IamA terrible artist who has sold 18,794 pieces of original art. AMA!
A few years ago I started a silly social experiment - IWantToDrawACatForYou.com. I wanted to see how many people would pay me $10 to draw stick figure cat for them. After a successful Groupon and an accidental deal with Mark Cuban on ABC's Shark Tank, I got a bit more than I bargained for, and my life became one big Sharpie high. Just yesterday I drew my last cat drawing. 18,794 stick figure cat drawings later, I'm bringing the strangest chapter of my life to a close.
My proof: http://iwanttodrawacatforyou.com/AMA.jpg
What I'm up to now: http://sgstarmakers.com
Thank you! Let me just put that here with the others...
So, what you are saying is "count me-owt"?
How much money have you received from this endeavor, the $10 per drawing or a different figure?
The answer to that is complicated.
Would it be possible to expand on this?
I suppose I've probably grossed over $300k on stick figure cat drawings. But when things were really busy, I was renting office space and paying several employees to help with fulfillment. I was also spending freely on other creative projects, none of which really took off.
I've been creating things for a long time - often at the expense of other creatives who volunteer their time and energy. This gave me an opportunity to pay these people for things. So I had more logos designed, songs created, etc. in an attempt to give back to folks who had supported my projects.
This project helped me purchase a mini-van when my third child was born, and also made it easier for my family to move into our first house.
I'm no good at math - but that's how I measure the success of this venture.
At least you did something nice with the money, I wouldn't call that a waste in any sense. Those people are going to be a lot more willing to help you out in the future.
I probably would have just bought a lot of cocaine.
I like your honesty
You need a bookkeeper.
I have one. But he's not very good.
steve! is this the way you talk about me in public?
I kid! I kid!
is it... you?
Imo "creative projects" do not take off...those are for you. Your success is what you make of it, not the cash in your pocket at the end of the day. The failing artist who won't give up is a much more interesting life than the artist who made it from day one.
I suggest you have a better story for the IRS.
Fear not, the IRS has received their chunk!
Why are you no longer going to draw cats?
As much as I have loved this 3-year ride, treating cat drawings as a company is draining and time consuming. I have a full time job, three kids, and other creative projects all clamoring for my time.
It's a scary thing to give up the one creative project you're actually known for. But I feel it's necessary for me to move on to other things if I want to stay happy and sane.
Any chance of selling the business to someone else, or subcontracting an artist to do all the work while you take a 10% commission?
This is a personal project. I think demand would plummet if other artists were drawing the cats.
Have you noticed any improvements in your cat drawing ability? Or drawing ability in general?
Yes, definitely. Repetition definitely helps. I did not expect to ever become a GOOD artist, but I'm definitely a BETTER artist after all these drawings.
Do you really want to draw a cat for me?
I used to. I really did! But to be honest, Hamburger Helpster, I no longer want to draw a cat for you.
Did you seriously make 187 k off this project?
Also I cant believe you got a deal with mark cuban. Do you have an opportunity or is there an opportunity to work with him in the future?
When things were humming, my overhead increased significantly. I don't have much business savvy, and wasn't prepared for the volume that Shark Tank generated. Also, Mark's investment was earmarked for other creative projects. Long story short, no, I didn't make 187k off this project.
That is one of my big regrets. Someone with more business sense could have had a more life changing financial gain from this business. Me? I'm kind of a fuck-up.
I'm not sure about further opportunities with Mark. My own assessment is that I have burned this bridge through sheer naivete and the inability to communicate effectively with a billionaire.
Hmm that's a bummer, but creative people are always in demand.
How was he to work with?
I can't complain. He invested in my project and gave me the time of day. He had much larger investments to worry about, yet responded to my questions and said nice things about me in the press.
I wish you couldve turned yourself into a millionaire! Just keep creating and it may still happen
I'm not sure if this what you were going for, but that was hilarious. I'm sorry and/or congratulations.
It is!! Thanks!
Just a heads up. There is a typo on the "About" page.
and give all performers do the thing they love
Thanks for catching that!
I checked out the link, how are you involved in it?
I am the host, writer and executive producer.
Would love for you to elaborate on this, it's clear people are interested. What happened?
Did you not take his advice? Did you take the business in the direction you wanted instead of the direction he thought you should go?
What would you have done differently?
I came into this unprepared to treat my social experiment as a full time business. And sadly I was too scared to chuck the security of my full time job and really roll the dice on the business.
I'm not sure how my life would have changed had I left my day job, but I know I could have chased down expansion leads a little better. It's been a tricky three years trying to honor my cat drawing business among all the other things that deserve my attention.
I'm sure Mark's dissatisfaction stems from my retirement. In his eyes, as an investor, that's the ultimate betrayal. I have to put my own family and sanity ahead of his needs as an investor.
Based on our early communication, he was not expecting a return on his investment through cat drawings - we were going to work on various other creative projects together. He called this an acqui-hire.
When he and I had differences in opinion on what those other creative projects should be, he suddenly became much more interested in his return on his cat drawing investment.
To this day I have no clue how much thought Mark gives to my project - I can only guess VERY little. So what I perceive as a large burnt bridge rift may be completely false.
I hope that answers your question! I'm not sure what I would have done differently - I think about that all the time, though. I am proud of the way I kept this project as sincere and genuine as possible from day 1. I wouldn't change that. I might change my own expectations a bit, and be a little less hard on myself for my perceived failure...
This is a great question. I need to think about how I answer it. But I'll try to come back and elaborate when it comes to me.
Mark's investment was earmarked for other creative projects
Since you are moving away from the cat-drawing project, is Mark Cuban still involved in your new project(s)?
No, Mark is sadly not interested in my other projects.
That's too bad. Did Mark make his investment back?
That depends on who you ask.
Do you think that Mark is happy with the investment?
No, I don't think he is.
Draw him a cat. Maybe that will make him feel better.
Now there's an idea...
Seems like we're asking you. Did he make a return >= his investment?
Sometimes, while drawing, I'd forget what the LAST cat I drew was. There were so many requests they've all blended together.
Except for one.
My favorite cat drawing request was from a guy who had just tricked his brother into smoking his pubes. He wanted me to draw a cat for the big reveal.
From one social Puck to another, I was happy to play a part in his little prank.
I like you.
Although I could just look it up I am incredibly lazy. How in the world did you pitch, "I'm gonna draw mediocre cats for money" to the people on Shark Tank? You must be quite the salesman. Also, what did Cuban see in the company at the time, I mean absolutely no disrespect, but its really a ridiculous idea.
No disrespect taken!
My pitch consisted of a rap and a dance, which was the last thing anyone expected to see. Cuban said in the press that he considered this an acqui-hire... a way to tap into my creativity and tech know-how, which he saw as a rare combination.
These 60-seconds will explain much:
Did you consult Tim and Eric when it came time to create your pitch?
I wish I could have their ear for a minute!!! :)
What was your specific background prior to beginning this career?
By day I build websites. By night I create comedy to delight and confuse by way of stage shows in Chicago, and a couple of TV projects.
Drawing cats for money was nothing more than a social experiment - a belch of artistic expression.
Oh my god. You're Steve Gadlin!
I watched a few Star Makers. There was one episode (I think the Deja Sue episode) where the screen wipe started to come in but realized its timing was off and quickly went back off screen. I thought that was genius.
Hah! Thanks! Our director has a lot of fun with the control board.
How many "pussy" drawing requests did you entertain, on an average -per day?
It depended on how close I was to a Shark Tank re-run. On the busiest days, I'd get over 300 orders. But on average, about 20 per day.
When things were humming I would try to fulfill 25-50 orders per day, though that number would balloon during the holiday season.
That's great! :) Thanks.
Thank YOU for asking!
Hey! I appreciate the questions a ton. I'll be around a bit longer, happy to answer anything else that comes in. Redditors are super kind. bow
What do you mean by accidental deal with Cuban? By the way, my kids cracked up watching you do the little dance on Shark Tank.
I just mean that I approached the show as if I was there for comic relief. I was just some wacky dude with a silly dance and a company that peddled stick figure cat art. I walked in there with nothing to lose, looking forward to being completely eviscerated by their panel of bazillionaires.
Instead, Mark Cuban offered me money, and we became business partners.
I can assure you that caught me off guard. Whoops!
And hey, thanks!
But do you want to PAINT me a cat? O.o
I did paint a few cats! That experience taught me that painting is hard, and best left to painters.
Would you draw me a cat if I made you a cat painting?
Good to know, haha
Will you write for me?
What is your opinion on this?
Oh, envy, I suppose. That would have sucked up a lot less of my time and energy.
I saw you on shark tank, I loved your ideas and for maybe 20 minutes tried to copy your business... insert sheepish apology. it was one of the first Shark Tank episodes I saw and I inspired me to start my own website. I now have made contact with brilliant people all over the world and do what I love every day.
Thanks for a bit more confidence and inspiring my artistic talent a bit.
My question: What's your favorite color? Cat or Dog Person?
What's your next plan? What was it like seeing people actually buying your product? What's your favorite color?
edit: fixing typos
That's awesome! I loved seeing similar businesses pop up after Shark Tank. And it's an honor to have inspired you, even if it was just a bit.
Green is my favorite color. I don't like cats or dogs. I'm not a pet person. Also, any plant I keep dies.
Right now my passion project is a TV show. I'm in the middle of producing a 26-episode season, and I'm heading to NATPE in Miami next week to meet with TV stations and a few cable networks.
Having people buy my product was incredibly gratifying. This was an experience I will never forget... such a lucky, awesome thing that came into my life. I'm still growing from it to this day.
My favorite color is still green.
Would you do it again? If you were to relive your life 3 years ago, would you do it?
I would definitely do it again. But I would approach it a lot differently. I have all sorts of regret to work through with this. When you make a deal on Shark Tank, you're handed an incredible opportunity... I spent three years trying so hard not to blow it.
Did I blow it? Who's to say? But it's a question I'll ask myself every single day.
Did you scan all your drawings? Maybe you can put it into a book. I would totally buy it for my cat loving friends!
I did! They are all online (and still posting) at http://iwanttodrawacatforyou.com. That'd be one heavy book!
If I knew you before you stopped making cat pictures, I would have brought a lot from you. I wish you luck in your future endeavors.
I appreciate that a ton!!
Firstly... You are by far the most memorable shark tank participant to date. I am curious though.. Mark Cuban seems like he's actually a nice guy, probably the best person to get a deal with. Would you agree with that? You've kind of skirted around the topic, but you said you burned that bridge. Could you elaborate just a tad on that? Did you ever draw a cat peeing on/kicking/choking/killing a dog?
I appreciate that!!
I'd say Mark is way more accessible than you'd expect him to be for a guy with so many businesses and responsibilities. I can't really speak for the off-camera attitudes of the other Sharks, so it wouldn't be fair to speculate.
But he's also all business in his communication. I suppose he has to be. The show paints the relationships as more of a mentorship through its update segments, and I'm not sure that's ever really the case. These are investors, and they want a return on their bucks.
I think Mark and I are from different planets, and made all sorts of assumptions about each other going into this. I just like to do creative things and get attention for them. He expected me to be a bit more business-minded, and after seeing the first annual report from my accountant remarked "You just turned this from an awesome business into a WTF business."
It was sort of down hill from there...
And I do think I have drawn cats beating up dogs and other cats. And I've definitely drawn cats peeing on things. The most violent drawings always centered around sports rivalries.
Will you draw me a dog?
I will not.
I used to work for a company that printed your shirts in Chicago and I remember we had a rush order once for whoopie Goldberg - what was that all about?
The Shark Tank press people were constantly having me draw cats for celebrities to try and drum up publicity. They were going to feature a bunch of Shark Tank products on The View, and my products were on the list. They wanted a t-shirt that Whoopie Goldberg could wear... and they wanted it NOW.
You guys were awesome for turning that around so quickly!!
Sadly, Lori Greiner stepped in and decided to make the segment all about products she had invested in - so I got cut out, and it was all for nothing. I had spent about $700 overnighting many framed cat drawings to The View, all for nothing.
F U, Lori Greiner.
So, now that you're quitting, can we still buy stuff from you at IDoNotWantToDrawACatForYou.com?
Change the website to this name, start charging $100.00 per cat. Brilliant.
Great idea! It's all yours! :)
Did you start this AMA with the intention of personally responding to every single question?
I did! Is that wrong?
It's not wrong, just incredibly difficult.
It is! Hah!
Hey everyone - THANKS so much for all of your questions, and for indulging me in this AMA. I really appreciate your comments, criticism, etc.
Time for me to log off!
If you're super bored, please do check out my next project: http://sgstarmakers.com.
Not that I can recall. But hey, it was all such a blur. So maybe?
Hi Steve! Just wanted to let you know I have my cat drawing framed and up on the wall and it's very special to me! It was a gift after helping a friend run her first half marathon and it looks great hanging next to bib numbers and medals. I can't imagine how many people you've made laugh and smile with your art!
How many markers do you think you've gone through? How will everything you've learned from this success help you with shaping your next endeavors?
Good luck on your future projects and thank you for my cat drawing.
Hey! Thanks! I'm glad it's still on the wall!!
One Sharpie marker was good for 25 cat drawings. But this was never an exact science.
I would estimate I've gone through thousands of markers, Sharpies, color Bics, etc.
The best lesson I took from this was that the ridiculous ideas in my brain can actually find success when presented in the right context - and if I execute them with confidence and sincerity. And that's my plan for http://sgstarmakers.com, my latest passion project.
Thanks for the question!
Why not round up to 18,800, or 19,000 or even a nice 20,000 drawings? You don't have OCD do you?
I wanted to hit 20k... But with my current project load it just became too much. I set the drawings to "out of stock" a few weeks ago after a bit of a stress-induced breakdown.
This is more of a question for the audience.
Does anyone here have one of these cat drawings, and can you post a picture?
And for you Steve. Will you draw one more cat for Reddit?
My wife paints nude self portraits, so i gave Steve the description and this was the result. She keeps it framed in her office at work. I was very happy with the result.
Hah! That's such a fun one... thanks for posting the link. I love revisiting the old drawings.
I might! If I'm by my markers later!
After 18k plus drawings, are you a less terrible artist than when you started?
I am! You should see cat drawing #1 compared to the more recent ones. One of the unexpected byproducts of this experiment was I actually became pretty freaking decent at drawing cats for people.
I guess my question is, why do you think so many people bought into this? It seems kind of stupid to me. I really don't get the appeal.
Not trying to be mean at all, I'm just wondering, what do you think your customers got out of this experience?
I think they got to connect with someone they saw on TV and form a miniature pen pal relationship with him.
Getting stuff in the mail is fun. Especially when it's not junk mail. Super especially when it's a cute little doodle made JUST for you.
Hey man sorry things didn't booom and make you a multi-millionaire but, at least you gave it a shot!
I clearly remember your episode and thought it was proof that there's a "lid for every pot"
My question is: How was it being on Shark Tank? I've heard you have to stand there awkwardly for a couple of minutes while they get the cameras and lights set up? Was that as intimidating as it sounds?
Thanks!! Being on Shark Tank was awesome. It was my dream to be on a game show - I would apply to them constantly. And Shark Tank was the only one to write me back.
Being on set, in LA, all of it - so much freaking fun. And there is that long awkward moment where you stand in front of them while they set things up... plus another 2-hour wait in a tiny curtained off bull pen waiting for your turn to pitch.
I'm not sure if intimidating is the right word for it... they definitely get you all fired up in anticipation before your pitch. By the time I walked down the hallway, I was ready to make a total ass of myself! Whoopy!
Were you ever tempted to create an automated cat drawing machine to keep the checks rolling in?
I sure was! I had to create all sorts of automated systems to help me manage the high volume of orders.
The requests were so varied, though, that no robot could possibly handle it. Not even with Mark Cuban money.
Do you own any cats? I have a black British Shorthair and he is lovely.
I am very allergic to cats. I tried adopting one a few months ago, but we had to return the cat to the rescue one week into it. Much to the chagrin of my three kids, who enjoy cats of the non-stick-figure variety.
Do you know how much money you've made out of the whole deal and how were or are you being paid? Do you regret your deal with Mark?
If you happen to come back to Reddit and see my question, I hope you answer it: Can you please explain what happened between you and Mark Cuban?
I've read probably 20 posts by you where you say you regret how things progressed, but there's zero information about what happened. As someone who would like to learn from your mistakes (the same way you hopefully have) I kind of have to know what happened before I can learn from it.
The only thing that even comes close to an explanation is that you said you wished you'd been more prepared for the volume, but that's a common problem in business. I suspect the things that could be learned aren't just about that.
This is a hard one to answer.
Nothing "happened" between us... I think he's unimpressed with my lack of ability to turn this into something bigger. But sadly, without quitting my day job, there's just no way I can grow it.
I made attempts at apparel, greeting cards, 3D printing, etc. All sorts of ways to expand and grow the business. But I didn't have the time to really put 100% of my energy into any of those - both because of my day job, and the unending stream of cat drawing orders I had to fulfill.
I don't think Mark was able to relate to that, and I think he ultimately became frustrated by me throwing in the towel.
Looks like I'm late to the party but I'll ask anyway. Thanks for one of the more memorable pitches on Shark Tank. Second I remember they did a recap at some point and you had a staff with office space (as you mentioned). How active were you in the day to day towards the end? Did you sell the business or just stop drawing yourself? I guess my question is did the project just run its natural course where business wasn't coming in or did you personally say 'I don't want to do this anymore' (or both).
It was both. I set the drawings to "out of stock" on my site because I just couldn't fulfill orders in a timely fashion anymore. The business is still "open" in that I sell shirts, greeting cards, and pins. And it may still grow in new ways.
I just can't take the drawing orders right now.
I understand. Did you personally draw EVERY single cat?? I thought the staff that I saw in the recap was helping you draw (or at least that was the impression I got through the recap).
By the way, I don't know you're a redditor outside this AMA but when you're tired of asking questions just add an edit to the end of the description to a 'thanks this has been great, blah blah blah' so people know to stop asking you questions. I only say this because AMAs rarely go 10 hours, but if you're willing people will keep asking questions. ;-)
I did personally draw every single cat.
The staff would color the ones that needed coloring, print out labels, type in descriptions, prep for shipping, etc. And that shot in the update was a tad engineered... I did use that collaborative office space, but rarely had a group of people like that working in unison.
And thanks for the tip!
Islam extremists are attacking innocent folks around the world, our dependency on fossil fuels has created a runaway greenhouse effect that we will likely never recover from, many parts of the world are suffering the worst droughts in history, Ted Cruz is going to chair a congressional committee on SCIENCE, and the list goes on and on.
Anyways, were all the cat drawings with black sharpies, or did you ever use red, blue or heck, even green?
They were all hand drawn with black Sharpie. For an extra $5, I would use Bic color markers as well.
Red, blue, green, and all manner of pastels.
What was the application process like for shark tank? Did you just send them an email? Casting call? Application?
I sent them an email that said:
"Hi. I sell stick figure cat drawings for $10 a pop. Lemme at 'em."
My experience does not reflect the common experience...
What made you want to draw cats for people?
Cats are very simple to draw. Circles, triangles, and lines. For me the cat drawing was the ultimate widget - a simple-to-produce product that I could market and sell.
Also - it turned each transaction into a pen pal relationship. I enjoyed personalizing commerce.
Cats are very simple to draw. Circles, triangles, and lines.
Take this approach a step further and you could become the next Picasso!
What is your favorite thing draw?
Cats. Cats are my favorite thing to draw. Also the occasional bonus pig.
Anyone tell you that you look like Joe Scarborough?
Nope, you're the first!
I'd somehow never heard of the cat drawing, but holy crap man I love Star Makers. Where did you find the bongo guy?
That bongo guy is Chad, our sound engineer. We had a no-show and needed a quick fill-in. Thank goodness he had his bongos on him!
I don't know if this was asked or not. Anyway.
Do you think art has become some kind of buzzword? I think it is kinda washed out and the artist is more important than the Art itself especially when you think about Streetart. To be very specific: I am thinking about the movie exit through the gift shop, about Mr. Brainwash who became popular just because other well known artists promoted him. To this day I do not know if he is real or just a living art piece of Banksy.
So to pin it down:
Does art have any value or is it the artists name what matters?
I dunno. I'm not sure the answer to that is important.
What will you do now that you're done with stick figure cats?
As an artist trying to put my paintings out their and get seen, I am envious of your success.
I'm working on this: http://sgstarmakers.com!
20 cats a day is a 200 dollar day. For drawing cats. How are you not making this your full time job? I think i'd be happy drawing cats for a living.
At the very beginning I considered chucking my day job. And I feel like if I had focused on this full time, I could have grown it in all sorts of ways.
But my third kid was born right after Shark Tank aired. I have a family, a mortgage, etc.
I also have a very stable day job that pays pretty well.
With all of that in mind, I decided not to "quit my day job." And that's probably a big reason the stress of this second job wore me down.
Also, when I was selling a lot of cats, there was additional overhead just to help keep things running. So $200/day isn't really accurate here.
Mark Cuban. How was it like to meet him?
It was okay! He is very tall.
How did you market your art & what's the most valuable lesson you learned from the experience? :)
The most effective marketing I had was talking to my customers and potential customers on a personal level. I have a presence on Twitter (@CatDrawingGuy) and a Facebook page.
Shark Tank reruns were my best advertising - spending money on marketing was pointless when I'd get that free commercial every few months. Especially when the show went into syndication on CNBC.
The most valuable lesson? That's a tough one to answer.
Here are a couple:
1) Be yourself. Isn't that trite? But I've found that the sincere execution of an idea that is very much ME found success. It wasn't in the idea, it was in the execution... and how I made the execution personal for me and my customers.
2) Do things! We all have filters that stop us from following through on our silliest ideas. But some times those are our best ideas, and we don't even know it.
What sort of jobs were your employees doing? I assume you stuck to the drawing?
Correct! I drew every cat. My employees helped with the coloring, scanning, posting, and shipping.
How did you get started? Where do you think most of your customers came from?
I got started as a little joke between friends... Then applied to run a Groupon (back when that meant something) and they took me seriously. Things sort of snowballed from there.
My customers are from all over the world, but at this point, most found me through Shark Tank.
What else do you do?
All sorts of stuff!
Would you please draw one last cat for me? :)
I follow you on Twitter so I'm hoping to get a cat some day.
With that said: What are other things you like to draw, if anything?
I like to draw pigs!
Isn't it about time someone drew a cat for you?
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