It was a weekday night about a month ago and there we sat, tucked tightly inside an upscale restaurant in DC’s Chinatown section. My friends and I positioned a pace or two away from the bar,joyously gathered around a few orders of extra fried calamari. The cause: a meeting. It’s nexus: the exciting yet smoky future of The Smugger; the tenderfoot brand that we collectively built.
The gathering began in the same fashion that most of our 2 1/2 year history of meet-ups had. Before we started talking strategy we first had to exchange words on which member of the group has been stealing female facebook friends, or who did what, “with who”, when they were out of town– we appropriately coined the ritual “The Shooting of The Shit”.
This particular shit session however was extra muddy because LeBron James and Team USA were gearing up for the Olympics in their first televised exhibition game. So between taking jabs at one another, we would temporarily pause and gaze at a nearby flatscreen as KD effortlessly put three more points on the board.
As the game began to wind down, and the last few stale pieces of calamari lay dead in the bowl, all signs pointed toward business. We felt the moment change and adjusted our tones accordingly.
The meeting started in the form of a question,and was directed toward everyone: How do you feel about The Smugger? Does Smugger live? Or does Smugger Die?
The question was posed because in the insatiable creative economy, relevance is the name of the game; and inactivity equals irrelevance, which equals death– and at the moment we were inactive.
The question was broad, loaded, and unprompted, perhaps intentionally, but what it did was allow each person to start from where they wanted to start from. You see The Smugger was much more than simply where we were at the moment. In between grinding it out at our regular 9-5’s or 12-8’s we were able to build a rock solid platform with additional moving parts that many grew to respect. Our creation wasn’t without it’s hitches though. As young men we existed in a world of scatterbrained transition which isn’t exactly ideal for the steadfast focus-minded nature of starting a business–But there’s nothing like a beautiful contradiction right?
If I was writing a critique on our business I’d use the words: lovingly inconsistent, or affably withdrawn. Which is a sharp departure from the timeline exploding blogs and brands out there. Our brand wasn’t perfect–but it was ours.
So as each individual member of the group offered up their feelings about the business we created, the aforementioned words tap-danced around my sombrero.
As their words turned to sentences, and sentences turned to sermons, the tone of the meeting was becoming more and more evident. You see somewhere in Brooklyn, or perhaps Portland there was a similar meeting taking place with a group of friends-turned-business partners, where they were discussing the very same thing. Young goal-getting counter-culturalists all looking to cut the wheel and make the cash curve on their cool upstart blog-brand-businessmajig–and with good reason. I mean Facebook did it. The Living Social folks did it. So the natural question to those of identical suit is: Why can’t we?
As the meeting progressed the tone became more and more meek. The unmistakable upbeat energy that plagued the meeting’s commencement was all but lost. It’s telling that once we began talking money, the meeting seemed to instantaneously be dirtied with finger pointing. I once again psychologically checked out.
In a real way the meeting was symbollic of what was happening with the brand. We began the meeting having fun. Carelessly laughing and expressing ourselves in a way that everyone accepted and respected, and over time the laughs stopped and the fun dried up.
It might be a stretch but I reason that I underwent the same type of experience of those who have intimate brushes with death. I mean here we were discussing the proposed end of our brand and everything began to move slowly. A motion picture like montage of a 10-year-old me doodling in my notebook, mixed with images of my partners and I popping bottles, compounded with business meetings with people in high places all gently cycled through my head.
Yes, we have some more events to throw. Yes, we have a few more pieces to post. Yes, we have some emails to answer, but to our credit we’ve done close to everything we initially set out to do, albeit to a smaller degree, but done nonetheless. Our current conundrum of “what now” is a natural and attractive one. It implies that something has been done in the first place.
Besides, if we do get crazy paid, I want it to come as a result of making a crazy difference. Making money is like making your favorite dish, the satisfaction doesn’t come in simply enjoying the food one time, I’d offer the real satisfaction comes in knowing the ingredients to continuously enjoy that dish– and we’re still cooking.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next and dare not pretend like I do, however what I do know is that I want to keep laughing, and I want The Smugger to continue living.
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