TRANSITIONING FROM CORPORATE AMERICA TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Why would a man with a successful job in finance trade it all for a startup? Despite positive coverage of companies that began as startups like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, three out of four startups fail. That didn’t stop Jeff LeBlanc, one of the founders of Out of Print.
“Finance was challenging and rewarding, but it didn’t get me up in the morning,” says LeBlanc. “I wanted to positively impact the world.”
Leaving the Business World
LeBlanc went to school at MIT and Harvard, and worked at Greenlight Capital, GE Energy Financial Services and McKinsey & Company before leaving the financial world in 2008. He had company, as his best friend was also changing careers.
“It was my dream to start a company,” says LeBlanc. So committed was he to that dream that he and co-founder Todd Lawton got cheap office space before they had a concept. They gave themselves six months to find an idea.
The pair used a whiteboard to sketch out ideas, LeBlanc explains. “We passed on a few ideas, which might have been more successful, but weren’t something we loved.”
Eventually, it hit them. With books going digital, there was cover art going unappreciated. So why not make them wearable? As LeBlanc describes it, “There was no band t-shirt for book lovers.”
“We almost bailed on the idea because it was difficult to convince license holders,” says LeBlanc. But persistence paid off, and Transworld UK was the first company to let Out of Print use their covers on t-shirts in return for royalties. Other publishers followed, and Out of Print’s first sale was in January 2010.
LeBlanc’s business development experience benefitted the negotiation of contracts while his partner’s marketing experience assisted with the promotion of the idea and the company.
It also gave them the experience to know when to expand a business. The pair self-funded their business thanks to their years in the corporate world. “Work lean,” says LeBlanc. “Add resources when you have to.” He explains that they only hired customer service when they realized they were responding to queries after hours.
The right product at the wrong time just doesn’t work
Startup Versus Corporations
One main difference for LeBlanc between a startup and a corporation is speed to market. “For instance, once we decide on a new product category, it’s all about getting the product right and doing it in a timely manner. The right product at the wrong time just doesn’t work,” he says. Bureaucracy, or as LeBlanc puts it, “Bureaucracy, Inc.” can kill a project.
Other benefits include having the option to fail. “On the risk front, small companies benefit from optionality, so we believe in placing small bets and tests for growth. We’re okay with failing as long as we learn and can adapt.”
The company has been profitable since it launched, which means the pair haven’t been forced to make tough decisions regarding capital. Instead, they’re working with the charity Books for Africa, which collects and donates books to 22 different countries in the continent.
For LeBlanc, Out of Print has been extremely satisfying. “I get to run a company with my best friend, work with world-class employees that I think of as family and work in an industry that requires me to read a lot of books. I feel very fortunate.”
As for Out of Print, it’s growing. When asked if he would do it all again, he says, “In a heartbeat.”