(Partial Transcript with some edits from Interview below)
As we sat down, it ended up covering every letter of the alphabet as well as every number hidden within her doodle of, “love is all you need”. Which was super random, but what we decided to do was design this line of inspirational jewelry with the concept being – when you wear or gift a Zymbol it can represent any message you want because it contains every letter of the alphabet.
When I put my Zymbol on every morning I’ll think about what message I want that day, whether that’s a positive affirmation or something that I’m grateful for. You and everybody else out there that is listening can be wearing the exact same design, but it’s going to represent a completely different message to the person that has it on.
Selling a Story
PHYLLIS SMITH: Let me ask you this. Were you an entrepreneurial type or what inspired you to take it beyond?
DANE SHORT: Yeah. I was in my senior year getting my degree in marketing. I had been studying businesses and was in that marketing mindset. It was the Thanksgiving before I was going to graduate that she doodled it a couple months before. I talked to her on the phone every once in awhile and she’d say, “Oh, I just made this doodle and it looks so cool.” She’s a very creative and artsy type, so she is always making things and piecing them together. Both my sister and I had been talking to my mom and we didn’t quite know what to expect. When we got home to visit and saw the piece it was kind of striking. We then proceeded to find the letters and everything, and I think I was in a mindset that this is a product that really could represent something special to anybody whether that’s a 9-year-old or a 90-year-old.
The serendipitous fact that it happened during my senior year, getting my degree in marketing, before that I had done a few entrepreneurial things. I had a lawn mowing business in high school and stuff like that, but jewelry was pretty far away from my radar at that point in time. It ended up being the way things funneled through.
It’s kind of funny, my mom was downtown in Durango, CO where we’re from. Right after we had left and found the alphabet in the pendant she was walking downtown, and she saw one of her friends and they were talking, and she looked at mom’s necklace and said, “What is that? That’s really a beautiful piece.” She was like, “Oh, it’s a doodle that I created to say, “love is all you need”, but my kids were just home, and we ended up uncovering every letter in the alphabet in it. The lady kind of looked at it and kind of perplexed she said, “So, my grandchildren’s names are in that?” My mom kind of thought for a second and said, “Yes, your grandkids names are in this.” That was kind of an “ah ha” moment for her. As we started discussing that and I started talking to some of my professors that I was thinking of starting a business around this. I think this would be something special to do.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about the process that didn’t work and finally what did work.
DANE SHORT: Yeah. It took a while for us to realize how much of a story driven product Zymbol is. If you were to see the design in a store, for example, you may be able to see the marketing materials and see, I think the alphabets in here, but until you hear the story of my mother’s doodle and how you can wear it and how you can gift it, it’s hard to get that concept across. That was kind of a hard lesson learned. Initially, it was let’s run some ads in some magazines, let’s do banner ads, and we’re talking 2010 here, so google AdWords, banner ads. We were all over that and it was not quite enough to connect on an emotional level of what Zymbol is.
Our next big step was to go after stores, right? You have a product that you need distribution. Let’s go into some gift stores. We had been in a few local mom and pop shops and it was selling. Well, we decided to invest a little bit more in that and go set up at places like Dallas Market Center where you must put quite a bit of money in on the front end there. We went and met with some buyers who liked the product. We started writing some orders and a couple months into that the product wasn’t selling. We’re talking to some buyers and store owners and we come to figure out that the buyer loved the story because they heard it from us, the buyer was not the person in the store telling the story, it was the person in the store who didn’t know what the story was. So, only in the mom and pop ss people knew how to tell the story and to this day those are the stores that it sells in. It really was kind of a crawl, walk, run, sprint scenario.
What I ended up doing was rather than try to figure out some genius marketing plan it was what can I do to make the cash register ring today. What that is, is arts and crafts show, face to face, go set up a booth, sell to people. I remember the first show we did. I live in Austin, TX now in a little small town about a half an hour north of Austin. I think it was $15 to set up there and I think we sold one piece for $25. And that was set up by some high school kids that had beaded macaroni jewelry and stuff like that, but it was kind of my first introduction of selling face to face and understanding how to tell our story, and how to sell the product and so it’s really been a fun journey. We’re really lucky to be where we are right now and kind of ended up getting on some other stuff.
What I ended up doing was rather than try to figure out some genius marketing plan, it was what can I do to make the cash register ring today.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Yeah. Also, your business model created a challenge for you because the buyer needed to have the story to understand it. It sounds to me, by going to craft fairs you’re integral to selling it. At what point can you pull back and allow this to unfold and take place? Is it kind of like you’re getting it out, getting it out, so the more people who wear it – those will be the people who tell the story.
DANE SHORT: Yeah. I guess I have a few part answers to that. At one of the shows, I think it was the 4th show we did, I was still trying to decide is this a product that customers even want. I was getting my booth set up and this couple came by from Australia and I still didn’t quite have our table set up, but they had seen our banner and were kind of like, “Will you tell us about that design?” So, I proceeded to tell them the story and the lady started crying as I was telling the story, she was so touched by the concept of my mom doing this doodle and the meaning behind it and her being able to set her daily inspiration. They ended up buying some bracelets and they came back and asked if we would mind if they tattoo the design and I of course was like oh, absolutely. And they kind of threw me off a little there and I just said, “If you all ever do it please send us a picture.” I gave them my email and half an hour later they came back, and the lady had tattooed on the back of her neck and the man had it on the back of his arm.
PHYLLIS SMITH: What?!?
DANE SHORT: They were just that struck by the story and the concept that, people tattoo, you know, people’s names or an inspirational word all the time, Zymbol the meaning can change and evolve with them. So it’s this tattoo that they now have their personal meaning in it, but it’s never going to go out of style. I was so touched by that in the sense that someone would get our design tattooed, my mother’s doodle. That’s when it gave me the confidence that this is a product that can impact people’s lives in a positive way. We ended up posting those pictures and I think at the time 10 other people from our Facebook page said I also have this tattooed, and to date we have over 70 people that have tattooed the design. Which is absolutely crazy.
Moving back around on your answer. The whole thing when we decided that the stores weren’t working, and the shows were working well because we were telling it face to face was how can we tell this story to the most people at the same time. The obvious answer to us was QVC. We had set our sights to getting on QVC around 2013. We had met somebody that was a host for home shopping network. She loved the product and said she was going to take it to HSN and present it. We were over the moon about that. What ended up happening is she didn’t know the story, so the buyers didn’t get it and ended up shooting us down.
She luckily knew someone over at QVC, so when we went to do the presentation at QVC I told them we can do this presentation, but I need to be the one that goes there so I can do it myself. Fortunately, we met with the buyers out there. They ended up accepting us and over the last couple of years we have had 13 appearances and we’ve been a best seller for the last couple of years. It’s really been a great platform because I can interact with the host there, tell the story live, demonstrate how it works and really that’s the evolution from the doodle to the small arts and crafts shows to failing in stores to eventually getting it on QVC which has really been a big win for my family and me.
Beyond a Family Project
PHYLLIS SMITH: What I love about your story is one door closes and another one opens. You didn’t stop at HSN and you went to QVC. When they weren’t selling in stores you didn’t go throw up your hands and say this ain’t working and I’m done. There’s something to say about it, and that is the entrepreneurial spirit, is there are going to be challenges and you need to know that and know people are going to say no. You have a product that is very sentimental, and it seems to me and other people out there we’re in a business and it’s our business, it’s personal, it’s our baby. How do you separate yourself from that personal reaction when you’re rejected to move on to the next thing? How do you maintain that sort of unattachment?
DANE SHORT: Yeah. It’s so true. It’s a personalized concept and I’m very closely related to it because my mother is the one that did the doodle, and it’s been our little family project. At the beginning rejection is just part of life and I’ve always had the mindset that resistance is something that ends up building strength in the long term. When we have people that get it tattooed that validates us as a family, and a mission, which is to impact people’s life in a positive way. If everyone’s your customer, no one’s your customer.
To get those "no’s" and when I see other people that run companies and get rejected on just a few of the projects that they have, you know, it breaks my heart because they’re obviously not in the right mindset of "I believe in this." I’m going to take this to the end. We made a decision a long time ago that we know what we’re doing, we know our mission, we know how this product is impacting people, so a no is just a no.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Zymbol was a doodle created by your mom and you use it for yourself to create whatever it means for you for that day. Explain how that works? People might have, they get a card and they can fill it out, explain what you mean by that.
DANE SHORT: Yeah. With each Zymbol purchase it comes with this interactive card, for those of you that are watching you can see it, there’s a place up here where it says to, from and then it says trace your inspirational message. Along the bottom of the card there’s our alphabet and then there’s 2 rows of blank Zymbol’s above it. Using our alphabet, what you’ll do if you gift this is you’ll fill out who it’s to and from and then you will trace a message out. Maybe you have a girlfriend that’s going through a rough time and you trace out, “this too shall pass” or “time heals”. Or you have someone graduating and you trace out “congratulations”, or “happy birthday”, or any milestone. When the person receives their piece of jewelry they’ll know the intended message you’re sending them, but nobody else will because it’s hidden with the card. That’s more on the gifting side.
On the other side I know that every letter of the alphabet is in here. When I wake up in the morning I do a gratitude practice. What am I thankful for today? I will hold my Zymbol and think about what I’m grateful for today and then when I put it on that’s my message for the remainder of the day. Some people do a positive affirmation.
We have this workbook that’s kind of like a Zymbol journal where there are 52 entries. So, once a week for a year we have a suggested meaning. This week my Zymbol represents, this week I’m focused on, it’s my hearts desire to do this, it would be fun to – and people are using this one piece of jewelry, this original doodle as a tool to transform their lives in a positive way.
Change is Human
PHYLLIS SMITH: What I truly love about this, I’m not saying this as a commercial for you, obviously it could be. I love that idea that we’re all individuals and everyday is different. We wake up we feel differently, we have different motivations for that day, different concerns or a need for faith. In whatever it is we’re doing, and in your case it’s a gratitude, but in another case, it might be I’ve got to get this presentation done the right way.
DANE SHORT: Totally!
PHYLLIS SMITH: I love that it can change. It’s not one thing that with one word that says one thing and that will always be the same and I love that because that’s human. What makes this Zymbol so effective is that it’s so human.
DANE SHORT: Exactly, and that’s the concept of the 70 people that have it tattooed that the message is going to always be able to change with them, and we like to say that everyone on the earth is united and unique and with Zymbol people can all be united. Because all different ages and all walks of life can be united through wearing the exact same design, but everybody who’s wearing it is going to have their own unique message hidden within it.
We talk sometimes about symbols throughout history, if you think about it, from a piece sign to a yin yang to a Celtic cross – the intention of a symbol is it tells you what it represents. You see it, even a stop sign, you see it, it means stop. Zymbol is completely open to interpretation. It’s one of the, as far as we know, the only symbol where you tell it what it means.
PHYLLIS SMITH: You say that eWomenNetwork has been instrumental in your success. How so?
DANE SHORT: You know, it’s one of those deals when I moved to Austin in 2009/2010, I had a jewelry company. You go to some of these networking events and everyone seemed to be kind of in it for themselves. Someone had recommended eWomen to me and obviously the fact that I’m a guy, I was like, “Well, I can’t go to that. I’m a guy.” Fortunately, my mom was in town visiting from Colorado. So, we went to the first one here in Austin and found it to be so warm and welcoming and I had never been to an event where people weren’t so selfish and were giving. I got over my fear of being one of the only guys in the program cause, you know, I run the company with my mom, and someone I met at an eWomen event ended up referring me to another event where I met the person that got us on QVC. So, it’s kind of that 6 degrees of separation concept and the giving first mentality even if it’s not directly that I went to an eWomen event and I met someone that got me on QVC. It wasn’t that, but it was I met someone who was willing to share this with me, that then led to this, and it’s just happened. There’s some ladies around here in Austin that have been wearing Zymbol since 2009 when I set up my table and I visit the Houston, Austin chapters and International Conference a bunch and it’s just been instrumental. That market is entrepreneurial women into empowerment and those are my peeps and I know I’m one of the eMales but it’s great.
PHYLLIS SMITH: Well, we love having you, and you are an evolved male for sure, and we are just so thrilled to have you as a member. I just love your business, your mindset, your attitude, and I love everything about you and your company and thank you so much for sharing. Bottom line is you get the movement and let’s hope more and more people become Zymbologists and spread the message whatever that message is for that person.
Dane Short is a member of the eWomenNetwork Austin Chapter.