How Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right Came to Be

October 5, 2010

Back in 1980 my classmates from the Harvard Business School were celebrating their 10-year reunion. I didn't go. I couldn't afford the trip. That year I had earned about $2,200 mostly through odd painting jobs. This was news at the reunion. Frank Suttell who I thought was my friend had announce to the attendees that I caused their average earnings for that year to drop by $80. Up till that point in my life I had failed at about 15 different business ventures. Every one of them seemed to have so much promise: Computerized dating (in 1967!), converting drive-in movie theatres into drive-in discotheques (1969); Aquarack, a waterbed store in Harvard Square. You get the idea. Things that self propel themselves into business. I never made even a living at these ventures and found that I talked about them a lot. In 1981 I gave up trying and moved back to New York where my father allowed me to live at his bungalow in Port Washington.

During the first six months there, I wrote a chronology of my failed business exploits -- more to get them out of my system than to publish a book. I figured no one would want to read a book about failure. I'd have to wait until I had a success before I could publish it.  Twenty-three years later I sold Tweezerman -- the company I started from the bungalow -- for more money than I could possibly spend in the rest of my life. I thought I was going to finish that book I started in '81 but got distracted by the Iraq War and the compulsion I felt about "doing" something about it. So I became a "citizen activist" and almost did something to end or at least reduce the violence there. Check out the This American Life's episode Man Versus History.

I recruited two of my lifelong friends, Carla Reuben and Wally Carbone (married), to help me finish the book. Besides selling eyebrow tweezers, Tweezerman was an exercise in trying to create a multi-national company in the global economy that worked for everyone -- a process I called "responsible capitalism" -- and we agreed the book would be a primer for people who want to start and/or operate a small business and do it responsibly.

We finished the book last June and gave it to an editor. She thought it was terrific and gave us 26 pages of comments. Over the summer Carla wrote the final draft and I'm reading it now. Stay tuned for more about the book and my ideas about how to be a responsible capitalist.


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