The $40 billion Franchising T-Shirt (Part 1 of 3)

Seth Godin.

This is a name that instantly evokes an explosion of images, ideas, colours and stories in the minds of everyone who’s been exposed to him.

“Purple Cow”, “Permission Marketing”, “Ideavirus”, “Small is the new big”, “Linchpin”, “Tribes”, “This might not work”, “The Dip”, “All Marketers Are Liars”…far from being merely titles of bestselling books or best-spreading blog posts, these are ideas and concepts that have become synonymous with the relentlessly generous, shiny pated force of nature that is Seth Godin.


Despite the tremendous respect, admiration and gratitude I have for Seth as a teacher, role model and hero, the purpose of this article isn’t to laud his greatness or bore you with countless stories of how his work has impacted me and millions of others around the world.

For one thing, Seth wouldn’t want that.

Instead, this article is actually a deep dive into one of Seth’s greatest business failures of all time (by his own admission). And if you’ll stick with me, not only will you learn a bit more about the results of the industry-wide global survey of franchise owners that I launched last month… but you’ll also discover a powerful insight that I’ve dubbed the $40billion Franchising T-shirt.

Let’s get into it.

Back in 1993…

Back in 1993, before Seth Godin became Seth Godin™, author of 18 international best sellers, America’s number one marketer, inductee to the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, Seth…was a book packager.

Now, the Wikipedia definition of Google defines “book packaging” is: a publishing activity in which a publishing company outsources the myriad tasks involved in putting together a book — writing, researching, editing, illustrating, and even printing — to an outside company called a book-packaging company.

But in Seth’s words:

A book packager is like a movie producer, but for books. You invent an idea, find the content and the authors, find the publisher and manage the process. Book packagers make almanacs, illustrated books, series books for kids and the goofy one-off books you find at the cash register. I did everything from a line of almanacs to a book on spot and stain removal. It was terrific fun, and in a good year, a fine business. Along the way, I worked with just about every major publisher and created more than a hundred books. I packaged (with various levels of success) video games, college professors, Julia Robert’s astrologer, an award-winning children’s novelist, the Weekly World News, Kinko’s and (almost) Craftsmen Tools.

Seth did this for 15 years, riding the entrepreneurial rollercoaster from his first year of 900 rejections in a row after his first sale, to becoming a linchpin in the book packaging industry.

And then…it happened.

It being the Internet.

Powered by the now-Proustian khree-ker-cher-ker-cher sounds of the 256k modem, the world wide web was starting to escape out the confines of University engineering labs, and break out into the mainstream world of Netscape, AOL, Gopher, discussion forums, FTP servers, Mosaic…

Put simply, the Internet was starting to show hints of being a pretty big deal.

And Seth, being the cutting edge noticer and namer-of-things that he was, could see it. He could see it far better than most people in the world.

So having noticing the opportunity of a lifetime before almost everybody in the world…what did Seth do?

The answer is similar to what most of us do with all the amazing opportunities, ideas and possibilities that we face every minute of every single day:

We stick with what we know…and force the opportunity to fit in with what we’re comfortable with.

And so Seth Godin the successful book packager, when faced with the opportunity of the Internet, decided…to write a book about it.

The infamous $40bn T-shirt

The book was called The Best of The Net, it ran 500-pages long, took Seth and his team a year to write, and landed him an $80,000 book deal (about $130k in today’s money).

And as part of the promotional efforts for the book, Seth created a T-shirt for his sales team; a t-shirt that would end up costing him about $40 billion.

Yes: $40 billion, with a “b”.


Well, at the same time that Seth was taking his idea about the Internet and parlaying it into an $80,000 book deal, two guys called David and Jerry used the same knowledge (and fewer resources) to launch a small Internet company called Yahoo.

A company that’s been evaluated at $80 billion. A company that Seth Godin has regretted not building with the time he spent developing a book about the Internet. And a company that, if he had started it, he says tongue-in-cheek would have been worth about half of Yahoo’s value today.

Hence the $40 billion T-shirt.

Which prompts the question: what on earth does any of this have to do with franchising?

The answer: quite a lot.

You see, the story of Seth’s $40 billion T-shirt has numerous lessons and themes running through it.

Good is the enemy of great

Paradigm shifting opportunities are waiting for you right outside your comfort zone.

The importance of thinking BIG (which is much bigger than you think).

But the central idea in this story that Seth has himself articulated…is the danger that comes from letting who you think you are blind you from seeing and achieving all that you and your franchise can be.

Seth’s bias towards looking at the world through the eyes of a book packager robbed him of the opportunity to start an Internet company that would revolutionise the world and build an economic engine worth billions of dollars.

And the way you’re looking at your business and your brand is equally robbing you of countless opportunities that you are unaware of.

This realisation struck me as I’ve been sifting through the numerous responses to the industry-wide global survey of franchise owners that I launched last month. The insights shared have been truly life changing, and despite constant emails/LinkedIn messages asking me when the results would be ready, what I discovered in reading through the responses showed me that this was way more than just another survey.

Franchise owners shared with me their “WHYs” for going into franchising, the specific obstacles that almost kept them from buying, their fears, hopes, aspirations…and even some of the things they wished they could change about their current franchise.

Swimming through all this data, it was clear that what I’d stumbled into was a powerful resource that could help franchisors uncover the $40 billion T-shirts in their thinking, and make tiny changes that would yield powerful results.

I could see how even franchise brokers would be able to take the insights from the survey and use them to fine tune their marketing approaches to magnetically attract the perfect candidates for the perfect franchise opportunities…and earn sizeable 50%-ish commissions for their life-changing efforts.

And so after much debate, I think I’ve figured out the best way to share these results with the Franchising Community. And all being well, I’ll be sharing these results in part 2 that should hopefully go live on LinkedIn tomorrow (If you want me to email you when it does, then click here).

In part 2 of “The $40 billion T-shirt”, my goal is to go deep in giving you insights and discoveries from the findings that you can take action on right now. You’ll also discover some of the things that your franchisees want you to know (but might be too afraid to say). And even though no names will be shared, hopefully the approach I’ve decided on for sharing the results will be of tremendous value to you…maybe even worth an actual $40 billion dollars!

Until then, I’ve got a question for you to share your thoughts on in the comments:
What’s the one question about your business that you desperately want/need an answer to?

You’ll see why I’m asking this in tomorrow’s article…and I’ll try to come up with a nice surprise for everyone who plays along.

So, again, what’s the one question about your business that you desperately want/need an answer to?

On your marks, get set…write! ;-)