Making Something From Nothing: Ashley Bush Of The Chameleon Collective On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

You can never be too generous. Or too kind. Or too honorable. Always err on the side of caring for people instead of money. My goal is to make sure every sale, customer, employee, co-worker knows how seriously I take the responsibility of their trust. They have all trusted me with something — their money, their website, their project, their career, their investment. At the end of it all greed and self-preservation never win.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Bush.

Ashley Bush is owner of Ash Bush™ calligraphy brand and one of the founders of the Chameleon Collective, a 10,000 NFT project turned metaverse company. She’s a professional artist from Memphis, TN who has birthed two creative businesses alongside her husband, Zach, as well as 3 tiny humans. Last year the couple set out to ‘check out what these NFT’s are all about’ only to find themselves, months later, with 1.2 million dollars sitting in their business wallet, after selling 10,000 jpegs of goofy chameleons in just one week.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in an overly-normal, middle class home, in the Blue Ridge mountains of South-west Virginia with my mom, dad, younger brother and sister. As a young girl I was not interested in daydreams of marriage or mothering, nor was I captivated by the pretend world of house and babydolls. Instead I passed the time forcing my younger siblings to be students in my college lecture, co-anchors on our family news channel, or stand-in actors as I directed an award-winning screenplay. This infatuation with big city life, CEO-level meetings and ‘high heels that click down the halls’ never subsided, even as the season of childhood blurred into adulthood.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My all-time favorite quote was given to me 8 years ago when I started my first company. A client came to me with a creative vision after having multiple failed attempts from other artists to manifest it for her. Upon finally capturing her vision, she sent me a message that I’ve found has only become truer with time — “If you want something done, give it to a busy mom.”

At the time I was only one child in, now 8 years later I have 3 small children circling my legs — despite my disinterest in the domestic life. The quote not only gives me strength and confidence on days when I feel like I’m drowning in all the responsibilities, but also serves as a reminder to look where no one else is looking. To not follow the traditional paths, systems, resumes or protocol. The next great employee, client, partnership may not be stepping out of his town car in downtown Manhattan, but might be working three jobs in South Memphis while attending night school.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

One of my favorite authors is Toni Morrison. All of her words are embedded in my soul, her raw honesty and writing style transported me to the inner struggle of her characters in ways I’d never experienced before. This practice of extreme empathy and others-mindedness drives much of who I strive to be.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

Don’t overthink it and just start — with each business venture I’ve embarked on I can honestly look back and say, “If I had known what this would entail or how much would be involved I don’t think I would have started.” If there’s a big dream you have, chances are the road is not going to be even remotely easy, but the grace of life is that you don’t have what you need to cross those bridges now, because you haven’t gotten to them yet. When you do, you’ll be ready.

One step at a time — in the age of the internet there’s no shortage of training and information. Find the balance between overwhelm of where you are versus where you need to be and instead break it down into easy to manage steps. There have been many days where “Make a to-do list” is the only thing crossed off on it, and that’s okay… at least the list was made.

Connections are (almost) everything — Don’t burn your bridges or write anyone off as unnecessary. Even if you can’t see their value to you now, life has a way of flipping things upside down and turning tables very quickly and those random connections might just be the make or break that you’ve been waiting on.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

If you’re about to enter a new space as a retailer you need to spend an adequate amount of time on the consumer side of it. Research, don’t just visit it, become immersed in it. Learn the struggles, the gaps, the big name players, the audience. Search patents, trademarks and copyrights, and then see how you can merge your new idea with who you are to differentiate it from the others. You’re an asset in and of yourself, so don’t force something unnatural — take an idea and make it your own.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

  1. Ideation — We start in our sketchbook and with vision boards. I have a plethora of secret Pinterest boards where I collect ideas, inspiration, articles and images.
  2. Prototype — we’ve sculpted things out of clay, glued plastic together, put out small collections for feedback from other professionals and consumers within the space.
  3. Design — After we have a working prototype and solid idea we make a 3D build of the product or more finalized concept. We then disseminate these to beta-testers.
  4. Print — We 3d print our models, we might send that off to a manufacturer for a quote, make molds or pitch it to an audience, team or investor. Or we might invest in the technology to manufacture it in-house and hire employees.
  5. Patent — Filing a patent takes time and there’s a couple ways to do it. You can get in contact early on with a lawyer who specializes in trademarks and copyrights who will walk you through everything, or you could use an online filing system like Legalzoom, or you could even submit it yourself. Whatever avenue you choose just expect it to take at least 9 months from application to finish.
  6. Retail — nowadays there are so many amazing retail options outside of brick and mortar. We sell our products all over the world using online shops like Amazon, and Etsy. But we also wholesale our products to other online and physical shops — my favorite site for finding and selling wholesale has been

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Figure out your core motivators — Money? Passion? Time? Purpose? I took Shanna Skidmore’s Blueprint Model course 4 or 5 years ago, and it completely changed how I focused on my business. I found that for me passion and time are my top motivators. I work and create things that bring my passion alive, and I love the flexibility to stop whenever I want or to bring my kids along with me.
  2. Outsource, outsource, outsource. It’s so tempting to do it all — either because we feel we’ll do it best or because it will be cheaper. But I promise you, neither is true. With my first business I did it all — website management, packing orders, social media, marketing, product photography, taxes and it burnt me out and stalled my growth. With my second business I’ve learned to stay in my lane. I love creation, ideation, branding, design — if I spend my time on that and leave the rest to others whose passions align with that work — there’s no stopping what we can do together.
  3. You’ll work way more for yourself than you ever will for someone else. And it makes sense, but be prepared for it to consume your whole life. As amazing as the entrepreneurial journey is, I do miss the days of shutting down the PC at 5pm and leaving work at the office.
  4. So make strong boundaries — In a similar vein, get your priorities in order because time will become your most valuable asset. For some reason I’m constantly surprised at my human-ness… why do I expect myself to be excellent at everything? It’s an unrealistic standard. And I found that when I’m trying to do too much, instead of doing anything with excellence I just end up doing 10 half-assed, mediocre things.
  5. You can never be too generous. Or too kind. Or too honorable. Always err on the side of caring for people instead of money. My goal is to make sure every sale, customer, employee, co-worker knows how seriously I take the responsibility of their trust. They have all trusted me with something — their money, their website, their project, their career, their investment. At the end of it all greed and self-preservation never win.

For example, Zach and I recently sold out our 10k NFT project and we noticed a trend with other projects — fractionalizing all of the initial sale to those in charge. The artist gets 50%, the developer gets the other 50%… and plenty of projects where the one founder just takes it all. These founders are now less and less invested with the success of the project, as they pull away from it with the money they made, the project dies. We decided instead of taking everything we COULD, we would only take what we need. Zach and I took 17% of the initial sale combined, and the rest of it sits in a community wallet to pump back into the project. This alone gives our project a year’s runway to create all kinds of new developments and innovative tech. I could take the million and run, or I could turn it into millions for me and others with patience, wisdom and sober-mindedness.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Ask yourself all kinds of questions — does this solve a problem? How does this add value to someone’s life? Why do I want to make this? What do I want my life to look like? What is an ideal day? Could I spend 12 hours a day talking about this? What does my ideal customer look like? Where does she shop? Where does he spend his time online? Internal research, market research, all kinds of research.

But I think the most important question I’ve had to ask myself is, “what does success look like for me?” After 8 years of inventing and manufacturing calligraphy products I had a notebook full of ideas for my shop, they were on brand, unique, sell-able… I found the seasons of my life changing and with it the realization that I don’t want to work 10 hours a day designing, marketing, 3D printing, emailing and packing orders. I want to get back to just the creation, the art and so I decided to hone in on the only things that give me passion and either scale back, or pass-off the other tasks to someone else. Do I make as much money as before? No. But do I have more time for the things I love? Yes. And since time and passion are my core motivators that means I’m running a successful business.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

This depends so much on your skill set and circumstances. Lots of people don’t have the luxury to even consider invention development consultants, me included. My only option was striking out on my own, but would it have been much easier, more successful much quicker with a consultant? Probably.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Personally, I’m team bootstrap. We’re a scrappy team from the ‘worst’ zip code in Memphis so the struggle and the lean-ness is almost second nature to us. We also have a no-debt rule, we pump all funds back into the business slowly and gradually and if we don’t have the money for something in particular we find a way around it.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As I’ve mentioned before Zach and I live in S.E. Memphis, willingly, cheerfully. We love it for many reasons, but a quick google search will show you that Memphis is the most dangerous city in America with 400% more gun violence than the national average. Our neighborhood is very near and dear to our hearts and the minute we saw the financial projections for our latest project we knew we wanted to harness the power of NFTs to solve IRL problems. So we made our first year of business goal to give away $250,000 to our local community!

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

To not just donate to or do good things for marginalized communities, but to become associated with them. Make poverty, gun violence, school to prison pipeline, wealth gaps, discrimination YOUR problem, not just someone elses. I would love to see a movement of not just talking about how to make the ‘bad’ neighborhoods ‘good’ — but how to bring out the good that is already present in them. Make that community you care about, your community. The ‘bad schools’ matter more now because your kids go to them. Those neglected streets and over-policed neighborhoods are more important because you drive that road every day, and watch neighbors you love wrongfully targeted. We must bear each other’s burdens, sometimes at the expense of our own comforts and ideas of ‘safety.’

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Michelle Obama. She’s a woman full of integrity, ambition, self-lessness, compassion and genius. I would just love to sit in her presence and soak in her wisdom.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Ashley Bush Of The Chameleon Collective On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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