This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Expectations & Etiquette for Interviewees

If you’re reading this post, I probably sent you a link because I want to ask you some questions for an article. The interviewing process can be weird if you’re not used to it, so this is intended as a straightforward guide. Don’t worry, it’s short!

  1. Instead of relying on the various definitions of terms like “off the record” and “on background”, I prefer to define how I’m allowed to quote you in concrete terms. Can I use your name? Mention where you work? Etc. Tell me what you’re comfortable with! If you don’t specify that you want to stay anonymous, I will assume that your comments are fully public.
  2. I may ask about subjects that don’t usually come up in polite conversation. For example: “How much money do you make?” Some questions might even feel adversarial. For example: “People have accused you of XYZ. What is your response?” You are free to refuse to answer any questions, or to answer partially. It doesn’t mean that I won’t bring up those issues in whatever I write, but it’s totally fine for you to set limits on what you will talk about.
  3. I encourage you to make your own recording of any verbal conversation we have, and to keep transcripts of our textual communications. (This is a good interviewee habit in general! Archive those emails!)
  4. You can’t approve the final article before it’s published. However, if I edit your quotes for readability, I may ask you to approve the revised text, to make sure I’ve preserved your meaning. Those edits will always be disclosed to the readers.

The four items above are based on the industry’s standards. If there’s anything else I should add to this post, email and let me know. Thanks!

How to Save a Startup: Advice from Milt Milloy

Milt Milloy is the entrepreneur behind Springboard Startup and Springboard Turnaround. He helps businesses set themselves up, and helps them figure out how to save themselves when money runs dangerously low. I came across Milloy’s work via his Medium posts about handling a cash crisis. (This is not a problem for me, but it’s an interesting quandary in general.) I was impressed by his ruthlessness:

“If you, the owner or manager, have difficulty telling people no, put someone in charge of expenditures that does not. Different personality types will struggle with being the cash gatekeeper more than others. Find someone who cares less about being liked and more on doing the right thing to achieve the desired outcome — in this case conserv[ing] cash and buy[ing] time.”

I spoke to Milloy on the phone about what companies can do to avoid needing Springboard Turnaround’s services. As he told me, “When things haven’t gone well, you’re kinda on rough seas at that point. Being able to build a realistic plan and articulate it to all of those stakeholders to keep them from jumping ship” can stop the hemorrhage of confidence. If that confidence drains away, so do your customers, employees, and investors, which is the worst-case scenario. (I hope you’ll never reach that point, dear reader! And I hope that I won’t either.)

Founders can be their own worst enemies. Milloy stated, “As things continue to spiral down, it really is very similar to a grieving process. At first there’s denial, then anger and blame.” Eventually the company must come to grips with harsh reality.

Background photo by Taylor Nicole via Unsplash.
Background photo by Taylor Nicole via Unsplash.

Milloy explained, “When somebody launches a company that is what I would call fatally flawed, they haven’t done adequate customer-discovery work.” In other words, “They’re building a product or creating a service that they really don’t have a good customer base for.” Additionally, “Markets change, competitive dynamics change — some of those are very difficult to predict and they just happen.” A successful company will have a certain amount of flexibility.

I asked Milloy what he thinks of unit-economics disasters like SpoonRocket and some of its on-demand brethren. He told me that these implosions are “what happens if [the cost to deliver the product] just hasn’t been tested enough and recorded enough.” In those scenarios, “The forecast is just way too optimistic.” Milloy endorsed the rule of thumb that “it’s gonna take twice as much money and twice as long” as your first guess to accomplish your business objectives.

“Two challenges. One is to actually produce the product or service. Founders are underestimating how much that’s really gonna cost.” The second challenge is that the “cost of getting the customer — the marketing cost — is very underestimated.” Milloy knows this from gritty hands-on experience. “I had an agricultural-based business that I started from scratch,” which ran into cashflow issues. He admitted, though not ruefully, “I got some education in the school of hard knocks.”

Fundamentally, Milloy said, there are “three big categories of problems [that a company can face] and a whole bunch of different sub-categories within them.” You have to sell something, AKA convince people to buy from you. You have to spend less money than you’re taking in. And thirdly, “You can’t carry such a debt load that even if you are making money, you can’t service the debt.” It really boils down to living within your means, not unlike personal finance.

Rest assured, Milloy is in favor of bootstrapping when you can make it work:

“Bootstrapping is not for everyone. It requires more personal sacrifice. And the slower trajectory may allow competitors to leap ahead. However, if you are convinced your idea has potential but investors are not interested, it can be a satisfying path forward. The upside is, if successful, you will have 100% ownership in a debt-free business.”

Priceless Fashion Guidance From Fran Lebowitz For People With Short Attention Spans

I know very little about Fran Lebowitz, but I know that Kathleen Hale’s interview with her is fantastic. Choice quotes:

“American women think that clothes fit them if they can fit into them. But that’s not at all what fit means.”

“Shirts don’t go bad, they’re not peaches.”

“I wish that real estate were cheaper and clothes were more expensive.”

“If you’re 18 right now, you think you invented platform shoes. You think you’re doing something new. You think you’ve invented something so ugly that it’s beautiful.”

“Designers now, they all have these things called mood boards. I suppose they think a sense of discovery equals invention. It would be as if every writer had a board with paragraphs of other writers—’Oh, I’ll take a little bit of this, and that, he was really good.’ Yes, he was really good! And that is not a mood board, it is a stealing board.” (YES. This is how I feel about Pinterest.)

“What’s so great thing about clothes is that they’re artificial—you can lie, you can choose the way you look, which is not true of natural beauty.”

Note to self: learn more about Fran Lebowitz.

Book Review: Stolen Sharpie Revolution (Plus, Short Interview With Author Alex Wrekk)

My boyfriend and I recently got back from a road-trip through the Pacific Northwest. My favorite place that we went on the trip was Portland Button Works, which is a zine distro as well as a button-making business. I had never seen so many zines in one room! It was thrilling! The shop is run by Alex Wrekk, author of the perzine Brainscan and the book Stolen Sharpie Revolution, an introductory guide to zine-making.

Serendipitously, the day before I visited Portland Button Works, I got an email from Alex’s publicist asking if I wanted to review the new edition of SSR on my blog. I picked up my review copy in person, which was cool! Meeting Alex had me a bit starstruck, because she’s such a renowned underground author, second only to Aaron Cometbus or Cindy Crabb in terms of longevity and recognition. She also bravely exposed Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing as an abuser and manipulator. (You can read about that online if you’re interested in the ethics of your reading material—which you should be.)

Stolen Sharpie Revolution Blog Tour Banner

Stolen Sharpie Revolution is the perfect gift for a weird, moody teenager, or even a kid in middle school. Beyond the practical how-to stuff about page layout and wrangling photocopiers, what’s important is the emphasis on taking control of your own story. Alex writes, “We all have stories to tell and no one is going to tell them for us.” The next step, after figuring out how to tell your story, is to publish it. Zines are an under-utilized way of sharing your words with the world.

I have to go off on a quick tangent here. As a beginning writer, it’s tempting to throw your hands up and say, “What’s the point? Everything has already been written, right?” To an extent that’s true, because the basic human conflicts and emotions haven’t changed since Homer recited the adventures of Odysseus. But every generation has to write the stories again. A young voice can make an old story accessible to new ears. Human stories deal with ancient themes, ancient archetypes and problems, but the language and the social mores are changing constantly. Don’t worry that it’s all been done before. It hasn’t been done by you, in the here and now.

Aesthetically, Stolen Sharpie Revolution is like a traditional cut-and-paste zine, done with a typewriter, scissors, and glue. It’s a great introduction to zine culture, and the only thing that I think it lacks is a section on desktop publishing using computers. However, that would also be vastly complicated to include, since not everyone has Microsoft Office or even the basic technical skills needed to format a zine using a word processor.

The review on Books and Bowel Movements kind of peeved me off, because Cassandra implied that Alex wrote her book like it was THE ONLY, MOST DEFINITIVE guide to making zines. In fact, Alex explicitly says that she’s just sharing what works for her. Stolen Sharpie Revolution should be seen as a window into what some zinesters do, and a starting point for learning more.

Speaking of learning more, I asked Alex a couple of questions, basically just because I could. Flora’s Forum did a more in-depth interview. Anyway, here’s my dialogue with Alex:

Sonya: How do you deal with “activist burnout”? I ask because this is something that I wrestle with, feeling hopeless and exhausted by the hugeness of the bad parts of life, and I would appreciate counsel from someone who’s held onto punk/anarchist/DIY ethics for a long time.

Alex: I have a couple of strategies but I’m not exactly sure they work for everyone. The main one is to let others do the heavy lifting sometimes. You can’t take on everyone and everything if you don’t have some space and time for yourself, so be good to yourself.

I also like to look at things in small chunks to avoid the hopelessness of drowning in the big picture. What can you do to make your house better? Your neighborhood? Your community? Recently I became a member of the advisory board of my credit union. I knew nothing about what I was doing there but I was putting myself in a new space and learning new things, like the actual difference between banks and credit unions. I was about to apply this new info to my personal feelings about capitalism.

Be an ambassador for your ideas in places you didn’t know you could. When I first moved to Portland I worked at an arcade. After after a few months my boss said, “You’ve made me punk friendly!” and offered to give me May Day off and the next day “just in case you get arrested”. Also, you can drop out sometimes and come back to your work later. Knowing AND expressing your boundaries in activism is really important. I don’t feel like I do as much as I used to, but that’s okay. I needed to learn to be okay with that. I’ve built relationships and communities where I am comfortable but also where there is room for growth.

Sonya: Near the beginning of Stolen Sharpie Revolution, you explain that we all have the opportunity to tell our own stories. Do you remember when you realized this, personally? Have you always been a writer?

Alex: I don’t think I ever really consciously thought about it until 2003 or 2004 when there was a camper I had taught at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp For Girls who was interviewed afterwards and said something like, “In the zine class we learned that we can tell our own stories because we can’t expect other people to tell it for us,” and I was like, “Wait, I said that in that class? I did say that!” To me, there wasn’t really a barrier there, it was just something I knew. I joke that I’m “DIY by Default”. I’m always looking at stuff and going, “How can I make that?” I think I got that from my mom. Getting involved in punk when I was 15 in the early ’90s was a vehicle for that. Once I found zines I thought, “I can make these too!” And it gave me something to do with all the notebooks lying around with ideas and lists in them. I don’t think I’ve always been a writer, but I do think I’ve always been a storyteller.

Sign up for my newsletter to stay abreast of my new writing and projects.

I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).