Mousedriver Chronicles book review

I wrote up this review of MouseDriver Chronicles. I heard about it reading about Automoblox (however that is spelled) here on the Core Blog. Anyways, I really suggest it for design students and designers who dream of starting up their own manufacturing biz.

I’ve always had an interest in start-ups. Unlike the dot-coms or software companies,
which can be started in your parent’s basement with nothing more than a five year old
desktop, manufacturing a physical product is a huge undertaking: tooling, production,
assembly, packaging, warehousing, distribution. It’s a huge exercise in capital and
logistics. Even with my seven years of experience working for three different
manufacturers in three different industries, there are still steps in the process that remain
black holes for me. That’s why The Mouse Driver Chronicles is an important read.
The Mouse Driver Chronicles follows the start-up of a niche computer mouse
manufacturer in 1999. Their product: a computer mouse that looks similar to the head,
or driver, of a golf club. The initially over-confident heroes and authors, Kyle Harrison
and John Lusk, are two wet-behind-the-ears Wharton MBAs. Instead of dropping into a
dot-com or chasing a desk job on Wall Street, they decide to strike out on their own as
manufacturers…from scratch.

Half as a marketing exercise and half as social-networking before Facebook, the duo
decide to document their project in a regular e-mail newsletter, which forms the basis of
their book. This explains the highly readable nature of their writing. They avoid theory
and lengthy explanation in favour of entertaining anecdotes and relatable insights. This is
the first business book I’ve encountered that can be read over a weekend (it’s that short)
and without taking notes!

As an industrial designer, the initial entertainment is provided by the typical naïve
marketing-boy mistakes. The first is their over-optimistic development cycle (hey, it’s
just a mouse, right?). They find out, the hard way, that a rough drawing provides a lot of
space for errors as their initial tooling results in a distorted hall-of-mirrors form of their
vision. The laughs continue when it takes months for the supplier to translate “make it
silver” into an acceptable colour. Who knew? Lastly, is their bold claim that, “this is a
high-end luxury product”. Uh…a product without the 3000 prototypes of the Dyson
vacuum or the million dollar Apple modeling budget is going to bang out a high-end
product using an off-shore supplier that they never even bother to visit? Are these guys

However, after that distasteful turn, comes the real education for designers. How to find
financing: credit cards and personal lines of credit (with a healthy dose of love-money).
How to sell: network, tradeshows and a variety of distributors. Where to keep your
stock: the kitchen, distributors and printing shops (they also market their mouse as a
customizable promotional item, like pens and baseball caps). How to advertise cheap:
tell a good story.

That’s the real value of this book, demystifying all these steps to bringing a product to
market. And in these times where jobs are scarce and the option of freelancing is equally
difficult, I hope some designers will be inspired by this story to strike out on their own.

havent read it, lived it a few times and highly recomend this type of book to every designer out there…you need to see the “oily, greasy, dirty” bits not just the shiny stuff to know how to get something done.

that sounds like an interesting story… I might have to pick that one up. Not that most of us would be as naive as these guys sound, but I bet a good percentage of designers aspire to create and produce their own products some day, and this sounds like a good case study of what can go wrong

travisimo: they were very naive about production, but there are some good insights into other parts of running the business that I had practically no knowledge of.

Mr-914, thanks so much for the review of The MouseDriver Chronicles. When we started writing the newsletters, our goal was not to provide a how-to of anything business related (who were we to say anything), but to provide a real, inside look at the ups, downs, and emotions associated with starting and bootstrapping any business. We wrote TMC with an understanding of what we could have used when we were coming out of business school. And thankfully, students, entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs continue to use our story as inspiration, motivation, and a guide of what, and what not to do. :slight_smile:

And as far as naivety, that we were. Much of this naivety can be attributed to the fact that we were freshly minted Wharton MBA graduates who had just been told that no matter what we did, we’d be successful. And part of that naivety was based on the economy at the time. The general perception was that if you so much as just had a business plan in 1999, you could start a company and make millions. So, our naivety was based on a number of factors, including our own arrogance.

But I will argue that without this naivety, we would never have even thought of bringing MouseDriver to market. If we knew how hard it was going to be, that we wouldn’t pay our selves for 18 months, that the emotional super-highs would be accompanied by the lowest of lows, we would never have bailed on the investment banking and consulting jobs sitting in front of us. If we weren’t naive, we never would have brought MouseDriver to market, never experienced the thrills of having $100k in credit card debt (not the smartest move), never written the MouseDriver newsletter and never published The MouseDriver Chronicles. Bottom line: without naivety, we would have never become entrepreneurs.

And that’s the tragedy of most highly motivated and highly intelligent individuals who never follow their dreams and start their own business or bring their ideas to market. They’re not naive enough. :slight_smile:

Love seeing comments and discussions on the book. Thanks to all of you.


I don’t mean to come across like I’m criticizing at all - actually I have a lot of respect for what you did. I meant naivety of the way it sounds production was done. Many designers learn early how many things can go wrong in factories and how clear you have to specify things (and they still can go wrong!) It’s sounds like your at peace with everything that happened and got past it without becoming jaded - you sound rather optimistic about people going for it, which is great

I definitely plan to read your book, and am glad that you’re around on this forum. People with experience like yours could offer good advice when startup questions pop up

Bottom line: without naivety, we would have never become entrepreneurs.

Without naivety, I wouldn’t have accomplished very much in life hehe. Amen to naivety!

Ditto. These questions come up at least once a month, and someone with your experience would bring some excellent insight.

Hopefully, even with “full” knowledge of the risk involved, your entrepreneurial spirit has not been extinguished. Personally, that is one of the main reasons why I love new product development - the pursuit of the unknown. Ring in one more royalty for your book, I’ll pick it up later today.

And don’t let any bravado here fool you. This board is littered with threads about “I have a million dollar idea, it should be simple to get it done.”

Love to hear that folks on this forum are going to pick up the book. Without a doubt, I learned more about not only business but also myself while bringing MouseDriver to market. And since exiting the business in 2003 (we sold the assets to a $70m gift distributor…all part of the plan), I’ve been involved in a number of companies large and small. I can honestly say that there is absolutely nothing that compares to doing your own things and bringing your own ideas to market. The entrepreneurial spirit is certainly not extinguished! Just a matter of discovering what it is you actually want to do, or create, and going after it.

Look forward to checking out more posts on this board!

I’m doing something very similar to this right now, and I totally recognize the naivety and the learning process, the highs and the lows etc. My business idea is for a line of marijuana themed ashtrays- the special thing about it is that I am donating 1/3 of my profits to Yes on 19, the committee supporting proposition 19 here in california which will legalize marijuana. basically this is to allow a certain group of people (pot smokers) the opportunity to buy a product designed for them that supports a cause that benefits them.

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I’ve been working on it pretty hard since june, and i’ve basically set up my own factory to cast these out of hemp reinforced concrete. I had to build and design all the molds out of silicone and polyurethane, and mix up the right concrete formula that sets fast enough and has enough strength. I’ve put together attractive packaging, set up an e commerce web site facebook fan page etc. Now i just need to get them to sell. I’ve got a friend coming onboard this week as a sales rep and we will be trying to get them into local head shops to start. Theres still two months until the election, but time is getting tight. If I can’t get this off to somewhat of a start by then, I think it may be time to move on. If we have a little bit of capital and brand recognition by the election, we can then switch gears and depending on the outcome of the vote, move on to other states, or broaden our product lineup.

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