Oh, The Places We've Been...
by John Lusk and Kyle Harrison
Harrison and Lusk
We never thought that we'd be published authors. Seriously. Who would? In fact, we can remember actually kicking each other under the table when our agent, Linda Mead, first approached us about writing a book. The kicking turned to downright laughter when Linda starting talking about movie and TV rights, foreign distribution rights, book tapes and all of the other great stuff associated with publishing a book. It was a phenomenal sales job -- so good that we walked away thinking we would easily become the next Ernest Hemingways, writing about our lifetime experiences in the world of business.
So, like good analytical MBA graduates, we went back to the office (our apartment) and discussed whether or not we really had time to write a book. We'd been marketing what we call "The MouseDriver Story" from day one (that story being why in the hell would two Wharton MBAs bypass all the great money-making opportunities in banking, consulting, and dotcom to manufacture a novelty computer mouse out of their kitchen?) and quickly decided that a book highlighting our MouseDriver experience would only be a motivating and inspiring extension to that story.
Really, it was a no-brainer. We already had a ton of material that we could work from -- our MouseDriver Insider newsletter had just been profiled on the cover of Inc. magazine, and we had a daily diary that we'd been keeping during our first year of business. Writing a book would be easy. It would be fast. It was practically already done. All we had to do now was put together a book proposal. Piece of cake.
We sat down at the kitchen table and starting cranking out all the great information that would convince any publisher that our story would make for a phenomenal book. We talked about what the story was all about, we identified a target audience for the book, explained what the audience would get out of the book and why they would purchase it, and discussed how we would help promote it. And then we came to the chapter outline. Again, a piece of cake.
All we had to do now was come up with some chapter names and then bullet out exactly what we were going to talk about in each chapter:
John: "All right, let's just take an hour to brainstorm on this. We'll each come up with some ideas and then get back together after lunch. Sound good?"
Kyle: "Yeah, I'm gonna go to the coffee shop. You know, for effect. An author in a coffee shop…it all goes together."
An hour later...
John: "So, whaddya have?"
Kyle: "Umm, I don't have anything. What about you?"
John: "Hmmm. Nothing. This sucks. I'm not too sure where to start."
Kyle: "Yeah, me neither. This is making my head hurt."
John: "Okay, let's brainstorm for another hour, just get something down and get the proposal to Linda."
It took us all of three days to come up with a simple two-page chapter outline for our proposal. And the whole book-writing process didn't get any easier for us after the proposal was completed: Although confident that we could write the book, we found ourselves jumping into the fray with no experience and really no idea of where or how to start. We just knew that we wanted to write this book. And then it dawned on us: Writing a book was just like being an entrepreneur. You have an idea (for a product, a book, etc.), you're passionate about your idea, and all you want to do is find a way of actually making your idea come to life. Just like we thought that starting a company in the new economy would be a sexy way to obtain financial freedom, we felt that writing a book would be relatively easy, fun, and would make for great bar talk with friends.
Okay, so we were rightfully naïve on the whole book-writing-process thing. Who could blame us? Ask us what our vision of writing a book was, and we would have responded with something like, "You get a bottle of Jack, rent out a cabin in the mountains, turn off all the phones and begin your first chapter with 'It was a dark and stormy night….' " Our idea of the whole process was based on movies, television shows, and literary history lessons taken in high school and college. Who'd have thought that having an idea for a book would be so hard to actually put down on paper, and who would have thought it would be so hard to bring that idea to fruition? But it's never that easy. If it were, everybody would be an entrepreneur, or an author, or a follower of his or her dreams.
The more that we got into the book-writing process, the more we realized how similar it was to our experience bringing MouseDriver to market. The book proposal highlighted our product (business plan), but that's really the easiest part. After that's done, you have to actually execute: How are you going to write the book? What information are you going to include? (How do you find a manufacturer? What features is your product going to have?) Can you realistically make your deadline? Is timing that critical? (Will your product be ready for the holiday season? If you miss it, how does that affect your sales?) Do you have a good relationship with your editor? Does she really understand what you're trying to say? (Are you developing relationships with distributors and retailers? Do they understand how you're positioning your product?) It was all so frighteningly similar. The book was essentially our next product, and it was one that we were just as passionate about bringing to market as MouseDriver.
What's this? Why, it's a MouseDriver!
Luckily, we'd been through this "bring your product to market" experience before with MouseDriver, and could apply much of what we learned to the writing of The MouseDriver Chronicles. Regardless of how much time we had, we knew we couldn't afford to keep tweaking the manuscript in hopes of making things absolutely perfect. At some point in time, you've got to realize that constantly changing things only hinders the process, especially when your product is already 99 percent there. We also knew the importance of understanding our target market (audience). As an author, or entrepreneur, you have to understand who your audience is, what they want to buy (read), and what distinguishes your product (book) from the thousands of others out there. The more you understand your audience and what your product (book) can offer them, the better you'll be able to market your book. Or assist your publisher in marketing the book! In the end it's all about passion. It's about convincing people that your idea is worth reading or purchasing, and it's about seeing the value and satisfaction that your idea brings to another individual. It's also about the experience -- yeah, it would be really cool if you could obtain financial success from the sale of your product, but is that really the best part of seeing your idea come to life?
For us, bringing MouseDriver to market and writing The MouseDriver Chronicles has been all about the experience. Regardless of what happens, we've learned more about ourselves from both a personal and business perspective than we could have ever possibly imagined. Will things work out for our company in the future? We think they will. But if not? Well, at least we got to write a book!
And as entrepreneurs, we're always looking for motivating reads. Guy Kawasaki's Rules for Revolutionaries is a must-read for anybody trying to bring emotion to their ideas. Both of us can relate to Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, as we've sacrificed the need to follow in order to pursue our dreams and passions. Lastly, because life (and entrepreneurship) is really a series of ups and downs, we find ourselves re-reading Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! Yeah, it's not a literary masterpiece, but it sure hits the nail on the head.
John Lusk spent four years as a Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young's Information Technology Group, where he developed custom software systems for the telecommunications and airline industries, before attending the Wharton School, where he focused on entrepreneurship and marketing. There he met Kyle Harrison, a former management consultant at Andersen Consulting. Together they founded Platinum Concepts, Inc., a company that developed and patented MouseDriver, a unique computer mouse in the shape of a golf club. They live in San Francisco, California.