I’m an ideas guy.
Now and forever, amen. So much so that (my fiancé) Darren may or may not have a code word to get my attention because I’m so often off in another place — thinking, dreaming, scheming. (The code word is “HARK!” in case you’re trying to get through to me and I’m showing no signs of life. It mostly works.)
Team TONIC is often probably like, “Oh boy, here he goes again with some crazy idea…” and while some of them stick and end up being BRILLIANT (if I do say so), a decent amount of them are… pretty bad. Or don’t make sense at the time. Or are just plain unnecessary.
Some of the worst ideas I’ve ever had? Here are just a few:
Extreme Makeover: Website Edition. Remember when it was a thing in the photography industry to tour around the States in a legit tour-bus with your face on the side circa 2008? If not, yes, it was a thing and a whole thing at that. And, wellll, I could just imagine my face in larger-than-life form cruising down the freeway at 55mph on its way to the town wherein I would film an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Website Edition” and completely transform someone’s brand and business and share the whole process for all the world to see via YouTube. True story. But it never happened and that’s all probably for the best. (Or is it?)
Next: Shipley Magazine. Back in oh, I don’t know 2013, I wanted to start a men’s lifestyle magazine so badly that I even designed a prototype, wrote a “letter from the editor” and pitched the idea to some friends who were great writers and photographers to see if they wanted to contribute. And yet the only name I could come up with was my last name. Haha. Cool, Jeff, real cool. Also, fun fact: print magazines were dropping like flies back then and I had already worked on a failed magazine concept (not my own) a few years prior. Thank you, NEXT!
And while all those *super great* ideas were swirling around, there was another idea brewing…
That same year, I met an amazing designer online via a Showit Designer Facebook group and proceeded to DM her with a whole list of edits for the site she was about to launch. I was honestly trying to help and thankfully she received it as such and thanked me for being willing to take the time to comb through her work (which was the best I’d seen, btw, and I was blown away!).
We basically became Facebook Messenger pen pals and began consulting each other on various projects and chit-chatting along the way. Soon thereafter, we got the chance to meet in person at a designer retreat Showit hosted. We quickly bonded over our shared love for a heavy pour of wine, good bourbon and being the catty duo in the back of the room “in class”. At some point during the retreat, I’m pretty sure I gushed over her brilliance as a designer and said, “We should design some sites together or something.” She agreed to explore the idea and a few days later, over some cocktails on a LA rooftop, the concept of a site shop for modern, stylish creatives was born.
That idea, my friends, was TONIC SITE SHOP. And that rando designer who I met online was (THE) Jennifer Olmstead. (I know, I know such a modern meet-cute, right?)
“So, here’s a great idea for ya, Jeff… Start a virtual, bi-coastal business with someone you met online that you’ve only met in person a few days prior and barely know at all, period. Oh, and do all of that during a time when you’re planning on moving to an entirely new state to start a new chapter of life and thereby relocating your (kinda flailing) photography business that only has a whole of four Cali weddings on the books and not a single job other gig lined up where you’re moving to. BRILLIANT IDEA—JUST BRILLIANT! Good luck with that one, big guy!”
The pitch sounds terrible in retrospect, but now, seven years later, Jen and I both agree that was the BEST worst idea we’ve ever had. We don’t regret for a second jumping headfirst into the great unknown… of starting a little website template shop. And let me tell you, that start was small and sloppy and very much unplanned.
We didn’t have a formal business plan, or a marketing strategy, an email list and sales funnel or even an Instagram following. I repeat — we barely knew EACH OTHER. In so many ways, we didn’t have all the things you “should” have in place before you start a business and we did many things “wrong” in the beginning. But we were willing to do the work and open to learning and iterating along the way.
Dare I say, in a world that’s telling you need to have it all together before you leap, sometimes it’s enough to have grit and a little talent and an idea that helps people.
TONIC started with us seeing a need (for website templates that weren’t boring so that creatives could properly showcase their awesome) and figuring out how we (as custom web designers) may be able to meet that need.
It’s kinda crazy to think about how my unrealized ideas of a reality website makeover show and a lifestyle magazine ultimately made space for, and in many ways, actually lead to what turned out to be the better, more viable, more sustainable idea.
And as Jen pointed out the other day as we were chatting through this email, TONIC and the work that I get to do here still gets at what I was trying to do all along: help people be seen and feel seen for who they are and what they do best. That was the “dream” all along and while I never did get to plaster my face on the side of a bus, I now get to do something way more my style. Design pretty things with Jen for awesome people from the comfort of my home with my pups underfoot. Le sigh.
“Sometimes it’s enough to have grit and a little talent and an idea that helps people.”
So, can I ask? … What is it that you’re dreaming up where you just need to do the damn thing? Where can you lean in and push yourself toward making that a reality? How many more bad ideas do you need to come up with and test to get to that one idea that changes everything for you?
What’s the right next step? Buy a domain name? Get a business license? Record that first podcast episode? Start building an email list? Finally launch a website?**
(**Psssst. We’re pretty good at this one and truth be told: we really don’t want you to have to hit pause on your dream — we want to help make it a beautiful, profitable reality, and our designs do just that and offer a really solid start.)
Wherever you are in your bad idea / good idea trajectory, here’s my advice: find a fellow dreamer like I did, share your idea, and workshop all the possibilities together. And then, let us know where you land.
We’re here to help bring those crazy ideas to life and online and to cheer you on along the way.