Wednesday, November 28, 2012

From Idea to Opportunity

When my first son was born it didn’t take me long to realize that  he didn’t come with an instruction manual. Over time I learned some of his baby cries meant “Feed me,” some meant “I’m tired,” and some even meant “Change my diaper.” With practice I became a pro at giving baths and making him giggle. I never really figured out how to keep my clothes from getting dirty when I put him on my shoulder and patted him on the back after a meal.

Then one day I had an idea: What if I created a bib I could wear to keep my clothes clean when burping my baby? A bib for parents…a PIB. I loved the name so I did a little research. Most of the parents I spoke to had their own solutions and they weren’t that interested. That’s when I realized there’s a difference between a good idea and a good opportunity. An idea may sound interesting, but an opportunity needs to make business sense.

I recently heard the story of Brandi, an ordinary mom with four kids. Brandi wanted her children to dress well but she often couldn’t afford to buy them new clothes especially as quickly as they grew out of them. She had an idea that it would be cheaper to make the clothes herself. When she was a little girl her grandmother taught her to make dresses for her Barbie dolls, so she asked her husband for a sewing machine for Mother’s Day.

Brandi set up her new sewing machine in a spare room, ordered some fabric, and started making dresses for her little girls. Her neighbors and family friends loved them and asked if she could make dresses for their children too. To save money, Brandi made a dozen dresses that all looked the same. Then she embroidered them with the initials of each child to make them more personalized. Her dresses were a big hit and she had stumbled into a little business. She wasn’t making much money but she loved doing it so it felt more like a hobby.

She posted some photos of her kids on Facebook and friends in other cities asked if she could make dresses for their children. Other moms in the community were also posting photos on Facebook and their friends started asking where they could buy the dresses. Brandi created a Facebook page to make it easier for people to share photos of their kids in her specially designed clothes. She used the nickname she gave her niece for the name of the Facebook page, Lolly Wolly Doodle.

One day Brandi had some extra fabric, so she made a dress and posted it on Facebook with a comment, “Would anyone like to buy this $15 pink dress with your child’s initials embroidered on it?” Within an hour she had 80 orders. That turned out to be the easy part. Brandi had to figure out how to make 80 dresses. She moved her sewing machine from her spare bedroom to the garage and engaged her kids and even her husband to help. In 2010 her husband lost his job. Brandi decided this was an opportunity to turn a bad situation into a good one. It was time to make this hobby into a real business.

If she opened a retail store she could only reach the 4,000 women with children that lived in her hometown. It would be expensive and she would miss her kids. Instead, she decided to launch on Facebook. Within months her Facebook page had 37,000 fans and today, less than 3 years later, she has over 400,000 fans! Brandi’s business grew so quickly that she had $100,000 in sales the first year and over $500,000 in sales the second year. After hiring all of her relatives, she started employing neighbors and friends, and today over 100 people work at Lolly Wolly Doodle.

Brandi sells around 900 items of children’s clothes every day on Facebook. Her business is now in the millions and is considered the largest e-commerce site on Facebook. This ordinary mom is doing extraordinary things and you can too. Your dreams do come with an instruction manual. On page 37 it says, “Passion is the fabric that dreams are made of.” The time is now so get sewing.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Cookie with Love

In celebration of Thanksgiving, I am reposting one of the fan favorites from earlier this year. Over 2 million people receive these weekly stories and I am grateful for all of you!

From an early age, Katie was passionate about health and fitness. She was a competitive gymnast for 10 years and in high school she was a nationally ranked diver. She dreamed of becoming a doctor so she could help people. She also dreamed of having a family and thought that a doctor's schedule might interfere with her family life. Instead, she pursued a different path in college and graduated with a degree in Exercise and Health Science. She got a job as a personal trainer and immediately fell in love with the profession.

While in college Katie met Mike who was pursuing the same major. They started dating and both got jobs at the same fitness club. They were living their passion and also learning how to run a business. Several years later they married and an interesting opportunity came up. The owner of the fitness center wanted to sell the business for $200,000. They were young and didn't have the money but they believed in the mindset “Everything is Possible.”

One of their clients knew about the sale of the business. He also knew how passionate Katie & Mike were about health and fitness and he made them a proposal. He would supply the investment, they would run the business, and they would all be partners. With that, life couldn't have been any better...until of course their son Michael was born.

Michael brought even more joy into their life. Now that Katie and Mike owned their own business they were able to divide their responsibilities at work so they could both spend an equal amount of time with their son. Katie managed the business finances, did the sales & marketing, and welcomed new customers. Mike managed the trainers, created the client schedules, and continued to train clients personally.

Little Michael was surrounded by loving parents and grandparents. He had a normal childhood. He rolled over at 4 months, sat up at 6 months, crawled at 8 months and even started talking at 10 months. His favorite stuffed animal is "Chompy" the alligator and he is a huge fan of Sesame Street. He loves Cookie Monster and even had a Cookie Monster birthday cake at his 2-year party. Michael couldn't have been happier and Katie and Mike had big smiles on their face as he blew out the candles. But beneath those smiles their heart was breaking.

Just one month earlier, on Katie's 31st birthday, they received devastating news. It began a few months before that when the parents noticed that Michael was having difficulty walking. After several doctor visits and a series of tests, they learned that Michael has a disease called MLD - Metachromatic Leukodystrophy. It's a rare disease but there is currently no cure and it's fatal. Most children with MLD live to age 5 and some to age 10. In the last few months, Michael has unlearned all of his childhood milestones. He can barely say a word, he no longer stands on his own, he can't crawl, and he has trouble holding his head up. He has difficulty swallowing and is about to have a feeding tube inserted so he will stop losing weight. At some point, he will even have trouble breathing.

I've had the pleasure of meeting sweet little Michael and it's obvious how much he is loved. I reached deep into my contact list and was able to connect with Cookie Monster who was on summer vacation in Australia. Check out the video below that Cookie made for Michael to help bring a smile to his cute little face.

While there is no cure that can help Michael, we can spread awareness, support his family and even fund research so a cure can be developed. Katie and Mike have set up a website, where people can learn more. I encourage you to visit, as I believe you will find inspiration and you may be able to lend some emotional or financial support. I’ve also included below a link to a local news story about Katie, Mike, and Michael.

The life Katie and Mike envisioned has changed and their dreams are in a state of flux. Despite all the challenges they face, they still smile and spread love. Katie told me that although Michael is sick he still brings them so much joy and happiness. They've decided to embrace the Attitude of Gratitude mindset and focus each day on what makes them happy and hopeful. So today, I hope you can pause for a moment and realize that life is more meaningful when we stop focusing on what we don't have and start appreciating and loving what we do have.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Always on the Right Track

I recently received a text message from one of my former students who lives in New York City. He was letting me know he was ok after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area. We exchanged messages on other topics, including his business pursuits. He ended our chat with an upbeat message saying that his life is now on the right track. I’m familiar with the expression, “On the right track,” and I’ve used it before. It implies that sometimes we are not on the right path and when we become aware of this, we should do something about it.

I remember that when my wife and I decided to move to Atlanta we weren’t sure if it was the right decision. After all, we had both grown up in New York, and our families and friends still lived there. I vowed that we would visit New York often so our son, who was three when we moved, could experience the wonders of the city we grew up loving. On one visit, we introduced him to Italian Ices. For those wondering, Italian Ice is a refreshing dessert usually made without milk, yet it still has a creamy texture. Popular flavors include lemon, chocolate, and coconut, but in New York you can find stores that sell hundreds of flavors. Watching my son devour his first Italian Ice was priceless.

When we returned to Atlanta it wasn’t long before my son asked for more Italian Ice. I told him I would do some research and find a local shop that sold it. The next night at the dinner table he asked if I found a place. I told him I couldn’t find any local store that sold authentic Italian Ices and I thought this would end the conversation. Then he smiled at me and said, “Maybe there’s an opportunity for us to sell it.” My wife looked at me and said, “Oh great, now he’s talking like you too.”

I had no interest in selling Italian Ices, but I recognized an opportunity to teach my son some valuable lessons. So my response was simple, “Perhaps we should do some research to see if it’s a good idea.” Research to a kid meant visiting local ice cream shops every day after school. We ordered ice cream and asked the owners questions. He loved the research, but after two weeks, he was ready for something new. However, I became interested in the subject and opened several restaurants. Five years later I sold the restaurants to do something else. Was I on track or off track?

Then there’s the story of Harry. When he was in high school he wanted to become an actor. He moved to Hollywood and was fortunate to get a job that paid $150 a week so he could be an extra in movies. He believed this would help him become a full time actor. He did this for three years and never had any real breakthroughs.

Harry was so broke that he needed another job. He was good with carpentry, so he started to build cabinets and outdoor decks. He was making more money doing this than acting, but he didn’t give up hope. Instead, he found carpentry work in the entertainment business. He was hired to remodel the office of Francis Ford Coppola, a famous director. While doing the work, Steven Spielberg came to visit Coppola and thought Harry had the right look for a movie he was casting. He said it was too bad he was a carpenter and not an actor. Harry explained he was an actor, and after reading for the part, he got the role of Indiana Jones. You guessed it…Harry is Harrison Ford.

So was Harry on the right track when he picked up a hammer to help pay his bills? Perhaps when we keep our dreams in mind we are always on the right track. It’s our responsibility to figure out why the path we are on is the right track. That’s easier done with hindsight, but my suggestion for this week is to trust the path you are on knowing that at any time, you have the power to change directions.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Road Maps Not Required

When I was 14 I moved in with my mother’s parents for a year. That was a year I will never forget. I remember my Grandpa Bill picking me up from school one Friday afternoon and asking if I wanted to get some ice cream. I was excited, but I asked why we were getting on the highway. He told me he heard about a great ice cream parlor in Ashville, North Carolina. We lived in Long Island, New York, so this drive for ice cream took over 13 hours. We stopped at a payphone to call my grandmother to let her know we wouldn't be home for dinner. What an adventure!

That summer Grandpa Bill asked if I wanted to go with him to pick up a new car. This time I asked some important questions. “Grandpa, where is the car you purchased and how long will it take to get there?” His reply was priceless, “Austin, Texas, and it should take us around 30 hours, but if we do some sightseeing we will be gone an entire week.” I grabbed a few things, hopped in the car and off we went. In those days we didn't have I-Pods or satellite radio. My grandfather played the same two cassette tapes over and over and over. By the 30th hour I could impersonate Frank Sinatra and Kenny Rogers.

I did find it peculiar that my grandfather never used a map. I remember asking him how we would find our way without one. I’m not sure if he was trying to teach me a life lesson or was simply a maverick when he said, “Imagine where you want to end up and get started in any direction…just be prepared to adjust along the way.”

I recently heard the story of a high school student named George. He dreamed of becoming a race car driver. He had trouble focusing in school because all he could think about was driving his car on the weekends. He was pretty reckless and he accumulated many speeding tickets. One night he pulled up to a red light and challenged the driver next to him to a drag race. When the light turned green, the two teen drivers took off. George crashed and almost died. His injuries were so severe that his dream of becoming a race car driver vanished.

Fortunate to be alive, George adjusted his dreams. He picked up a camera and started making amateur movies of race cars. He developed a passion for filming and pursued many opportunities. He took film classes at college and worked entry level jobs. He realized he could do what he loved and get paid when he was offered the chance to work a camera at a Rolling Stones concert. In his late twenties he wrote a screenplay and was hired to direct a movie about his passion for cars and racing. The film was called American Graffiti and George was nominated for two Academy Awards.

A few years later George wrote another movie. He was offered $150,000 to direct it. Instead of accepting the money, he made a counter offer. He would do the project at a much lower salary if he could have the license rights to all the merchandise. This was unheard of at the time, as movies rarely generated any money for merchandise so the movie studio immediately said yes.

George Lucas went on to direct Star Wars and the rest is history. Last week George sold his company, Lucasfilm, to Disney for over 4 billion dollars. He has promised to donate half of his earnings to support education. He believes the survival of our human race depends on our ability to teach children to imagine and then to adapt.

George created the character Yoda and one famous lines he wrote for him was, “There is no try, there is only do or do not.” Living your dreams begins with having a vision and then taking action. As my Grandfather suggested, you only need to get started in any direction. Life is complicated, but you will never be off course if you remember to adapt and adjust your path along the way. Here’s one last piece of advice from George, “May the force be with you!”

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams