Mass Customization, Mystery Developers, and Men’s Shirts: Blank Label Returns to Boston
Think you know what a virtual company is? Try having never seen your chief technology officer’s face. Now that’s a virtual company.
It’s just one of the quirky things about Blank Label, a “mass customization” startup focused on letting consumers design their own dress shirts from a variety of fabrics and styles. In December 2009, my colleague Wade wrote an in-depth story about Blank Label, which has Boston roots, and the plight of its founder, Fan Bi, who was forced to leave the U.S. shortly thereafter because his student visa expired. Well, guess what—he’s back now and living in Cambridge (not far from Xconomy’s Kendall Square office, in fact). And you could say Blank Label is too.
Just to complicate matters, this week I met not with Bi, but with his co-founder, Danny Wong, who’s now based in Shanghai but was rolling through Boston for a few days. (Neither Bi nor Wong is the mysterious CTO—more on him in a minute.) Wong’s story is that he took a leave of absence from his undergraduate studies at Bentley University to work on Blank Label for the past year and a half. That was after answering an ad from Bi, an Australian citizen who was doing a study-abroad year at Babson College, in the summer of 2009.
Bi started the custom-shirt business in late 2008 and was looking to hire local salespeople and expand the company. In true Bostonian fashion, Wong had to set aside what is apparently a strong Babson-Bentley rivalry to work with Bi—which he could do because the latter was merely an exchange student there.
“The combination of that and his Australian accent sold me,” says Wong, who is lead evangelist and handles marketing and PR for Blank Label.
The two worked feverishly through the summer, burning through 14 other workers (mostly unpaid interns) before bringing on a graphic designer, Alec Harrison (from Boston), and then a CTO—the enigmatic Zeeshan Muhammad, a software guy with a day job in Southern California, who built Blank Label’s site in six weeks in exchange for equity in the startup.
“He’s a mystery,” Wong says of his CTO. “We go on Skype, and he’s never there. We just see his wall.” The rest of the team apparently has never met him in person or even seen his face, except for a couple of old pictures.
After Bi’s U.S. visa expired in January 2010, he relocated to Shanghai to work with … Next Page »