Ep 2: INTERVIEW: Joey Cofone on Building Baron Fig

We chatted with Joey Cofone, founder of Baron Fig, about the early days of building the company. He touches on a bunch of helpful topics, from breaking through to your customer with his archetype of the Attention Pie, to how non-designers can prioritize design, to building a company without outside funding. 

DOWNLOADABLE TRANSCRIPT
(Full transcript written below show notes as well)

Show Notes:

Baron Fig:
BaronFig.com

Episode Transcript:

Brian Scordato: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Idea to Startup podcast, season 1 presented by Tacklebox. 

Brian Scordato: [00:00:17] Today we're chatting with Joey Cofone, the founder of Baron Fig. Baron Fig's tagline is "tools for thinkers". They make everything from beautifully designed notebooks to pens to backpacks. I first noticed Baron Fig when they launched a Kickstarter for their first product which was a notebook called The Confidant. This was years ago and I've watched from afar as they've innovated and grown like a weed in a space where I frankly didn't think there was that much room for innovation. I was excited to talk to Joey.

Brian Scordato: [00:00:45] Building any brand with a consistent differentiated point of view is incredibly impressive but building it in the space that seems as saturated as the office supply world is pretty mind-blowing. We talk a lot about differentiation and something he calls "the attention pie", which can be a game changer for early stage founders. Especially those trying to stand out in a crowded space. I also love Joey's point of view on brand and design. Lots of founders come to me and say that they want brand or design to be a differentiator but they don't have it on the founding team. He's really helpful strategizing on ways a founder can prioritize brand even if it's not something that they're classically trained to do. 

Brian Scordato: [00:01:24] It's a really fun conversation. He's a great guy. I had a blast. Hopefully you enjoy and head over to get Tacklebox.com/idea-to-startup to see all the notes. The books we mention and also a quick tool that will hopefully help you with that attention pie and here is Joey. 

Joey Cofone: [00:01:40] Good morning. Hello everyone out there. I'm Joey from Barron Fig. The quote unquote CEO It sounds like a highfalutin title but I'm really the co-founder and core designer of Baron Fig in New York City. And Barron Fig in a nutshell makes tools for thinkers and I think right now that's kind of like an ambiguous thing. Maybe that's what Nike faced 50 years ago when they said they make goods for athletics perhaps, but hopefully in another 10 or 20 years that will be clear as day. 

Brian Scordato: [00:02:14] Nice. So I'm super excited to talk to you today because as I mentioned I've been giving out Baron Fig notebooks to all of the Tacklebox cohorts literally since day one. So it was kind of my way to borrow credibility. This was like, there was this really nice notebook I'd slap a Tacklebox sticker on it and so from like, Cohort 1, people were like "oh man this guy's got his stuff together, he's got these nice notebooks".

Joey Cofone: [00:02:39] There you go man.

Brian Scordato: [00:02:40] So it kind of comes full circle. So I think that that's a cool place to start. Why I think it's so awesome to talk to you is you've built this incredible product that is very focused, incredibly customer driven, very brand driven, you've done it with no venture money. We have a lot of founders who are thinking about building physical products and it seems like you've overcome a lot of hurdles that they think are not over overcommable. So I think it'd be cool to hear a little bit about your origin story to hear how Baron Fig got going.

Joey Cofone: [00:03:12] Yeah.

Brian Scordato: [00:03:12] And I'll just sort of pick you apart and ask a bunch of questions.

Joey Cofone: [00:03:15] Cool. So Baron Fig, the tools for thinkers started with a notebook called the Confidant notebook. Confidant is kind of like your best friend and goes everywhere with you. And this idea came from when I was an art school back in 2009 for like four years. And I noticed one thing specifically and that was that the my fellow design students each had the same two tools and one was a laptop, which was always the same and one was a notebook which was always different. Of course the laptops were Macbooks and the notebooks were different sizes and shapes and colors and paper types and brands of course. And I just thought it was fascinating that there was one tool which had complete ubiquity and the other tool which was the total opposite.  

Joey Cofone: [00:04:02] And long story short I brought it..I talked about it enough to my future co-founder Adam Cornfield and finally at a Thai restaurant one night he just stood up literally stood up and slammed his hands on the table and he's like I've heard enough about these notebooks why don't we just make them ourselves. And I'll never forget it too. It was this Thai restaurant. The food was great but the tablecloths had like a picnic, a picnic pattern like, it was just so weird. And then of course Adam standing up and slamming the picnic table just drilled it into my head forever for no reason. So that was that was the beginning.

Brian Scordato: [00:04:42] I love that and that's it's funny like, I speak with founders who have a similar story all the time. Where they'd been like thinking about something for two years and then whatever it is something's just like sometimes it's someone else do they talk about it so much just like "you know what screw it I'm doing this thing". And I think that's actually a really important point. I should preface this a little bit more about who is going to be listening to this thing. So I think early on these are gonna be people with startup ideas like early in the startup days maybe haven't quit their job yet or maybe just quit their job. So I think this is a relevant point. So you decide all right. I want to do this. What's your next step?

Joey Cofone: [00:05:17] Yeah. So at that point I had just graduated and was working as a designer doing branding. I figured OK the best way to to really see if this is a viable product or a problem that anyone else has but me is to test it. So step one was I sent an email to thinkers around the world and I defined thinkers as basically anyone who use their mind professionally or as a hobby. So writing, drawing, architects, accounting, anything really. And I asked one simple question and the question the e-mail was like three sentences and the question was "What do you like in a sketchbook or notebook?". And I sent this out to over five hundred people manually one by one. With like a little personal comment in each one.

Joey Cofone: [00:06:05] And I sent it to so many people because I figured, oh maybe I'll get a 10 or 20 percent response rate and I can get maybe a good good 50 to 100 conversations going. Well it turns out that I must have struck a chord because I got over 80 percent response rate and I was having over four hundred conversations that spanned five months with people passionately telling me how much the notebook market was lacking for them. I mean I woke up in the morning I would e-mail all the way to like one or two o'clock and then I would design a little bit and just rinse and repeat daily. Just constant emails. It's incredible. Yeah. It was it was it was a good time. I actually had to quit my job because I couldn't keep up with all the emailing. Like the emailing alone was a near full time gig. 

Brian Scordato: [00:06:57] I have a couple of questions on that. So like a lot of times our Founders do something like that where they speak with bunch of customers customers get excited and give him 100 feature requests. How did you sort of synthesize what people were saying into a coherent vision for an initial product 

Joey Cofone: [00:07:12] You know it was almost really like a numbers game. I mean talking to that many people I kept a spreadsheet of general things that I heard and you could just kind of say like how many times was this said? How many times was that said? For example having a notebook with high quality paper was said like 75 percent of the time. Having a notebook that opens flat was said like 70 percent of the time. And so at that point you could really do you've got such volume, you can kind of just do it as a process of elimination.

Joey Cofone: [00:07:44] And then you're right that there's at some point like you do have to say when do I stop or what's ridiculous or my personal favorite is when people ask for something and you hear it a lot. And then in reality nobody uses it. Do you know what I mean? I wish I had a better example and fortunately nothing is coming to mind. Everybody's like "Man I wish this this TV three dimensions" and then we do 3D TV and people are like "oh man that's that's a pain in the ass".

Brian Scordato: [00:08:08] I've got a good one for you. So when I was building my start up Find Your Lobster, the dating app, way back in the day, sort of pre Tinder days. I would always run these customer interviews with single people and there would always be like one or two people in this group that I was speaking with who would be in a relationship. And the premise of Find Your Lobster is we would match you up with your friends friends. Sort of like obvious now, but at the time was a little bit novel. And these friends and relationships would be like Oh you gotta build an app that allows me to match up my friends like that's all I want to do. Like I want in on the fun. And as a founder I'm thinking like this is amazing now we can get people who aren't in relationships and people who are in relationships on a dating app. So we built that feature and exactly zero people did it. They just wanted to talk about it but when push came to shove every response would be like Oh I actually don't want to get in the middle of this. So that was fun.

Joey Cofone: [00:09:05] Yeah that's interesting. How did you conduct your interviews? Was it on the phone? 

Brian Scordato: [00:09:09] We did some phone calls but for us it was so easy because you can just go to, you could go to a bar and assume that a good chunk of folks there were going to be single. So that's actually a good question to sort of turn around and ask you. So the 500 e-mails is a great start and maybe we're jumping ahead a little bit but how do you know which customers are going to be Baron Fig customers before they're Baron Fig customers? How do you target? 

Joey Cofone: [00:09:33] So like you said earlier a lot of your founders, the founders that you work with seem to have had this burning problem for a couple of years right? So essentially what we're saying is that they are most likely the target demographic. I wasn't any different. So I was also the target demographic for this notebook. So that's a good place to start is like finding people like me. So in that case designers and whatnot. But in addition I did have a major benefit with getting email addresses because a lot of creatives and thinkers they put up portfolio websites and it includes contact information. So it was like right there for the taking. So if you were I don't know doing like, just let's say soccer moms for example, I don't know how you'd find soccer moms, like you'd have to go to soccer fields because soccer moms aren't putting up soccer portfolios with their kids or something. So it was just easier.

Brian Scordato: [00:10:29] That's great. And one thing, then we'll get onto what happened after the e-mails. We talk a lot about a first step for founders. So like, you need to make something that feels a little bit more digestible than like, I don't have a company and I want a company. How do I get there? And we talk a lot about paperclip businesses and what I think of a paper clip business as is, when you sort of wake up in the morning you've got two bins on your desk and one bin has say 50 paper clips and at the other bins empty. And then you do something 50 times and each time you do it you move the paper clip over and that's kind of a way to start moving your business forward so that you know that you're going to be making progress. And so those 500 emails and responding to those e-mails gave you something manageable to do to start getting data from customers early on that didn't feel maybe as overwhelming as physically creating a book.

Joey Cofone: [00:11:18] Agreed. It's all about baby steps. I mean we hear this so often. My wife and I were just talking about this this morning before she left. And it's kind of like accepting that you have this grand vision or this bigger goal and then saying like hey, what are these really tiny tiny things. And then just knocking them out. Honestly, the biggest challenge in doing this, you know and everybody definitely listen to this part, is not actually the tasks themselves, it's more of the management of your of your mind. Calming yourself down, being patient. Oh my goodness. I am not a patient person, but I have I have had to have been patient for so long. I mean where we just had five years that the companies launched and I've been doing this for six years and there's still so much that I want to do. I mean even things that I've had on paper since day one and I'm still waiting for them. So patience is, patience is a colossal thing that you need to foster. 

Brian Scordato: [00:12:22] Interesting. We had a question from one of our founders. I mentioned I sent an e-mail out asking our alumni for questions. And one of them was about how do you make space and time for yourself. To sort of do this, to take a step back and realize that this is going to be something that takes a long time and sort of managed mental health as you go through this.

Joey Cofone: [00:12:41] Yeah great question. I saw that. There's, I think it's twofold. Number one is I just show up at Baron Fig early as sin every day. So I'm there my like 6:45 in the morning and I open the place, I make the coffee, I turn on the lights. We have to turn on the lights one by one because the way the way it works. So I literally walk around click, click, click. But that routine and then having the place alone for almost two hours in the morning allows me some personal time. So it's at work but it's completely private which I think is very important and not the same as at home and being alone 

Joey Cofone: [00:13:21] And then in order to get the juices flowing I have a kind of like a four point system than I do. And you know anyone feel free to tweet at me or e-mail me or whatever and I can explain it more. But basically I do my body, my mind and then I do an input and an output. So I exercise for the body. I meditate for the mind. And then my input is I always read and then my output is I play the trumpet. And so, I am not a trumpet player, like I'm not a musician. I'm learning the trumpet, I've only been doing about a year and a half now. But it's, it's allowing me to do like focused output to create something that's not natural for me. So if I sat down and just did graphic design for 20 minutes it wouldn't be the same because it's almost automatic at this point. But I have to be very focused and so that that focus kind of puts all of those things together the body, the mind and the input to perform.

Brian Scordato: [00:14:24] I love that.

Joey Cofone: [00:14:25] And it's worked for me in getting myself set up in the morning. Essentially sharpening the blade and then I have some alone time. And I think that's really important. 

Brian Scordato: [00:14:35] Awesome. I love that. I think it's tough to be patient with the job. And so I think quicker iteration or learning like totally different type of learning like learning the trumpet is super interesting. Cool. So let's jump back in. You wrote these 500 emails. You've got a bunch of responses. People are excited. You've been wanting to do this for years. What do you do next?

Joey Cofone: [00:14:55] Ok. So once I realized that this was a need that everyone else also had, I got really excited. At the time I was working with Adam Cornfield who became my future co-founder and a third friend named Scott Robertson. And the three of us had essentially, we were all looking to build companies and each of us committed four months out of the year to the other two to work for free. So 3x4 is 12. So basically a year long project. And my time had come, Baron Fig was my project. The emails were coming in and I realized that the most important thing to motivate these other two was to capture the momentum and get them excited.

Joey Cofone: [00:15:38] So, I immediately before our weekly meeting, we used to we meet every week at Chipotle which is basically where Baron Fig was born. Before our Chipotle meeting that weekend, I went all over the city and I found all the materials to make a notebook. Then I sat down the following morning in my underwear. I didn't even get dressed, I was so excited to do it. I just sat there in boxers. And I watched YouTube and built from scratch our first notebook which we still have today. Yeah. The cover is actually, I bought everything but I forgot to buy the cardboard that would make the cover stiff because it's something out of sight out of mind. So I ended up using Cheerio boxes which which are still tucked in there to this day apparently.

Joey Cofone: [00:16:27] And I brought this in it was disgusting. I mean it was a terrible, terrible ,terrible prototype, like ugly as hell. But when I showed up at Chipotle and I handed this thing to them and I said "Here's the first idea". They were floored. They weren't looking at this like wow this is you know a piece of crap. They were like, this is amazing, this is really cool and we immediately drove in and started talking about why this and why that. And then rinse and repeat. I did it a couple more times and finally we went and made a professional, got a professional bind, Book binder, to make a real book based on my prototypes which we then used for our Kickstarter 

Brian Scordato: [00:17:11] So I think that's a cool, that's a cool thought there. Where it's like, when everything's theoretical it's tough to really make progress on it. As soon as you throw something on the table that everyone can discuss and pull and prod and poke you can then actually start making progress. Like the emails led to this product that took everything from being theoretical to something that people were excited about and then it got real. awesome. And then next steps Kickstarter. So tell me about that 

Joey Cofone: [00:17:37] Yeah. I want to emphasize the what you just said, the importance of building a really, really terrible prototype is not to be overlooked. We, Adam and I, taught a class at the School of Visual Arts where I went basically Startup 101, or something, is what they wanted us to call it. And we had students, we forced students to bring in the crappiest prototype possible in the first week. And it was amazing how much fun everybody had and how much conversation was there and then how much progress was made because they had started. So if you're out there and you're doing a physical good product. Definitely hack it together. I don't care if it's made out of paper or clay or playdough, whatever you need. Just get something that you can sit down with and look at and show people. And we still do this. We still do that to this day at Baron Fig. Our first prototypes are just the silliest things.

Brian Scordato: [00:18:32] I love that. That's great.

Joey Cofone: [00:18:34] So to answer your question. Back in 2013 Kickstarter was still cool and it was pretty mainstream kickstarter. You think of, that, I don't know if you guys remember the Coolest Cooler which had like 10,000,000. That brought Kickstarter into the spotlight. Before that it was actually a really great community. I have...today I think it's a little sully because people are dubious of the authenticity of projects. Anyway, in 2013 we put our notebook on Kickstarter for $15,000 over 30 days. It turned out that we struck a chord. Like I said and we ended up doing 11 times our goal for $168,000. And I think we ended up doing almost 9,000 notebooks in 30 days which got us started.

Brian Scordato: [00:19:27] Geez, so I have a couple of quick, quick questions on that. Yeah. Did Kickstarter do a lot of the spread? Was a lot of the spread sort of just viral people telling each other about it? Did you run ad campaigns? How did you get so much traction?

Joey Cofone: [00:19:40] Yeah, so there was no ad campaigns whatsoever. I mean Facebook was a little different back then but even still like I wasn't as sophisticated. It didn't even enter my mind to do ad campaigns. So what we did was, I was so good at emailing at that point that I turned from e-mailing thinkers to just e-mailing journalists nonstop all day, every day. Like one by one. There was no,  none of these mass e-mails or this press kit. Like I just looked up a bunch of their articles, I read them I made real educated commentary and then I linked to our campaign and I said "hey you might like this". And I did that all day every day. And I basically brute forced our total revenue like. It was not natural. Kickstarter contributed about 50 percent of it.

Brian Scordato: [00:20:27] Man I love that so much. I think people don't really. A lot of founders come in not really understanding what cold e-mailing is actually about. And like the spray and pray technique which is what I think a lot of founders think is best. To just like say, oh well I got this e-mail this somehow and I e-mailed 10000 thousand people the same message. That's not how it'll work. I love how you are able to do that. The other thing that we talked to our founders about is like early on as a founder you got to brute force stuff as you said and the cool thing about your product is that was what you could brute force like that was that was what you could handle and you did everything you could to push customers to the Kickstarter.

Joey Cofone: [00:21:07] I get excited about the idea of just brute forcing thing. We still do it to this day is just, like, you know what do that call it "nose to the grindstone or something" I forget the phrase.

Brian Scordato: [00:21:19] Well I think it's a real point. So when I think about all the founders that have done well out of Tacklebox and and for people who don't know about Tacklebox we had about 160 idea stage founders go through which I would say 50 are currently building real products. And so that's like a big jump. Of those 50 I bet ninety five percent can brute force their product for the first year or two. So if you're building a tech product you can build it. If you are building a physical product you can sell it. The differentiator needs to be, your differentiator needs to be able to be brute forced early on. y=You can't rely on anyone else to do it because no one's going to put in the hours that you did. No one's going to care as much as you do. So I love this point you get to too. So it's like you raise 160K in your optionality is gone. It's not like oh we're trying this thing maybe. It's like "hey, Joey you're the founder of Baron Fig, now you've got to build this thing". So tell me about that moment. Was that was surreal?

Joey Cofone: [00:22:24] It's a blur. I remember during the campaign that there were days where I was just sprawled out on the bed, fully clothed sleeping, shoes and everything just from like the exhaustion of all the emailing, the phone calls, the social media. It was a lot. So at the end I think I was definitely in shock, legitimately in shock. I don't think I had any feelings whatsoever. It was just, it had been such a roller coaster for, 30 days is a hell of a long time to go like at max speed. So it took a while but at some point Adam and I mean. You'd have the option of saying "hey let's just sell, you know sell the nine thousand notebooks call it a day" or do we start a company? And and we did of course decide to start the company and Adam quit his job at that point a few months later. And together, the two of us basically did 100% of the work for a year and a half alone, in our Baron Fig studio 

Brian Scordato: [00:23:26] And you had quit your job prior to the Kickstarter right?

Joey Cofone: [00:23:29] Yeah. So when we actually launched the company, which was I don't know let's say six months after the campaign I had been full time Baron Fig for a year already.

Brian Scordato: [00:23:38] Awesome. I have a bunch more questions on this phase, but I don't want to spend too much time on it. And there's a lot of interesting things to hit on. But I think something that you've done incredibly well and I remember when you guys had that Kickstarter campaign, I saw it on the Website on Crate. Yeah and I distinctly remember thinking like "wow this is just incredibly well-designed and there's a real brand here". A lot of products on Kickstarter just sort of felt like products and Baron Fig always felt like a brand. And I'm fascinated as to how you were able to do that that early. So any thoughts on how you approached brand at that point. How you approached design at that point. How did you recognize that that could be a differentiator?

Joey Cofone: [00:24:21] Uh, for us it was the brand came first. I worked in branding because I have such a fascination with storytelling. So before, before design school I went to school for literature and philosophy. So I did a total of eight years straight including summers which was a total accident. I graduated during the financial crisis and so I was lucky enough to be able to go back to school. But no one would ever call me a good student. I'll put it that way. I have no idea how I did eight years of school.

Joey Cofone: [00:24:55] But I put all of these things together. The love of storytelling, the love from literature, the love of introspection and open ended questions from philosophy. And then of course design. And I put that all into a brand that I thought could really speak to me and then in doing that speak to people like me. That was the number one focus. Even though the product was of course the end deliverable it came secondary. I guess the easiest way I could describe it is if you say you know "what vs why", it was not about like "what am I making, what am I making". It's always "why am I making this, why am I making this". And then expressing that rather than what am I making and expressing that.

Brian Scordato: [00:25:33] So, for founders who don't have a brand background but recognize that design and brand is critical. And we get a ton of these, I meet so many founders who say "I want design to be a differentiator". And this is early pre-product but they don't have a designer on their team. How can they prioritize that. Are there any components of brand that founders should focus on?

Joey Cofone: [00:25:53] Yeah, I mean as a general principle I'd say keep it simple. Especially if it's not your thing. And even though you're not a person who makes design you are a person who consumes design, everywhere. And so you lean on that because you are pretty much highly skilled at that. So when you're looking at design in the world Apple products. I'm staring at a at a Nokia box for some reason, here a beautiful mug on my desk. Look at them and this is gonna sound hippy dippy, I always say that, but try to just sense what you're feeling genuinely sense if you're like wow that's nice or I don't like that and don't worry so much about why. What you want to do is just kind of sharpen the emotional measuring stick that you've got. And what that'll do is then when you go commissioned someone on fiver or find a cheaper first step, which I totally encourage, you'll at least be able to look at it and say "how does this make me feel". Is it good enough right now or is this really kind of crappy. And then go from there. 

Brian Scordato: [00:27:02] Awesome. And I don't want to get too technical but this just comes up a ton so I want to ask your advice on it. When founders are looking let's say on or up work or wherever else for a designer for their initial stuff they often want to put together like a design book. So if you were going to make like a three page PowerPoint that someone who's doesn't have a design background is going to give to someone who's going to design an early version of the product What do you think they should include, say in a three page PowerPoint.

Joey Cofone: [00:27:28] Is the designer designing the product from scratch or are they just making it attractive?

Brian Scordato: [00:27:35] So this would be, I think the biggest use case we get is a product or service is building out their initial landing page because they're going to test out some customer acquisition channels and they wanted to look like something that prioritizes brand that looks like a real company. We don't want the red flag for people to be that this doesn't look like a real thing. We want the red flag to be messaging or whatever else 

Joey Cofone: [00:27:59] So step one is to find a designer that you think can create that stuff. So like when you look at their portfolio and you're like "OK this is good". I know that could be obvious but it might as well be stated. And then step two, and this is critical, is don't tell the designer how to design it. Don't say like I want you know this big banner here with the text large and then this thing on the right and I want blue or red whatever it is. What you want to do is don't tell them what. But again tell them why and who. So tell them I'm making this because I think my demographic is X Y or Z. I think people will specifically like my product because of these two or three things. And then let the designer do what they do best.

Brian Scordato: [00:28:44] I love that. I think that's a great starting point for folks. We could probably spend the rest of the time talking about that but let's jump on to something else which I think is an impediment for founders. The supply chain for a physical product, if you've never done it before, is intimidating. Was that the case when you said like all right I've got this cheerio box Baron Fig designed notebook. Now I've got someone producing them. How difficult was it to create a supply chain that was profitable and all that logistical stuff? 

Joey Cofone: [00:29:13] Yeah that's a great question. I think back then it was a combination of just being naive and just I guess determined. It's not as hard as it sounds, really, to get a product going. It really depends again, as long as you're not doing like a tech product. But back then we just said "hey we have this book, this is the perfect master version" which we got done by a professional like I mentioned who is in New York City.

Joey Cofone: [00:29:38] And then my co-founder Adam took the book and I think we had a couple more made identical to it and he basically flew overseas and he said "hey can you make this?". He just kind of went to the factories until someone said yes and then then another one said yes and eventually he had half a dozen yeses and they each gave it a shot and then we chose one.

Brian Scordato: [00:30:02] Awesome 

Joey Cofone: [00:30:02] It was just straight forward. I mean it is difficult if you're trying to do it from the US and it's not a product made in the US. Yeah. That's gonna be hard, but if you're ok with getting on a plane and going somewhere I think it's straightforward. And even if it's inside the US we have flown to every partner that we have, all over the US, and several of the partners all over the world.

Brian Scordato: [00:30:25] I love that. Any, any founder that's building a physical product is always like "Oh I don't want to, like if you're building a tech product good luck" and anybody building a tech product is like "a physical product, are you crazy? I'd never do that". It's funny. When did you start thinking about margins and the financial implications of pricing and all of that stuff?

Joey Cofone: [00:30:47] So we did that pretty darn early on because we had to set numbers for Kickstarter so like the price of every book and whatnot. Then once we got the actual pricing we just kind of did a basic projection sheet. And I don't know. This is kind of unsexy stuff so I won't go too deep. But we basically threw it all on a spreadsheet and we were like You know it's is this profitable, does this makes sense. Know we aim for a margin let's say 50 percent and then just went from there and tested the price to make sure that people purchased it.

Brian Scordato: [00:31:22] Awesome. And that Kickstarter sort of validated your price point early on which is really nice.

Joey Cofone: [00:31:27] It did. 

Brian Scordato: [00:31:28] I guess the next big question. So you've run this kickstarter. You've got a product that is that people really like. How did you know that you had a company and not just a product? 

Joey Cofone: [00:31:41] I think really I just believed it. At some point you're not going to be able to test certain things at least. I think and at some you know there are things where you'll be able to test no problem and things where you're like I'm not going to be able to prove this theory for a long time but I strongly believe it. And you're gonna have to decide you know use your best judgment to discern which is which and and when to say like, you know I'm right or wrong. 

Joey Cofone: [00:32:07] But I truly believe that and I still of course believe in it. It's proving more and more is that the the big thing that I needed to bring to this category was a brand that spoke to the people. Which harkens back to all of those different notebooks back at Design School, where it was just I was just choosing something off a shelf and it was it was a commodity. It's like I mean going to the supermarket and choosing milk from a bunch of different brands. Like I didn't have any, I didn't have any soul and so that was my theory, my hypothesis and it took quite a long time to prove it.

Brian Scordato: [00:32:46] Very interesting. And one last point there. Did you think about raising funding at any point during the first say year?

Joey Cofone: [00:32:54] Yeah yeah. So I'm not against getting investors if the investors are right. I believe if you don't need it don't go for it. I have always subscribed to the one step at a time, little by little approach. So I have no need to just go super fast. Like a lot of people seem to be attracted to, especially with all the social media and low attention spans these days.

Joey Cofone: [00:33:23] It's been six years so I would say about every two years or so, I've gone and I've done the whole V.C. circuit to explore interest and it's kind of when I'm at a place mentally, like I was saying managing my mental state, where I was like you know it could be nice to just have some extra funds and it would just be a little bit easier on us. And then I go and I do this whole thing and I've create a deck, I pitch it and they love it. But then the questions start to be ridiculous. The offers start to be undervalued and I get angry as hell.

Joey Cofone: [00:34:01] I mean I've told I've said some words to many seats. You know like you're you're a goddamn idiot. For example I can't tell you how many times people have said you know "I really love it, I'm going to give you X million and I'm really looking for 10, 10 times that in return". And I'm like you know that's a lot. You know, how long you want? And it's like five to 10 years. I'm like alright, like it's not unreasonable but you know like I can. I mean if you go invest in the stock market and you get you know let's say 20 percent return. That's great. That's really good, you're beating the market or something. So now you want a thousand percent, over 10 years.

Joey Cofone: [00:34:41] And I'm like man maybe you know, why don't we just say, like you know, 3-5 times. I can get I can nearly guarantee that based on the data and the like well the thing is you know you might be a winner but you know then we'll have like 15 or 20 losers and we want to make sure that your investment covers all of our losses. And I'm always, I mean then it's my turn to stand up like Adam did and slam my hand on the table. Like what are you talking about. I don't know. I don't want to curse but I don't give a crap about your bad bets. That's not my problem. I'm  a good bet you're going to make money off me period and I'm in front of you telling you right now with numbers on the table. This is an easy deal. And they're like "Well, you know we we need a little more" and I'm like goodbye, you're done. I can't. I can't deal with it. 

Joey Cofone: [00:35:29] And you know speaking of the it's kind of the spray and pray mentality like you mentioned about e-mailing but for investing. It's just such b.s. man you clearly hit a sore subject.

Brian Scordato: [00:35:46] I love it. I just think it's so important for founders to recognize that 99% of companies do not raise any sort of institutional funding. But the majority of the information that we get like if you go look through medium blogs and all that, it's all about how to raise funding, how to deal, how to build venture backed startups and for that very small number of companies who are going to be growing it whatever the percentage that they want 10x is, VC is great for the other companies it's probably not. And you need to recognize that they're their incentives are not always gonna be aligned with yours and you guys are a default alive company if you don't raise money you'll be profitable you'll grow, things are great. I think that that is way more impressive to me than being able to raise funding and take a big swing at something giant or I shouldn't say more impressive it's different. And I think that everything doesn't need to be shoehorned into this one mold.

Joey Cofone: [00:36:44] Agreed

Brian Scordato: [00:36:44] I love people getting hot and bothered early in the morning, it's great.

Joey Cofone: [00:36:47] Oh God I'm so ready man. I've been up for like two or three hours at this point.

Brian Scordato: [00:36:54] So I have a lot more questions. But the next one I want to hit on. I want to take a little bit of a step back. So I was listening to, I'm a big devolve Robert fan. I think he's a really interesting guy. Really provocative guy. And he was talking the other day about luck and he basically mentioned four types of luck. And the first three were types of luck that were sort of out of your hands, or something where you can like you know preparation meets opportunity whatever that is. But his fourth type of luck was the type of luck that you can consistently create. The question that he asked, which I thought was was interesting to pass along was, he said if there are like a thousand dimensions and you want to build a company that's gonna be successful in nine hundred ninety nine of them. And the company's not necessarily Baron Fig in each one. What are the things that you were going to do to build a successful company? Like what are the things that have been reliable drivers of growth and drivers of your business that you think could be, would be successful no matter what you're building no matter what dimension you're in.

Joey Cofone: [00:37:57] So like I guess business fundamentals what are the core, core concepts.

Brian Scordato: [00:38:03] Yeah, I probably could have shortened the question to just that.

Joey Cofone: [00:38:11] That's interesting. So when you say a thousand dimensions you're talking like parallel realities?

Brian Scordato: [00:38:17] Oh yeah.

Joey Cofone: [00:38:18] Oh sweet. Man, every night before bed I look up different paranormal stories because I love that and so many of them have like parallel realities sort of attached to them and that's such a nice fascinating idea. Anyway big fan of Baron Fig and nine hundred and ninety nine dimensions. I think if I were to do that, it would just be to start simple and be clear. We started with one product and we were like this is for thinkers a thinker is X Y and Z. Get it shipped to you for X price with free shipping. Period. And then we just kind of like drilled it drilled at home. We had one product for a year before reintroduced a second product which was just a pocket notebook and then we had only those two products for like two years. 

Brian Scordato: [00:39:12] Amazing. That's a great answer. We talk a lot about, at Tacklebox, I don't know if you played as a kid you ever play that that game telephone where you'd whisper one thing. Oh yeah. So we talked about that a lot with your early company because people come in and I'll say like all right what are you doing. And they will in the Baron Fig example, they would say "well we're building notebooks and they're beautifully binded and they have dot grid versus line grid or the option to have dot grid versus line grid. And they lay flat and the ink doesn't run and blah blah blah blah". And when you do that there's, if you're playing a game of telephone there's no way that the second or third person is going to be able to pass that along.

Joey Cofone: [00:39:52] Yeah no way.

Brian Scordato: [00:39:53] But that's no that's how you're going to grow early on as you're going to get people telling other people about what you're doing and if you can't describe it, I always use the example of that Kickstarter company that the really heavy blanket and if you saw that one. 

Joey Cofone: [00:40:06] Yep.

Brian Scordato: [00:40:07] For stress relief and it raised whatever, five and a half million bucks. And I firmly believe it's because it's a heavy blanket for stress relief, for to relieve stress. And it's easy to say that, it's easy to remember it, and it's sort of like novel, because it's a really heavy blanket. You can kind of you can feel it, when you say that you know what what the outcome is. And I think that's an incredibly tough thing. So I love that answer.

Joey Cofone: [00:40:33] Yeah, I'm gonna give you an example or I guess an idea that you can possibly use in the future. It's something that we, Adam and I, used to teach. And it's basically this, it's right on the heels what you just said. So if I said we make a notebook for thinkers you know maybe that's two things that you have to remember right. So think of a person's attention span as, a as a pie chart. OK so there's 100 hundred percent. And when I add two things each thing gets 50 percent right. And that's great. But now say I said a notebook with no books for thinkers opens flat high quality paper perforations in the back. That's five things. So now each item only gets 20 percent of the person's attention. So right away I instantly devalued every one of those.

Brian Scordato: [00:41:26] I love that. 

Joey Cofone: [00:41:26] Because there there's only one hundred attention points to go around. So basically managing the attention pie is a really important part of communicating your product. 

Brian Scordato: [00:41:37] Amazing. I love that. So I'm gonna end with two final questions. I want to be cognizant of your time. I could probably ask you about a million more but...

Joey Cofone: [00:41:46] No, let's do it. 

Brian Scordato: [00:41:47] The next one that I think is, is an interesting one was again something that one of our founders passed along and that was, is there anything counterintuitive. So. So there's like, let's say that there's a general theme or an idea around businesses that need to do X Y Z to be successful. Is there anything that you disagree with strongly in that sort of common belief around, what you have to do to be successful in a business?

Joey Cofone: [00:42:14] I see a lot of founders. It's funny I'm on a podcast right now and I'm about say like doing podcasts. And like going and trying to give talks and writing books and writing blog posts and like becoming a personality. And I'll say that, like I have a lot of fun on stage, I have a lot of fun on podcasts. I really enjoy it. I've done, I've done it. The majority of it is just ego driven I think. I really think that nothing beats the founder being at the studio or at the office with your team, setting an example working side by side motivating and helping everyone. Rather than flying somewhere and giving a talk.

Joey Cofone: [00:43:07] Podcasts I do particularly enjoy because it's a low it's low stakes. I'm at home. I stay home for another hour in the morning or two hours and then I do this and then I just come in a couple hours late. That's fine. But other than that I think it's it's a giant distraction and I see it a lot. So I would go for that. 

Brian Scordato: [00:43:26] Yeah I like that a lot. I just listen to a podcast actually with Tim Ferriss. I'm not a huge Tim Ferriss guy but he was interviewing Jim Collins who wrote Good to Great and I love that book. It's actually a really good podcast. I can put it in the show notes but he very rarely does any sort of the any any opportunities like this. He obviously gets asked about him a lot. So Tim asking that question how do you decide what to do with what when like when to do outdoor facing stuff and when to focus on your work. He said and this is a big theme for his life as he makes rules. So he was like I need to make rules because every time that decision comes up I can't say like "oh well should I go to San Francisco and do this talk" that can't be the question. The question needs to be different and consistent. So his question is "Can I teach something to people who will leverage it and will I learn something?. And if the answer to both of those is yes then he'll do the opportunity. If the answer to either one of those is no he doesn't.

Joey Cofone: [00:44:21] That's great 

Brian Scordato: [00:44:23] And I don't know if that's the right criteria for you or for other founders but I think there should be criteria like that around a lot of the external facing stuff you do.

Joey Cofone: [00:44:32] Agreed agreed. And especially here in New York City and just meeting with just a lot of different founders and that's that's a big topic of conversation. It's like I went here and gave this talk or I went here and did that and I'm and I'm always just like dude I really don't care. Like that's cool and it was probably very fun. Like don't get me wrong, I like I said I loved to get on stage and you know engage an audience but if I'm if I'm focused on Baron Fig it is not the number one place I could be.

Brian Scordato: [00:45:04] Awesome. So I think the last one that I'll end with if you were starting Baron Fig today how would you do it differently?

Joey Cofone: [00:45:14] Good question. I. I think I would actually start advertising sooner. We didn't do any advertising whatsoever until year four. For four straight years we were just totally word of mouth and I don't really have a good reason honestly for not doing it. I guess it was just tough to to understand and kind of grok with all the other things going on. But we've had good good results and of course there's so many ads out in the world because ads do work and if they're tasteful fully for advertising I think we could have started in year two rather than four. I wouldn't have done it right away.

Brian Scordato: [00:45:56] Cool. And then the sign-off question if you had a billboard that early stage founders had to pass every day on their way to the office. What would it say? 

Joey Cofone: [00:46:07] Oh yeah. You asked me this the other day and I had heard an answer that I like but today the answer is different some feel and different. Today my answer would be on a giant billboard that everyone could see would just be the words "Have fun". 

Brian Scordato: [00:46:22] I like that.

Joey Cofone: [00:46:24] Because if you're having fun your work is better. The people around you are happier. Life is just, I mean who the hell doesn't want to have fun. 

Brian Scordato: [00:46:32] Yeah I love that because a lot of our founders, I mean they'll come in and they're they get so bogged down by stuff and it's tough to build something. You can, you can feel it it comes through in the brand if you're not really into what you're doing really enjoying it and brand is obviously so important.

Joey Cofone: [00:46:47] Yeah.

Brian Scordato: [00:46:48] So if I'm going to Baron Fig what should I buy today?

Joey Cofone: [00:46:51] Oh yeah. If you're going to Baronfig.com you'll definitely want to check out the bestsellers and grab a confidant notebook. I highly recommend dot grid. It's the best paper type. And start from there and if you dig it there's always the squire pen which was recently named number one pen and one hundred by New York magazine.

Brian Scordato: [00:47:12] Nice. I've been buying Baron Fig stuff since literally since you started. I'm pretty sure as part of the first ever Kickstarter campaign. So Joey, thank you so much for coming by. Learned a lot. Really really appreciate you taking the time.

Joey Cofone: [00:47:25] Yeah.

Brian Scordato: [00:47:26] Awesome man. Appreciate it.

Joey Cofone: [00:47:27] Brian thank you and everybody out there thank you for listening.

Brian Scordato: [00:47:31] Awesome.

 


You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes and here on gettacklebox.com/idea-to-startup.



Brian Scordato