Reframing Yourself and Your Business: Take a Page from a Master Who Evolved into an App

"Constancy is the hobgoblin of little minds," says Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sometimes we are in need of the "refresh" button. The ability to morph and change our ideas is essential for personal and business growth.
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"Constancy is the hobgoblin of little minds," says Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sometimes we are in need of the "refresh" button. The ability to morph and change our ideas is essential for personal and business growth. For maximum personal growth, it is healthy to evolve and change. Like an unused muscle, we will soon atrophy without evolution. The goal is to keep some of our "old" ideas and integrate some of the "new technology." We should be open-minded and looking for new ideas which can refresh existing business when it comes to keeping pace with today's consumers. We must think of increasing revenue by extending our brands and even doing good in the community. It is a "feel-good" experience for our minds, souls and bank accounts.

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a man who is the epitomizes the sort to whom Emerson was referring. Let me begin by "framing" this man for you. He is an "old master" in the middle of New York City. He is the type of guy who really is a modern-day maverick but in a simple and quiet way. He is a true Renaissance man. For me, he has the vision to take his "old master" expertise and catapult it into the digital age and with a great non-profit spin to boot! He is someone in whom you should be quite interested. His name is Eli Wilner. What man can have one foot planted so firmly in each world so to speak? Read on...

Eli Wilner's fascination with painting began at a very early age. By the time he was 9 years old, he gave his paintings and pastels to his great uncle, who was a prominent collector in New York City. His uncle would frame Eli's work in antique 17th and 18th century Italian frames. He would then hang Eli's paintings on his wall next to a collection of masters like Chagall, Modigliani, and Utrillo. When Eli saw his paintings installed in his uncle's collection, he began dreaming of being a great artist. His "art" evolved into establishing himself as the premiere framer in the world.

Probably the most universally recognizable painting ever framed by Wilner is Emanuel Leutze's iconic Washington Crossing the Delaware for The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the Museum's request, Wilner reviewed it continually for many years, seeking a perfect new frame for this masterwork. The opportunity arose in the summer of 2006 when a photograph taken by Mathew Brady in 1864 was discovered in the archives of the New York Historical Society. This photo showed the painting in its original frame! The obvious answer was to copy the original frame. The money for this project was raised very quickly and the work proceeded for 2 years. The frame is now completed and resting safely at the Met. The grand opening is slated for January 2012. Although the exact price for this frame is unknown, Wilner says it would be fair to say that the price would be anywhere from $800,000 -- $1,200,000.

Eli Wilner is fortunate to have been asked to frame two of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction: Dora Maar au Chat for Sotheby's (May 3, 2006), and Nude, Green Leaves and Bust for Christie's (May 6, 2010).

What can we learn from Eli? How did this guy who studies the old master's paintings, antiques and historical frames get interested in an iPhone app? The story of his iPhone app really began many years ago. According to Wilner, he had originally conceptualized a way in 1988 to "share the joy of his work" with the public. It began with the invention of a magnet frame, a photographic print of a frame from his collection adhered to a magnetized backing. It didn't pan out.

Fast forward to the present, when Wilner read a cover article on "apps" in Business Week in November 2009 which triggered an immediate response. In that instant, he began to understand the value of the 1 billion images which are uploaded to Facebook each day, and the billions of images which are stored in Flickr, etc. He knew that his dream of sharing work with millions of individuals was attainable through this new technology. After much hard work, the app went live on June 19th.

Now, Eli Wilner frames are available in an iPhone and iPad app which allows the "masses" to frame their own "masterpieces" or photographs based on over 100 styles which are derived from Eli Wilner's past and present inventory. This is just as he had dreamed as a little boy. In fact, there is a great enthusiastic boyishness about Eli and his vision for his new brand extension.

Outside of this blatant "commercial" for Eli and his frames, what are the business lessons that we can learn? How can we benefit from the brand extensions and forward thinking of Eli Wilner?

First, he was able to be focused on a dream and then he achieved it. He imagined and produced a world-class digital product from a world-class "bricks and mortar" product. He takes old antique and historical frames and makes them new again. He continually reinvents and moves easily between the old world and the new.

One of the most important lessons to be learned about this app (and Eli's business model) is the "give back" to non-profit organizations which is essential for someone as passionate as Eli. Eli insisted on creating a way to use this product for viral fund raising by all kinds of groups. The non-profit component to this product is the "feel good" part of the "look good" frame. Successful businesses today must carefully consider their own social responsibility. At the bottom of this blog, there are links for free Wilner iPhone/iPad app products. Tell them April sent you.

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