ps180827 Leticia Gasca
Leticia Gasca, thanks to TED Talks, explained her venture starting in business school and failing at her startup. She is Mexican, and she knew about some women who made wonderful products by hand. As they were unschooled business methods, Leticia decided to help. Despite her efforts to make the business profitable, she could see it was failing. She had to shut it down. Her message on the TED Talk was to be mindful of what happens to the employees if the CEO declares the business dead and bankrupt.
In societies were failure is shame, she said entrepreneurs hide their failures. But in societies that are okay with failures, they may even brag about their failures. How many times have we been told how such-and-such hugely successful business person went bankrupt, lost their home and, years later, emerged a multibillionaire?
We don’t consider the lost jobs he or she was responsible for. Granted, they were jobs, if temporarily. Consider, too, how many investors lost their investments – what those investors had to tell their friends and family. “Yes, I invested in that startup, yes, it went belly-up.” Failure is not the end of the world for these entrepreneurs and investors, but for those who lost their jobs, the setbacks are mighty bad.
I study TED Talks at least once a week, and since entrepreneurship is on my mind in connection with the International Print Center Incubators (IPCI), I think about stories about startups and investors. I rely on investors to start the IPCI.
When I listened to Leticia’s TED Talk, I tried to picture what it was that those women in Mexico were making – what was Leticia talking about? Hand-painted and varnished gourds, maybe? Hand-woven wall decorations or purses? As a college student I used to visit La Tienda in Seattle and so it’s easy to imagine the wonderful things Leticia was referring to. In fact, those items in La Tienda had a “Leticia” helping the crafts people and artisans get their goods to the Seattle store and many others.
My mind flips to some contacts I’ve had with Seattle incubators and consultants who are helping entrepreneurs with their startups. They help by teaching basic business methods like writing business plans, marketing, and selling. I’ve bought the books about the Canvas method, I’ve gone to venture capital meetings off and on for twenty-five years.
When I think about Leticia’s story, I concluded that there is a parallel between what she saw as a potential job-creating business (Mexican handicrafts) and my Halfwood Press design. Imagine if Leticia had been passing my window on 5th Avenue in Seattle, saw the Mini Etching Press and came in to talk about it.
She would see in me and Tom Kughler something like those Mexican women making nice things, one at a time, and selling a few hundred of them to a few hundred people worldwide. She might have thought, “Yes, but will it pay the makers’ wages? Is it sustainable? Have Bill and Tom considered the market, really, and how big is, and whether it’s scalable?”
I would love if “a Leticia Gasca” would walk in one day and ask me those questions, but it hasn’t happened yet. Not in Seattle. However, I get many visitors and usually it’s because they saw the Mini Etching Press in the window and it stopped them in their tracks. That alone suggests there is a market. In emails I’ve had interest from foreign countries like China and India. Today one came from Singapore, where there are four presses I designed and helped make and send to artists. People in twenty countries – from Estonia to Taiwan – ordered our presses.
What are the chances that someone will put out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a Halfwood Etching press they happened to see, in Seattle, a city of over 700,000 people, in a window in Uptown? It has happened, more than once; however, most were discovered on the Internet, which I paid nothing for except my time took to make snapshots, web pages and videos on YouTube.
For almost fifteen years I designed and helped make and sell 250 Halfwood Presses starting out at $500 to $3,750 retail. The competition’s presses are cheaper, but not as beautiful; and I believe beauty to be in the eye, mind and heart of the viewer. I designed the Halfwood Press with beauty and functionality in mind; I never thought of its scalability until Tom showed me the miniature version of my first press.
Now I think about scalability a lot! I think the press can pay for IPCI. Recently I started two new approaches to my plan for funding IPCI on sales and services around the design of the Halfwood Press. One is community action, the other is crowd funding.
In community action I proposed IPCI as a city asset, a destination for tourists and professional who love printmaking, prints and printmakers. I offered this to Seattle developers and City officials by participating in groups like the Uptown Arts and Culture Coalition.
Crowdfunding is the other approach, as the UACC is, so far, indifferent to my idea for IPCI. If a group of investors funded IPCI’s startup, then the UACC and the City might be counted on for support.
I am like Leticia in that I think what Tom and I have designed, built and sold is a wonderful product. We have tested it and collected data proving it’s a minimally-viable product. It passes the test described in the workshops in financing startups. It sustains, too, as I correspond with owners and I keep their contact information, write newsletters, and speculate on scaling the business in different markets.
Leticia’s women in Mexico were not designing or inventing anything new, I imagine – folk art, maybe, or wearables. Nor did I invent anything new. Etching presses have been around for four-hundred years. The times, however, and the educational support for etching has changed what printmaking means. I was part of that education as a printmaking professor.
Crowd funding is possible. There’s plenty of literature and debate about laws that have made crowdfunding legal. I’m not convinced, nor is my attorney, it’s the way to go. I do know, however, that I am not the one who can discuss it alone; picture me talking to my reflection in a mirror! What do I know about running an S-Corporation or a C-Corp? I am less interested in 5013c, by the way.
On the other hand, picture me as an innovator who can not only design, help build, market and sell worldwide 250 halfwood presses over fourteen years’ time. If I can do that, can I design a financing innovation? Yes, I can. It’s called artistscrip. Disclosure: I am not qualified to offer legal shares.
It’s time to go to my studio, so I stop here. I must produce a memoir leading up to artistscrip. Who knows? Today, Monday, August 27, 2018, may be the day “a Leticia” walks in.