Fame is Overrated

[More thoughts from The Hughbook etc.]


If you’re a business owner hoping to increase awareness, what’s the best marketing you can get for the money?

Short answer: Writing a book. Particularly a book that other people actually want to read.

One that tells your story. One that explains to people what you’ve done and why it matters. One that really captures the zeitgeist that you occupy.

Makes sense, right? Especially of your book becomes a bestseller. Suddenly you’re taken more seriously by the people who matter, suddenly all sort of doors open for you.

A couple of years ago, my friend, Tucker Max was looking for something to do.

He had just spent the first half of his career being a famous reprobate, after writing a couple of notorious bestsellers, including “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell”, and was looking for a new gig.

The thing is, Tucker hated being famous.

Sure, being famous is good for business and all, but it has serious downsides. Not being able to go get a cup of coffee or stand in line at the cinema without somebody bothering you, for one thing.

Secondly, if you get famous, then suddenly you have this big public persona to keep up, which gets really tedious after about a week. Having to be “Interesting” for a living sucks for most normal people, especially once they settle down and start a family (like Tucker did), but that is what you have to do, to stay big in the public eye.

So Tucker had this brilliant idea. Instead of milking the famous-author-persona thing himself (something was already sick of), he’d start a business that would use what he had learned the hard way, to help other people become famous instead… or at least, help them get a book written and published, the way he had, in the most pain-free way possible.

Et Voila! “Book In A Box” was born.

I just love this idea. As someone who’s been in and out of the business book business for a while now, I know so many entrepreneurs who could use having their own book in print.

But because the process is so long, tedious, complicated and painful, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

So here’s Tucker with a great idea (and execution) that totally narrows the gap. Brilliant. I love it. For its simplicity, its audacity and yes, its ability to address an actual, real business problem without having to do the fame-nightmare thing. Rock on.

[Twitter:  @hughcards]


[Millionaire Or Artist”, New York, 1998]

[More thoughts from the #hughbook etc.]


Spring, 1998. West Village. Manhattan.

I was in The Corner Bistro, doodling away on my business cards (a new habit I’d only picked up a couple of months before), when suddenly I had a moment of clarity.

At the time I working as a mid-tier copywriter at a mid-tier ad agency working on mid-tier accounts and not doing too badly. I wasn’t setting the world on fire or anything, but I liked the job, I liked the people and the work wasn’t too odious. Plus there was the added benefit of living in New York, a city I adore.

“It’ll do for now”, as they say.

But then suddenly I did some rough math in my head.

I figured that after all my expenses- New York rents, New York taxes, New York suits and ties, New York shoes, New York gym memberships, New York cocktails, just New York everything- at the end of the day I was taking home about a hundred dollars.

One hundred dollars. All those late nights and weekends at the office, all those insanely long meetings talking about nothing, all that business travel and Powerpoint presentations and stress and noise and rushing around…

And all for a lousy hundred.

Then I looked at the little doodles I’d been drawing…

“I bet I could get someone to give me $100 for one of these, instead,” I said to myself.

And that is kinda what happened, in a roundabout way. I gave up advertising to become an artist.

Right then and there. I remember it clear as day, my so-called illustrious advertising career just up and went, vacating my body, like a ghostly spirit.

The rest is history.

No, the art thing did not happen overnight. Yes, there were many stumbles along the way. Yes, a lot of people thought I was crazy at first, myself included. No, it didn’t play out quite the way I thought it would. Yes, I had to pivot many, many times. Yes, there are many other wonderful people involved, yes, it’s still playing out and yes, I’m still constantly pivoting and no, I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

Yes, I could have stayed in New York, could have hung on to the advertising gig, hoping to get the big break, hoping for some kind of New York career miracle to happen.

The kind of miracle that a lot of people I knew back then are *still* waiting for…

The product doesn’t get to kick ass until the user kicks ass, first.

[More thoughts from the #hughbook etc.]

I remem­ber the day, back in the early 1990s, when I first came across the great busi­ness wri­ter, Tom Peters. Most TV shows are for­got­ten within hours of watching, but this one still stays with me, over two deca­des later.

Tom was doing a PBS pro­gram on the Mit­tels­tand, those ama­zingly plucky, medium-sized Ger­man com­pa­nies that somehow manage to com­pete suc­cess­fully on a glo­bal level, in spite of their rela­ti­vely small size.

Tom was inter­vie­wing Horst Brandstät­ter, the owner and CEO of Play­mo­bil, the famous Ger­man toy company.

And this is the part I REALLY remem­ber– to paraphrase:

TOM: Hmmm… These Play­mo­bil toys of yours… they do ama­zingly well, all over the world. So what’s their sec­ret? What do they do that’s so interesting?

HORST: It’s not what the toy does that’s inte­res­ting. It’s what the child does with the toy that’s interesting.

BOOM! A moment of cla­rity. One that sticks with me, like I said, twenty five years later.

What Horst said is true, whether you’re run­ning a small mom n’ pop cheese empo­rium in Green­wich Village, or a mul­ti­bi­llion titan like Intel or General Motors: To borrow hea­vily from Kathy Sie­rra, the pro­duct doesn’t get to be kick-ass until the user kicks ass first.

Don’t talk about your­self. Talk about something else. Aim for something higher. Talk about the user. Remem­ber Play­mo­bil. Never for­get the child pla­ying with it.

Thanks, Tom…