Steve Gadlin is the guy behind IWantToDrawACatForYou.com, a simple website where Gadlin does exactly that. For $US9.95, Gadlin draws cats in whatever manner you desire (fat, small, wearing a hat, tap-dancing, etc) and mails you the result. The idea was so catchy the business grossed more than $US300,000 in cat drawings and merchandise.
By day, Gadlin is a website development manager for Weigel Broadcasting in Chicago. By night, he works on his many creative pursuits, which include comedy and stage shows and IWantToDrawACatForYou.com, which he called “a social experiment.”
After drawing 18,794 stick figure cat drawings for strangers over the course of three years, Gadlin has decided to move on. In a candid AMA where he calls himself a “terrible artist,” Gadlin revealed his reasoning for leaving his surprisingly lucrative cat-drawing business behind.
“As much as I have loved this 3-year ride, treating cat drawings as a company is draining and time consuming. I have a full time job, three kids, and other creative projects all clamoring for my time,” Gadlin wrote. “It’s a scary thing to give up the one creative project you’re actually known for. But I feel it’s necessary for me to move on to other things if I want to stay happy and sane.”
Gadlin first gained popularity after appearing on CNBC’s “Shark Tank.” He claims to have sent the producers a two-line email reading, “Hey guys, I draw stick-figure cats — lemme at ’em.” Once on the show, he wooed Mark Cuban into making a $US25,000 investment in his strange idea. Here’s a video of the pitch:
The appearance on “Shark Tank” boosted the website’s reputation, and before long Gadlin was drawing more cats than he could handle. In the year prior to appearing on the show, Gadlin drew 1,200 cats. The year after, he increased that number by more than 10 times.
Gadlin was even able to get Cuban to draw a few cats as part of the deal. Here’s one of them:
As far as how much money Gadlin has earned from his absurd endeavour, CNBC has reported the website earned over $US200,000 during its first year after appearing on the show. During the AMA, Gadlin said the real figure is not that high. Here’s what he wrote:
I suppose I’ve probably grossed over $US300k on stick figure cat drawings. But when things were really busy, I was renting office space and paying several employees to help with fulfillment. I was also spending freely on other creative projects, none of which really took off.
I’ve been creating things for a long time — often at the expense of other creatives who volunteer their time and energy. This gave me an opportunity to pay these people for things. So I had more logos designed, songs created, etc. in an attempt to give back to folks who had supported my projects.
This project helped me purchase a mini-van when my third child was born, and also made it easier for my family to move into our first house.
I’m no good at maths — but that’s how I measure the success of this venture.
Overhead costs and a lack of business savvy limited Gadlin’s takeaway, he said. He says someone with more business sense could have had “a more life changing financial gain” from the idea.
Gadlin admits he was unprepared to turn his cat drawings into an actual business, despite his appearance on “Shark Tank.” His lack of commitment frustrated Cuban, who at first was more interested in the talent Gadlin could bring to other creative projects. Once Cuban realised that, he became far more interested in the return on investment in IWantToDrawACatForYou, according to Gadlin.
For those wondering which of Gadlin’s 18,794 cat drawings was his favourite, Gadlin does not disappoint. Here’s what he said during the AMA (for those who are squeamish, you’ve been warned):
My favourite cat drawing request was from a guy who had just tricked his brother into smoking his pubes. He wanted me to draw a cat for the big reveal …
From one social Puck to another, I was happy to play a part in his little prank.
Gadlin is hard at work on a new project, a television show called “Steve Gadlin’s Star Makers.” It is a humorous talent showcase, aimed at featuring Hollywood and Broadway’s stars of tomorrow. It currently airs on television in Chicago and on YouTube, but Gadlin is in the process of pitching it to cable networks.
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