Jay Sparks, Director of the Steven and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship – Photo by Abigail Wade

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a monthly column series that features insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

By Jay Sparks

In 1971, Carolyn Davidson’s good friend Phil was starting a business. He asked her to design a logo, something simple that could be cut out and stitched easily since he was creating some apparel pieces. Carolyn was a graphic design student and he was offering her above-minimum-wage hourly pay for the design. She did some research into Greek mythology as well as simplified design and came up with a logo she thought might meet his needs. Phil didn’t really like it that much, to be honest, but it would be simple to embroider on his sporting goods. Carolyn submitted a bill for 17.5 hours of work for the design, and Phil invoiced her for the $35 he owed her at $2 per hour.

And thus, the Nike swoosh was born.

The marketing agency Rob Janoff worked for in 1977 had acquired a new client, an upstart tech company. He was tasked with creating a logo for that company, and the only guidance he received from the guy in charge over there was, “Don’t make it cute.” He went to the grocery store for some props and sat down with his sketchbook and drew, repeating the same basic shape over and over and over again until he found the simple lines of what he was seeing. He presented a few options to the company two weeks after getting the assignment and, strangely, the option with awkward rainbow colors was the one the “don’t make it cute” CEO chose. His marketing agency was paid $1,500 for the logo assignment and was contracted to use the logo in some future sales brochures.

It might be within eyesight or under the fingers of many of you right now. The bite-out-of-the-Apple logo that Rob created has graced some of the most successful computers, phones, tablets and music players ever sold.

John Pasche’s art school career in London had been going fine, three years in, when the school came to him because a group had contacted them about creating a logo. Twice John had brought drafts to the group’s frontman and twice he had turned down those efforts. In that second pitch, John came away with a piece of religious art that the group’s lead really liked and the encouragement from him, “You can really do better, John.” He honed in on some of the standout details in that art, and with his two-dimensional style, he rendered an almost obscene cartoonish logo that the group loved. He received £50 in 1970 for his two weeks’ worth of work on the logo.

The rest of the world loved the Rolling Stones’ new logo as well, and 52 years later those lips and tongue have appeared on every album the band has released and is synonymous with an era of classic rock and roll.

There is no tried-and-true way to work with a newly minted entrepreneur. Just like a pair of Nike shoes, new entrepreneurs can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Simple, clear and bold ideas should inform a new entrepreneur’s choices, in just the way Apple has built its brand identity. And while new entrepreneurs don’t get it right on the first or second times, great things usually happen when they listen to their potential customers and keep working toward a stated goal.

The other piece that these three stories have in common, besides being wildly underpriced for the value they have provided in the long run, are the stories themselves. New businesses reach out to their friends, students and small firms with the resources at their disposal (even Apple’s $1,500 in 1977 is worth less than $8,000 today) for something as important as their logo, which will define them publicly.

Taken as stories, these anecdotes illuminate how business formation happens in the real world, in real time. They show just how important small early decisions are to the lifespan of any group. There is a quote that goes (paraphrasing), “When people think of traveling back in time, they are fearful of taking even the smallest actions for all of the drastic changes it could affect in the future. And yet people here and now do not believe that their small actions today could do the same.”

New entrepreneurs usually make tiny and small decisions at a breakneck pace during the beginning of their business journey. Those decisions have ripple effects, and the resources and partners that are accumulated during that time become forever joined with the business. Sometimes that looks like creating a bite-out-of-the-Apple logo, and sometimes that’s us sharing a new website with our social media network.

Be a part of the stories of your friends’ entrepreneurial journeys, and remember to do so when you see those iconic swooshes, fruits and lips in your daily life.

It should be easy – they’re everywhere.

Jay Sparks is the director of Columbia College’s Steven and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship, housed in the Robert W. Plaster School of Business. He previously worked as the entrepreneurship coordinator for the Columbia-based Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI).