[quote]The only thing I would do differently is increase my speed to market with every product I’ve ever developed. Sometimes we waited too long. We were concerned that we would offend people with a product that is half-baked. The truth is, you rarely will have enough of an audience in the beginning to really hurt your brand.[/quote]
Chris Sonjeow is a serial entrepreneur who has been involved in multiple businesses ventures over the past five years. Chris began his career in 2001 as an illustrator and page layout artist for a local Detroit advertising agency. After five years, he began work as a marketing specialist for a national housewares company, which included developing ad campaigns and market research for multiple big box retailers. This experience helped pave the way for learning more about business development. In November of 2008, Chris co-founded the company LoveBook LLC, a publishing company that specializes in books designed to bring people closer together.
Over the past three years, LoveBookOnline.com has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and other local news outlets. Chris’s company has published over 10 book titles, including The Activity Book for Couples, which is currently being sold in Urban Outfitters all across the United States.
Chris is also Co-Founder of Picbound.com, a web application that allows users to upload photos and design their own full-color, high-gloss photo books.
What are you working on right now?
We’re a small company of six people, so everyone on the team wears multiple hats. I am currently working on marketing programs for LoveBookOnline.com and Picbound.com. There is a lot of maintenance work that goes into each program, and our task is to make sure they are all functioning at their peak performance. I am also working with our team on new book titles for the upcoming holiday sales season.
Where did the idea for LoveBook come from?
The idea started as a Christmas gift idea. Myself and our three other Co-Founders (Kevin Zalewski, Rob Patterson, and John Baranowski) were at lunch when the conversation turned to what we were getting our significant others for Christmas. Rob pulled out a little 99-cent notebook and slid it across the table. Inside, each page listed a reason why he loved his wife. There was also a stick figure drawing on each page. As web developers and artists, we saw the potential of helping others create this same gift idea online…and so, LoveBookOnline.com was born.
We developed a web application that allows users to create these books by either adding their own reasons or selecting from a user-generated database of “love reasons.” Once they select all their pages, they can customize them by adding stamps or illustrations from our library of artwork. You can even request to have special stamps made and added to our library. When the user is finished, we print, bind, and ship the LoveBook anywhere in the world.
What does your typical day look like?
My day starts out by answering emails. I like to be close to our customers, so I respond to many of them personally. Understanding their needs is critical when you’re constantly looking to improve your service. After that, I check statistics. We developed our own in-house tracking software that helps us see how our marketing channels are doing. If any red flags pop up, we address them immediately. After that, I help our affiliate marketers by answering questions and I help our graphics teams with content questions. I do a lot of bouncing around and try to fit in a coffee somewhere in the mix.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As a team of six, we can still sit around and bounce ideas off of each other. Each team member has their own expertise, which is what probably makes us work so well together. Some of us are engineers, designers, programmers, marketers, so each person has their say, but the lead gets the lion’s share of the decision. Most of our best ideas come after a few adult beverages.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The future is all over the place, especially for the publishing industry. On one hand, everyone is saying that digital is the way to go, but we feel that some of our products have a sentimental value that needs to be held and touched. Our products are not like typical content; they are valued as keepsakes. On the other hand, we believe that tablets and digital books have opened the door for different types of products/rich media which could change the way we view certain types of content.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I’ve been fortunate to be involved with many talented individuals. I’ve never looked at a job as a bad thing, just a chance to learn. What I can say is that the worst feeling you can have at a job is to feel like you’ve stopped learning. If you find yourself at a job that is no longer challenging you, it’s time to move on.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
The only thing I would do differently is increase my speed to market with every product I’ve ever developed. Sometimes we waited too long. We were concerned that we would offend people with a product that is half-baked. The truth is, you rarely will have enough of an audience in the beginning to really hurt your brand. People are willing to try a good idea, so get your product out to market fast and listen to the consumer.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be profitable. Don’t ever spend money without that money bringing in a return on investment. A lot of people say “you have to spend money to make money.” That is a half-truth. By having this discipline, you stay lean and guarantee that you will be profitable. If it’s not working, you need to rework the formula. We test sample many marketing vehicles. If they don’t perform, we cut them quick.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
This has become a huge pet peeve of mine. This whole concept of “failure is good” that many young entrepreneurs have adopted is taking them down a warped sense of what business is all about. Yes, I get it. You fail and learn from mistakes. We all fail. But by glorifying failure, we’re removing the sting that one should feel when screwing up. Failure is nothing to be proud of. “Fail faster” is just another way of saying “try harder.” I prefer “try harder” because I know plenty of people that fail over and over again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
We sit around and joke about different types of business all the time. When I go out to eat, I’m the type of person that likes to have a few bites of everything. I also like dips. Someone needs to make a restaurant that serves bite-size portioned foods with multiple dips. It’s like a buffet, but you order off a menu.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be, and how would you go about it?
For someone in my business, the answer is simple: more love and empathy. As a society, we need to stop and think about how our actions affect other people. Rational thinking leads to better decision-making. Better decision-making leads to less friction. Less friction opens the door to more love.
Tell us a secret.
If allowed, I could spend hours playing Xbox. I used to be a rabid gamer. I grew up on my Atari 2600 and Apple II GS, playing games like Karateka, Bard’s Tale, Zork, Warlords, Kaboom, Moon Patrol…I could go on and on. Needless to say that owning businesses has taken a toll on my gaming time. However, every once in a while I’ll have a day to myself where I could literally barricade myself in my office and play games for hours and hours. I stick mostly with AAA titles, my faves being the GTA and Elder Scrolls series.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?
1. I love HARO (Help A Reporter Out) – If there is one thing I hate, it’s blind pitching to news outlets. With HARO, I know who is looking for content and this gives me an opportunity to tell our story.
2. Google Analytics – Such a powerful system. If you really dig deep into the system and use all the tools, you can optimize the hell out of your site. Not sure about which home page will work best? Test it! Analytics settles all arguments.
3. Reddit – It seems like these guys always have an ear to the ground when it comes to the latest in content. Staying in tune with what the web is talking about is an important factor in predicting the future.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. This book gave me the courage to think differently about money, building businesses, and breaking free from conventional teachings. The hardest thing about starting is starting. When Robert talks about his “two dads,” his descriptions of how his “poor dad” thought about money was exactly how I was taught growing up. By implementing the philosophy of the “rich dad,” it taught me to keep trying stuff. Movement, either forwards or backwards, is always better than standing still.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Honestly, I don’t use Twitter. I meet real people. I only use Twitter to make an introduction if I can’t find an email address or phone number. I think too many people hide behind social media. If there is someone that I find fascinating, I seek them out and go where they are.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Yesterday. Our office is a constant stream of jokes. We recently published a new title called Let’s Get Naked, which is a comedic sexual activity book for couples. Coming up with the ideas for this book would make anyone in Human Resources cringe.
Who is your hero?
My father, who came to this country from Thailand with nothing and is now a successful restauranteur. My wife, who always knows how to make hard days better. My friend and mentor, Jay Adelson, the Co-Founder of Equinix, Revision 3, and CEO of Digg. He taught me that being humble, helping people, and sticking with smart ideas will keep you happy and successful.
Quick advice for new entrepreneurs?
Keep moving forward. Stop spending all your time on social media talking about it. The more you talk, the less you’re working and moving forward. Content is a commodity and is fleeting. Provide a service that regular people can’t do well, and make it easy for them. If it’s easy for you to figure out, it’s easy for everyone. Create a business that people don’t know they even need yet.
Chris Sonjeow on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/chris-sonjeow/31/698/8b1
Chris Sonjeow on Twitter: @ChrisSonjeow
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