How Mike Lapchick Turned A 12 Year Old Problem Into A Successful Business

by Tim Jahn on September 21, 2010

For the entire 12 years that Mike Lapchick owned his marketing company, there was one giant problem that was always getting in the way: there was no consistent way to exchange product images with the manufacturers and retailers he worked with.

He came across a few solutions to the problem from time to time, but nothing that really nailed it.  So he decided someone had to do something about it.  And he did.

Transcript

Mike Lapchick:
I’m Mike Lapchick and shotfarm is a centralized repository for all manufacturers and retailers to exchange product images.  And there are about five billion product images that transfer between them every year as it is right now.

And there’s no consistent way to do this between any two companies.  It changes — for every two companies there’s a different way to exchange images.  So what we’ve done is we’ve centralized the process.  So there’s one password, one workflow for all exchange of product images.

Tim Jahn:
So where did the idea come from?

Mike Lapchick:
The frustration of that, and what I just mentioned.  So I had a — I started a marketing company in ’95.  And for the whole 12 years that I owned it was — we just saw the problem over and over again; it didn’t get any better.  So its just one of those things where you just say to yourself if only somebody would — it’s just such a no-brainier.  And nobody ever did it.

People tried to do it and every now and then I’d hear about a new product that came along and I’d look at it and say, “Nope, you missed the boat on this one.”  And so by the time I was ready to get out of that place, I made sure that the opportunity was still there, and it was.  And I so I started it.

Tim Jahn:
So that’s funny that you said, “oh I wish they wouldn’t start it, wish they wouldn’t start it.”  What actually made you start it, after you’re asking yourself that question over and over, what actually made you say, “All right, I’m going to be the person”?

Mike Lapchick:
Because I thought the opportunity was big enough and I heard enough people complaining about it and I wasn’t ready to retire quite yet.  So I needed something else to do and I figured that I’d do something that I know.

I thought about doing some other stuff unrelated to what I’ve done as a career, but it’s just too risky for me yet.  I want, I got to stay in this business.  Yeah.  So I just wanted to solve the problem for a lot of people and that’s what we’re doing.

Tim Jahn:
All that frustration built up inside, what made you actually do, like how did you actually go about doing it?  Like how — I mean, the execution I feel is always the most important aspect of starting a new business.  But, for some people it’s such a weird —

Mike Lapchick:
You mean, are you talking about just the action part of the — like the guy who jumped out of the airplane who probably talked about it for years.

Tim Jahn:
Yeah, you said, “Okay, I have this idea.  All right, I’m going to do it.”  Now what?  How do you go about doing that?

Mike Lapchick:
Right.  First you got to get your wife to agree.  As a matter of fact, I have a picture.  I was just looking at this over the weekend of the two of us shaking hands because it was tough to get her to agree to a new risky venture.  And I got her to shake on it, I took a picture of it.  Proof that she agreed to it.

So that was step one.  And then step two was to quit the company that bought my company; I had to leave them.  And that was a tough decision to make; really scary.  It was a comfortable job.

Tim Jahn:
So you quit and then started this full time?  You didn’t start this in like the nights and evenings?

Mike Lapchick:
No.

Tim Jahn:
Was there a reason you chose to quit and go full time on this?

Mike Lapchick:
Yeah, because I got kids now.  If I didn’t have kids, I could probably done both, done this at night, stayed with that.  But that would have been bad dad, can’t do it.  Yeah.

Tim Jahn:
After you started shotfarm, you found the partner, you got it okay with your wife, you got your money.  What point did you know that this was going to work?

Mike Lapchick:
I don’t.  You never know it’s going to work.  Its just — yeah, I can go half a dozen times a day between this will never work to this will be more successful than I’m capable of handling.  I’ll vacillate six times a day between those.  So I don’t think it’s ever a good practice to know that it works.

Because then you become complacent, and that’s the death of any business.  It’s always looking for tweaking and upgrading, and improving, and listening to your customers.  Its like raising kids, it just doesn’t, it’s not something that one day you’re just done and it’s a lifelong process.

Tim Jahn:
When you were finally deciding to start shotfarm, what was the biggest challenge you ran into to actually make this a reality?

Mike Lapchick:
Miss-hires.  Miss-hires were a big challenge.  Yeah.  Because I’m not a developer so I can’t interview, you know, I can interview ten people and be impressed with all ten of them.  Because they all talk circles around me.  And, but so it was really difficult.

So we spent a good six months with the wrong developer and went down the wrong path initially and finally let him go and we’re back at square one.  So that was tough.  And had the same issue with some marketing people, which you would think I would be better at interviewing.  But yeah, that’s been the problem.  It was the problem with the last company too.

Some people interview really well and don’t perform.  And then visa versa is true the same amount of time.  And its just like meeting people in life, you meet somebody — I found that the people who feel like, like instant best friend often times don’t turn out to be really good friends.  It’s the ones who actually, you sniff each other out.  And it takes a while to develop.  And those are the best friends I have, are those people, and the same with the employees a lot of times.  So I don’t think I’ll ever get good at hiring.  I don’t — its such a strange thing.

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