The story of Livesquidinabox.com
Here is as much of the story of livesquidinabox.com as I can remember and reconstruct.
EpiphanyExam-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 brandWe 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):
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.
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 teamI 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
Mike Shaver and Amos Hayes both provided help with domain registration and web-hosting. Thanks, guys.
EpilogueAs 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...
June 4, 2002
July 29, 2002
Also, there's a new, cleaned up, white version for future silk-screening projects:
August 19, 2002
Thanks to Anatole for pointing this out.
December 9, 2002
January 16, 2003
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