Failure as Key to Success: Kevin Hancock ’01
The seed for Kevin Hancock’s television-framing business was planted by accident. In 2001, when he went to mount his flat-screen TV on the wall of his new condo, he discovered that the electrical outlet he had installed was an inch too high. “I had measured wrong for the outlet, and had to figure out how to hide it.” So he made a frame to hide the outlet.
He didn’t think much about it until five years later, when he hit a bump in the road of life. At the time he had a successful freelance photography business, with Norwich as his primary client. When the university decided to hire a full-time staff photographer, Hancock was faced with a dilemma. He wanted the job, but he’d be making less than half what he was earning as a freelancer, and would have to sell his home and move.
Hancock had put all his eggs in one basket, and now that basket was gone. “I was struggling…facing bankruptcy. I really was. It was scary.”
It wasn’t the first time he had failed at something. From a young age, Hancock had his dreams set on a career in the Navy. He even received a congressional nomination to the Naval Academy out of high school—two, in fact. When he wasn’t accepted to Annapolis, he was devastated. “I was crushed,” says Hancock. Waxing philosophical, he adds, “It was making way for something else.”
As it turned out, that “something else” was Norwich.
Shortly after his Naval Academy rejection, Hancock received a Norwich admissions brochure in the mail; it mentioned a ski slope on campus. “I was like, Heck yes. Sign me up!” His dad drove him 16 hours from Ohio for a campus visit. There he met with Skip Davison and was accepted into the electrical engineering program on the spot. About that ski slope? “On the campus tour was when I learned that they hadn’t updated the admissions brochure, and they no longer had a [commercial] ski hill on campus,” he laughs.
Hill or no hill, Hancock enrolled at Norwich that August, and simultaneously reapplied to the Naval Academy. Two months later he was accepted. But by that time, Norwich’s golden lasso had him firmly roped. “I was so happy…so content. I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Hancock says going to Norwich was “the best decision I ever made.” For one, it introduced him to Dahnyell Caslow ’97, who became the unwitting catalyst for Hancock’s foray into entrepreneurship. A former Air Force ROTC instructor at Norwich, she and Hancock met on the Hill. They became friends, and after Hancock graduated and moved to Lowell, Mass., she made a habit of stopping in to visit him on her way to and from Logan Airport. During a visit not long after he had stopped taking pictures for Norwich, Hancock was venting over his desperate financial situation. She responded by saying, “You know, I love that frame on your TV.”
He didn’t get it at first. “I said, ‘Dahnyell, focus. I’ve got a problem!’ and she goes, ‘No, I really like that.’”
That time, he listened. Doing a little research, Hancock discovered that 600 people a day were searching on Google for the phrase, “TV frame,” but only one company was selling them—and for a very high price tag. That was his aha moment. “I was like, hmm…maybe there is a demand here.”
Check out Kevin’s frames at FrameMyTV.com… and don’t forget to mention Norwich for a discount.
Already broke, Hancock figured he had nothing left to lose. He threw everything he had into launching his idea, including maxing out his credit cards and working 100 hours a week, every week. Knowing absolutely nothing about starting a business, he used his Norwich-honed problem-solving skills to figure out whatever it was that needed doing. Six months of sweat equity later, he got his first break: On his 27th birthday, Hancock signed a contract with The Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach for 560 frames.
This year marks the 10th anniversary since FrameMyTV’s humble beginnings as a one-man shop in Hancock’s garage in Lowell. The company now employs nine people to make frames in the U.S., and several more worldwide to handle the administrative and technical aspects, including his website. A little over a year and a half ago, Hancock scored his biggest deal yet: “We framed every TV at the new $4 billion Wynn Resorts property in China.” This March, he took his first vacation since starting the business.
He is the first to admit it hasn’t been easy. Many times he was so discouraged he was ready to throw in the towel. “When a mistake happens and you feel like it’s the end of the world, it’s hard to see that silver lining,” Hancock says. “What I learned from those mistakes is how to dust your knees off and get up and keep going. The ‘I will try’.”
No one succeeds alone, and Hancock acknowledges he has had lots of support and encouragement along the way—from one person in particular: Norwich alumnus Jack Abare ’57. “I believe everything in life happens for a reason, and if I hadn’t met Jack, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Hancock says. When he asked Abare how he might repay him for all his kindness, he was told to simply pay it forward. “Jack said, ‘A lot of people come to me and ask for advice, but you’re probably the only one I know of who’s actually taken it and acted on it.’” Acting on Abare’s advice again, Hancock now gives a presentation in schools. The title? “Failure.”
Having experienced both failure and success, Hancock knows that one leads to the other, and, if he had to start over with something new, he could. “That’s been the most important discovery. Learning you can do it—that you’re capable of doing it, no matter what. That’s empowering,” Hancock says. “I keep reminding myself, if this business suddenly went belly up tomorrow, I could do it all over again. I don’t know what it would be, but I could do it all over again.” – D.L.W.