madly – my phone started buzzing as the text messages, Facebook messages, Tweets, and emails started pouring in. For a communication nut like myself, there is nothing so exhilarating as a phone that will not stop buzzing, and an unending stream of message notifications.
The orders came in slow that night, but picked up speed the next day and the following week. Soon I found myself with a backlog of about 1,300 cat drawings. My queue has not reached zero in the year since my episode has aired. Right now it stands at 170. It has gone up and down with re-runs and holidays. I don’t think it has dipped below 100 yet.
Like nothing before it, this has consumed my life for the last year. I took a week off after my airing, but have kept my day job. Drawing cats has at times been a 2nd full-time job, as is dealing with the emails, opportunities, and website. In that year I also squeezed in the birth of my third child Oliver, and a move to a new house. For most of the year I kept a desk at a coLab near my apartment, and for the last couple of months my office has been in my home. Working into the wee hours of the night is the new normal. Digging myself out from the crushing weight of many responsibilities is my new hobby.
But I won’t complain. I brought this all upon myself, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I’ve learned one thing this past year, it’s that when I am passionate about something I will work pretty hard. This past year has been riddled with successes and failures. It has been a time of amazing self confidence and relentless self doubt.
I can offer this nugget about the experience of making a deal with Mark Cuban:
When I walked back up the hallway and out of the tank, I felt as if I had won the lottery. When I called Becky from the hotel room, I even told her I thought I had been “made.” Part of this last year has been spent mentally closing the gap between reality and reality television. If I’ve won anything, it’s another job. One that I have to work hard at or it will disappear. I won the “work your ass off and see your family less” lottery. One of the main sources of stress post Shark Tank is the feeling that I’ve been handed a golden opportunity that can lead to unspeakable wealth and happiness… so long as I don’t fuck things up. It’s hard not to extrapolate a deal with Billionaire Mark Cuban into thoughts of bulging bank accounts. Sitting here, a year later, with no million dollar bill to speak of… it’s hard not to assume I’ve taken wrong turns.
How long can I stretch myself to the limit in pursuit of something fantastic? Yet, how can I afford not to ride this wave until I’ve exhausted every single splinter of opportunity?
It’s heady shit.
Right up to the second my episode aired, my expectations were all over the place. I had no idea what the response would be to my segment. Would I sell 10 cat drawings? 100? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? Each scenario was equally possible. This was absolutely new ground for me. Imagine being that uncertain about the scale of your future.
I have sold about 10,000 stick figure cat drawings in the year since my episode aired. And some t-shirts. And some buttons. And some stickers. I have about 200 members of my monthly cat drawing club, 15,000 Facebook likes, 15,000 mailing list members, 6,000 Twitter followers, and sell between 5 and 100 custom cat drawings per day. I try to pump out about 150-200 drawings each week. I employ one person to help prep drawings for shipment, and my parents fold, stuff, and mail every single piece of art. My friend Erica helps field my customer service emails. I still draw every single cat myself and handle my social media and website coding. This is not big enough to be the job that keeps my family fed and in a house. But it’s certainly not small enough to write off as a hobby, or to let “run its course” to the Blewt! project graveyard.
After one tumultuous year I’m pretty much back where I started. I’m still terrible at the business side of running a business. I’ve got the people part and the marketing part down pat… and my cat drawing skills have almost grown to the point of making this an un-ironic project. Seriously… the biggest surprise to come out of this is that now I can actually draw cats pretty well. I still can’t draw horses or bicycles for crap, but I’m your go-to guy for stick figure cat art. And that’s what the Internet runs on, man!
So now the question becomes how long before IWantToDrawACatForYou.com runs it course? Does it blossom into a lifestyle brand, a la Life Is Good, and become the bread that feeds generations of little Gadlins? Or does it fizzle out quickly and become just another one of my crazy stories? I expected to know the answer to that question by today, one year into this grand experiment. But while I may be one year older and one year wiser, I’m still a little lost at sea.