Tom Fishburne and I went to business school together, which means I was lucky enough to be a very early reader of his “Skydeck cartoons,” funny musings on what life is really like at Harvard Business School. Tom and I knew each other a little bit at school, and have since gotten to know each other better as we’re each interested in marketing, storytelling and creating the path you want to walk.
In a perfect reflection of our brave new world, yesterday I saw a tweet of Tom’s that referenced a blog post he wrote, in which gave away the whole presentation (slides, text, the whole shebang) he did at the Do Lectures recently (yes, just writing that sentence made my head spin).
Tom’s presentation is a detailed, funny, honest account of the last 11 years of his life, and the path he walked from business school student to brand marketer to professional cartoonist.
If you’re at all interested in writing, publishing, spreading ideas, and how that all happens today (not how it used to happen and how we might wish it still were), check out Tom’s talk. And if you work for an organization that wants to spread ideas in a new, creative way, you just might want to see if you can get Tom’s help.
Since Tom he was a kid he dreamed about becoming a cartoonist, but it never seemed like a viable profession (some facts: Bob Mankoff, the Cartoon Editor at the New Yorker, gets 1,000+ submissions a week for 17 cartoon spots, most of which are filled by veterans. In 1995, Tom’s cartooning idols – Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbs), Gary Larson (The Far Side), and Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County) – all retired because of their frustrations with traditional newspaper cartooning).
Tom hadn’t cartooned in a while but, bugged by a business school classmate back in 2000, Tom started a weekly cartoon for the Harvard Business School newspaper. Fun stuff that got folks’ attention, but definitely a hobby for Tom.
Upon graduation he worked in product marketing at P&G and then went on to work at method. From all accounts, Tom really enjoyed this work.
Along the way, week in and week out, Tom kept cartooning, kept building his tribe (starting with just 40 people at P&G to whom he’d send his marketing cartoons), kept working. Prominent folks (Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, the NY Times) wrote about his work which increased his audience, but it was all a labor of love – he was making no money, making time for all this in addition to his (big and growing) day job.
But slowly, paid gigs started coming in, and Tom realized that he might, just might, be able to make his passion into his profession. (all the details of how he made the decision here)
Fast forward to 2010: Tom, having just gotten a promotion at method, decides it’s his “now or never” moment – if he doesn’t leap now, he never will. So he leaps.
Panic, fear, terror, ensue. Tom is, after all, a SITKOM: “Single Income, Two Kids, Oppressive Mortgage.”
Yet nine months later (his goal was a year) Tom’s hit his goals to bring in from cartooning what he did working for method. It’s all happening for Tom.
Of the many funny and insightful insights for startups/freelancers/how-to-pursue-your-dreams folks, the one I love the most is the quotation from Jerry Garcia: “you do not want to be considered the best of the best. You want to be the only one who does what you do.”
The other big insight is about there being no shortcuts. While it took Tom took nine months from the day he quit method to earn enough money to support his family, it actually took him 10 years and 9 months from the date he started cartooning to make this all happen.
The confusing thing about social media and the internet era is that the stories that spread are about overnight successes. Yet the reality for most of the world is about hyper-specialization and methodical audience-building that pays off after a LONG long time. The Web 2.0 meme is about speed, but for nearly everyone there are no shortcuts.
The big question to ask yourself is: how do you feel about the notion of becoming the only one who does what you do?
The moment you decide you’re not scared of that – and the moment you realize that you’re not going to know on Day One of your 10 year journey what exactly that thing is – is the moment you’re free to get started.
Tom is an amazing cartoonist and I love his work. And at a time when the greats of a previous era are hanging up their pens, Tom’s just getting started. That’s because, while there are thousands of really incredible cartoonists out there, there’s only one Marketoonist.