Tinker Don’t Talk

There’s this wonderful scene in the fictitious movie The Social Network when Zuck says to the Winklevii:

If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.

There’s then this incredibly well-written, fantastical follow-up, where the attorney for the Winklevii asks Zuck if they have his attention. To which Zuck replies:

I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.

When I saw this (highly fictitious) scene, I thought of my cofounder Brian Spaly.

It’s one of the twists of history that it appears — because I’m still here — that I’m the original founder of Bonobos.

I’m not, Brian is.

And while we are at Stanford, he was an entrepreneur while I was a wannabe.

You see what entrepreneurs do is they make a product and commercialize it.

What wantrepreneurs do is they talk a lot about starting a company, with anyone who will take a meeting with them, but they never actually build anything.

It’s why MBA’s typically make crap founders. We want to do things like take meetings, write presentations, and build models. Those are things that bankers and consultants do. Those are things that I did while I was in business school.

It turns out those are not things that founders do.

Entrepreneurs identify a problem or an opportunity, they invent a product to address it, and they then commercialize that product.

Brian couldn’t find pants that fit. He did some lean research and found that a lot of other guys have the same problem. He made pants that did. While many people like me were talking about starting companies we never started, Brian sold some $30,000 worth of pants to our classmates.

While Brian was too busy selling his pants to take any meetings, I was still talking about an idea I had called Readeo. I was a wantrepreneur.

In fact, I was talking about it for months and months and months, and yet I never actually made a product. Readeo was going to be an amazing discovery platform for great reading and writing. It never got off the ground because I never did anything entrepreneurial about Readeo. I wrote a business plan and failed miserably at recruiting a technical cofounder. I got way more feedback than I needed relative to what I had, which was nothing. I never built a prototype.

Luckily in spite of my ineptitude, it now exists. Six years later, someone made it. And they made it better than I could ever have conceived.

It took two things to make it:

  1. An inflection point in the market called Twitter: a built-in distribution platform to announce new content from writers to relevant and engaged readers.
  2. A focus on writers first and readers second: prioritizing the content producers over the content recipients in the user experience of the product.

That second thing I would never have thought of. That took a genius. And that genius also happens to have co-invented the first thing. As for the name Readeo? Well the founder has a better name for it, and it’s not Readeo or Writeo. He calls it something else:


And so I dedicate this post to both Brian Spaly and Ev Williams, two of the most amazing founders I know.

Without Ev, we wouldn’t have a medium called Medium to reach so many people so quickly. We also wouldn’t have Twitter to publish my Medium stories to people that might want to read them.

Without Brian, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. You taught me how to be a founder. As they say in that great anti-drug campaign:

I learned it from watching you.

You showed me the creative genius required to invent something.You gave us all a gift — our customers, our team, our shareholders — with this brand.

When you left, you did so with grace and dignity, and more than a few 50/50 Ricky’s at Diablo. I know it wasn’t easy for you to walk away, that it’s probably still not easy being gone.

From you I learned that you show a lot how much you care about something by how you leave it. From you I learned that one of the great acts of love is letting go — to care more for something than you do for yourself. It is something all great parents and great founders eventually must do.

I thought the year you left was going to be the hardest year at Bonobos. It wasn’t. The next year was, because I had to replace you. And replacing you was almost impossible. I hope I did okay.

Since you left, you have built this. You let your actions in building Trunk Club demonstrate that you’re not just a founder, you’re also a CEO.

Most importantly, you taught me this:

Watch what people do not what they say.

From starting the company to leaving it to what you’ve done since, you let your actions do the talking. And when it came to starting Bonobos, you didn’t talk much. You did something much better:

You tinkered.

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