Stephanie Cullison was a business titan most people had never heard, mostly because she dominated an obscure industry: handmade yarn. And it’ll probably be a while before you hear her name again because, as The Seattle Times detailed in the most interesting read of the week, her business fell apart.
We’ve all heard of the American Dream, but Cullison, a Kirkland resident, typifies a type of Northwest Dream: turning a hobby or a passion project into a career (Northwest Dreamers are best observed at farmer’s markets). Cullison’s ware was self-striping yarn, which she called GothSocks after their signature black stripes. “The Kirkland woman’s hand-dyed, self-striping yarn … sold out instantly whenever she updated her web store. Her booths at yarn and fiber conventions — yes, that’s a thing — were mobbed by fans who lined up 10 deep for a chance to buy her colorful creations,” Times reporter Christine Clarridge wrote.
And then things went very, very wrong. Today, Cullison “can’t even look at” yarn, and her life is in disarray. After being overwhelmed by demand, Cullison sparked what had to be the the greatest craft-yarn scene controversy ever. She failed to deliver on some orders, she wrote on her store blog, because she overdosed on antidepressants in 2013. “I took all my prescription medications and overdosed,” she wrote. “When I was found, my pulse was at 30 beats a minute and when they pulled me out of the room, my heart stopped. I was dead for 10 minutes.”
Instead of sympathy, Cullison received threats from online trolls, and customers reacted mostly with furor. “PayPal disputes were filed, with refunds granted to most customers, and Cullison’s account was shut down,” Clarridge wrote. “Amid a flurry of angry emails and threatening phone calls that followed her attempt to sell her personal stash of yarn, Cullison said she was warned she’d ‘never sell yarn again.'”
That’s exactly what happened. Reading the story, one can’t help but sympathize with Cullison. She was apparently misdiagnosed with depression, and she fell victim to some pitfalls that commonly kill startups. From a business perspective, here’s what went wrong:
Cullison’s business grew too fast: Startups seek venture capital because growth is hard to manage. You need people and resources to handle the uptick in demand, especially if cash flow is an issue. During her best year, Cullison sold $200,000 of yarn, but she was doing all the work herself. “It can get big all of a sudden,” Cullison told the Times. “There was so much pressure and so many expectations. All of a sudden I was like, ‘I can’t handle all this. What have I done?'”
She didn’t have any help: A lesson for anyone in the craft-goods business: Just because you make damn good yarn or beer or shoes or kombucha doesn’t mean you’ll be damn good at running such a business. In a growth period, entrepreneurs need management help, especially if they’re responsible for creating the product as Cullison was. At best, Cullison could have found a cofounder or contractor to handle the financial aspects of her business. At least, she needed a mentor with expertise in finances and fulfillment.
She didn’t say “no”: All of this, of course, depends on the goals Cullison had for her business. If she wanted to eventually grow to, say, $500,000 or $1 million in revenue, she should have sought help. But some people enjoy working solo, which apparently is common in the yarn industry. In that case, Cullison should have turned down orders, or perhaps sold only product she had in stock.
It’s easy to armchair-quarterback the demise of Cullison’s business, but lessons can be gleaned from her story. Take note, entrepreneurs.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo highlighted just how differently the Eastside’s two dominant video-game console makers plan to catch up to Sony PlayStation in sales.
First there’s Microsoft, which unveiled the skinny Xbox One S and kind of unveiled a second one, dubbed Scorpio, that will be a virtual-reality compatible computing behemoth. The Xbox team is looking toward gaming’s future with more powerful consoles that can tie to PCs and other devices; Microsoft’s device-agnostic “Play Anywhere” feature means two people can play the same Xbox game on different devices.
Contrast that with Nintendo’s past-oriented approach. Despite its embrace of mobile, Nintendo is still banking on popularity of its decades-old characters. At E3, Nintendo’s booth featured only its latest Zelda title. As one analyst told The Seattle Times, “Their business strategy is stare in the rearview mirror and bask in the glory of what the once-great Nintendo did, and keep hoping that if you do that it’ll work again.”
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