Some business ideas turn into wild success stories and some should have never been pursued at all. However, there is a third category that’s often overlooked - Business ideas that should have never been pursued at all but turn into wild success stories. That’s the case with I Want to Draw a Cat for You. What most people thought was joke turned out to be Steve Gadlin's best idea yet.
Who is Steve Gadlin
In 2011, Steve Gadlin worked as a full-time web developer for a television broadcasting company. However, his life outside of work was a different story. Much of his free-time was spent pursuing comedy, writing, and creative business ideas such as Two Film t-shirts; A company that printed the names of your two favorite films on a shirt for no reason other than showing others you like more than one film. To everyone's surprise, it didn't gain a lot of traction. That was the case with most of Steve’s ideas, sending him back to the drawing board time and time again.
How Did I Want to Draw a Cat for You Start?
Tired of pouring money and resources into ideas he knew were likely to fail, Gadlin decided he needed to do less. That meant taking on a nearly impossible challenge for even the best business person; Starting a business with no money and no real product.
A comic series that Steve worked on in high school, Silly Cats Comic, proved to be his silver bullet. However, he didn’t want to revive the comic series, only the cat drawings he learned to make for it. With no start up costs and some web development magic, Gadlin launched iwanttodrawacatforyou.com. Anyone could go to his website and describe a cat drawing that would be hand drawn by Steve and shipped to your doorstep for just $9.95.
It was launched in 2011 and he sold more than 1,200 drawings in the first year. That was thanks to the comic relief the story provided local news stations and to Steve’s innate ability to get people to say yes when they should probably say no. In an unexpected twist of events, people were receptive to the idea of paying for what Steve himself called mediocre cat drawings. Groupon even accepted his drawings onto their marketplace where he sold 1,000 in just a few weeks. That taste of success drove him to take a bigger no-lose opportunity and send an email to the casting team of Shark Tank. If you aren’t familiar, Shark Tank is a television show where real companies pitch to a panel of millionaires and billionaires in hopes of getting an investment. It’s propelled some to hundred million dollar companies and is typically the most crucial moment in the presenting business’ history. Steve's professionally worded email read:
“I draw stick figure cats for $9.95 a pop, lemme at 'em”.
To his surprise they accepted onto the show. Even while knowing he he was mainly there for comic relief, he managed to give one of the most iconic shark tank pitches in history. That pitch secured a deal for $25,000 in exchange for 33% of his business with the wealthiest shark, Mark Cuban, who has built a net worth of over $4 billion.
Partnering with a billionaire business mogul is great but it wasn’t the most important thing to come from going on the show. When the episode aired on January 27th, 2012, Shark Tank was averaging six million viewers per episode. Iwanttodrawacatforyou.com crashed the night of the airing from the traffic driven to it. Shark tank, along with the press given to I Want to Draw a Cat for You because of it was the main driver of nearly every order after.
Steve completed 18,794 drawings in the three years following the show before stopping orders in 2015 to focus on other projects. The success that was found from I Want to Draw a Cat for You could be seen as dumb luck but there's more to it than that. Steve is incredibly good at capturing attention. He knew the idea itself pushed the boundaries of what humans would be willing to pay for and in the end, that’s what got it so much attention.
He also did two things incredibly well from a marketing standpoint.
Why Did I Want To Draw a Cat For You Work?
Gadlin made a comical promotional video that is the most outrageous thing you've ever seen but you can't look away. The song and dance were so out of the box that people almost unknowingly bopped their shoulders along and shared it with their friends. It’s what news stations shared, got him in the door with Groupon, and made the sharks fall apart laughing while forgetting that they're witnessing a sales pitch.
H also made the decision to share every cat drawing that he drew on his website. This made people spend time thinking of the craziest requests because they knew their friends could see it and try to one up them. It created an endless cycle of weird cat drawings that continued to send money into Steve’s pocket.
So how much money did I Want to Draw a Cat for You make?
The venture started back up several times and currently operates on Cameo where he completed #21110. $9.95 per drawing equals a bare minimum of $210,044 but the total is likely more than that. It was an extra $5 for color, $1 for shipping in a folded envelope, $5 for shipping in a flat mailer, and $19.95 to get receive your order within 48 hours which Steve says most people took advantage of.
Mark Cuban also pitched in to draw several cats that sold for $1,000 a piece.
The best part of the entire story? Steve Gadlin is very allergic to cats.