Starting a Successful Business Is Like Recording a Hit Song

Question: What was the need The Container Store set out to meet?

Kip Tindell: It’s interesting; you asked what was the problem? What was the need because we’re joyful about the fact that we’re the rare solutions-based retailer as opposed to an items-based retailer? We want you to come in and say, you know, my closet is driving me absolutely crazy. I have to do something. Or my kids’ toy storage area is just – can you help me? And that’s what we’re all about. I mean, it’s storage and organization. The Container Store, everything to organize your life. Organization is more and more important as we all have not only less and less space, but even more importantly, less time. And so we created – these are big 25,000, 30,000 square foot stores filled with everything imaginable to organize your kitchen, your pantry, your office, but really your life; saving space, keep things organized and ultimately save you time. And I think of all the commodities that one can be selling, time may be the very best. So there’s a Zen quality to being organized, to saving time. Even in the way that you pack your luggage on a trip.

And you know, we started with one tiny little store in Dallas, Texas in 1978 and well, I like to joke, but that was my dad, but it really was me. And $35,000, you know, not much capital at all to start with, even in 1978. And we’ve grown a little over 25% a year since inception. In fact, our compounded annual growth rate is still 26%, 27%. Not helped by this great recession, but we’re back to a strong 11% or 12% sales gains now, which is delightful after going through single digit declines during the recession.

Question: What is a solutions-oriented business?

Kip Tindell: Well solutions-based just means that there’s extraordinary service. No one had ever done a store devoted to storage and organization. It truly is an original concept. We were excited by that, but it was all really driven by the product. We got so excited about these storage and organization products. Most of which were commercial or industrial in nature. Nobody had ever done this for consumers, but businesses were kind of aware of the need to save space and time, so we would take products that were usually never been sold retail before from the commercial or industrial areas and you would wind up with some really exciting things. These egg collection baskets that were really designed to collect eggs, you know, chicken eggs, and we would use those as a gardening organizing tool or leaf burning bins that were designed to burn leaves in and that became something that you would store swimming pool toys and apparatus in. It was the most unusual collection of products that I think had ever been put together in a little 1,600 square foot store.

And when people saw them, they went nuts. And when we saw them we went nuts. And so the product actually drove the concept. We were thinking about furniture at one point and we said, “Oh no, this functional stuff that saves you time and space, that’s a neat idea. Let’s do that.” And it was such a great relief that we were so busy after the second or third week that we missed that whole entrepreneurial terror of if we were going to make it or not. We knew this thing was going to be successful right off the bat.

When you hear a great song for the first time, you go, “I bet as soon as they recorded that they knew they had a hit on their hands.” We were very fortunate by the second or third week that the store was so crowded that we said, “Ah-ha, this is what we thought would happen.”

The idea of a store built around organization in an increasingly disorganized world was a winner from the outset.

  • Climate change is no longer a financial problem, just a political one.
  • Mitigating climate change by decarbonizing our economy would add trillions of dollars in new investments.
  • Public attitudes toward climate change have shifted steadily in favor of action. Now it's up to elected leaders.

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

Photo credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
  • The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
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