Monday, December 6, 2010

Interview with Karl Dawson, Founder of Awesomeosaurus T-Shirts

This month, Karl Dawson launched a pretty unique business venture: Awesomeosaurus T-shirts. Every month, a new t-shirt design becomes available. After 28 days, it goes "extinct" and that's it - everyone who has purchased one is now the member of a very exclusive club. Cooler still, 10% of the proceeds from each shirt goes to charity. When Karl contacted me via his Twitter account, I thought it might be fun to do an interview rather than just throwing up a link to the site. Read on to learn about how he came to start the site, what's in its future, and why dinosaurs figure so heavily in it.

Can you tell us about your background? How and when did you decide to do the site?

I've been a web designer / developer for the last 10 years so I've been tightly integrated into the whole Interweb since the days of Internet Explorer 4 and computers with only 256 colours. I'm most proud of my 10 years in the UK Reserve Forces though - nothing really compares to that life once you've tasted it. Two decades, that makes me feel old! The decision for going into business for myself came this time last year when I almost made my wife a widow before our 1st anniversary - a routine surgery ended up in me developing a massive pulmonary embolism. Waking up to be surrounded by a crash team and learning that you've cheated death three times over the last week is a real eye opener and motivator. It took six months to get back to normal and once I had my strength back I started to act on my dream. Coming up with the idea for Awesomeosaurus t-shirts was an odd mix of exploiting what I know of the Web and seeing an advert on the side of a bus stop. Being a web geek I immediately saw the potential of the word awesomeasaurus they'd used - spell it a bit different and stick a dot in there and it was a very cool URL. 10 minutes later I'd bought it and then maybe a few weeks later in August I decided that I could use it to build a t-shirt business.

What's been the most challenging thing about getting this project off the ground?

More challenges than I thought but perhaps the biggest one is learning new stuff like marketing. It stresses me out at times but learning what doesn't work is just as important as learning what does. In time, it'll come together I'm sure.

Did you do the illustration for the first t-shirt, T. rex vs. zombies? What was the inspiration?

I wish I could draw or do anything graphical! My design expertise is in organising web content, getting it to fit on a page and make it easy to navigate. Not being arty has been my procrastination crutch for years but I've realised that the only way I'll get these ideas out of my head is to pay someone to do stuff for me that I can't. I held a design competition over a week in October with a few constraints that weren't too prescriptive and some real gems were submitted. I wanted to explore the outcome of a T. rex fighting the resurgent, even mainstream, popularity of zombies. A winning combination for the inaugural design in my mind. When I saw the design that eventually went on to win I was ecstatic! It was a few zombies short but was exactly what I had envisioned. Strangely enough, the design in my mind's eye came from a graphic used in the old board game BattleTech in which small armoured battlesuits were tearing apart a much larger 'mech. The litmus test of friends reactions has definitely been a genuine "Wow!"

Will Awesomeosaurus be exclusively dedicated to dinosaur designs?

Definitely. I fear we may end up perpetuating popular myth - humans and dinos for example - but it's all good fun and there's a lot of memes to re-imagine. I'm very keen to get feedback from the community on what themes they'd like to see in the future. I have a Facebook Page to facilitate community building and already one idea has surfaced.

How about close-but-not-quite-dinosaur critters?

Well I have a killer idea for a pterosaur t-shirt, but I'll keep that under wraps for now! I have to avoid using "awesome" all the time but, I think it'll be that. It's safe to say that I'm open to anything but reserve the right to say "no". Just like the only stupid question is the one you don't ask, I'd love to hear from others - it won't be a hard sell to request sabre-tooth tigers or mammoths though - I don't think I'll be able to overturn pop culture beliefs with t-shirts ;-)

What's your favorite dinosaur? Has it changed from when you were younger?

Back in the day it would have been a T. rex for sure but in pop culture terms those evil buggers in Jurassic Park take top spot for me now (even knowing that they got the Hollywood treatment). I liked the obvious intelligence, cunning and team work they demonstrated. In the real world of palaeontology my favourite is the pterosaur - cookie for knowing it's not technically a dinosaur? The evolutionary significance of being the earliest flying creature seals it for me.

And your favorite dinosaur movie?

Easily Jurassic Park. It had all the elements of a great film for me - wonderment, thrills, humour and technical brilliance. Pure escapism for a few hours.

Will you also be donating to other charities with this project?

Yes, definitely. I have two US charities already in mind and I'm looking globally as well. As a differentiator I wanted to dedicate each Awesomeosaurus t-shirt to a particular charity and then through social media raise awareness of them amongst the community. I have a couple of charities in mind for later but I'd love to get suggestions from people and charities themselves. One thing I have learnt this week though is to start negotiations early - it's not easy giving money away! Shocker I know, but to get tax breaks for the incoming money there's a government bureaucracy somewhere to overcome.

How do you find illustrators to work with? How many designs are lined up for future shirts?

In the first instance I tapped up friends but I had a deadline and only people working as a business ultimately deliver to it. Favours and promises didn't cut it sadly. I pitched my concept and prize as a one-week competition on the 99Designs website and will use it again (or work directly with previous designers) until illustrators want to get involved and offer their hard work. I already have concepts to explore for the next three designs (including one received via the Facebook Page) and I'm sure our collective brains can think up more.

You've done a great job with your Facebook page - what advice would you have for folks who are looking to build theirs up? I'm asking for my own benefit as well!

Thanks! It's my first real go at a Facebook Page and it's a combination of "Static FBML" applications that allow you to write your own HTML and images from your web server or similar online image storage. There's a ton of things you can do with it design-wise but for me the most important thing is to be active on the wall and encourage others to join in. If I come across others needing a shout-out I do that too - this weekend I came across a young band called "My Only Chance" and stuck up a link on the page and tweeted about it. My to-do list has a blog article on getting started with Facebook Pages so "watch this space" :)

Any final comments or anything we didn't touch on that you want to talk about?

It's been an honour and a great experience - I hope your readers got all the interesting bits! Thank you for the opportunity to spread the word about Awesomeosaurus t-shirts and it's charitable mission.


Thanks to Karl for answering my questions, and I wish him the best of luck with this venture. To keep up with Awesomeosaurus and, of course, buy some shirts, follow the Awesomeosaurus blog, tweets, and Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, but i'm shure T-Rex would won!
    Note: I'm not trolling!


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