Ben joins Jonah to talk about their biggest business failures of 2020, how they happened, and what they learned from those experiences.
When 2020 started, like everyone else, Ben and Jonah had big plans. Then everything got cancelled and they had to figure out what the Toronto Magic Company and their careers as magicians would look like. They took a lot of risks and found a lot of success. But these are the stories of their biggest failures from 2020 and we hope you learn something from these lessons.
Following the success of the first UnConventional.fun, the original plan was to send a book to everyone who attended. It was a good idea in theory and it would have made a wonderful physical keepsake of a memorable weekend but unfortunately for everyone Ben wasn’t used to sending out massive projects in the mail.
Ben admits it was a stupid mistake but by mislabelling the packages they ended up sending hundreds of books through the mail system only to have them either disappear entirely or end up back in Toronto where they started. Additional delays in assembling the content for the book, editing, and designing the layout meant that promises to deliver the books in a timely manner couldn’t be honoured and many hundreds of books were lost or delivered to the wrong address.
Ben and Jonah learned to plan in advance, especially when working with unfamiliar processes and trying something new, like designing a book. Take your time and don’t be too proud to ask for advice and look up the proper procedure especially when dealing with complicated rules like packaging and labelling your international shipments.
Toronto Magic Company Merch
Jonah warned Ben that if they decided to sell merchandise to their audience who attended their virtual shows that the end result would be that their apartment, which they both share as roommates, would become filled with unsold merchandise.
Skip ahead to 2021 and their apartment is filled with unsold merchandise. One entire closet is dedicated to their merch. They wear the extra clothing almost every day and drink out of mugs with their logo on it. Their apartment is a shrine to unsold Toronto Magic Company swag.
Ben and Jonah learned to think ahead of the outcomes of their projects and find more efficient ways to provide tokens of appreciation to their audience. Mugs and t-shirts are fun at conventions but how many people who attend a virtual magic show want the name of the production company sent to them on a t-shirt? As it turns out, not that many.
The Halloween Show
You might remember that Ben and Jonah hosted their first ever ticketed virtual magic show for halloween. What you might not remember was that the show itself took a lot of changes while it was being developed. The trailer video was made back when they intended the show to be super scary, but as they developed the program it was decided they would be more family friendly and funny and the tone shifted dramatically. People turned on by the scary trailer would visit the family friendly website and be turned off, while at the same time people enticed by the friendly website would see the trailer and decide that the show wasn’t for them either. Conflicting messaging and changing ideologies about the structure of the show lead to a lot of miscommunication in the marketing of the program and while the show itself was a lot of fun and those who attended had a great time, both Ben and Jonah knew that it could and should have been much more successful had they been consistent with their messaging.
Magic Out Loud
Following UnConventional.fun, Jonah and Ben decided they wanted to launch their own magic club. But after some feedback they realized that nobody needed more access to lectures and written material so they changed the focus to a club where magicians would be invited to perform in front of the lecturers and get feedback from them directly. On paper it seemed like a great idea but the result was Ben and Jonah begging for money and not getting enough people to sign up to make it a viable project.
The lesson they took from this was to listen to the community you’re serving and try not invent needs that don’t exist. There was no desire for a magic club like this at this time and the only people left disappointed in the end were Ben and Jonah.
Speaking of trying to make something that nobody asked for…
When Ben and Jonah learned that Netflix was open to pitches for magic shows they tried to put together a project they called Hat Tricks. To this day nobody outside of Ben’s brain knows exactly what this show was about. Was it the Chopped of magic? Was it a send up of shows like Wizard Wars? Was it a convoluted mess with a talking hat that nobody knew what the rules were?
Creativity is great but you also need to know when to be pragmatic and realistic. Having a wacky high concept for a show can work but it also needs to be accessible, and comprehensible to a wide audience and if your own friends don’t know what is going on maybe it’s time to reign yourself in.
And if you decide not to reign yourself in you might be responsible for…
No video exists of this grandest of failures. For that we can all be grateful. But if you’ve ever seen Jonan and Ben dressed up as wizards you can know that they own those costumes because of this idea.
The Twizards was going to be a show to teach people about magic, where they could learn tricks and understand the methods. But rather than just create a simple teaching program like everyone else Ben and Jonah decided to shoot for the moon and create a disney-esque TV show about a paid of wizards trapped in a library having to learn tricks to escape their prison while Ben and Jonah watch them on TV and learn the tricks in the real world. Sound confusing? That’s because it was confusing.
Not only did Ben and Jonah have no experience scripting and producing a TV program, they’re also not actors or comedians or scriptwriters. They bit off way more than they could chew and soon found themselves so wrapped up in figuring out how to create special effects on a green screen that they forgot that the whole reason they created this project in the first place was to be a fun and simple way to teach people about magic.
Grand ideas are fun to have but the lessons to be learned here are to ask yourself honestly if anyone is asking for the thing you’re trying to make.
Learning From Failure
Over the course of 2020 Ben and Jonah have tried lots of things and from the failures they’ve learned that one of the most important secrets to success is to give yourself the time to succeed. You can’t complete your high concept project if you’re waiting until the last minute to put the finishing details on it. If you’re putting together your thing a week before your show you’re already too late. As well, be creative in the execution and be level-headed in the creation, create with practicality in mind and execute with creativity in mind.
If you’d like to learn more about what the Toronto Magic Company is up to be sure to check out their youtube channel at youtube.com/torontomagiccompany