"How soon?" I asked.
"Immediately," Green said. "We walked out there asking ourselves: 'Did that really just happen?'"
Within a week, the two had booked a trip to China and were meeting up with the only known contact they had in the Asian manufacturing circle.
For those keeping count, that year-long financial runway was at least one-fourth over, and suddenly -- with no website, no physical presence, no Chinese language skills and no confirmed manufacturing partner -- these two had no choice but to truly, actually launch their company.
My eyebrows rose a bit, expressing a confusing wave of excitement, anxiety and concern as Andrew detailed the situation to me .
"Yeah," Andrew said. "Yeah..."
Within a week, the two had booked a trip to China and were meeting up with the only known contact they had in the Asian manufacturing circle. The facility was top-notch and would handle construction, packaging -- the works. The problem with that level of service is, of course, the price.
"We weren't anywhere close," said Green. "Suddenly, we found ourselves dropped like a hot potato by the only people we knew in China. We sat in our Shenzhen hotel room, staring at one another, thinking 'Oh, shit.'"
I interrupt his story to express my amazement at the situation, conveying the lack of poise I can only assume I'd exhibit in the same situation. But it seems that the old adage of "It's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it" applied here as well.
"I rummaged through any remaining contacts I could find on a WiFi hotspot down the street, and called a guy I had talked to a good while back," Green said. As it turns out, this Hail Mary led to a cab picking the Greens up from their hotel the following morning. Upon looking at the proposal, the two let out what I can only imagine were monumental sighs. "We finally had something to work with," uttered an obviously relieved Green.
The phrase "Stay small" is not plastered along the walls, nor is it tattooed across the foreheads of those within the company. But it is, however, amongst my favorite tunes from a little-known band by the name of The Receiving End Of Sirens. It's also an unofficial mantra of the Greens, and it's incontestably the most amazing part of my visit.
You see, there's a stark difference when looking at startups that had to raise capital from return-hungry angels, and one that's started with a trio of college funds. Instagram also had around a dozen employees in the early days of 2012; by April, it was purchased for a billion dollars by Facebook. Twelve South will never be purchased for a billion dollars. In fact -- if I had to bet -- Twelve South will never be purchased, period.
I've interacted with countless founders, co-founders and so-called co-founders over the years, and while the general spiel is usually the same, few genuinely stick close to the ethos that they started with. At the end of the day, it's about the almighty dollar, and there's obvious incentive to grow revenue in as many (legal) ways as possible, or possibly even seek a suitor or IPO. It's as if this is all a foreign concept at Twelve South.
Looping back to my earlier point about the iPhone-compatible BookBook, the Greens founded their company with one primary goal: to serve the intensely loyal and as Andrew Green puts it, "massively underserved" Mac market. "Everyone has a product that works with iPhone or iPod," Green stated, "but what about the Mac? Every time I'd walk into an Apple Store, I'd see heaps of 'Mac-compatible' accessories. Mac users don't want compatible. They want exclusive. There are tons of companies that serve the PC market -- and that's great -- but we saw very real potential to commit to the Mac market with our products."