The first founder we are going to feature in our new series is a good friend of mine, Jeff LeBlanc (no relation, just an awesome last name). After a career in consulting and then finance, Jeff turned his passion for books and reading into two very cool companies, Out of Print and Litsy. Out of Print takes cover art from great books and turns it into t-shirts, notebooks, coffee mugs, socks (my favorite pair), and other neat accessories. It also has an amazing social component. For every product sold, they donate a book to a community that needs it via Books for Africa. Their efforts have resulted in over 1.7 million books reaching kids who need them. And Litsy is a new app to share, talk about, and discover books. I’m kind of addicted to the app and am desperately working on my Litfluence.
Given his entrepreneurial nature and experience, Jeff was one of the first people I turned to when the idea of Good Stock started gestating. He shared lots of insight with me, gave me some good advice, and strongly encouraged me to move forward with the idea. (Side note: If you’re thinking about starting a new company, you should definitely consult entrepreneurs. But you should also know that every single one of them will say, unequivocally, “DO IT!” They aren’t wrong, but you will leave that conversation convinced, so be prepared to quit your job). He’s also patiently acted as a sounding board to thousands of my questions, from strategy to marketing to how to balance the books. Jeff, his co-founder Todd, and the Out of Print family have been an inspiration to me, and also very supportive of our mission at Good Stock. I’m happy for Jeff to share his story with all of you.
Why did you start Out of Print?
Todd and I have been friends since the second grade (hence the tongue-in-cheek note in our logo: "Est. 1984"). We're big readers and wondered why there wasn't a graphic tee brand celebrating books as there are for sports, music and pop culture. It was important for us to have fun, do something that matters and make sure that, as "customer #1", we would be proud wearing our shirts. Bookworms are a passionate breed, and our products give them a way to show their passion for their favorite stories. The best part of our job is hearing about the conversations our tees spark about books.
What is the most important thing you learned?
Entrepreneurship is a never-ending Q&A exercise. What is our product? How do we make it? How do we ship it? When is it right to start advertising? It's so easy to get overwhelmed about the length of the list and not having time to tackle it all. Starting Out of Print has taught us we can't do it all, at least not right now. Instead, prioritize the most important questions to tackle now based on the impact it can have on the business, and be okay with deferring others. If we had focused on finding a third party warehouse in our first few months of business instead of focusing on more pressing product and marketing questions, we would have missed the mark.
What do you love about your job?
So much. Our company feels like family. Our customer community is truly awesome -- they send pics wearing tees, email us suggestions, engage on social media about books they're reading and loving. In January last year, we traveled to Malawi to see firsthand what a difference our book donations, 1.7 million and counting, are making for communities. We work with the best partners around, including authors, publishers, artists, bookstores, literacy organizations and librarians. We've been blessed with so many special moments along the way, like the time we chatted with Maurice Sendak (and his dog) in his den about books, politics and life.
What are you currently listening to and reading?
My playlist is downright embarrassing (Ed. note: this is so true), which is why I listen to all Spotify sessions in private mode. Let's just say I have eclectic musical taste. Lately I've been into Dangermuffin's mellow, folksy sound. In terms of books, I'm just wrapping up "The Circle" by Dave Eggers. It's a social media dystopic tale that feels more non-fiction than fiction. Next up is a Transformers graphic novel. Nerd alert.
What is your favorite soup?
This is an easy one! It used to be my grandmother's Scotch broth, but ever since I tried Good Stock's gumbo, that one has claimed #1 prize. (Ed. note: sorry, Grandma!)