Two First-Time Entrepreneurs
By John Lusk and Kyle Harrison
Perseus -- 257pp -- $24
In the late 1990s, a typical American dream might have involved landing a cushy dot-com job with stock options. But John Lusk and Kyle Harrison chose to travel a less fashionable path: manufacturing a novelty-gift item for office-bound Tiger Woods wannabes--a computer mouse shaped like the head of a golf driver.
A crazy decision for two recently minted Wharton School MBAs? If making and creating a market for such an improbable gizmo weren't enough, the duo then one-upped themselves by writing a book, The MouseDriver Chronicles, describing the experience. The result is a well-written and witty how-to, with worthwhile lessons for all entrepreneurs.
MouseDriver took shape as Harrison's 1999 marketing-class project. The idea of selling the mice quickly gained momentum, partly because Lusk and Harrison--then in their late 20s--were fixated on starting their own businesses and partly because Leonard M. Lodish, a Wharton entrepreneurial-marketing professor, kicked in $20,000 of the $120,000 they ultimately raised to get Platinum Concepts Inc. off the ground.
Frugality and creativity became the partners' watchwords. A modest San Francisco apartment doubled as home and office for Lusk and Harrison. A nearby Starbucks served as their "conference room" and even provided a setting for market research since an espresso bartender there fit their "main demographic--gift-buying women ages 25-75." They joined a local gym at the discounted partner rate--not as business partners, but by posing as "San Francisco-type" domestic partners. And they learned to barter, trading a MouseDriver for such desirable wares as tickets to see the band Hootie & the Blowfish.
One humbling discovery: Their vaunted degrees and Wharton contacts proved less of a resource than the Yellow Pages. Another lesson--when in doubt, imitate. How better to compose a warranty card than to borrow a similar product's language? Same with packaging. They nosed around at the mall to see what they might copy.
Lusk concedes that he faces the occasional "entrepreneurial mood swing." Perhaps it was during one of those down periods that the authors came up with their Rule of Four, a "homemade metric for understanding startups." Put simply, the maxim suggests that you divide sales estimates by four and multiply work-time estimates by four. Nevertheless, by the book's end, in 2000, the authors have paid themselves for the first time, hired a publicist, gotten a real office (even if it's a "shed"), and sold about $600,000 worth of product via about 500 stores, including Brookstone. They come across as tireless salesmen, while at the same time they could be poster boys for the idea that it's the journey that counts. Although they hardly need to rationalize avoiding the dot-coms, that choice now seems downright smart. By Karin Pekarchik