Hey, I'm Matt. I run a startup children's toy company called Zylie, and live in New York City.
Adventures in Making
At the moment I make kids' toys in NYC.
Solve for the Unknown
Shower thought: everyone encounters two kinds of variables, constants and unknowns. Constants cannot change, but can be used to solve for the unknowns. When a situation has reached a point where you can’t go back and change anything else and all you’re doing is rehashing ways you could have done better, it’s time to accept that variable as a constant, place it in the right spot in the equation, and focus on how that gets you closer to solving the larger problem.
Not that learning from your mistakes should be overlooked. But in the heat of things, I’ve learned, it’s more prudent to focus your energy on solving for the next—usually bigger—variable, and hopefully solving that equation and putting it to bed. There will always be more variables and more equations, with endless unknowns, so making sure you’re focusing on the right things and not dwelling on the wrong things is super important. It’s super difficult too, because it’s natural to say “what went wrong?” But there will be time for that when the dust settles (I hope), and plowing ahead in search of more answers and solutions is much more crucial.
"Bill: You gotta commit. You’ve gotta go out there and improvise and you’ve gotta be completely unafraid to die. You’ve got to be able to take a chance to die. And you have to die lots. You have to die all the time. You’re goin’ out there with just a whisper of an idea. The fear will make you clench up. That’s the fear of dying. When you start and the first few lines don’t grab and people are going like, “What’s this? I’m not laughing and I’m not interested,” then you just put your arms out like this and open way up and that allows your stuff to go out. Otherwise it’s just stuck inside you."
In early 1962, The Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein—who had “discovered” the boys the previous November at a lunchtime performance (I can’t believe that was a thing) at the Cavern Club—got them an audition for Decca Records, and they were promptly turned down. Shortly after, they got in front of George Martin, who was famously unimpressed, particularly with their original drummer Pete Best. Amidst all of this, the original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage.
That’s some serious turmoil and disappointment for the biggest rock & roll group of all time. And time moved quickly for them, but it wasn’t always up and to the right. Even The Beatles had to adapt, tweak, and change things. They had to overcome obstacles. They had to bring in Ringo, and get George Martin to at least say “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Success isn’t imminent, it’s earned. Even if you’re The Beatles.
"There’s an idea in the science-fiction community called steam-engine time, which is what people call it when suddenly twenty or thirty different writers produce stories about the same idea. It’s called steam-engine time because nobody knows why the steam engine happened when it did. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors. It just never occurred to them to do it."
New as a marketing tool isn’t really, authentically “new,” its a manufactured new. It’s a carefully planned and controlled launch to capitalize on the emotional response to hearing about something before anyone else does, or trying to catch up if you were late to the party. But that feeling only lasts a short while, which means the marketers have to really blast out of the gates to make it work. And in a world where there is so much other “new” stuff going on, it’s getting harder and harder to command that attention. (Its a natural human response to be taken with something new, we do it every day. Try a new app, and promise yourself “I’m going to use this every day”…but 2 weeks into it, you taper off. This blog is a perfect example, if you look at the frequency of posts from when I started to now, it maps that attention deficit perfectly.)
New also benefits from control, if you can control the release so the emotional response only has one outlet—you pulling out your wallet—then you’ve done your job as a new marketer. But if I as a consumer can have even a little convenience, that means others can too, which eliminates that rush to be first in line, or the fear of missing out.
Decentralization has been the enemy of the old guard forever. Whether its the VHS format or the Internet, as soon as people don’t have to wait in a line around the corner you’ve lost. Unless you’re Apple, and you’re incredibly good at building up a launch, then controlling supply and release perfectly to maintain that frenzy. But Apple uses all of those tactics to deliver a GREAT product, so there’s a hype of anticipation rather than participation. And given no one is Apple except Apple, the rest of the business world is grasping at maintaining “new” stuff.
We see it as a toy company more than most. The big players LOVE new, until it’s old. Tickle me Elmo, Furby, silly bands. It’s a well timed build up, it’s hyped, supply is controlled and a frenzy occurs. It gets free press, stores sell out and have room for the next “new” thing coming down the pipe. I think that’s just about the most wasteful model in marketing. And thank goodness the Internet is starting to disrupt it, because it wastes money, time and energy on irrelevant garbage that is designed to be discarded come January. What decentralization has done is turn the focus back to the product, and its long term value. The industry is still largely hit-driven, but there has been more emphasis on whether or not the product will continue to be interesting after the infatuation has worn off. That’s what we try to do here at Zylie, is focus on how to build ON the value, not replace it with another meaningless trinket. For Zylie, that means more stories, more friends, more experiences and more things to connect children to the adventure. For the kids who already have Zylie, we hear from their parents that we’re hitting that mark. But we’re always looking to improve it, and raise the bar. People should expect more from a product, and we expect more from ourselves.
And so it is with luck - unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.
My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
Read this AMA earlier this morning, was completely blown away not just by the fact that Louis edits his own episodes on a Macbook by himself, but how open and honest and freaking awesome the guy is in general. He answered 50+ questions in a few hours, remembered PA’s from sets he’d done years ago in Canada, answered deep questions about the nature of learning, and still managed to be absolutely hilarious. The guy is a legend. Read the whole AMA exchange here: link
Betabeat has a surprisingly good article this morning about the realities of what people are deeming “startup depression.” Foster Kramer interviews YouAre.tv’s Josh Weinstein on his 25th birthday about how people deal with it and the stigma that surrounds it. I’ve mentioned before that I think there needs to be more realism in the “startup” conversation, that this “we’re going gangbusters all the time” facade is unhealthy both for those inside and outside the looking glass. For those inside, it creates an unrealistic bar that you measure yourself against 100% of the time. If you’re not winning at everything, if your numbers aren’t doubling every week, if VC’s aren’t banging down your door, if Google isn’t sending you truffles to coax an acquisition, then you’re not doing it right. Starting something requires ridiculous optimism and nearly insane positivity, but there are times when that runs out and the roller coaster hits a trough. And in those moments, you don’t want to pretend like everything’s peachy keen, you want support. And that’s what a community is for.
For those outside looking in, this mentality distorts the game. People freaked out over how Bloomberg misrepresented the hell out of the Techstars incubator program in their reality show, but this does the same thing, and sometimes there are real consequences. It’s important to exhibit the difficulties of the slog, because that’s a MAJOR part of it. Like Edison said, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But it is getting better, stories like Sugru’s are cropping up more and more, and that’s a great thing.
I’d encourage you to read the BetaBeat interview, which was conducted in General Assembly (naturally). It’s still early for a discussion at Hacker News, but I’m sure one will brew up shortly.
"It does fit into my view. Our first shareholder letter, in 1997, was entitled, “It’s all about the long term.” If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details."
This is Dave Grohl at the Foo Fighters show last night at MSG. Dave started the concert off with a message to all of us audience members: “Get comfortable, we’ve got a lot of songs we want to play for you.” Everyone went nuts upon hearing that they would be playing well over 3 hours of music. And they did. And not a second of it was boring. And they even played some of their most popular songs in the first 40 minutes, leaving us to wonder how they could possibly keep the energy up throughout. But they did, because Dave and his band have been doing it for 17 years. And for 17 years they’ve delivered consistently great music and great performances. Dave is a master, not only can he play the drums, guitar, sing and produce with a wide range of genres and artists, he knows the power of lasting value. He refuses to let up, and drift into a greatest hits era. His audience is mixed with olds and new fans alike, everyone is there from a different entry point, and everyone is psyched because it’s all good. If companies thought with this kind of mentality, if everyone focused this much on the long-term plan, the world would be a better place. Dave wouldn’t worry about hitting the next quarter’s estimates, he’s worried about his customers, that’s it. Everything else falls into place. The Foo Fighters are an amazing band, for more reasons than their music. There’s a lesson to be learned there, but first, listen to their music. Because it is really, really good.