Max Chafkin recently wrote an in-depth story on Travis Kalanick and What Makes Uber Run.
The Fast Company article highlights anecdotes from the CEO’s friends and colleagues. The underlying theme is that they didn’t think “there was another human who was more destined to build Uber,” Angelo Sotira, Co-founder of deviantART explained.
My time with Mike was the ultimate revelation that the genesis of companies exists within founders long before they’re aware of them.
In a prior life, Mike was a leading force helping companies design exceptional user experiences. He worked at AOL, Disney, and Myspace heading UX, product, and design. His last venture was co-founding Science Inc., where he served as the startup studio’s Chief Creative Officer helping companies like Dollar Shave Club and Wealthfront tell unforgettable stories.
Despite being a maven for digital design, Mike’s latest startup This is Ground, which creates handmade leather goods to help you organize your products, has been in his DNA from early childhood.
“My whole life has been a research study for someone who needs order, stability and organization to all of the objects that are in my life…I was constantly on the move, so I was forced to figure out how to pack up personal items and move on to the next place,” he shared.
The name This is Ground even emerged in Mike’s first job working on a blimp tour where he’d communicate with the pilots by saying “560 alpha-bravo, this is ground;” A sentiment that would leave a lasting stamp on his identity.
While the meaning of This is Ground stems back to Mike’s childhood, the genesis of the now multi-million dollar company was a taco dinner and a late deadline.
The first Cord Taco, the startup’s signature product, was prototyped out of tin foil and scotch tape before appearing in an editorial piece in Refinery 29.
The Cord Taco was one of 90 products in the feature. As readers sought to purchase the leather cord organizer, Mike put it on Etsy with few expectations.
“I was literally making them in my dining room by hand, cutting myself and in denial,” he said.
“I had an intense day job. I’d come home nights and weekends, and I was making Cord Tacos.”
The product’s popularity – which was cemented by a $20,000 order after Cord Taco was featured on Uncrate – led Mike to bring This is Ground to Science.
“When you really start to fall in love with a business, it starts to take you. You feel the emotion and the delight from people who come face to face with your products,” he said.
It’s like falling in love. You can’t ignore it. It’s going to happen.
Today, This is Ground has sold over a million Cord Tacos and collaborated with companies like Facebook, DropBox, and Snapchat. Many startups include the leather cord organizer in their welcome kit for new team members.
Three years in, This is Ground’s expanded to new collections like the Mod – an organizer for your phone, tablet, and computer – wallets, and more.
The team is also releasing the Mod Desktop to keep your desk organized in a similarly beautiful fashion.
An organized life is a happy and creative life.
“We feel that organization is something that should be beautiful. You should feel really happy and excited to put your tools away and to take them out,” Mike shared.
As they release new products, hit elevated benchmarks, and continue to help us organize our lives This is Ground “stands for a lot more than a leather wallet.”
It stands for a founding story that started decades ago. It stands for Mise en place, the French culinary phrase that everything should be put in place. And more than that, This is Ground eliminates the discomfort you have when things are out of order – as they often are – enabling you to focus on what matters.
“I’ve had a lot of crazy big jobs in my life and leaving those big jobs to tackle all this stuff on an eight person team, and to leave Science, was really, really uncomfortable. I still experience discomfort around it today but it doesn’t last because I’m so excited about what we’re doing, and what we feel the responsibility is of the things that we’re putting out into the world.”
To learn more about Mike’s journey building This is Ground, including the two literal fires he’s had to put out, tune into his episode of Beyond the Headline, read his Medium blog, and follow This is Ground on Instagram.