02 Oct Experimenting to Create Your Own Dream Job! with Colin Murdy
Today’s guest is Colin Murdy. Colin is the founder of the Murdy Creative Company. Murdy Creative makes these freakishly cool… beautifully simple leather binders. I’ll tell you, I came across Colin and his story on Instagram.
I was not aware of him, not aware of his company, not aware of the binders, any of that, but I’m scrolling through the Instagrams, as one does, and all of a sudden this pic with this gorgeous binder comes flying by. I am a sucker for high-quality leather goods, so I see this thing, and I am hooked. I take the bait, click it, and I realize these things are beautiful, but I’m also realizing there is this great story behind it.
The more I dug in the more I realized… this guy is a true DREAM THINK DO-er.
I knew I had to have him on the show, so now we’re all up to speed.
- Website: murdycreative.co
Colin Murdy, welcome to DREAM THINK DO.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be on.
Absolutely. Okay, you hooked me early on because I see the binders. They’re gorgeous. I have one on my desk. It’s right next to me. It’s become my blankie. I love it, but it’s that thing, and I click through. I start reading your story, and I’m like, “Man, we’re like family!” Because you started experimenting with this idea in high school, right?
Absolutely. It’s funny how you kind of get into things and you didn’t really mean to. I was actually a theater kid, and I did band, and I was in a lot of advanced math and science courses. When you do that, your schedule is really full in high school, and so I didn’t really get an opportunity to take an actual art course. I always wanted to take a real live art course. The only one that was able to fit in my schedule was the experimental art class, and I thought, “This is going to be awesome. I love experimenting.” I had no idea what it was going to be. It ended up being all of these old traditional styles of art, screen printing and all types and all these other cool things.
One of them was this thing called stab bookbinding. I had been an avid journaler since my brother went off to college. My older brother, Marcus, went off to college my sophomore year of high school, and so I thought to myself, “This is awesome. I can recreate movie props that I love, and I can have … I can take control of my destiny, and I can do all of these things with the journals that I like to write in and I spend all those dollars on. I can make my own.”
That’s how I got into it almost by accident. It became a hobby, and I was selling them on Etsy. I started another company in the middle there where I thought it was going to be huge, but then it failed. I’m still making books on Etsy, and people were still ordering them. Things kept moving forward, and then it developed into what it is now.
I love it. That’s a huge thing we talk about on DREAM THINK DO: the power of experimenting. I think, especially with entrepreneurial dreams, to find the passion but also look for the proof, and the proof is always will people buy it, right?
Am I creating something that people will buy? We’ll get into the experiment that didn’t work, at least in the way you thought. But you learn from those as much as you learn from the successes, right?
Now, as people hear your voice, they probably realize you’re not 76. Let’s just say high school wasn’t that long ago. Can I ask how old you are?
Actually, I am 24.
Awesome. So this whole experiment started in high school. At what point was it where you said, “Yeah, I’m just going to throw some stuff on Etsy”? Was that while you were still in high school still in that class, or was it while you were in college?
Well, I’ve always been a big believer that if you like doing something as a hobby, if you can figure out a way to make that hobby pay for itself, that’s always the best policy. Some hobbies can get really expensive if you don’t properly capitalize them, as I always jokingly said.
It was one of those things where it was clearly, at the time, a hobby. I had made one or two, and then one of my friends said, “Oh, I really want one.” So I put it on Etsy for what I thought was an exorbitant amount of money. I thought no one would buy them because I didn’t really want to make that many of them, at the time, because I was doing school and all of this other stuff. Then people started buying them, and they bought a lot more than I ever thought they would.
It allowed me to buy nicer leather and better tools, and it allowed me really to spend the time I needed to, all of a sudden, hone the craft. Particularly with something like bookbinding, it’s just this ancient, beautiful art. There’s such history to it and a whole underground cult following of people who are bookbinders. It’s a whole community, and so when you get into it, it just sucks you in, and there’s so much to learn, and it’s so cool to see it really come to life in front of your eyes.
Yeah, absolutely. I know at the beginning of this kind of experiment, it’s all about “how do I do this?” My guess is, early on, you were trying all sorts of different things. As you and I began interacting, emailing and all of that, I really got in touch with what you’re talking about – the community and passion around bookbinding.
What I love about that is the simplicity of the design. It’s just gorgeous leather with three posts that then allows you to almost treat it like a three-ring binder. I know mine has a bunch of stuff in it. Precious things like feedback, encouragement, some prayers written out, all those kinds of things. I carry this thing with me all around, and it feels precious.
But it’s a very simple design, so one of my questions for you is this: What was that process like to imagine all the vast possibilities, but then to come back to simplicity? Was that hard? Was that easy?
I think it’s really hard to take and simplify things. It was funny. It kind of came out of necessity, to some extent. The perfect storm of elements came together. My mother is now a pretty avid journaler. She likes to Bible journal, and she always says that just the very tactile sense of the leather is such a relaxing and calming thing that it helps her feel like she can begin to write. So I knew that leather was the right choice for the material. Once you have that material, that’s just one aspect of a much broader picture, which is now the design, how you cut that and put it together to make it functional.
At the time, when I first made the first one, I was working for the dean of the business school, Dr. Sem at Concordia University Wisconsin, where I was the graduate assistant for him. He was a wonderful mentor, a very nurturing, very encouraging guy. He said, “Colin, you can go do this. It’s all very possible.” He himself was an entrepreneur and started a very big pharmaceutical company out in California and raised a ton of money. He’s a busy guy.
As his graduate assistant, I had a front row seat to just how busy he was. I also knew what he needed. I saw him every day do things where he had paper and needed to keep it protected. He was using a bag that was chock full of things because he was always on the go. I knew that the design needed to be simple, it needed to be clean, and it needed to be very, very ultra-functional with the ability to be made beautiful.
I had a bazillion prototypes before the Murdy Number One was ready. I made it for him as a gift. I gave it to him as a gift, and then he said, “You know what? These are gorgeous. I want to order 30 of them for the School of Business to give to all the professors. Can you engrave them?” Wow! All the sudden, I was in business.
Yeah, right. Who was it? Sir Richard Branson always says, “The answer’s always yes, and then figure out how to make it.”
Well, and that’s what I love. This is really how you’ve continued to grow your organization is that continual feedback loop of creating something, getting it out there. I love that the first Number One was a gift. Sometimes people would say, “Well, how should I design a product? How should I do that?” Well, design something you’d want to give as a gift. That’s actually something I’ve actually said in the past.
So you got something out there for people to react to. Your mentor wanted more – he wanted engraving, all of that. You’ve kept that feedback loop happening via Instagram, via all the social media that you’re doing, and that allows you to continue to develop.
Well, absolutely, and I think it’s funny. I was talking with one of my friends, and she very aptly pointed out that, “Colin, you’re not an entrepreneur. You’re a rampant consumer who doesn’t have the things he wants.”
I tell my students, “You’re your first customer, so if you don’t like it, no one else is probably going to like it either.” You have to make something that you like and that you would use, and then you have to find other people like you who agree with you.
I think that’s the jump that a lot of people fail to make. They’re like, “I’m going to make a product that is going to be super valuable.” Actually, that was how I failed the first time around. I was not my first customer. Because of that, it ended up not working out very well. I think you’re absolutely right about having that really tight feedback loop.
I tell people this. When you’re texting on the live chat on our website, that’s me on the other end. It’s not a robot. It’s not somebody else. It’s me, and I read every last one of the reviews on every platform religiously, Facebook, Amazon, Etsy, on our website, you name it.
It’s my product, and I’m offering it to you, and then I’m hearing what you want back. It’s like we’re friends at that point. It’s very personal. Sometimes people don’t think about it that way. They don’t think about, “Oh, I’m buying this thing from this company.” They don’t realize that somebody at that company worked really, really hard to make sure that you would like it, and when you say nice things, they hear that because that’s what they live for.
Absolutely, although sometimes you buy a product and go, “Somebody created something, but they didn’t love this product. I guarantee you they didn’t love this product. They just got something out there.” Whereas you receive the Murdy Number One, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah. Somebody created this. They loved this.” That was just obvious that that was the connection. I do think that that is something that, obviously, as you grow, I’m guessing that will still be a part of your DNA. As you grow, you may not be seeing every contact from a customer, but I’m guessing you’re still going to stay very close to this feedback loop no matter what.
I would love to paint a little bit of a picture here for where you’re at in your business, not necessarily dollar figures. But this is something that you’re building, and it is not your full-time job. I know that a lot of DREAM THINK DO-ers have big ideas, and many of them would love to turn those big ideas into companies. But they can’t just walk away from the full-time job.
Walk us through a little bit of how you’ve done this as a side hustle. A lot of people, myself included, started a side-hustle doing consulting or speaking or something along those lines. It’s a little bit rarer for someone to create a product as a side hustle, so walk us through a little bit of that decision and also how you actually maintain it.
It’s a common problem. I teach in the evenings at the university as well as my regular day job, on top of my side hustle here. I deal with students all the time who are asking questions like, “How do I do this full-time?” The answer is you don’t initially. There are very few businesses that are truly economically viable out of the gate. And businesses funded from outside sources, I think that that can sometimes make it difficult for people to truly grow the business organically. There’s no desperation.
Yeah, there’s not that hunger. Absolutely.
That really drives the ball forward. I was doing things kind of piecemeal until I decided to put one design on Amazon, to see what would happen. That’s the kind of thing you need to do.
Then you grow, and then you see, okay, did it sell? If it didn’t sell, do I need to change the marketing? Do I need to change the pitch? Then you work on the side. As you said, it’s a side hustle to some extent. In the evenings, during your lunch break, you constantly need to be working on generating content.
To some extent, everyone is in the content business today. That’s the reality. Everyone’s in the content business. If you’re not making good new content all the time, you’re going to become irrelevant because people are going to tune out and tune in elsewhere.
We started in February, and then we had a couple of people say, “You know, it would be great to have some new colors,” and I said, “That’s a great idea. What colors did you have in mind?” I had great suggestions from outside, and we worked with our vendors and suppliers to make sure that we could get that color the right way, and in the right quality, and the right quantities, and all of the other many, many little details that go into these kinds of things.
Then we launched the new colors, and now we’re launching two more, and we are launching two more different size and shapes. We’re constantly working on saying, “What do you guys want?” What does the customer need? What does the customer want, and how can we work on bringing that to them in the right way?” which is such a difficult question sometimes.
Well, yeah. Your story so reminds me of The Lean Startup. I don’t know if you’ve ever read that book. It’s a fantastic book. It’s definitely all about how you create a product. How do you do it fast? The author talks a lot about that minimum viable product, right, that MVP, but also making sure you’re just continually getting feedback. What I love about your story is that you’re generating feedback, reading those comments, talking to the people directly, but you’re also getting feedback by selling stuff and seeing what doesn’t sell.
When you’re living, and I think when you look at that lean startup model, the market is brutally honest, and it can be nothing but brutally honest. A lot of times my e-commerce students will ask, “Okay, well, what metrics should I be watching?” All of them. Every last one of them is important. As many of the metrics as you can see, those are all important. Your most important one is did you sell them? That’s the one that answers the rest of the questions. If you didn’t sell any of them, none of the other things matter. You can have the lowest cost per click in the world, and if you didn’t sell any, you still lost.
Yeah, exactly, and to be able to say, “All right, If it didn’t sell, does the product need to change or does the pitch need to change?” Right?
I know that’s something you’re constantly working on.
I think this is the most exciting time to be an entrepreneur. My grandpa was a brilliant man. He was a farmer, worked in a factory; he was a brilliant, entrepreneurial man. There would be significant barriers if he decided one day he wanted to start making and selling leather binders.
Maybe over time, he could gradually score a big contract with Sears & Roebuck or something like that, right? Whereas you got this idea. You create some, and you could immediately start going to Instagram. You can immediately start going to Facebook and start to reach out to people specifically and find people that might, in fact, want to buy this, and start it immediately. It’s just incredible. It’s such an incredible time.
Absolutely. I mean I think Gary Vaynerchuk has got some great points about how it has never been easier in all of human history to do it. Now is the time to move, and that the reason why people don’t still is because of them. It’s because they’re not willing to say, “It’s time to take the leap.” I think to some extent we all have a little bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in us. We’re constantly that saint and sinner, and we’ve got to deal with the two sides of our brain constantly saying, “You can do it,” and, “You can’t do it.”
There’s a great poem by Rudyard Kipling called “If,” and it’s just this wonderful poem that juxtaposes these two things. If you can walk with kings but not lose the common touch. It’s like if you can do both of these things … and the whole poem is about can you do … if you can keep your head about you when all around are losing theirs.
It’s just this glorious poem that ends with, “and yours will be the world, my son, and everything in it.” That’s where being able to really live that out and really acknowledge that sometimes we just need to quiet down our greater demons and listen quietly to the market that says, “I’m ready. What do you got for me?” and do it, just pull the trigger.
I am loving your story. I love your approach. Here’s the thing. Successful people have ideas, but whether they’re a college student saying, “I don’t want to quit college. I’m not going to quit college,” or they’re successful in a career or a job but they say, “Gosh, I want to start this…”
I want to dial in on that for you because it was a little bit different for you. I know when you were starting this process you were still a student. If I’m understanding correctly, you were working at a country club making tips, so that was your cash going into this. Tell us about you. How did you go about it? How did you decide how much you were going to invest? How did you get comfortable with putting your own skin in the game?
I think it’s got to be your own skin. I think, if it’s anybody else’s skin, it doesn’t matter. I think that the way I got started and the way I’d recommend is to get a job, first and foremost. You have to figure out something that pays the bills because if your business has to pay the bills, you will make bad business decisions early because the risk profile changes drastically.
Startups have to be, by their nature, pretty risky. They are. That’s the way they have to run, and you got to be able to say, “I’m willing to take risks in my marketing. I’m going to be willing to take risks in the way I design products.” If your business is what’s paying for your house, or your heating, or your car, you’re likely to not do those risky things that often pay off big. You’re not likely to take those risks because you’re worried about not eating, which is perfectly reasonable.
People like to eat. It’s a thing, right?
Actually, in my book Dream Job Redefined, we talk about getting a bridge job. Get out there. Get something. Deliver excellence, as you do, but get something that pays the bills so that you can do this thing on the side and build a business when you’re not dependent on that for your income, so I think that’s exactly right.
Absolutely. Knowing that you want to start a business actually provides you with some direction about what jobs you should do. I always recommend to my students, “Go work at your local country club. You make good money. You meet and connect with people that you would never otherwise have access to, and it’s usually evenings that you do your work, which allows you to do your side hustle during the day, regular business hours.”
If you can do that, then the next step is saying, “Okay. What is the least amount of things I need to buy for this thing to make money?” That’s your first step.
Then you break it down. It is saying, “Okay. For me to make money on this, I need to be on Amazon. For me to be on Amazon, I need to have a UPC code or I need to get the UPC code exemption. For me to get a UPC code, it’s going to be $250. Or you go like I did, to Etsy, where you don’t have to get any sort of UPC code because it’s all handmade, or you got to Shopify. You have to find what the least path of resistance for your business is, and start there because cash flow is king. You cannot run a business without good cash flow.
Absolutely. I love that part about your story too. You were finding ways, and starting with Etsy, moving towards Amazon, all those things where you were driving income. You were selling. You were generating revenue but, just as importantly, you were also generating feedback, which is huge.
That allowed you to then say, “Okay. Well, I could tweak this, or I change this, or I need to change this,” all of those things, so that’s huge.
I think one of the biggest benefits that startups have over any other company at all is that you can talk directly to the customers, and the customers can talk directly back to you, and it’s not going to cost you extremely large amounts of money. When you’re a big company, it costs you a lot of money to talk to your customers, and a lot of customers have gotten used to not being able to work with the companies, and that’s not the case with small business.
That’s why, for me, it’s so important to be able to answer the questions, because, a lot of times, they push me to answer the question very honestly. There’s no secret here. If I can create that connection, if I can show that, if I can demonstrate that this is something they need, and I truly believe that myself, then you win. Then everyone wins. Everyone walks away happy.
I love it. I always ask something we call our Wisdom of the Week. I love asking it. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to ask a question for that person who is hearing your story and resonating in a big way, but they need that last little shove, that last little bit of encouragement. I’m going to give you a second to think about that. What would you say to that person to give them that encouragement to take that next step? It’s not blindly taking a leap but taking that step and doing something.
All right, Colin, what’s the last parting wisdom you want to share?
It’s going to sound morbid, but bear with me, but you will die. The one guarantee in life is that you’re going to die. You only have so much time. You only have so many minutes, so many hours, and so many days. What’s the worst that could happen? Do you want to spend the rest of your life unhappy because you’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit, and you never did anything with it, and you live with regret, or do you go out and try and prove everyone right or prove them all wrong? But at least you did something. I think that is the one thing that everyone should continually remind themselves of is that it’s all going to end someday, so let’s get on it.
Right. I love it, and experiment, experiment, experiment, right?
Awesome. I love it. Colin, I love your story. I love what you’re doing, man. We’re rooting for you. Look forward to having you back on the show here in the days to come too.
Thanks so much. Have a great day.
All right, DREAM THINK DO-er. What did you think of Colin’s story? What stood out to you? Leave a comment and let me know!