Advertising is the game industry, and boot-strapping rocks!

I finished reading Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising, which I talked about in my last post. Ultimately it didn’t teach me so much as it entertained me, but it did help me generate one interesting realization: Advertising is the game industry.

I’ve long looked for parallels between other industries and the game industry. The entertainment industry is close, but to me, advertising has a little more relevance in terms of the development process. Mainly, highly compressed but purposeful creativity. I’d imagine that the human toll on advertisers and game developers is eerily similar.

I’m thinking of digging into some advertising books soon to see what kind of problems the advertising industry has solved that the game industry thinks are unique. 🙂

That’s one of the only thoughts I’ve had lately, though. Apologies for the rambling, disconnected nature of this post because that’s the only way my brain works anymore. 🙂 … ;(

I got married on November 5, and I’m still crunching to finish Daxter. Sadly, I’ve been doing a shitty job of maintaining work-life balance. Been trying this last week to focus on doing things outside of work that actually make me happy, because I’ve been letting a lot of things fall by the wayside that I shouldn’t. All my own fault, really, but it’s only natural to let yourself get this intense the more you focus on it.

I’ve gotten three or four new books from 800-CEO-READ. I don’t have them all with me right now, but the one I’ve started reading that I’m excited about is:

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

It’s written by the founder and owner of Patagonia, the world-famous outdoor clothing company. I’m still just digging into it, but he has a fascinating initial description of how he actually built the company and all the amazingly small steps he took to create what amounted to an unintentional empire.

He started as a mountain climbing enthusiast that wandered around, homeless, living wherever he could find. The more he climbed, the more he wanted to make better gear for himself, so he learned how to blacksmith and bought his own forge. From there, he started making more and better equipment for himself, starting out very crude but eventually getting more and more sophisticated. As he got better at making them, he realized he could sell some of the equipment, just enough to stay alive and keep climbing. And it all snowballed from there, with small steps, using the crudest level of bootstrapping to grow.

Two of my favorite examples from the book so far. The first one was describing his company’s first general manager:

Roger showed his business acumen at an early age. One day in the early seventies, he took ten boxes of brand-new pitons behind the shop. They were a combination of Lost Arrows, Bugaboos, and Angles, all chrome-moly steel models. Roger took a large handful of pitons from one of the boxes, connected them all to a rope, and proceeded to drag them aroud and around on the concrete. I asked him what in the world he was doing.

He explained that this was an export shipment to Graham Tiso in Edinburgh, Scotland, our distributor for the UK at the time. Roger explained that after roughing up the pitons, he would soak them in a barrel of vinegar and water for a few days, then remove them to dry and rust in the open air. They could then be exported to the UK as scrap metal, without being subject to customs duties. Upon receipt of the pitons, Tiso would polish and oil them until they were like new and sell them at a price that was affordable even for dirtbag British climbers.

And now my favorite, describing how he created a massively successful new type of jacket for mountaineering:

At a time when the entire mountaineering community relied on the traditional, moisture-absorbing layers of cotton, wool, and down, we looked elsewhere for inspiration–and protection. We decided that a staple of North Atlantic fishermen, the synthetic pile sweater, would make an ideal mountain sweater because it insulated well without absorbing moisture.

We needed to find some fabric to test out our idea, and it wasn’t easy to find. Finally, in 1976, Malinda, acting on a hunch, drove to the California Merchandise Mart in Los Angeles. She found what she was looking for at Malden Mills, freshly emerged from bankruptcy after the collapse of the fake fur coat market and selling off its stock of fabrics. We sewed a few sweaters and field-tested them in alpine conditions. The polyester fabric was astonishingly warm, particularly when used with a shell. It insulated when wet but also dried in minutes, and it reduced the number of layers a climber has to wear. Our first pile garments, stiff with their sizing treatment, were made from fabric intended for toilet seat covers.

We couldn’t muster an order large enough to have the fabric customized, so we had to use Malden’s existing stock, which came in an ugly tan and equally hideous powder blue. When we exhibited the jackets at a trade show in Chicago, one buyer, fingering a jacket, asked our salesman, Tex Bossier, what kind of fur it was made of. “It’s rare Siberian blue poodle fur, ma’am,” Tex deadpanned. Ugly as they were, and they pilled like crazy once in use, the pile jacket soon became an outdoor staple.

The whole book so far is a really fascinating example of seeing a man that had no interest in business or running a company creating a large and immensely succesful worldwide corporation, solely from moment-to-moment improvisation, bootstrapping and the desire to do well at whatever he set his hand to.

It’s tremendously inspiring so far, and reiterates to me my belief that any large, successful endeavor is merely a series of very small, often simple steps that add up to something amazing.

More to come soon. Writing here makes me happy, and that’s a priority of mine again. 🙂

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