The sad passing of Contour reminded me of an important lesson: it is hard to create.
Reading the pages of comments explaining how Contour needed to build x feature, or y marketing campaign, or z strategy, brought back years of emotions. Remembering the uncountable hours we spent crafting a product we believed in, I couldn’t help but realize just how easy it is to tear something apart.
We live in a unique time period. A time period where innovation appears to be happening by the day, instead of the decade. An outcome that has driven consumers to expect greatness at an even faster rate than we can create it. Leaving many people to falsely wonder, have we stopped innovating?
With computers in our pockets, cameras on our bodies, and cars that can nearly drive themselves, we have come to expect the world at our fingertips. A sharp reminder that no matter how many hours you spend pouring your heart into a product the world has never seen, your customers will be expecting it. As if your product should have always existing, delivering the exact features they want, customers have come to believe it is their given right to have new, better, and cheaper.
What most customers will never understand is this: to truly create it takes your everything.
Much more than your time, your effort, or your sacrifice, to really create something you love, it takes your soul. That feeling you have at the end of the day where your head hurts and your body is tired from the inside out, knowing you can’t quit until millions of people love your product. Putting your heart on the line you lose countless hours of sleep wondering if you made the right decisions, every inch of the way. Dealing with setback after setback, you push a small collection of people to the brink, relying on belief to drive them to the end.
To be a product creator is different than any other type of artist. Not celebrated like an athlete, a musician, or an actor, there is no standing ovation when you deliver your work. Except for Steve Jobs, there is no auditorium filled with fans. Just a collection of customers who tell you in person, through reviews, and on forums what they think of your product.
In a society that wants more for less, we have come to believe that if we spend a dollar, we are entitled to greatness. Even if a customer only spent 20 hours earning money to buy your $200 product, they will compare their effort to the nine months you spent creating what they now hold in their hand. A difference in time people quickly forget.
To be a creator is not the norm, it is the exception. To be the 1% doesn’t mean you are rich, it just means you live your life on a quest for perfection. Starting in a garage, on a blank piece of paper, and without the comforts of a paycheck, the commitment to create is an incredibly rare group of people.
Putting everything on the line, it is no wonder that Steve Jobs put his life into his work. Showing the world a level of perfection few will ever experience, Steve raised the bar higher than the rest of us are willing to commit.
But just because you aren’t Steve Jobs doesn’t mean you aren’t a creator. Even if it takes a lifetime to deliver your best work, don’t stop. And just because customers, who have never created, tell you everything you did was wrong, doesn’t mean you should quit.
Because to deliver greatness takes time. It takes getting a lot of products wrong to get one amazingly right. It takes hearing you suck before hearing you are a genius. It takes being boo’d long before you are cheered. It takes a broken heart in order to understand true love. It may even take getting fired before you can change the world.
The passing of Contour represents the struggle to create. The pressure as a number two brand to keep up with a market leading force, its story is filled with lessons about product, brand, capital, people, and strategy. Recognizing that to create a category leading, sustainable business is hard. Starting in a cold warehouse in Mountlake Terrace nine years ago, Contour came a very long way.
Whether Contour rises from the ashes or not, I want to leave you with this…
To the thousands of customers who took a chance on a small brand in Seattle, thank you for believing. To the hundreds of people who put their heart on the line to support, work, and partner with Contour, thank you.
To the employees, you deserve to be honored. Like a great team, walking off the field for the last time, I give you a standing ovation. For playing the game with everything you had, I applaud you for the quality you displayed and the effort you showed the world. I am proud of what you created.
As Steve Jobs so eloquently said, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”