2012.05.30 Cat doodles for cash? At least he has a job

By RICH FOLEY

If Steve Gadlin turns out to be the next Pablo Picasso, I may be set for life. That is, I will be if suddenly a market develops for hastily-sketched cat drawings. Some might call them folk art. Others, something  akin to what your third-grader brings home every day. But then, Picasso had his detractors, too.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Gadlin. He actually was doing pretty well as a web designer before he hit on the idea of doing customized sketches of cats for $9.95 each. Then the idea snowballed.

First he ran a successful promotion for the sketches on the Groupon website. Then, in February, he somehow managed to get on “Shark Tank,” the ABC reality show for inventors and entrepreneurs. 

For those not familiar with the program, five mega-million to billionaires listen to pitches from people with a (hopefully) unique idea or product who ask for money and expertise in exchange for a chunk of their company.

Gadlin, who calls his company “I Want To Draw A Cat For You,” came on stage with a goofy little song and an even goofier dance to introduce his proposal. For $9.95, Gadlin personally draws one of his amateurish cats to your specifications. Anyone care to invest their hard-earned money in that idea?

I almost expected a hook to come in from offstage at any moment and pull the somewhat nerdy-looking Gadlin off the show. But he charmed at least one of the “sharks.”

He walked away with $25,000 in his pocket and super-billionaire Mark Cuban (owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks) as one-third partner in his business. Not only that, Cuban agreed to draw every thousandth cat drawing. Even better, Cuban got on stage and did the cat dance with his new partner.

 A few days later, after convincing myself it wouldn’t be the dumbest thing I ever did, I sent Gadlin the money and instructions for how I’d like my cat to look. Then all I had to do was sit back and wait for my little art “investment” to arrive. In the meantime, after I agreed to be on his e-mail list, I got to witness some of Gadlin’s web expertise at work.

First, he would send copies of completed cats he was proud of. As my order got closer to the top of his “To Do” list, pitches for add ons to my order began arriving. 

Did I want my cat drawing to arrive unfolded in a flat envelope instead of being folded in thirds in a normal business-size envelope? It’s just a few dollars more. How about color instead of black and white? Again, just a few dollars more. I passed both times.

About two weeks after I ordered it, Steve sent me an e-mail showing me the finished product, and a pitch to buy a shirt with the cat on it, for more than a few dollars more. Once again, no sale. Just mail me my cat, will you?

Soon enough, cat drawing #3051 arrived. I have to say it was pretty neat for a hastily-scribbled cat doodle. A chubby cat with glasses was hard at work writing a NASCAR column on an ancient-looking computer (since the cat was ordered, I’ve upgraded to a computer from this century). But why is my tongue sticking out, Steve?

A few weeks later, I noticed a rather glaring typo in one of Steve’s normally impressive e-mails. I thought I’d e-mail the now-famous artist and point it out. You can probably guess what happened next, but let me tell the story, OK?

About an hour later, I received a personal e-mail from Steve thanking me for the correction, and casually informing me of a typo in my own e-mail. It was like we were separated at birth.

Steve’s money-making ideas continue. He sold Mr. Cuban’s first cat drawing for $1,000. He created a line of cat mood pins, started a cat drawing club and is pushing cat drawings as holiday gifts.

For Mother’s Day: “What better way to show your love...than a hastily scribbled stick figure cat from a complete and total stranger?”

For Father’s Day: “You won’t soon forget the joy in Dad’s eyes when he realizes you spent $10 on something your 2-year old could have drawn for free.” 

I can’t help thinking I could do something like this myself. When I was a child, I liked to draw cars. I wasn’t very good at it, but Steve has proven that’s not an obstacle. I can still draw a car as poorly as I ever could.

I Want To Draw A CAR For You has kind of a ring to it, don’t you think? I wonder if Mark Cuban has any money left he’d like to invest? Give me a call, Mark. I’ll even draw your helicopter for free.

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