Why We Had the Audacity to Call Our Idea “Good”
The 3rd floor of the George Sherman Union at Boston University smells like a swamp: a mixture of completely unidentifiable smells that leave you only certain that you're smelling…something. Over that, there’s a heavy haze of what can only be described as sweaty. The tables are covered with dried coffee spills and the couches sag right in the middle, as defeated as the all the students who have studied long hours sitting in this room.
It’s not a pleasant place, but somehow we keep coming back. We're encouraged by the dusty redolence of hard work and the feeling that, because we're inflicting this mundane environment upon ourselves, the sacrifice will somehow pay off to a larger success. But for me, sitting in that room for a team meeting one late Tuesday night, success seemed like a joke. We were sincerely getting nowhere.
The assignment was to “Invent something original.” This is something that seems easy until you actually try it, like yoga or just eating one potato chip. Looking back on the assignment now, I'm realizing how farfetched our Professor’s faith in our abilities must be. I'm flattered, but also, is he crazy? These days, even having an original thought is applaudable. We sat there in our swamp looking hopeless, each one of us braving to put an idea out there, crawling out of our shells only to scurry back in when the idea tragically deflated.
After what seemed like a hundred rounds of this we finally caught hold of something…something okay. It happened subtly — starting out as an idea we didn’t completely hate — and then grew and evolved until we were engaged, building, smiling at the momentum, relieved that perhaps we wouldn’t be failures after all. The swamp became some place we wanted to be; our couches became thrones. This didn’t suck! How beautiful not being terrible can be.
Shoeties by Zappos. A service invented by Yanqitian Huang (strategist), Stephanie Semet (maker), Lauren Beader (copywriter), Eleanor Rask (art director) and myself (if I’m writing this much then I must be a copywriter). What started out as a lost-and-found service that would pair people missing a glove or shoe turned into something more meaningful. Shoeties targets a very specific but rather significant percentage of Americans: those who have different sized feet, or even just one foot.
If that seems bizarre, it’s because it is. But like proud and oblivious parents, we loved our weird-looking baby regardless. We took care of the idea, backtracked when we needed to, and slowly began to believe in its ability to actually stand on its own.
We started to call our idea good.
Now, as advertising students, this is a rare occurrence. We hid our confidence from our classmates like it was something we weren't even sure of ourselves. “Our idea is okay, I guess we'll see,” we said with our couch shrugs. But it was all coming together: a service that would connect someone looking for only one shoe for one foot with someone who was looking for the same size shoe but for the opposite foot. No longer would people with two different sized feet have to buy two pairs of shoes, and paraplegics wouldn’t have to buy two shoes when they only needed one. There was also a social aspect that we added: the two people would be able to chat with each other, and swap their experiences in their shared pair of shoes. And what better company to have this service than Zappos? A retail company committed to customer service in all its forms. What seemed like an ordinary service was actually never successfully invented before, and what a pity we thought.
Maybe it should be invented, we thought.
When we looked at our final layout, we were proud. Ecstatic. And even though we were students, we still had the gall to say our idea was good because we knew how much work we had put into it. We ourselves saw it come together. Born out of desperation. Out of a swamp. It was our own success, and just like the parents we are, we want a little more for our idea. We can’t help but hope, dream a little dream, that maybe out of that swamp of the 3rd floor in the George Sherman Union, something bigger was created.
Let me know if you agree: