The problem with the “Maker” movement – Or, how to properly sell a handmade leather bag

The Maker movement is a return to valuing craftsmen (and women), and the incredible, hand-made quality of the goods they produce. There are some bad-ass makers out there. There’s even a really cool Tumbler dedicated to those who make. But the problem is, when people write about the makers, they write about the makers. Where they came from. What job they left to pursue their passion for Making. For example, I make handmade leather goods— briefcases, bracelets, knife sheathes. All hand cut, riveted, and finished. It’s detailed, painstaking work. And I love it. I taught myself how to make this stuff back in college because I couldn’t find a leather briefcase I liked enough to spend my cash on. Then, I went into the workforce as a marketer. It was a great experience, but it left me wanting more. Wanting to feel like I would have something to point to other than piles of money and long-forgotten ad campaigns. So, I started making handmade leather goods again.

handmade leather bag in process, made by Seth Gray handmade leather bag made by Seth Gray

handmade leather bag being inspected by Seth Gray

But who really cares? Nobody. What does that tell you about the leather goods I make or why you might like to carry around one of my handmade leather briefcases? Nothing. So why do bloggers and media types keep using that angle? Maybe it’s because we want to have a more personal connection with the things we buy. Maybe because we want to live better, not just have more stuff anymore. I don’t know. I do think the Maker movement deserves better, though. I’m  a marketing strategist by education and experience. I’ve made my clients and employers hundreds of millions of dollars by helping them tell clear, compelling, consistent stories about their products and services. One of the most effective ways to do that is to stop talking about the product. And stop talking about the company. Instead, talk to the customer. Let them know you understand their trials and triumphs, and that’s why you made your product. Then, give a couple examples. Something like this:

In a world of disposable razors, paper plates, and ephemeral communication, you’re yearning for something real. Something that’ll get scratched and dented, but still work. Something that your kids will pass down to their kids. That’s why I use super-tough, vegetable-tanned 7 ounce leather in my handmade bags. That’s why I saddle-stitch all the seams with braided, waxed nylon thread– these handmade leather bags are put together so tightly they hold water (for a few minutes). Not that you’d want to. You’d probably rather carry your laptop, iPad, and Moleskine, instead. Sure, you could get something from a leather shop in the mall for half the price. But that was probably made by unskilled laborers working 16 hours a day in a factory in china. Your handmade leather bag, the one you really want, was made with my calloused hands on a second-hand workbench. Your bag, the one your grandkids will bring when they come visit you on your front porch, took longer to make so that it’ll outlast you.

Handmade leather bag made by Seth Gray

handmade leather bag for laptops

handmade leather bag with an iPhone 5 pocket

Perfect? Nope. But neither are my handmade leather bags. And perfect isn’t always best. -Seth

UPDATE: my handmade leather bag that will outlast you is now for sale at Beauty and the Biker handmade leather goods.

Handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you
Tan colored Handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you
front/side view of dark brown sunburst handmade leather bag
Dark brown sunburst handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you.

Taking Time Off

I’m a full-time, not-so-single-anymore dad, married to an incredible, not-so-single-anymore mama. Last year, I took an awesome job at a fantastic company. Last month I walked away from that steady paycheck into the great unknown of grab-n-growl freelancing.

This is the part where other people in similar situations talk about how crazy that decision sounds. How scary it is. How they took some time off to reflect. To think. And then they came to some eureka moment, and discovered their purpose in life. Know what I did? Nothing (except take care of my kids). No deep thoughts about my purpose in life. No angst-ridden, sad Seth on a park bench. Why? Didn’t need to. Happiness, purpose, and meaning aren’t some mythical creatures out there waiting for us to find them. We have to make them. I’m going to make music. And some leather briefcases. And a music venue (maybe). And do some marketing strategy & copywriting. Above all, though, I’m going to grow some humans (our kids). They’re pretty rad already, but we’re not done with them yet.

What’re you going to make?

Pinterest Spam is here

The Oatmeal - "I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened"

Look out, intrepid Pinners. Spam has made it’s way to Pinterest. I posted a lovely cartoon by The Oatmeal about how frustrating it is to try to watch Game of Thrones, and within seconds had a “like.” While that’s not all that odd, what got my interest was that the like was from a company– they were using a logo, rather than headshot for their profile image. Curious, I clicked through to their boards. Wow. If I were a coupon clipper, I would’ve been in nerdvana. Then, I looked at the little activity ticker on their profile.   As you can see, they had liked about 49.3 billion other posts “just now” (meaning just then… right before…). Anyway, I figure that either they have a team of trained chimps hitting the heart/like button on Pinterest, or they’ve developed a spamalicious tool using Pinterest’s API.

Anybody know how they’re doing this? I mean, seriously. 307k+ likes?

 

P.S. To the product managers at HBO: you’re an interesting dichotomy. You produce outstanding shows, but are so stuck in outdated business models and distribution methods, that you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. “Piracy” just shows that you’re not effectively serving current market demands. Sure, it’s easy for me to criticize from the outside; I don’t know all the complications due to royalties, and blah blah blah MyBrainJustMeltedFromBoring. Yep. But you work there and I don’t. So fix it. I’d be happy to pay you per episode, or for a season pass to a show. But I’ll never sign up for a cable subscription again, which means I’ll never add the HBO subscription on top of that already ludicrous cable charge. You don’t need those cable companies anyway. You’re HBO. Act like it.

Why I Hate Teaching

I love education. But I hate teaching. Far too often we confuse the two, and I think that’s a big reason the US education system is the battered & bruised behemoth it is. Well, that and demagoguery by pusillanimous politicians.

If you look at how the US education system evolved, there are striking similarities to how our workforce evolved. The industrial revolution turned farmers with broad skill sets into incredibly specialized factory workers. Schooling moved from truly individualized curriculum in the living room, to a rigid, standardized, curriculum-driven classroom. Mass production meant less variation. Mass education meant we could educate more kids in a standardized system, as long as they fit in within the system. It meant less tolerance for “abnormal” kids.

Back in the day, Horace Mann thought that “public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” He thought a standardized approach to education would level the playing field for kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Give them all a fair shot at the American dream. Lofty goal. A goal I agree with. But what happened was factory farms and factory education.

And it’s not that people haven’t been trying to make reforms– they have. For a long time. Back in the early 1900’s, John Dewey was pushing the idea of “Progressive Education.” He argued (rightly, I think) for a more balanced approach to education. According to Wikipedia, “The problem was that Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that in general was not receptive to new methods.” That rings true today, too. Massive, entrenched institutions are structured to preserve the status quo.

A more balanced approach to education?

But the status quo isn’t working. Obviously. Something needs to change. Just like Dewey, and Maria Montessori before him, I’m arguing for a more balanced approach to education. Rather than teacher-centric, vs. content-centric, vs. student-centric, it ought to be more collaborative. Maria Montessori put it best: “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” There are people pushing for this today. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote an article on RWW about how How YouTube is Part of a Global Economic Transformation. From the article: “It has become increasingly evident that to realize human potential in today’s societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling.” Hell yes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the US education system has failed. Or that it’s terrible. Or that I hate teachers and textbooks. On the contrary. I think that on the whole, we’ve tried our best. But we can do better. Because in our attempt to give our national treasures an equal shot at success, we forgot that “equal” doesn’t mean they should be treated like so much carbon in a diamond factory.

Our children are not factory-made. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Each has unique experiences that will inform their learning. If we can minimize the demagoguery and leverage some of the amazing technologies (iPads, serious games, the friggin internet) to create mass-customized learning, we can help each of our precious stones polish themselves into the gem they can be.

 

 

A Musician’s Opinion on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

I am a musician. I write, record, and play songs. I spend months pouring my deepest feelings into a dozen or so 3 minute tunes.

In the good ol’ days, I could’ve signed a deal with some huge record label, borrowed a ridiculous amount of money from them to record those songs, and end up putting 2 good songs, 5 mediocre songs, and 3 terrible songs on an album.

Then, I could have signed a distribution deal with some other company, where they’d promise to get my darling little album into those beacons of art-loving culture everywhere: Walmart, Best Buy, and Target. Of course, the distribution company would have charged me a “breakage fee” that is the same percentage as when they were distributing vinyl records, not virtually indestructible CDs. Oh, they’d also charge that breakage fee on digital downloads.

Then, if anybody bought my 2/5/3 (good/boring/bad)  album, the retailer takes a cut, the distributor takes a cut, the label takes a cut and repays themselves (with loan-shark-level interest) that fat loan I took to record. Then, if there’s anything left, I’d get about $0.50 an album. That’s $0.05 per song, for you non-math types. Seems like an awful lot of hullaballoo for me to earn $0.05 per song.

******

Stop SOPA and PIPA

As a musician, I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by litigating their customers into obedience. I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by censoring the Internet with asinine, heavy-handed legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

 

SOPA and PIPA would let a company effectively obliterate a website if it contained a link to a download copyrighted material. Or if a site visitor posted a copyrighted picture or quote. No due process. No nothing. Just, pow! Gone from the DNS. Gone from the DNS, but not gone from the Internet– anyone could still get to the “offending” website by typing in the website’s IP address. So gone. But not. And you and I both know that the “pirates” will just type in the damn IP address.

I don’t need that huge loan to record some songs anymore. I can do it with my computer and less than $500 worth of gear in my basement.

 And I don’t need that distribution deal anymore. I can effectively and efficiently deliver my music to anyone in the world who has Internet access.

And I don’t need those retailers anymore, either. I can use places like AmazonMP3. Or iTunes. Or Bandcamp. Or Soundcloud.

 

******

People who pirate music are actually just an under-served market segment. Music pirating is the market telling me it doesn’t value recorded music the way it used to. It’s my job as a business owner, then, to shift my unit of value to something the market is willing to pay for.

I actually do still purchase music– but not  nearly as much as I did before I signed up for Spotify. And if someone still wants to charge to sell their music, that’s fine with me– I just think it’s a stupid business decision. Instead, give the music away as a marketing campaign. Give it away in exchange for signing up for a mailing list. Or, give it away to anyone who comes to your show (give them a little card with a download link/code/something). Or, give it away to anyone who promises to share it with their friends. Use your recorded music as a way to get people to your shows, where you make money on ticket sales, merch, and a cut of the bar sales.

 

******

If you’d like to learn more, watch the video below. Then, once you’re sufficiently pissed off, do something about it.

Sign Google’s petition to End Piracy, Not Liberty.
If you’re an artist, sign this letter to Congress from Fight for the Future

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

3 Predictions About the Future of “Social”

The Future

In the US, there are  tens of millions of searches every month for things related to social marketing, social media marketing, and the like. But, if you look at Google Trends, it also looks like that search traffic may have peaked (for now, anyway). So have searches for Facebook, by the way. What that tells me is that, as George Colony from Forrester Research put it at Le Web (to paraphrase), social is running out of people and it’s running out of hours. So, here are my 3 predictions about the future of social media and social marketing:

  1. Social won’t die. But it will become a zombie mutant. When the printing press came along, written stories didn’t die, they mutated. When TV came around, radio didn’t die, it mutated. People are predicting “the end of social” and I think what they actually mean is “the end of social as we know it.”
  2. You won’t care about social media anymore. “Social” will become a parallel offering– not a differentiator. Oh wait. That already happened– even this novelty “flatulence gift underwear” company has a “social” presence.
  3. I lied, I only have two predictions, but who wants to read a post titled “2 Predictions About the Future of Social”?
  4. Psych! Here you go, Prediction 3 about the future of social: in 12 months, all the predictions made by talking heads in fancy suits skinny jeans, flannel shirts, and stocking caps, will look like the intro to the Jetsons. Speaking of which, where is my flying car?

Ok, here’s the point: calling something social doesn’t make it social. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t make your brand social. On the other hand, we humans are social people, so everything is social already. The trick is figuring out what part of your product/service/experience we humans actually care about, and building a clear, compelling, consistent story around that. Easy.

Facebook Doesn’t Get It

Facebook has begun the The Inevitable Letdown. It was innovative. It was cool. It was fun. But Zuckerberg is so damned paranoid that some little startup is going to deflate his behemoth, that he’s clearly created a reactive culture. They are focusing on competitors more than customers (users). Let me count the ways:

  1. Geolocation & checkins: Facebook saw Foursquare and its ilk getting users to produce vast amounts of time & location data. Data that could be harvested to create revenue streams from partners & advertisers. Voila, Facebook Places. People predicted it was the death sentence for all the “smaller” players. Facebook would essentially be the schoolyard bully and squash them (by sitting on them, I guess). What they didn’t consider is who the average foursquare user is, and how they compare to the average Facebook user. The average Facebook user plays Farmville and believes Facebook will start charging unless they paste a stupid message (from their other stupid friends) to their wall. Ok, that’s a little harsh. How about this instead: the average Facebook user has a real life outside the interwebs, and they see Facebook as relatively passive entertainment experience. Checking in to a Place is not passive.
  2. Privacy and Google+: Ok. Most of Facebook’s moves lately [cough]Timeline[/cough] are me-too responses to Google Plus. Privacy, particularly. Sure, Facebook introduced new privacy control tools. But they don’t want you to be private. Their privacy strategy is a classic example of Confusopoly.
  3. Photo filters and Instagram: I can has filters? Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram make even the most bland pic of a sleeping cat look artsy and fun. They’re kind of like autotune, but for pictures. Facebook wants in on this trend. Adding filters to photo uploads means more time spent on Facebook. Wich means more ad revenue. Here’s what I think they’re missing: using a third party app let’s me share to places other than Facebook– Twitter, Flickr, etc.

The list actually goes on and on. But here’s the point: sure, understanding your competition helps you avoid getting sucker punched by some startup. But if all you’re doing is dodging punches, you’ll inevitably lose sight of the one thing you have in common with your competitors: the customer. If you truly understand your customers’ trials and triumphs, you’ll be able to satisfy their unarticulated needs. And then the competition is chasing you!

Understanding your competitors is good. Understanding your customer is better.

Excellent Adventure, Day 2 Thoughts

4:14 AM: Wake up. Wide awake. Convince myself it’s too damn early and semi-sleep for another 90 minutes. Get up, pack up.

 

6:00 AM: Free breakfast always tastes better. Even though I know I’m paying for it in the room rate. So, I guess it’s not free. In that case, it was mediocre. Back to the room to go over the route for the day. 587 miles. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Realize I’m really goddamn tired. This is gonna be a long day. 5 Hour Energy is my BFF on this ride. (Gatorade’s my mistress, FWIW)

 

7:11 AM: Load up the bike, gear up, fuel up, head out. I don’t know what it is, but “Music Highway” (I-40 between Nashville and Memphis) is all sparkly. Like it got laid down by a steamroller with a bedazzler on the back. Also: WTF, Tennessee? Did your road crews never learn how to make a nice smooth transition between the road and a bridge? On half the bridges it’s like driving over a friggin curb at 80 miles an hour. Thanks a bunch, a-holes.

 

9:50 AM: Need gas. Need caffeine. Need to stand. Stop at a Citgo in Bucksnort, TN. Yes. Bucksnort. Pretty sure it’s right down the road from Cowfart. Actually, This was one of my favorite stops of the day. When I rode up, there was a group of bikers taking a break. They were from Pittsburgh. Taking the southern route out to California, then heading up the PCH to Oregon, and taking the northern route back. A month. Hard fucking core. Also, cool people. Then, another group rode up. Also from Pittsburgh. We hung out, talked about rides we’d done. I told them about my whopping two rides– The Three Sisters (last weekend!), and the one I was currently doing. Ok. Enough time in Bucksnort.

 

11:30 AM (ish): Stopped for gatorade, gas, and a snack (trail mix– fruit and nut mix. No baby shit trail mix today, thank you.). Called the kids and talked to them for a few minutes. Lily informed me that they had put on all of their temporary tattoos and that Cohen’s feet smelled like BBQ chicken. Also, it’s not nearly as hot today. Bu I’m definitely getting tired. And sore– hands, upper back, and ass. I was going to type “butt” but it looked weird. So you’re stuck with ass. And mine was sore. Left cheek, to be specific. Probably has something to do with posture due to the fact that my left highway peg is actually just a nubbin. See Day 1 for details. Or not. 

 

2:17 PM (eastern time zone!!): Dark gray clouds hanging low over the Kentucky hills. Getting sleepy again. Need gas. Maybe some beef jerky, too. Stopped right across the street from the Bullitt County Fairgrounds. Was gonna take a picture, but it started raining so I GTFO. Here’s a crappy Google Maps streetview of the entrance– it’s the sort of arch-y-looking thing. Had white metal cut-out letters: Bullitt County Fairgrounds. It sorta sprinkled all the way through Louisville, but pretty much cleared up once I got to…

 

4:18 PM: Florence, KY. Nice enough place, I’m sure. But it’s like I stepped out of a DeLorean after hitting 88 miles an hour with a brand new Flux Capacitor. 1994 was a good year. Just not sure I’d wanna re-live it today. 120 miles left. Home stretch. Fuck. I’m tired. Earbuds in, and what’s the first song that plays? Bloodbuzz Ohio, by The National. Oh. Hell. Yeah.

 

5:00 PM: Shoulda taken a leak in Kentucky. Rest stop this time. Wanted to keep making decent time, so didn’t even take off my helmet. People stared. Oh well. Back on the bike. Dark Ohio rain clouds up north. This could get interesting. I can smell the rain.

 

5:30 PM (ish): Big fat raindrops start plopping onto my windshield. Onto my helmet. I can see the rain curtain. Coming up fast. Decided to just keep going. I have a perfectly awesome rainsuit from my brother in my saddle bag, but all the overpasses were already taken by the weekend joyriders with their bandannas and sleeveless shirts. Fuck it. After about 10 minutes I can feel it seeping through the seams on my leather jacket. Starting to feel it on the fabric vents on my leather pants. Gloves are soaked. Hands are chilly, but as long as I keep moving them I’ll be fine. Road was shedding the watter pretty well, and I was able to ride in the tire tracks of the cars in front of me. By 20 minutes in, I could see the other side. 10 minutes later, I was back into the dull evening sun. That was actually kinda fun. A little road baptism, I suppose.

 

6:20 PM: Made it! Pull in and roll on the throttle. Who needs a horn when you can make the pipes roar?

I rode 1,337 miles in two days. And made it in one piece– not even any close calls, really.

 

An excellent adventure, indeed.

Posted via email from Seth Gray

Seth’s Excellent Adventure, Day 1 Thoughts

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Prequel: had dinner with the kids and Erin at Chester’s last night. One more green chili cheeseburger. Cried like the Cowardly Lion if he
got hit with pepper spray after saying goodbye (for 2 weeks) to the kids. And Erin.

6:04 AM: Rolled out of the driveway of the house that had finally helped make Texas feel like home. May or may not have spent 10 minutes before I left just listening to the echoes.

6:35 AM (or so): Foot rest of brand new left highway peg fell off my bike. Shit. Mounting hardware gets progressively looser.

7:58 AM: Stop at 100 miles or so, broke out the tools, tightened up what’s left of my brand-fucking-new highway pegs. Wish I wasn’t such a noob when I put them on in the first place. Note to self: tighten the damn highway pegs. Regularly. Also, made the mistake of not drinking enough coffee and eating Burger King for breakfast. You are getting sleepy. Very, very sleepy. Your eyelids are getting heavy…

9:16 AM: Falling asleep while driving a car is one thing. Falling asleep while riding a motorcycle? OK. They’re both pretty bad. Anyway. Coffee + 5 Hour Energy. Good to go. Texas sure is pretty.

11:15 AM (??): realized I’m almost outta gas. Stop in Dallas, right across the street from the Cotton Bowl. It’s… um… pretty ghetto. I didn’t even get off the bike. Just filled up and took off. (That part of) Dallas is not pretty.

11:45 AM: Texas sure is hot. Maybe wearing all black leather, plus a black full-face helmet wasn’t the best choice for heat management. Keeps me safe, though. Worth it. Power Bar, beef jerky, and 64 ounces of Gatorade (Fierce Melon, and Fierce Strawberry, in case you wondered. Also, how the fuck can melon or strawberry be fierce?). Also, also… Dear Greenville, TX: you suck at civil engineering. Did you just randomly decide how long the traffic lights should stay green? I know! Let’s do that, AND let’s reduce the only N/S interstate highway down to one lane, k? I hate you, Greenville.

1:10 PM: Maybe 64 ounces of Gatorade at once was a bad idea. (That means I had to pee. Just incase you had trouble reading the subtext)

2:53 PM: Texadelphia, TX. It’s a city that stradles the Texas, Arkansas border. Now, the best I can figure, some moron (probably from Arkansas) had heard of this place called Philadelphia. He’d also heard it was the “City of Brotherly Love” or something. So, being from Arkansas and probably hating it because of all the rice and Clintons, this bumpkin decided to name his town the “City of Texas-ly Love”. Except that he picked the wrong part of the damn word. So, Texadelphia actually means “City of Texas Brothers”. Don’t even get me started on Arkadelphia. Oh. And I ate lunch at Subway.

5:10 PM: North East of Little Rock, Arkansas. Gas. Gatorade. Talked to a fellow biker. He was on a white Suzuki Boulevard M109 with a tan ostrich-leather saddle. We talked shop. Which means we tell each other all the things we’re gonna do to customize our bikes. But we’ll never actually do them. On to Memphis?

6:00 PM: OMFG. I just rode into a sauna. It’s about 9 million degrees, and like infinity percent humidity. Stop at a rest stop (too many “stops”?) and hang out in the air-conditioned bathroom. Realize that’s probably a good way to unintentionally get in trouble. Take off my leather overpants (jeans underneath. Relax, ladies) and strap them to the back of the bike. Spend the next 20 minutes puring water over my head, drinking Gatorade/water, and eating melted trail mix. Ok. I’m sorry, but what buffoon of a product manager at Planters decided it’d be a swell idea to put pieces of chocolate (sans candy-coating) in the fucking trail mix? When I opened it, it looked like a package full of baby shit. If the baby had eaten rasins and cashews. Fortunately, it tasted lovely. At this rest stop, there was another long-haul biker taking a nap in a hammock he’d strung between two trees. I was jealous.

8:10 PM: Sweaty. Tired. Sweaty. Hungry. Sweaty. Checked in to the hotel. Grabbed my bags, helmet, leather pants (still wearing the jacket). Ding! Elevator to the third floor. Why is this hallway so damn long? Oh. I see. I’m in room 3-infinty. Hey-presto, thanks to graphing calculators & calculus, here I am. Gonna shower then get some food. Why doesn’t my key work? AHHHH!! Walk back down the god-fucking-damn long hallway to the elevator. Ding! Ground floor. Then some nice people let me cut in front of them. Maybe it was cuz I still had my 80 pounds of gear. Maybe it was cuz I was sweaty. And stinky. Whatever. Back to the elevators. Ding! Third floor. This time it take about 5 years to walk down the hallway. And my mother fucking key doesn’t fucking work agai…. oh. It was upside down. There we go.

8:30 PM: Shower scene.

9:00 PM: walk to get some dinner and pass not one, but two, count ’em, two Circle Ks. Scallops were excellent. Blue Moon was lovely. Almost got run over by a car when I was walking back to the hotel.

Circle K in Memphis, TN

Now: realize I’m so damn tired that I can’t… finish… this…