Vicky Tsai is the founder of Tatcha, a line of Japanese beauty and skincare products.
She might be the most unlikely origin story that we’ve heard about this month, because from the very beginning she was told by everyone there was zero market for her. In the U.S., American retailers claimed they had no demand for Asian beauty supplies, and even in Japan the products were viewed as old-fashioned, like something your grandmother would use. All she heard was NO.
Undeterred, she trusted what she had – a skin-care miracle called “blotting papers.” They’d been used for centuries by geishas in Japan to remove oil from their faces before and after putting on makeup, and all the geishas she’d met had flawless skin. She tried them herself after years of suffering from dermatitis – in just a few weeks of using them and some other related products, her face was healed. Once she ran out of her own supply, she searched everywhere and discovered that Kyoto was the only place where you could find them, and they had no interest in exporting them. Already under a mountain of personal debt, she sold her engagement ring to purchase 10,000 packs of blotting paper and the company was born.
For the next several years, the debt only got worse, and the “no’s” only got louder. Unable to afford rent, she was forced to run the company out of her parents’ garage, and repeatedly had to borrow money just to make payroll. Finally in 20217, her perseverance paid off – following years of growth that everyone had said would never happen, she sold the company to Unilever for a reported $500 million.
A few things I take away from Vicky’s story:
First, no matter what business you’re in, the name of the game is solving a problem. Whether it’s a problem you have (like Vicky’s dermatitis) or a problem you see for others, the biggest question is: what problem are you helping solve?
Second, don’t underestimate the power of learning from someone who’s different from you. Our own perspective inevitably will have blind spots – what if traveling to another country or listening to another point of view holds the missing piece to your puzzle? In Japan, it was an old-fashioned idea that nobody wanted, a gold mine hiding in plain sight that just needed a rebrand. Could the key to your dream be waiting in some other cultural context that you’ve never explored before?
My favorite part of all is just her refusal to take No for an answer. Even when the odds weren’t in her favor, she just kept showing up and finding a way forward. Part of me wonders if it all traces back to one of her first jobs working for Starbucks Corporate – at one point she was the lead on a massive initiative to launch Starbucks in China, pouring her soul into the job to ensure the campaign was a huge success. At the end of that year during her annual review, the VP gave her an evaluation of “Meets Expectations;” shortly after, she was like, “Nope, I’m out of here.” Like she already knew there was something more in her, no matter what negativity she heard from others.
I love the quote from Vincent Van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” As we wrap up this origin story series, what voices are you listening to? If you’re hearing a no to your dream, or if someone is looking at your best efforts and saying it “Meets Expectations,” I hope this is the year you go out there and prove them wrong.
David Anderson is the founder of Famous Dave’s, one of the largest BBQ chains in the U.S., with over 125 restaurants across the country.
Like many of the companies we’ve been examining this month, Dave’s origin story has a humble beginning. School was a struggle for him growing up – he was failing all his classes. Then a teacher came along and changed everything.
You would think that it was some BBQ chef who showed up and gave him some secret recipe, but it was actually an art teacher who made the biggest impact. One day, he set Dave aside to talk about all his failing grades. He said, “Dude,” (I’m paraphrasing here) “I know you are no good at school (including art) lol, but you have a very unique perspective in life. You see things differently and that’s going to take you a long way.”
Have you ever had a teacher like that?
For me, it was Mrs. Thomas my English teacher during my Freshman year. All of my teachers saw me as a troublemaker and a goofball who didn’t care much about anything. She thought I was actually funny and loved my writing. I was an energetic kid – and that energy expressed itself in other ways, like being the class clown. She just laughed along with the kids and allowed me to have my spotlight. She didn’t realize, I was already in training for all the relational connections through humor I would make through BOS Media! Who knew being funny would be an important characteristic in business?
That’s why I love Mrs. Thomas. Where other teachers saw a problem, she saw potential. The same qualities that I was using to disrupt class could also make me a leader.
It was a very similar shift in mindset that shaped Famous Dave’s life. For years, he tinkered with his own recipes for sauces and sides, before finally opening his first restaurant in the last place anyone would think to find a BBQ joint: Hayward, Wisconsin. But he trusted what he saw, and sure enough, the business started to grow.
Once the restaurant had become a success, Dave invested a lot of corporate money to train his employees – I’m sure he looked at them and saw himself at a younger age, just needing someone to believe in what they could become. His executive board was concerned about all this spending and confronted him, like “Hey, why are you training all these people? What if they take all this knowledge and LEAVE for a better job?” He chuckled and said, “But if we don’t train them, what if they don’t learn anything…and they STAY?”
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Robert Kennedy: “Some see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” What if we had that perspective about our own dreams for this year? Or more importantly, what if we had that perspective about the people around us? What might they become if we believed in them?
Here’s to seeing differently. And as Dave says, “May you always be surrounded by good friends and great barbeque.”
James Park is the co-founder and CEO of Fitbit.
Once upon a time, he was enrolled at Harvard (his parents’ dream for his life), but he dropped out to start his own business. Some time later, he had what he described as a “lightning bolt moment” when he first played the Nintendo Wii. The way they used sensors to track motion made him wonder: how do we take this outside? We now know that question led to the “gamification of fitness,” and put him at the forefront of a multi-billion dollar industry.
We’re kicking off 2022 talking about the origin stories of some of the most successful companies in recent times. It makes me think of this, aka our official origin story theme song. Hopefully you feel inspired knowing that every great success had to start somewhere, usually with pretty humble beginnings. An idea most people wouldn’t have thought much of, but that in the case of Fitbit was ultimately sold to Google for over $2billion.
I have a few thoughts on this…
First of all, how awesome that it all started while playing video games! It just shows, you never know when inspiration can strike. Next time someone gives you a hard time for playing video games, just tell them you’re looking for the next industry-revolutionizing idea.
Second, let’s talk about him dropping out of Harvard. Imagine how that conversation with his parents went. But to put it in perspective – they themselves had immigrated from Korea with the hope of finding new opportunities for their family. So you could argue, the risk they took was actually much greater than the one he took to drop out (let’s be honest though, I strongly doubt they appreciated that point).
This made me think: what’s stopping us from pursuing our new ideas? I’m sure we could all come up with excuses – a list of responsibilities that keep us from venturing out and trying new things… seriously, who has time to play video games and have a dream? Has your daily work become a “Harvard” that you wouldn’t dare drop out of?
However, the biggest thing that stood out to me when I heard James Park’s story is one little word that you probably skipped over in the first paragraph above: that he’s the co-founder of Fitbit.
The key question we need to ask about our world-changing ideas is: WHO? Who are you going to do it with?
James would tell you, without Eric Friedman, there would be no Fitbit. I love hearing him talk about their relationship. How in the most stressful times, they were able to help pick each other up, and being thankful that even though there were low moments of feeling down, “luckily we weren’t down at the same time.”
Do you have that person in your life? Maybe what’s really stalling your big idea is not a what, but a who. There might be a partner out there you could collaborate with who would turn your dream into reality. Who is your co-founder?
In the words of our origin story theme song, “We started from the bottom now the WHOLE TEAM here.” Here’s to dreaming big, together.
Don Katz is the founder and CEO of Audible.
Now imagine him jogging back in the mid 1990’s listening to a book on cassette tape which was checked out from the library. He put the tape in a clunky Sony walkman, put his fuzzy headphones on and started to run. Now, picture him trying to flip the tape over after 30 minutes of listening to hear the rest of it…while still in motion. Not ideal…and he thought…”there has to be a better way.”
This led him to do some research and find that 93 million Americans drove to work alone every morning. He then extrapolated hundreds of hours of time that people sat in traffic, matched that number with the sociological data that showed the most frustrating and least valuable time of people’s day was…sitting in traffic.
He thought, why don’t I create a device that would allow people to listen to the digital content they wanted, whenever they wanted.
Running the numbers, he realized if he could just penetrate 9% of the people sitting in traffic alone every morning at $10/month for a service that would enrich their lives…how big could this business be? Let’s do the math:
9% of 93 million = 8.37 million
x $10 per person/month
= $83.7 million dollars per month in subscription fees.
So at age 43, with a supportive wife and 3 kids, he decided to ditch his career as an accomplished author and a journalist (for Rolling Stone) and take a 85% pay cut to start his new adventure.
It took Don another 10 plus years of barely surviving the dot-com bust until his luck finally changed with the release of the iPod and the timely partnership with Apple. Then in 2008, Amazon purchased Audible for $300 million. Ummmm….did you hear what I just said? $300 million?
Everyone has a great idea…and that idea and inspiration to start a new business can last a few days, a few weeks, or sometimes even a few years. When asked what motivated him to leave the comforts of a financial safety net and persevere for another 10 years until he finally saw the fruits, he responded with these 3 points:
- His loving father’s sudden passing at an early age marked his life in so many ways…and he sees a lot of patterns of fatherlessness in highly entrepreneurial people…whether from abandonment or early death which sometimes includes taking ridiculous risks.
- He thought it was so interesting that he would daydream more about this idea of digital audio content and player rather than daydreaming about the next paragraph that he was going to write.
- He kept talking and trying to get advice from people that he respected and they all thought he was crazy. This motivated him even more.
What I personally love most about this story is that even after selling the company to Amazon for…$300 million dollars, he continues his duties as a CEO and just recently in 2020 assumed the position of Founder and Executive Chairman of Audible. To me that says a lot about what this work means to him – that it’s less about getting paid, and more about seeing the original idea that everyone said couldn’t happen becoming reality. It’s a different way to think about our work – instead of just making money, we can be making our masterpiece.
I hope that inspires you as we go into this year – maybe 2022 can be the beginning of your origin story as well! It all starts with an idea…
It’s the last big bang! A moment that has been anticipated by the entire audience, as everything slowly crescendos throughout the show…increasing in sound, the instruments playing louder and faster, the vocals getting higher and higher, the lights are flashing, the dancing gets more frantic yet synchronized, the crowd starts to clap, then they stand, then they scream with their hands in the air…the fireworks are going off, every single shape and color…all at once. It’s the finale.
Where I live, due to the pandemic the city didn’t budget or even plan for fireworks this year, so we didn’t get to have a show. So, the last paragraph I wrote about the finale? Well, that didn’t happen. It was just another day…business as usual.
If you’ve been following my emails for the past three weeks, we’ve been on a “Dream Series.” Here’s a quick summary and the links if you missed it.
• Week 1: It All Starts with a Dream: When I first started this company, I got to do an important exercise that taught me how to dream. But not only that, I talked about writing out in detail what a perfect day would look like and what steps to take to tangibly help you get there.
• Week 2: Life Interrupted: I shared about Suleika Jaouad and how her dream was interrupted when a leukemia diagnosis gave her a 35% chance of survival…and what kept her dream alive in the midst of it, and how it re-defined for her what it means to truly “live well.”
• Week 3: If I Became Successful: What is the main contributor to one’s success: Hard work? Luck? Or both? I imagined what I would say if someone in the future ever asked me about my secret to success.
Today will be my final thought for the “Dream Series” – The Finale, if you will. Whether you are a business owner, entrepreneur, or an employee, you probably have some end goal in mind… it might be cashing out and traveling the world, or going into 100% retirement with the freedom to do whatever you want, or finally buying that giant mansion you’ve always wished for… is that the end?
I love this quote from the founder and the CEO of Numi (a 50+ million-dollar company) when asked if there’s a part of him that wants to just sell his stake in the company and start enjoying life and stop grinding away everyday. He said this: “I enjoy my life everyday. We have a great team and I feel that the balance of life is here. We want to continue to thrive. We’ve created a legacy, and we get to help educate the world and as we continue to live out our values, we get to make our planet and our world a better place.”
So, there you have it. Yes, it all started with a dream. But it doesn’t end with a dream. Our dream just continues. There’s no finale. Like a child who never gets tired of the same game – every time it ends they say, “Do it again!” It’s enjoying our life everyday. Having a great team, finding that balance, continuing to thrive, creating a legacy and helping others along the way. That defines success, and by that, we are already successful. There’s no finale, it’s just another day…business as usual.
Hope this inspires you to wake up tomorrow and say, “Let’s do it again!”
Do you want to be inspired? Listen to this podcast called “How I Built This.” It’s all about taking a deep dive into the stories of some of the world’s best known companies…how it got started, what ideas led to the creation of the products or services they sell, plus the intimate, deep, personal and painful events that motivated and drove their passion – the near bankrupted failures, miraculous and serendipitous events that eventually led to huge, iconic success. Over and over again, I am amazed at the resilience and the will of human effort and hard work that accompany their incredible accomplishments. Yes, it’s very, very inspiring.
One example: did you know that Airbnb got started by a few starving college kids needing some extra cash to pay their own rent and decided to house some strangers into their apartment because all the hotels were booked for a conference that was happening in their neighborhood? They bought some cheap airbeds and called it an Air Bed & Breakfast. This simple idea eventually became a 25 billion-dollar company.
Every episode has a different takeaway and each story is unique. The host of the podcast (Guy Raz) does such an amazing job pulling out interesting and personal facts about the interviewee, with such a gift for keeping it interesting and relevant…his questions feel customized to that individual person to uncover what made them stand out and propelled them to become who they are today.
However, strangely, at the end of each episode, he always asks the same question to every interviewee, every single time, and the question goes like this: “So, with all you’ve achieved in your company and/or in your life, do you attribute your success to luck or hard work?”
Throughout the many episodes, I’ve heard all different combinations of answers. A majority of the people seem to understand that in order to have extraordinary success, you kind of need both. Some say 50/50, some say 25/75, some even say, “I don’t believe in luck, it was all hard work.”
I often wonder why this question is so significant, and why it’s worth asking every single interviewee… is there a deeper meaning behind it? My own interpretation of it is… do you attribute your success to your talents, your grit, your leadership, your idea, your intelligence, your charisma (so, basically YOU) or do you attribute your success to something bigger than yourself?
Sometimes I dream about being interviewed by Guy Raz (lol), and I think about how I would answer his last question. I’ve even practiced this in my head…I would say, “well Guy, thanks for asking. It’s a great question, and I would have to say, I know so many people that are smarter than me, I know so many people that work 10 times harder than me, I know so many people that are more charismatic, who are incredible leaders, and more creative, with more grit and more talent than I’ll ever even dream of, but that will never have the opportunity for extraordinary success…so, I can’t really take a lot of credit for it. I believe in divine appointments, fate, faith, relationships and opportunities that unpredictably lead to things beyond my imagination. And my job is to be grateful and generous.” That would be my answer.
I am curious, what would be your answer?
Rooting for you to be able to tell Guy someday! In the meantime, feel free to send me an email and let me know your thoughts.
I ran across this story and I just had to share it with you. Especially since we’ve been talking about dreams and goals.
Suleika Jaouad was born in New York City and attended The Juilliard School’s pre-college program for the double bass. She then earned her BA with the highest honors from Princeton University and MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College…okay, okay, she was super brilliant, accomplished, and had an amazing future and career ahead… and not only that, she also worked on various human rights campaigns for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and studied abroad in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt where she researched and wrote about women’s issues. Basically, she was awesome!
But her future career aspirations were cut short when at age 22, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors estimated she had a 35% chance of long-term survival. She would spend the next four years in the hospital. While receiving treatment, she began writing a column for The New York Times, which eventually became the Emmy award-winning video series called “Life, Interrupted.”
This is where her story truly begins. When the column was published, she started getting many emails and letters from people who were deeply touched by her story, and wanted to share stories of their own. This correspondence with the people she didn’t even know became so meaningful to her that she started keeping these letters in a little wooden box.
She talked about a woman she met briefly at a non-profit called First Descents, an outdoor adventure camp for kids with cancer. Her nickname was Salsa, and she was the camp mom who was in charge of nurturing and loving these kids. When she found out that Suleika was in the hospital, she wrote her a letter asking her to come to visit her and her family to go horseback riding at their beautiful ranch in Montana when she got well. This letter was added to the little wooden box. She said she kept it because it just seemed so far away and almost impossible. But she would just daydream about it hoping that one day, it would become a reality.
Not only did she finally take that trip to Montana, but the letters she kept in her little box eventually became the itinerary for her 100-day-15,000-mile road trip to meet and encounter the people behind the stories who helped her move forward and realize what a real hero’s journey looks like.
Life is unpredictable. As Suleika says in her TED talk: “Every single one of us will have our life interrupted. Whether it’s by the ripcord of a diagnosis, or some other kind of heartbreak or trauma that brings us to our knees. We need to find ways to live in between…”
To truly “live well” or “be well” or “to live the dream” is to be ALIVE in the messiest, richest, most painful, and even most joyful of circumstances.
I hope this interruption in your day helps you be present to focus on what matters.
When I was in year two of my business, I realized that I needed some wisdom on how to strategize my growth and figure out how to get there. So, I decided to hire a business consultant/coach to help me. After our first meeting of going over our expectations and goals for the next few months, he gave me my first assignment.
Write out my dream.
He told me not to write it out as a list of things to check off (like a new year resolution format), but to write it out as a paragraph. And in this paragraph, imagine this: In the near future, you are getting ready for bed. Right before your head hits the pillow, you think to yourself “Today was a perfect day, I am truly living my dream.” Now, write down why you think you are living your dream. Write down, where are you living? what did you do all day? what emotions are you feeling? What are you going to do tomorrow? What did you eat for dinner? Who are you with? What is your relationship like? How much money are you making? Who are you impacting?
This was a fun but important exercise to set the foundation in place to dream. But dreams are just dreams. It’s something amazing you can create in your imagination…something you wish to do, something you wish to be or something you wish to achieve someday. And dreams can get you excited and make you feel alive and even motivated to work hard. But the big question is, how do we reach that dream? There really is a way to make your dream come true in a tangible way. How? By setting goals.
We spent the next few months coming up with practical steps and goals to reach. This is where the hard work, endurance and patience comes in. But, this is also where your entire journey begins. I can tell you that after almost eight years of grit and hard work, I am nowhere near my “perfect” day and life that I had written out during that first assignment. But I can tell you that without that dream in mind, I would have never lasted this long and had such a blast along the way. In a strange way, I am finding life in the process and finding purpose along this journey.
Jordan Spieth is a professional golfer known to be the 2nd youngest (behind Tiger Woods of course) to win the Masters at age 21. Ever since he could walk and talk, his dream was to play golf professionally and one day win the Masters. There’s a video of him at 14 talking about it. Not only that, he went on to earn 15 professional wins and three major championships. During a recent interview, he was asked when he knew that he had finally “made it”. He said the success happened so gradually that he didn’t really know the gravity of it. Even after he won the Masters, he really didn’t know how his life would be any different….until…he walked into a restaurant for a casual dinner the next day. He said as he walked in, the entire restaurant stood up on their feet and gave him a standing ovation. He couldn’t believe it. It hit him then that his dream had become a reality.
Three things that I hope for you:
1. Dream. Because, it all starts from there.
2. Set goals to reach that dream. Work hard and enjoy the journey.
3. Walk into a random restaurant and see if anyone recognizes you. LOL. If not, keep working and keep enjoying the journey.
I would love to hear about your dream. Reply to this email and send me your dream paragraph. I will send you mine.
Let’s dream together.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of our heroes, so we wanted to take a minute and honor his legacy this week.
If you look closely at the heart of BOS Media, you can actually see some subtle little tributes to MLK everywhere.
On our website, the first thing you see are these words:
“It all starts with a dream.”
It echoes one of the most famous speeches in history, a reminder that every good thing we want to accomplish starts as an idea. Our life’s work is about helping those dreams become reality – hopefully in ways that are more than just about making money, but making a difference in the world.
Plus there’s an important quote that you may have seen this week – LeBron James even wrote it on his shoes when the Lakers played on MLK Day:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
That’s part of why our BOS Media podcast is called, “Make it Matter.” We believe in CONVERSATION – our ideas become real as we sit together and talk about the most meaningful aspects of life.
This is especially important when issues arise that feel undiscussable – as Patrick Lencioni says in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, being willing to speak up with candor is part of maintaining a healthy organization, or even a healthy family. One of the rules we live by in our house is, “We can talk about anything” – we want that to be true of every table we gather around.
If we do this right, honoring MLK’s legacy is not just about this week. Our hope is that this shapes everything we do at BOS Media and throughout our lives.
Here’s to keeping the dream alive together!
Someone complained the other day about seeing way too many puns out there about having the perfect vision for the year 2020. So, you know what we say to that? We say, “here’s to the perfect vision for the year 2020!”. We know everyone goes into January with big dreams of making this the best year ever…and we do too! That’s a good thing. Don’t be cynical – let’s get our hopes up again, this is our year!
We are going to share 3 words for 2020 that can help you have the best year ever. Let’s unpack it together and get ready to be inspired, energized and excited for this year to unfold. It’s up to you. So, let’s make it matter.
Here’s our latest podcast episode #5
Are you a frequent podcast listener?
If you are, you can find us at the links below, please make sure to subscribe and share. We would also love to hear from you, so, just leave us a comment on the iTunes review or contact us here directly. In the meantime, thank you so much for being here and remember to always MAKE IT MATTER.