Wake-Up Note

Brett Nicol was a man on top of the world. A student in the Darden School’s MBA program, he was studying among other sharp minds and interviewing with some of the most prestigious corporations in the world. In the rush of classes, college social life and job offers, his world froze for a moment.

“I was going through my desk drawer and found a bunch of unfinished thank-you notes to executives at potential employers. I looked at them and thought to myself…My mom would be so disappointed with me. Id been taught to have good manners all my life, but it was so hard to put into action.”

Opportunity of Intention

Nicol talked about the realization with classmate Nathan Tan. Both agreed they had good intentions but the barrier was follow-through. They looked around and observed the same among their male classmates, and decided to create a venture for men who want to do the right thing – convert good intentions into the actions of a gentleman.

Exploring Inaction

The two started investigating Nicol’s original problem. What stood between thank-you notes in his desk, and thank you notes in his acquaintances’ mailboxes? The answers: Stationery. So much stationery was feminine – sitting down to face it was somehow shameful. Remembering important dates. In addition to business deadlines, most men had trouble remembering their own birthdays, let alone the birthdays of relatives and friends, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s etc. Articulating thoughts on paper. More comfortable in front of a spreadsheet or email, most men struggle to bring out their inner-Shakespeare in a handwritten note. Stamps. Standing in line at the post office is a task for neither an MBA student nor a gentleman. The barriers were very real, and very simple.

Intention into Action

Turning entrepreneurial intent into action is just as difficult as realizing gentlemanly intent. As intuitive as a venture named “Forgetful Gentleman,” providing pre-stamped manly stationery sounds, the implementation must be hand-written by the entrepreneur:

“Immediately, we realized we needed product. We went to the local printer and printed stationery, together with a small stack of ‘Elephant Cards’ – brief reminders of gentlemanly actions. We went to cigar stores and got boxes to package it up. We sold it to our classmates and made enough money to do another run which we took to local farmers markets. Each time we sold a box, we learned what people liked, why they bought, and how to improve it. As we did, we met more and more people interested in helping us and we thought to ourselves – we might actually have a business here.”

Manly Implementation

The pair passed on fancy job offers from large firms when they graduated in order to develop Forgetful Gentleman. They debuted at the New York Gift Fair in January of 2010 with no inventory, three sample boxes and a promise from the factory for inventory in a few weeks. At the event, Neiman Marcus placed an order. Suddenly pastime shifted into process as Nicol and Tan scurried to serve the upscale retail clientele of Neiman Marcus. Just a few months later, an online e-commerce site was up, and soon thereafter, the pair were nominated for best new product in the National Stationery Show in the luxury and desktop categories. A strong start – with still much to write.

A Reflective Note

As Nicol takes a pause from the action, he offers us a key insight into the personal role of the entrepreneur in creating opportunities:

“Everything we have done is some combination of who we are and what we have access to. Nate is the gentleman – I am the forgetful one. Nate works design and production and I do more to take it to market. Looking ahead, we see opportunities from what we learn working with large national accounts like Neiman Marcus, independent retailers and our own e-commerce platform. For example – half of our customers – mostly all who purchase at retail – are women. Online is for men. So maybe we use online email and text message date reminders to develop an affiliate program where we reach men at key buying moments? Or develop a watch that reminds men to undertake gentlemanly pursuits which might be an attractive gift a woman would buy her aspiring gentleman. Maybe a social media site where men can share gentleman tips and stories. Regardless – its going to be something that uniquely reflects us”.

British Airways Business Life
Relevant Principles:
Bird-in-Hand (Means)
Affordable Loss
Crazy Quilt (Partnerships)
Pilot-in-the-Plane (Control vs. Predict)

BABL Forgetful