David Dewane And Courtney Garvin From Mouse Book Club Talk About Publication Design And Business Growth

David Dewane is an architect, publisher, journalist, and educator. He is a co-founder and president of Mouse Books. David’s approach to life is part entrepreneur and part journalist. He maintains an ongoing commitment to design theory and regularly publishes essays and interviews. He was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his take on the future of the office.

Courtney Garvin is a graphic designer and college professor. She is a co-founder and the vice president and creative director of Mouse Books. Her work has spanned all aspects of design: from strategy and design to final production and implementation. Her clients have ranged from large brands such as Accenture, The Coca-Cola Company, FedEx, Charles Schwab, The Walt Disney Company, Hewlett-Packard, and musician will.i.am.

Together they are part of the small team that helps create and develop Mouse Books and the Mouse Book Club. They make books for readers who believe in the power of reading and how a book can transform humanity. The Mouse Book Club is a quarterly book club of portable books that link human experiences across generations, languages and cultures. The Mouse editors carefully curate selections of literature, short stories, speeches, poetry, and more, all structured around themes that are topical, challenging, and varied.

In this episode, they talk about starting their business and how they are taking intentional steps to manage their growth, while simultaneously creating a community of passionate readers through their book club meetings.

Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Courtney and David.

[00:00:05] Andrew: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast brought to you by StickerGiant.com, where we talk with our customers about how they started their business, how they're marketing their brand, and how they're growing their company. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. If you're a regular listener, thank you for your continued support. Without further ado, it's time for the Stickers on the Mic Podcast from StickerGiant. Let's get on with the show.

Hey, everybody, and welcome to Stickers on the Mic for this week, we've got David Dewane and Courtney Garvin from Mouse Book Club. We're very excited to talk to them about their business. Welcome to both of you on the show. I haven't had a chance to talk to two people like this in a while, so this is very fun for me.  

[00:00:59] Courtney: Excellent, thanks, Andrew.  

[00:01:00] David: Awesome, glad to be here.  

[00:01:03] Andrew: Terrific, David. Yes, terrific to have you. David, you reached out to us actually, just last week, and I jumped on a call with you. We were chatting a little bit about Mouse Book Club and all your other projects and where you're at. I really want to start with the both of you talking about Mouse Book Club and what this project means to both of you and how it came to be? It doesn't matter who kicks us off, but what is the deal with Mouse Book Club?

[00:01:28] David: Courtney, do you want to try to pitch it or do you want me-- [crosstalk]

[00:01:30] Courtney: I was just going to say that, do you want to roll, David? [chuckles]  

[00:01:34] David: Okay. What we do at Mouse is real simple. We make cell phone-sized physical books. The core observation of the company is that basically the smartphones have trained people to read constantly, but what are you really reading? Are you reading social media or online journalism, something relatively repetitive, something that you're not going to really remember? Instead, we took this kind of passport format, passport sized format, and we take great works of literature, we just put it in that, and then we sell them by subscription. We bundle them into, I think that that's kind of a-- so the form factor is really the first core value point of the company. The second thing that we do is we combine them into series. For example, the current series is around Walt Whitman. We're celebrating Whitman's 200th bicentennial like everybody else in the literature world. We did three books that kind of look at Whitman.

The last series we did was on solitude. It looked at stoic texts from Epictetus, it looked at an old Italian plague era text from Cachio and it looked at Henry David Thoreau as a Walking. It was a COVID kind of era spirited series around that. The point of the curation is A, so that you as a consumer don't have to have a huge body of knowledge of all literature, we queue them up for you like a great DJ or something like that, or like a bartender almost at a really high-end cocktail bar. Then the other key point of the curation piece is that the text immediately start making connections. Great books aren't just things that like you read to be a well-educated person, they're things that you've read so that you can figure out a better way to understand the world and understand yourself.

The final thing that we do as a company is that the subscription thing isn't just so that we have like recurring revenue. This subscription thing is so that we can build a community of people, that's for each other and that care about doing this together and build a movement towards revitalizing reading, as something that's really a valuable part of contemporary mobile, in normal cases, lifestyles. Does that make sense?

[00:03:58] Andrew: Makes perfect sense to me, and I think, obviously, the timing with so many people hunkering down, that a good book shouldn't be far away and shouldn't be hard to access either. That's kind of nice. Courtney, do you feel like he nailed it there or you think he didn't?

[00:04:16] Courtney: He was in there, Andrew. I like the part, that I think, was just echoing what David said, but I think early on in our discussions about Mouse Books was there are all these great ideas locked in literature that so many people are intimidated by approaching. I'm not going to sit down and just read Ulysses by James Joyce. It's like climbing Everest all of a sudden, but this idea of taking these kind of bite-sized pieces of literature to get you to lower that, a lot of times with museums, they talk about anxiety threshold, you know, this like kind of fear of going in to something so how can we lower that anxiety threshold to make it easy to access these great works of literature and great ideas. Even just like the form factor like David mentioned, even just starting the text on the front cover, so the idea is even if you just look at our front cover, you've already started reading James Joyce, and just to break that barrier is as low as possible and as accessible as possible.

 

Stickers-on-the-Mic-Podcast-Mouse-Book-Club-reader

[00:05:24] Andrew: That's an interesting design approach. I was curious where y'all's collaboration began? Whether it's before or during the mouse book club? We're not going to stray too far from Mouse Book Club, but how did David, you and Courtney, begin collaborating?

[00:05:44] David: Courtney was working for a design agency in Atlanta. She was basically assigned to a project I was working on and developed the branding and identity, and helped me really understand what-- For people that haven't really had any experience, it's really wonderful to work with somebody who really works in brand design and understands it, because it's not so much just like cranking out logo, it's trying to really help you. It's almost like therapy in a way, helping you understand what it is you're trying to do and then figure out through a process how to express your values visually. That has the color element to it, that has a mark element to it, and then it also trickles down into, or I shouldn't say trickles down, it surges through the rest of your materials they use, like the kind of slides they use, the kind of fonts that you use, everything like that.

It started out with a company I was working on called Libri, which was a architectural enterprise. Then, Courtney and I collaborated on a book together, the republication of a book by one of my heroes, Dr. Jonas Salk, kind of a lost classic of his. That was a really deep collaboration because it's a super visual book. When it came time for Mouse to come around, I thought of the idea. One morning, when I was sitting on a bus in Chicago, and 45 minutes later, I called her, and instead of asking her to just design this book, I asked her to be the cofounder of this company, because I knew it was going to be a long ride, and that the design of the book as the object was going to be something that was going to be a pillar of our company indefinitely. I thought she would just be perfect for it.

[00:07:51] Courtney: Thanks. I remember that day. I was driving in the car, David called, and I think he was like, "I got an idea." He kind of pitched the idea to me, and I was like, "That's a great idea. You should do it." He said, "You want in?" I said, "Sure." I love working with David. We've worked on some past projects, they've always been meaningful in the work but I think also meaningful in the bigger part of what they mean, whether it was Libri, or the Jonas and Jonathan soft book, or Mouse Books, I feel like it's kind of designed but for a bigger purpose.  

[00:08:28] Andrew: Interesting. That's really the vehicle. What is Mouse Book Club, there's the inspiration for the logo, the brand identity, but what's the name? Where's that come from?

[00:08:42] David: Well, a little known fact that it started out, the working name, I have a code name for the project, it was called Ultra Books at the beginning that I don't know why, I always liked the sound of that name. That was the codebreakers of the British people in World War II.

We went through a bunch of different names. It was part of the branding process, I guess. I think that reason I stuck with it, well, there are two. One is that it sounds kind of unintimidating, and I think that that's really the thing. They're small, it's a small unintimidating thing and it is almost cheeky in that sense. The other way is that the best kind of, you can't see this if you're listening, but use your imagination, that if you take a string and tie it around the spine of like a passport, and then you make it long enough where you can use it as a bookmark, then as it's running around, it looks like a little mouse.  

[00:09:46] Courtney: Little tail.  

[00:09:48] Andrew: Physically, it looks like, it appears to have a little tail.  

[00:09:53] David: Yes, right. It appears to have a tail when you put kind of DIY bookmark on it.  

[00:09:58] Andrew: That's fun. And then you've got the very simple, mostly negative space logo, but obviously the mouse is right there, front and center.  

[00:10:09] David: Courtney, why do you like the name?  

[00:10:11] Courtney: I liked the idea of, I think exactly like you said, the smallness of it. It takes away the intimidation. It feels like pocket size. It's like pocket size. Even the quantity of the text is still like bite-size we talk about, in that like portability. I forgot about that bookmark. I knew that bookmark's part of it, but I forgot about the tail part.  

[00:10:35] David: I think that's what sealed, we were looking at a couple of different names. Not everybody likes the name. Our editor hates the name. Constantly is like clamoring about changing the name. I think it's more or less, it's a nice-sounding word. You can say Mouse Book Club, you could say Mouse Books, or you can just say Mouse. It works that way. The logo's cool. I don't know.  

[00:10:59] Courtney: We tested a bunch of different names, but we had started, there was Ultra and then Mouse was like a placeholder. Then I remember we had a document, we just brainstormed a whole bunch of other ideas, but Mouse was the one we kept coming back to.  

[00:11:12] David: Cadillac books, stuff like that. Never worked.  

[00:11:15] Courtney: [laughs] It doesn't feel right where just like in talking about it, we would use it as a placeholder too, and it just started to feel more and more right.  

[00:11:24] David: Andrew, what do you think of the name? Do you think it's a good name?  

[00:11:26] Andrew: [laughs] I do. It definitely struck me and we're actually a big House of Mouse people here. I automatically go right to Disney. Our listeners will know how much I talk about Star Wars. For me, that's why it was intriguing because I had a sense of like, well, it must be small books. You know what I mean? Then like, coincidentally before you even get to the website, it's nice. It's like with people when I say, "I work at StickerGiant." They're like, "Do you do stickers?" It's like, "It's right there in the name. It's right there in the--"  

[00:12:02] David: Probably really big stickers. 

[00:12:04] Andrew: That's the next thing. "They're really big stickers." I'm like, "Oh, always. Oh my God, come on guys." Without even having to jump over to the website, it automatically tells you what it is without having to think too hard. I think that's some of the best brands, they do that. They don't make you think too hard, but then once you get into it, you realize there's so much more there. On your site, you're saying that you start this whole thing off, you hand-make a hundred copy holiday edition just for gifts. How does the seeding and the development of that first series come to life?  

[00:12:47] David: That's very funny. You should tell the Bartleby story.  

[00:12:50] Courtney: I was just going to say when we tell the Bartleby story.  

[00:12:53] Andrew: Tell the Bartleby story.

[00:12:54] Courtney: We were just starting out and David had pitched the idea and so we were like, "Well, let's lay out a book." He said, "Just pick any texts, so let's try to test it out." [laughs] I was looking through things and I had been reading a book about the office place, and they had cited the first mention of the modern-day workplace as being written up in Melville's short story of Bartleby, the Scrivener, which has a fun name to say, and it's got three characters. I'm blanking on the names right now, but they've got funny names.  

[00:13:31] David: Nippers.  

[00:13:32] Courtney: What was it again?  

[00:13:33] David: Nippers is one of them.  

[00:13:34] Courtney: Nippers, Ginger. I'm blanking on their names. I just thought they had three good pet names. I was like, "Oh, I'll lay out Bartleby, the Scrivener." It was like this weird synchronistic moment where David had also been thinking about Bartleby, the Scrivener. I was like, "What are the odds that the both of us are thinking about Bartleby, the Scrivener?" That was fun. We were on the same wavelength from the get-go.  

[00:14:03] Andrew: Nice.  

[00:14:04] Courtney: It's a great story, so I recommend it. That was in our very first series. As David mentioned, one of the things that we do, we always are asking ourselves, how are we different than a regular book, because the book's been around, what is Mouse Books doing that's different? One of the things that I think that makes us unique is our connecting it to other great works of literature and these collections. It's not just reading Bartleby, the Scrivener, it's reading it in relationship to two other pieces of literature. Our very first collection we did was on the idea of refusing. Bartleby, the Scrivener, the main character, his line that he keeps saying throughout it is, I prefer not to. Is that right? I prefer not to?  

[00:14:52] David: Yes.  

[00:14:53] Courtney: This idea of refusing, and so we paired it with two other works of literature to spark this conversation about refusing.  

[00:15:03] David: A quick note about the books by the way, or like the design is that the title's on the cover and it starts right in the cover, but then the salient sentence from the book is always on the back so that you can always just, if it is laying there at a glance, you could look at that and that's really like, if you knew the book, everything that's special about that book will come rushing back to you. It's also designed to be right on public transportation. If I was like sitting like this reading it, and you were sitting across from me, you can check it out.  

[00:15:38] Andrew: Absolutely. That color blocking provides the contrast and really draws your eyes to it.  

[00:15:45] David: Color, by the way, you mentioned it, color is a massive deal for us. A huge deal.  

[00:15:52] Andrew: That was what I was going to say. Before we dig in because you've got the three box sets, the first one sold out. Good problem to have, but then you have all these other breakout different subsets, they're like on refusal like you just mentioned, but when you look at the way the books are packaged in the larger sleeve box, and then you have these colored blocks again with top and bottom.

How did that all, that aesthetic? What was the choice there that was made for you all?  

[00:16:19] Courtney: It was in the early stage when we were bouncing around names and this thing was starting to coalesce or condense or whatever these ideas. We tried a bunch of different designs, but the idea of starting the text on the cover and this reverence for the written word and letting that be the visual hero of it, rather than trying to necessarily like maybe design a visual for every book cover kind of thing, just let the text be the visual interest.

Then there was the challenge of, how do we designate seasons and collections and stuff? Then even just set the tone. There's reasons for all the colors that are chosen. Sometimes, things are expected. The Christmas collection was red, but always having a little twist, some may be an unexpected color that's thrown in there.

Maybe we use color when we did our public series of a really bright color because the idea of someone's reading it in public, that these are really important ideas we wanted to draw people's attention to maybe works of literature that they weren't necessarily top of mind. There's always a reason behind it when you have them all together.

Another nice thing about the color is then when they're separated, you can always go back and say, "This is the refusal collection." That there's a connection amongst those three. At least when we did it, there's David, myself, and then we have two other people in Mouse Books, [unintelligible 00:17:55] and Chris Motley.

We started actually doing our own book club with these books early on and really found that reading the different works together in the series of three, was really, really rewarding in a way that was, I feel like more fulfilling than just reading the piece by itself. Our most interesting conversations came about because when we talked about one book in relationship to another book along a theme.

That's been something that we've stuck with and has really become vital for what we do and how we're different.  

[00:18:31] David: I would say one other thing, just at a detail level, it's hard to appreciate, but almost, it just I think vibrates from the book is that we take the color, the physical chemistry of the color really seriously. Most times when something's printed, it's printed in a forest color offset process. CMYK offset process. Most books only print spot colors. All these colors are like the ink is premixed in a way that makes the color as pure as possible and the lines on the covers as sharp as possible. They're as close to perfect as you can get from color's production standpoint.

Also, Courtney has got a master's in color theory from Yale. She's like, "The colors are really fucking good." I'm sorry. The colors are really good objectively. I think that for me, the object should feel super special when you're holding it. It should make you want to read it. It should celebrate what's in there. I think for us, we have very few chances of that. One is the book itself, and this could be a good segue to talking about stickers because another is the sticker.  

[00:20:00] Andrew: There you go. Well, let's talk about stickers. This is Stickers On The Mic. What is the sticker process for this? How do you match a sticker, design a sticker for these little books?  

[00:20:13] David: Sure. We try to keep the overall costs low. We started $50 a year, now we're doing it as like a recurring $15 a quarter something like $60 a year. We are giving you a bunch of books for that, and we're trying as hard as we can to make sure that the package has exactly the right number of things when it comes to you. As you opened it up, it unfolds into something that's just wonderful and joyful.

When you open it up, the very first thing you get is a physical letter from our editor. It's a letter from the editor, but literally, unfolds like a letter, and you read about what the series is about. That's the one little piece of paper. Of course, it comes in like a custom mouse box that we use, that feels on-brand and really tied to the company. Then under the letter is the books. The books have a shot of color. The Whitman books that are out right now are purple, bang, you get this purple.

You pick up the books, and the sticker is underneath there. This is a collection of all of the different stickers like I'm showing Andrew, my timeline journal that has each quarter. This is the Whitman, this is solitude, the red one public, the yellow one is African-American literature. They're almost like, if you're our subscriber, that's one of the little treats you get is that uniquely colored sticker for each quarter. Who knows what you do with those?

The last thing you get is a lecture series poster because we go out and solicit interviews like this with professors and authors who teach these different books. The community comes together and we discuss those, and we put it out as podcasts for them. That's the package. Each one of those four things that you get has a lot of pressure on it to be right and cool and serve a purpose. I just think stickers are fun. It's light-hearted. You stick them somewhere, or you give them to a kid and it makes them happy.

They remind you that this is out there and this is something you're part of.  

[00:22:41] Andrew: Nice. That makes perfect sense. It's a logo sticker and you've got it like a collector's item there with all of them. That's fun on your notebook. Let's see here. The way that it works, you sign up. There's the way that it works for the consumer, but then there's the way that it works for you all.

How are you trying to get the word out and keep these collections going? You do create that community and we will get back together someday in person. I'm sure the lecture series was very virtual this year, if at all. How are you bringing in your audience?  

[00:23:20] David: We started out doing crowdfunding. It's tricky crowdfund, like a company, rather than like individual project. We've chained together like a few crowdfunding ideas. I think eventually we'll grow out of that and beat the addiction to kick-start cocaine. I think that, though that was really useful at getting us that core.

We've been profitable since day one. It's a matter of like, we reinvested everything from the company thus far in really building a foundation upon which we can scale.

We haven't put a huge amount of emphasis on scaling because we haven't really felt like all the pieces have fallen in place just yet. Right about now, is starting to feel more cohesive. Even this morning, I was working with Courtney, I'll send it to you later, on this initiation video for the new members that talks about, these are our values, this is what you need to expect from us, this is what we expect from you. All that stuff is starting to click right now. We're seeing people's level of engagement go up. The sort of offering becomes simplified and dialed in.

We have our relationship with a printer and fulfillment center figured out all that stuff, we have a cost, I'll figure it out. It's just all the unsexy things you have to do to grind through like the initial launch phase, that first experimentation phase. Now everything's kind of settled and we can really just focus on trying to market this in a way that's authentic to the brand, basically.  

[00:25:18] Andrew: This has been around for a few years, then. It's taken a few years, like you said, to really gel to where you're satisfied with your mission and your future.  

[00:25:30] David: Yes.  

[00:25:31] Courtney: It started with an idea and then as we were going, we've tried different things. Now, everything feels really seamless, but that's come through some experimentation and trying things and then even those things leading to more ideas. It was much more of some years of discovery of figuring out what really is the core thing that we're offering. What's the value? What are we excited by? One of the things we had a conversation a lot about was, what kind of company do we want to be? I think there was some kind of different points along that path where we had to decide we could go down one path or another path. What is it that we like about doing this and then what kind of company do we want to be?  

[00:26:15] David: Be really specific about that. We had a meeting about a year in, which was the first time that all four co-founders of the company ever met each other in person. I was in Washington, DC. We sat down and said, are we going to try to grow fast, or do you want to try and grow slow and steady? Should we go, and fast means, do you want to raise some money, try to build out a little bit more infrastructure on this team, or, should we just keep all control, keep all the equity, keep our day jobs and go on slow and steady?

This company, we just ended up the other day. We've printed 120,000 books, and we shipped about 100,000. Nobody works on this full time. We're starting to get to the point where we can think about hiring somebody on full time, but at the moment it's just like a really serious side hustle. Courtney and I were joking about this on the phone the other day. It doesn't feel like work. I'm not exhausted, even though I've personally shifted most of those books, almost all those books.

I just feel like, when I send out thousands of copies of Walt Whitman, I feel better about myself. I feel better about the state of the world. Even as we think about growing, we don't want to be a massive company. We want to stay small, stay independent, keeping control of what we do and how we do it, and cater to a market of zealots and their friends. If we can build this up to a company that works for four people, or five people, that's all we need. What do you think of that strategy?  

[00:28:26] Andrew: It's interesting, because everyone is chasing this elusive payout, it seems like. On this show, I'm very fortunate to talk to people who are like yourselves who are very passionate and recognize their role in guiding the future of their business by and large.

Only a few have been the kind of outside investment, a lot of these are still very Mom-and-Pop, literally, they're husband and wife teams or, there's a young entrepreneur who just launched an Instagram and then the product follow, like a lifestyle ramp, for instance that just turns into a plush toy, that turns all these things. Like these people from Tubby Nugget that I interviewed not long ago.

Clearly, everybody has a different path. To answer your question, what do I think about? I think that it sounds like you all have been very intentional, right and you still have your other jobs. Courtney, you mentioned you teach. You probably still do graphic design work too. How to keep that balance. If this were driving you so hard that it wasn't fun, and it felt like work, you probably would have stopped after a year.

What are you? Four something years in now, give or take, working into your fifth year as a company? It sounds like it's working. [laughs] That is exciting to me and also inspiring. I think it'd speak to the point that you got it right at that point for where you were.

I guess the next question for me is what's next? Other than how do you, the question I actually want to ask next was how do you curate the titles that you choose? What's that editorial process look like to choose the next collection? Of course, I do want to know what's next. We'll get to that, I suppose.  

[00:30:22] David: I think that we are going to go through a period now in 2021, where we're going to try to accelerate growth. We haven't planned for that, but I don't want to talk about it, if that's okay.  

[00:30:40] Andrew: That's okay. That's another thing, a lot of times too, when I'm talking with other guests.

[00:30:45] David: Honestly, it has to do with some people. I respect the people that we may try to start working with or start to connect with that can connect us to a broader audience. I'm going to leave it alone. We have a strategy for trying to ramp up, because like, we finally, honestly, we finally feel like we have something that is bug-free enough to scale. It's not totally bug-free, but it's enough. That's what's on our mind. Curation?  

[00:31:28] Andrew: Yes. The more nuts and bolts of like, because like you said, when you send out some Whitman, it makes you feel good. Clearly, there's like a personal investment in some of these titles, but then you also have to figure out what people are into to right? Your community will tell you what they enjoy and what they don't.  

[00:31:46] Courtney: Yes, that's interesting. We had this conversation recently, I think it's one of the benefits of having a subscription-based product, is that there may be some topics that people on their own wouldn't gravitate towards. Maybe they might go for love or poetry or that kind of things. Solitude may have not been one of the ones that people just on their own would choose, but one of the nice things about the subscription-based model is our editor is fantastic. He picks out amazing stuff. Maybe serving up some topics that for some people wouldn't be the first thing. In fact, when we did solitude, I was kind of like, I was looking forward to another one.  

[00:32:28] Courtney: I'm not going to say, we have one that I was really excited about. Solitude wasn't, of the ones this year, if I would rank them, it probably wasn't my top.  

[00:32:37] David: I always think about this, we haven't released yet, but we absolutely will, at some point is suffering. There'll be a series on suffering, which doesn't have a lot of market value, probably. You're not going to go to a store and buy a bunch of books on suffering. It's the fundamental human emotion probably. Everybody experiences a lot of that. I think that it will be a popular theme and a series that will serve people. It's a trust factor.

To speak to curation a little bit, Brian Chapelle the editor of Mouse is the second person I called I think. The first person I called was Courtney, second person I called, when I got off the phone with her, was Brian, and he's got a PhD in English, he is just a deep feeling person.

I think he's really, he's one of the people I go to, whenever I'm trying to figure out what to read next, or what interesting ways to think about current events. He's picked those really interesting, what we've done right now is that we picked a series like five years into the future, we know what books we're going to do. One of the reasons, we haven't printed them or anything like that, but one of the reasons to do that is so that by the time we get there, we'll say like, "This was a good idea five years ago, is it still a good idea?"

If the answer is yes, then that tells you something. What we're dealing with is something that has like long term value, and then which is the opposite of whatever, like social media campaign that is trying to figure out what is important. This instant, fuck yesterday, fuck tomorrow, what's important right now, we don't care about that.  

[00:34:38] Andrew: Right, yes. Looking at, you know, obviously mining the past quite a bit for a lot of this content, but then with an eye on where you head into the future with this company, and how you can reach your audience. What is sort of, as you've developed this, and we can clearly talk about this all day because you're pretty knowledgeable, but what is one of the biggest takeaways you've had, one of the learnings you've had, you know, developing this because again, you said it's a side hustle, but clearly, it's taken an outsized role in your lives and how you identify. What have you taken away from this process?  

[00:35:16] David: You go first, Courtney.  

[00:35:18] Courtney: I laughed because we're going to bring it down here.  

I think for me, there's like two aspects to it. One is the kind of business side of Mouse, kind of what I get out of that as a company. There's also I'd say, what I get out of it as a subscriber. I think one of the things that's unique about this is like we're Mouse Book fans, too. We're in the club, we're reading stuff as our fans are, kind of thing. We're in the discussions.

It's kind of, I think, also been useful. I mean, the subscribing reading part, there's all these books that I probably wouldn't have read, but have been so meaningful, and so helpful, and made me think about things in different ways and have been actually helping me, use them in moments where I needed to have some insight into how to deal with certain things. There's insight that's come from these great works of literature that has lasted beyond just that moment of reading them that has been very profound.  

[00:36:38] David: I'll say two things also. One, I would say is how the deep emotional response we get is when people get the books. We hear the word love a lot, and I think that people, there's still a human, an innate human desire for analog things. That would be one. The second one is for me, I like to think about it as wow moments, where, in these books, I can look down my bookshelf here. I can remember very distinctly where I was sitting when I read The Heavy Prints by Oscar Wilde and I got to the ending, and I literally closed the book, and I just whispered, wow.

That's happened to me a bunch of times. I think that those are the moments where you feel like that micro dose of enlightenment. I'll never forget that, as long as I'm alive. I can't say that for many things that I write, but I can say that for more than a dozen things we've published, which is a great feeling.  

[00:38:01] Andrew: Right. I read the newspaper every day, and the wow moments out of that are more like, "Wow, I can't believe this is happening." [laughter]  

I obviously, I live and breathe the news cycle and the daily grind of current events. It's nice, I think to your point, David and also to yours Courtney about how the books take you away, and in this place, both allow you to detach a little bit, but then involve you to it, and striking that balance of how literature connects personally, but then publicly too, which is kind of neat. As far as, those are takeaways, for all of our listeners, where can they find you? You're going to keep it a little close to your vest, what can they look for? How can they connect with you all?  

[00:38:57] David: You just go to mousebookclub.com. You can either pick to buy something, like a one-off, or you can subscribe, clearly we want you to subscribe, because I think it's the coolest way to experience what we're trying to do. I think that, what can you expect? I think you can expect an immense amount of consistency this year. We're going to try to really get on drumbeat of dropping cool projects quarterly, and then unfolding.

This is something that, we felt for like some time, but have only surprisingly recently really locked in, is that it seems like a product company, but it's really not. I think we understand ourselves much more as a service company, and that the book is the gateway to a much deeper experience. What we like literally, when I lay in bed at night, thinking about Mouse, staring at the ceiling, what I worry about or think about is what if people aren't reading the books, and how can I help them, or what can I do to make sure that people are actually reading those, what were they, books they now own?

What you can expect from us this year is to be really deliberate about the additional resources that help get the most value out of everything that you get from us. All that stuff's going to be free, and just available through the website. We'll try to send it out in only the fewest possible emails. Then we're going to try to do two projects that I don't mind talking about.

One is one of our subscribers is an archivist down in, I'm in Chicago so down for me, it's down in Springfield at Abraham Lincoln's Archive and Presidential Library. We're going to do a special project on Lincoln and pull some material out of that archive, which will be a lot of fun. Especially as we're recovering from our faith in the presidency.

The second thing that we will do later at some point this year is we're going to try to test something within the education space, specifically for like homeschoolers.  

[00:41:36] Andrew: I'm your audience for that. You have a market for that because I have three kids and two of them are homeschooled and one is doing a thing through the district, but I have three kids at home. I think that's spot on.  

[00:41:50] David: The tricky thing to process to try to be like, to try to jump at that. We're not really good at jumping for things.  

[00:42:01] Andrew: More hop it seems like. [laughter]  That's awesome.  

[00:42:07] David: That's what's coming.  

[00:42:09] Andrew: Consistency, a little bit of content maybe that you're get to develop in a different way perhaps than what you're used to. Courtney, how are you going to help execute that vision of consistency, and do you have different plans, by the way?  

[00:42:25] Courtney: No, no, I think what would we talk about, I feel like daily, multiple times daily thing. We're always bouncing ideas off of each other and formulating new things. I've got some other things cooking in our--  

[00:42:39] Andrew: You all were actually uniquely positioned because you're already working virtually and remotely and collaborating across space and time. That sounds like the whole team, right? 

[00:42:50] Courtney: Yes. None of us are in the same city, so Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, and DC.  

[00:42:55] Andrew: Oh, wow. That's quite a geography. Luckily, not too much of a time difference. That in a way is maybe one of your strengths too, like you say, you're able to be consistent because you haven't had a massive disruption this year. Everyone's had massive disruptions in other parts of their lives, but for Mouse Book Club, you've at least been able to keep that steady thing.  

[00:43:17] Courtney: The other thing too is we've been doing and that's one of the things we've been, I'd say perfecting or trying to just get right in Mouse kind of way, is our actual Book Clubs. With everybody feeling more comfortable and everybody getting on Zoom, we've been able to move that, our Book Clubs to a video conferencing thing and that's worked great.  

[00:43:44] Andrew: It's so fun.  

[00:43:45] Courtney: Which I think probably would have been a hard thing to, it just wasn't even thought of a possibility, but that's been actually fantastic. That's another thing next year we're going to keep doing that has been hugely successful. Then I encourage, and if anybody signs up to be a subscriber, the Book Clubs where we have experts come in and talk to us about the books, you don't have to--

If anybody's ever been part of the Book Club where nobody actually reads the book, it's an excuse to get together, have a dinner party. The best part about our Book Clubs is you don't have to have read the book yet. There's no guilt associated with that. If anything, it probably gets you more excited about reading it, gives you more insight.  

[00:44:30] David: Courtney has stopped reading the books before--  

[00:44:33] Courtney: I love hearing the speakers first. [crosstalk]  

[00:44:35] David: She likes to go to the book club first then read the book.  

[00:44:38] Andrew: You lay them out, I think. You know the books.  

[00:44:41] David: She doesn't read them though until after--  

[00:44:43] Andrew: That's fantastic. Go ahead.

[00:44:47] David: Hold on. I have one other-- Well, before we wrap, I have to publicly pitch my idea.  

[00:44:54] Andrew: Publicly pitch your idea. Here we go. This is where we turn it all around. Normally I'm trying to get advice and kick it back to our guests. Our guests are going to give us--  

[00:45:04] Courtney: FYI, this is a thought that's been brewing for quite a while because you told me this a year or two ago. [crosstalk]  

[00:45:16] Andrew: This is a new section of the show, folks. This is where they pitch us. Here we go.  

[00:45:19] David: I have been a lurker on the periphery of the sticker subculture for some time. I think that there is an opportunity for an interesting Crowd Funding page for Sticker Giant, or for anybody else listening. Go to kickstarter.com, open a new campaign, titled stickers. Then you go down the page and the heading is just Heading One. It doesn't say Heading One, it says stickers. Then the whole paragraph just says stickers.

Then there are pictures of stickers all over the place, then another heading. The only word on the whole campaign is Stickers. Number one, Stickers.

Then when people back, the reward number one would be like stickers five bucks, or reward number two, stickers, 25 bucks, something like then stickers, $100 or something. Then you just send them, she'll have the stickers just based on the number of things. The only challenge here, I think it would be hugely successful.  

[00:46:37] Andrew: Inventory, obviously. [crosstalk]

Mouse Book Club Product

[00:46:39] David: The only challenge is, where are we going to get all these stickers?  

[00:46:42] Andrew: It sounds to me like inventory is a major challenge, but no, that's fun. As far as an SEO, if you're looking for stickers, you're highly likely to find it. That would be like testing the keyword stuffing to the max. That's pushing it to the limit. As far as like, I love the word stickers, I love the culture around stickers. I can get behind that. Thank you for the pitch.  

[00:47:11] David: Just do it, man. It's a way for Sticker Giant to just clear out its entire inventory.  

[00:47:16] Andrew: We print you alls stickers. Actually, I have one last little sticker question. Does that little character emoji have a name or a characterization or a backstory? Just it's just mouse?  

[00:47:26] Courtney: No, just mouse. We thought about it earlier on.  

[00:47:29] Andrew: Just mouse.  

[00:47:30] Courtney: It's less about that because it's more about the book, but it's just in the kind of brand mark, but it doesn't become like a character. It takes a back seat. [crosstalk]  

[00:47:43] David: There's some little nuance there. One of the things we want to do that Courtney and I have been batting around is when somebody signs up for the very first time, give them like a challenge coin that talks about like the two sides of what Mouse is doing and really the two realities of the organization. On one side would be like an icon of the shape of the book with it's a little rounded corner and that line through there.

They would say reading judgement internalization or something like that. You got to sit down by yourself in a solitary way, solitude would be a good word on that side of the coin, and actually do the work of reading.

On the other side, it would have a little Mouse space, which for me, it represents the club and the community and getting together and discussing and confronting and ideas as a group of people. It's fundamentally social. When I think about the little Mouse head, it represents the social side of Mouse for me rather than the internal side. Does that make sense?  

[00:48:49] Andrew: It does. I love talking to designers and founders, especially how every little part of their brand has some sort of intentionality, things, Courtney is like, it's the Mouse. Some things, it's like, don't overthink it, but then at the same time, David, clearly you're like, this keeps me up at night. That's the beautiful again, duality of the two sides of the coin. I really love that analogy, as someone who--  

[00:49:14] Courtney: It keeps us from having to have a mouse off with any other frames--  

[00:49:18] Andrew: You have to be very careful with how you personify mice or meese. It's like you say, got to be very careful. Well, friends, this has been fantastic and very elucidating. I really appreciate how you've come together and been doing this for a little while, but you've been able to sort of, it sounds like consistency is your mantra for next year, but it seems like it's been what got you through this year too, because otherwise it could have very easily, life could have intruded and you could have done something else very easily this year. You've got December of 2020 with a head of steam that it seems like it's going to propel you in the next year.  

[00:49:51] Courtney: We just finished a new special collection for, wrap-up the end of the year, a special collection on hell, which we're really excited about. [laughter]

[00:50:03] David: It was a salute to 2020. [laughter]  

There are super cool stickers on that one. That was what set this whole thing off. [crosstalk] It was a customer service call trying to make sure that these stickers got executed perfectly.  

[00:50:25] Andrew: We love service calls because we live to serve at StickerGiant. There's no doubt about that.

[00:50:31] David: That's one of the things about StickerGiant actually is my favorite thing about your company probably is the customer service. Where's that intense customer service ethos come from?  

[00:50:41] Andrew: It comes from two places. That's a great question and I'm happy to entertain it really quick here. We use a model called ZingTrain which you're in Chicago, so Ann Arbor, Michigan is Zingerman's deli. For folks who go to Ann Arbor, I've never been, but Zingerman's is now a family of businesses that does more than just food service.

They have this philosophy that's based primarily on the Great Game of Business, which is our other philosophy, which a lot of people on the show have heard me talk about this, Jack Stack's book called the Great Game of Business, and it's open-book management.

Zingerman's took open-book management to the next level with foodservice and people have worked there, gone off and started their own companies. We have other things that I've mixed in but those two things really when I started seven, eight years ago were the core of it.

To your point, I was like, "What is all this? Why are people so excited?" Customer service is the bane of some people's existence, whereas our folks are really delighted to delight people. We have a whole training module, we even send people to Ann Arbor from time to time, not this year, of course, but it comes in a very practical way from the one book, the Great Game of Business and then there's an extension of training called ZingTrain. Not to give away too much of the secret sauce, but we still are able to then, of course, have a high focus on quality and how our team interacts with those two philosophies.

Right, David? It's something that's constantly being worked on.  

[00:52:08] David: What's the headcount at StickerGiant?  

[00:52:14] Andrew: We're moving north of 100 right now. When I started back in the day, we were 20 people, 25-ish.  

[00:52:24] David: That's amazing.  

[00:52:25] Andrew: Yes, really only pushed that number in the last year, we were on a rapid growth section of our history. It's been quite a ride for me and watching and being able to also interact with people like yourselves to both share that story. It requires folks like you coming up with businesses four years ago to want to do this to keep us going too.

I think it's a give and take and so I think our team, our front-facing team is very focused on delivering the best possible experience for you all too. Know everyone's logo and stickers, the most important one to them. It's important to remember that when you're on the phone with somebody. You're literally kept up at night because you're like, "What if the sticker disappears?" [chuckles] That's important. We appreciate your business, and we appreciate your time on the show. Thank you, David and Courtney.  

[00:53:23] Courtney: Thank you, Andrew, and thank you Sticker Giant.  

[00:53:25] Andrew: We say this every single show, every sticker has a story. Today's sticker is the Mouse Book Club. This wonderful little circular sticker that apparently has many meanings and I bet you, the folks who get it, put even more meaning into it themselves. That's the beauty of how your brand has been able to be a part of people's lives. Thank you for letting us share your story and also sharing these stories with your community, seems like a pretty valuable service these days. I wish you all the best for this next year.  

[00:53:57] Courtney: Thank you so much.  

[00:53:58] Andrew: You all have a good one.  

[00:53:59] David: Thank you. Thank you.  

[00:54:02] Andrew: Thank you, friends. [music]  

[00:54:05] Announcer: That wraps up this episode of Stickers On The Mic brought to you by stickergiant.com. You can download it on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast. If you enjoy what you're hearing, please leave us a review. It helps us reach new listeners and share our customers and their stories. Thanks again for listening to Stickers On The Mic.

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