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The story of Livesquidinabox.com

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Here is as much of the story of livesquidinabox.com as I can remember and reconstruct.

Epiphany

Exam-studying procrastination can be a powerful force. Once you've done all the cleaning and note organization you possibly can, you start to cast desperately around you for something, anything, else to do. In my case, these fits of activity have ranged from learning all the lyrics to Barry Manilow's Copa Cabana to finally getting around to shaving off an ill-conceived mustache. During midterms in the spring of 1999, Calum Tsang and I were studying in IML late into the night. I guess we started talking about bad e-business models. As far as I remember, out of nowhere, I decided that "Live Squid in a Box" would be a fantastic mock e-commerce venture. Calum lept to work with a pencil and paper, and we came up with a sheet of ideas:


The evolution of a brand

We were young, and the world was our cephalopod...

At the time, it seemed like anything, no matter how ridiculous, could be made to seem like a plausible business merely by sticking ".com" on the end. We started to think that Livesquidinabox.com would be a pretty good way to satirize what was going on in e-commerce. Naturally, this lead to ideas for merchandise. We needed a better logo. Calum did this one in his trademark black sharpie:

Crisis! I realized that he'd just drawn a stylized octopus tentacle rather than a squid one. Our future patrons would, of course, demand technical accuracy. Thus, mark two:


Which led to the final colourized digital version -- I picked the colours and Calum put it together when he got home that night (via the last subway home):

The Final Logo - click for a large version   Typefaces:
"Livesquidinabox.com" - Lucida Sans; horiz. scale 60%
"The promise of..." - Adobe Garamond Italic

Colours:
Box Goldenrod(255,212,108)
Squid Purple(127, 1, 127)
inabox.com Grey(168, 168, 168)

And, of course, the inevitable link button:

We came up with a lot of slogans that first night. Later discussions with friends led to still more. Here are a number of them, in no particular order. My favourites are in bold -- these are the ones that we decided to use further.

"It's wet and sloppy, but it's not a kiss."
"Still twitching or your money back."
"I bought a live squid in a box on the internet!"
"Pushing the limits of postal regulations."
"Thinking outside, but twitching inside, the box."
"It's not just live squid and a box; it's live squid in a box."
"Live squid in a box is just a click away!"
"The promise of e-commerce finally realized."
"Leaving the house so you don't have to."
"We squeeze squid into boxes so you don't have to."
"Squid Pro Quo" - Tyla Holmes
"A live squid in a box on every desktop."
"Here's lookin' at you, squid." - Tyla Holmes
"livesquidinabox.com - It's the thought that counts."
"A live squid in a box... while you still can."
"Livesquidinabox.com: There's a Sucker Born Every Minute" - Trevor Rines
"Squid, Inc." - Anatole Papadopoulos
(Say it out loud)
"You can lead a squid to water, but you can't make it ink." - Nicki Hamilton
"Just squidding!"

Yes, but what is it?

We'd started out the usual Fortune 100 way -- with a name and a logo. We knew that we didn't really want to sell squid, but, in order to satirize other companies, we had to elaborate on our own.

A lot seemed to hinge on the "live" part of the plan. Squid in a box is easy. Live squid in a box at time of shipping is also relatively easy, though slightly harder on the conscience and, unfortunately, still unlikely to satisfy the customer. In the interests of having a product we could advertise without fraud, we decided that our initial offering would be Until-Recently-Live Squid in a Box while our Squid Logistics division redesigned our supply chain and invented our no-doubt soon to be patented Live Squid Delivery Mechanism (LSDM).

The secret, revealed here for the first time, went like this. We'd set the price for URLSiaB quite high (in the hundreds of dollars) to discourage purchases. If anyone actually ordered our prime product, we'd run down to Kensington Market and buy a whole dead squid. The revenue from that first sale would cover the cost of a vacuum sealer -- this would be required in order for us to FedEx the thing, in a branded box with some "instructions" (as yet unwritten). More than zero customers served.

In the meantime, we would have affordably priced t-shirts, mugs, and mousepads done up with the Livesquidinabox.com logo and a slogan. Our market? People who got the joke that, at the time, you couldn't be quite sure that Livesquidinabox.com wasn't, in fact, a real company.

We registered the domain, and put a placeholder page in place. And there it sat.

When in doubt, expand!

Taking the example of Amazon.com to heart, we realized that it didn't matter whether or not we were successful yet -- we needed to offer other products that weren't necessarily of interest to our core market (house-bound squid afficionados). Also, it would be irresponsible not to leverage the synergies inherent in our market-leading "putting animals into containers" expertise. Our first follow-up product: Stunned Sloth in a Crate.

And then, it couldn't be stopped.


L-R, Front Row: Tube of Lemmings, Penguins in a Pillowcase, Live Squid in a Box
Back Row: Barrel of Yak (note the FedEx tape), Stunned Sloth in a Crate

Where does the time go...

Sadly, that's pretty much where it fizzled out. By this point, Calum and I were both in our last year of Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto. Coursework and theses were looming, and I had the Intervarsity Choral Festival 2000 to organize. Plans to put the company together remained on hold, at least in the sense that we continued to be as ready as we'd ever been. Eventually, say by mid 2001, it suddenly wasn't quite so funny to point out how ludicrous the ideas behind some e-commerce companies were. My dalliance with entrepreneurship was over.

Our team

I ended up offering lucrative staff positions to people who contributed ideas or were just enthusasitc about the whole endeavor, so long as they could come up with creative and relevant job-titles.

Madhava Enros, CEO and E-Commerce Visionary
Calum Tsang, VP Squid Logistics
Anatole Papadopoulos, VP Squid Marketing
Tyla Holmes, Squid Design Consultant
Aven McMaster, Staff Classicist
Jen Andreae, Staff Renaissance Historian
Christina Honeywell, Squid Counselor
Trevor Rines, Pun Wrangler
Amos Hayes, CIO (Chiefly Intangible Ornament)

Mike Shaver and Amos Hayes both provided help with domain registration and web-hosting. Thanks, guys.

Epilogue

As of February 2002, we're thinking of doing a limited run of t-shirts for the people who actually still want them. We'll let you know...

May 3, 2002
Since this site went up, there's been quite a resurgence of interest in the LSiaB project. In response, I've registered the www.livesquidinabox.com domain and put some placeholder content there. Also, on the weekend of April 13, 2002, Calum and I went and bought some squid and got some boxes and did a photo shoot. Some of these will end up being used in graphics for the web store.

Here are some photos documenting the process.

June 4, 2002
Late last week, my friend George made a photo-shoot-inspired suggestion for a graphic for LSiaB: a cardboard box sitting in a puddle. After some thought, he decided that that visual would be better suited to the as-yet-unregistered NervousPuppyInABox.com. Later, I was talking to Calum; I don't know how it happened, but we ended up with...

Soccer Mom in a Crate

June 10, 2002
These chatting squid were found on the inside surface of a box containing crunchy sea-creature-shaped snacks from Korea. Naturally, we're interested in what they have to say -- if you know, please tell us. If it helps, this is what the outside of the box looked like:


October 23:An answer, care of George Showman: The squid on the left is saying "I'm a dried squid" and the one on the right answers "I'm not dried, I'm just skinny". Because dried squids are very thin.

July 29, 2002
A couple of weekends ago, Calum and I got together and finalized the artwork for the t-shirts. The shirts (both styles) are going to be black, and this meant that we needed a colour-on-black version:


Front logo
   
Back text

Also, there's a new, cleaned up, white version for future silk-screening projects:

August 19, 2002
Email from people interested in livesquidinabox.com has been flowing in at an unprecedented rate. It turns out we were mentioned in a newsgroup or two, and, more recently, in the Prague Post, "the Czech Republic's award-winning winning English-language weekly."


Websites - 31.07.2002
David Anesta

Have a hankering for some squid but don't feel like leaving the house? The answer is at www.livesquidinabox.com. Two college buddies with nothing to do created the site to mock the e-commerce boom -- and mock it they did. Too bad it isn't real; the animal-rights activists would have had a field day.

Thanks to Anatole for pointing this out.

August 26, 2002
   livesquidinabox.com is now listed in the Yahoo Directory. I'm not sure when it happened, but it was at least as early as the beginning of August. We're under

Entertainment > Humor > Computers and Internet > Internet

Some quick Googling reveals that we're in the UK and Singapore specific directories as well.

Update:We were added August 2, 2002.

September 9, 2002

October 23, 2002
We have the t-shirts.

  

December 9, 2002
Not much has happened since the surge of effort that resulted in the t-shirts being produced. The prototypes for the baby-ts have been approved, but they have yet to go into production. Distribution has been halted by the onset of sloth (the non-crated variety). Yeesh. Soon, though, we'll return to our mission of powering the squid generation, complete with gratuitous italics.

January 16, 2003
Kev Needham took me to task the other day for claiming that the idea for live squid in a box came to me, seemingly, "out of nowhere." You see, several years ago, we both worked at an Ottawa company called Ingenia Communications, the logo of which was meant to represent, if I remember correctly, a bit of purple information streaking along some sort of metaphorical transportation infrastructure:

Making the connection between the company logo and a very fast moving squid is left as a very brief excercise for the reader. There were many squid references during my employment and, when the company died, a deadsquid mailing list for ex-employees was born.

A couple of years separate the end of my association with Ingenia and the begining of livesquidinabox.com. It wasn't until someone asked about a possible connection that I remembered the Ingenia/squid thing. So, Kev, yes -- I am willing to conceed that I might have an unusually heightened response to the humour value of squid, but any resemblence to a real company, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.


© Madhava Enros, 2002, 2003