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Thanks, Toast.

We are constantly coming up with ideas. We can’t buy bananas without having them fall out of our heads. A magazine about sleeping. A laundry mat gym. A Mr.T weather widget.

Ideas all the time.

Modern creativity is enabled by technology, which is enabled by coffee, which is inspired by entrepreneurs smiling at us from business magazines. It all works to embolden us. It all works to quicken the genius.

Back in 2002, I actually was pushed right off a cliff with an idea by my own father.

I had an idea for a T-shirt. Not a very strong one, but an idea: “think positive” and “think negative” shirts (+ or - in a graphic thought bubble).

It was one of many ideas I casually had told my father about. Not much better than the others (like the boutique breakfast cereal bar), but he urged me to try it. In his mind, it was like do-it-yourself B-school. And he was right.

So I dove right in and bought a lot of these shirts and began selling them on-line and in stores. All of a sudden I went from talking talk to walking a mile in my idea—a big difference.

The shirts didn’t sell very well beyond relatives. But
I was already in mid-air, so I kept going.

It is in desperation that the mind starts working. Sharp as Toast.com was born.

Enter James Lawrence Toast. My 84-year old imaginary friend. I made him my partner.

To the world he was alive and screen-printing the shirts in his humble Madison, Wisconsin basement. His back-story was long and believable. And it guided me towards a more interesting idea: what if an older generation could speak to a younger one in their language (T-shirts graphics)? Could we change things for the better? Namely, could Mr. Toast, representing all the shaking-headed Greatest Gernerationers, convince hipster culture that history and politics were “in?” Could we make voting cool again?

Could a T-shirt bring civics back?

So the T-shirt became my soapbox. I made T-shirts for all the world’s favorite presidents. I figured if you were going to walk around with Calvin Coolidge on your breast all day, you might actually go further and learn a bit about him. And he might actually start some conversations in a grocery store, or bar, and then he might even win you new friends, or better yet, spread that civics virus all over the neighborhood. To Sharp as Toast, the more people celebrating Presidents in our culture, the better our chances that we might take some interest in voting in November.

Well, that was the idea anyway.

I had hopes! Too cool for voting, but never too cool for fireworks? No more!

It didn’t exactly turn out that way.

We did okay. Breaking even mostly. Some good press here and there. In the end, my day job began to eclipse Mr. Toast and he became less a revolution and more of a “side hobby.”

Lessons learned that I didn’t intend to learn.

I learned all about what it takes to run a business, which has helped me tremendously in understanding the needs of clients. Having been in the position of investing in ad space and then designing the ad with my own money on the line, I now know the faith business puts in us. I no longer
roll my eyes when they ask that the logo or website is bigger. I get it.

And I learned about budgets and keeping records and filing quarterly forms and paying fees and trademarks and all the other stuff that go along with running a business, successful or not.

I had planned to keep Mr. Toast going until the next presidential election. I do not think that is going to happen. Mr. Toast will fade away quietly, like so many other ideas that were acted upon, and for some brief
moments were given a thrilling bit of life.

When you brain speaks up, it’s great to listen, but it can be worth it to act on what it tells you.

You may not become rich, smiling and golden, but it will always be well worth it. No person grows from sitting idle with ideas.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Aug.23.2007 BY Jimm Lasser
DYoung’s comment is:

I guess the boutique breakfast cereal bar wasn't such a bad idea after all.

On Aug.23.2007 at 06:58 PM
Laura’s comment is:

Wow. I remember running across the website and those great shirts just a few months ago.

Now I'm winding down my own big-idea-come-to-life and I can relate all too well. 16 months of a mobile life, a road trip + business, and I'm finally ready to settle down.

It is fun to read your thoughts on the conclusion of such endeavors. We invest so much, change our lifestyles, learn new skills and our brain becomes this constant buzz of idea-activity. Some efforts pay off, many yield little or no result. But it is OK to let things come to an end too.

There's always time for new adventures. I've got a half-dozen up my sleeve right now, but it is the one under my belt that I'm most happy about.

On Aug.23.2007 at 09:35 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

Ah, the glory of t-shirts. I ran a small (I had 4 designs) shirt company in undergrad with a similar experience to yours (though I think in the end I was a few bucks in the hole).

If you take it as a hobby, enjoy it, and don't lose your shirt (har har har), then you are well ahead of the game. Groovy shirts, by the way.

On Aug.23.2007 at 11:40 PM
Ben’s comment is:

I'm genuinely upset that there aren't any Bullmoose Party shirts in my size.

Curse you!

On Aug.23.2007 at 11:54 PM
felix’s comment is:

Kudos and thanks to Jimm. All rise, a toast I say to Jimm for helping me in my efforts in digging a hole to China via NJ. I finally sold the last one yesterday.

T Shirts.

Who needs cotton-pickin' T Shirts? You don't.

On Aug.24.2007 at 11:56 AM
Josh’s comment is:

Thanks a lot for the great post -
it seems I always say to myself, "that's gold, Josh, Gold!" but it's turning the idea into a product/object that I get lost in planning and execution. I think I already know the answer though around my follow through, it's just to start something regardless of the outcome.

On Aug.27.2007 at 04:26 PM
Yael’s comment is:

I love your concept - it's really different! I so get the 'thrill' that you talk about when I take an idea past the 'just an idea' stage to something more concrete. Ideas are the spice of life.

On Aug.28.2007 at 08:22 PM
Matt Everson’s comment is:

I quit my job and started my own business a couple years ago, and I would have to say I learned more in the first six months on my own than I learned in my previous five years of work. Learning what it takes to stay alive and prosper in business has given me much greater perspective on what my role is as a designer.

Jim Coudal gave an awesome talk about a similar subject at An Event Apart in Chicago last week. His basic point was that we creative types need to put as much action and planning into our own ideas as we do into the work we do for our clients. It's the process of doing that drives everything forward. Each projects individual success or failure is somewhat irrelevant.

On Sep.08.2007 at 12:32 AM
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On Oct.10.2007 at 04:54 PM
Meg’s comment is:

I really enjoyed your post. I think its so important to run with an idea if you have one, whether or not you end up where you intended to go. Like you noted, you learn very valuable lessons that help you to grow in ways that, when you started, weren't intended. It's important to look at the situation as a gain rather than a loss and to take the positive out of the whole experience to put towards upcoming projects. I think that is the best way to grow. Your great t-shirt idea might fade away, but the lessons you learned from the whole process won't! :)

Good luck with all your future endeavors!

On Oct.10.2007 at 05:51 PM