Our Magic Shop Origin Story
My name is Joshua Jay: I co-founded a magic shop and this is my story.
I’ve dedicated my life to all aspects of magic: I’m on the road 300 days a year performing, and I’ve written a dozen books related to magic. I’ve invented a bunch of magic tricks and taught magic all over the world. And yet the biggest mark I’ve made, perhaps, is co-founding what is now considered the largest online magic shop in the world. I founded Vanishing Inc. with my best friend, Andi Gladwin. And this is the story, for anyone interested, in how we turned a mutual passion into a thriving business. I’m not sure if there are lessons to be learned here--you’ll see that it’s more a combination of right-time, right-place, luck, and a lot of hard work.
My Origin Story
I was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, and when I was seven years old my father did a card trick for me and did NOT tell me how it was done. This hooked me. The trick, as it turns out, was “Out of This World,” and when I saw it I was astounded. I went into my room and spent hours on the floor sorting through cards until...I figured it out. It was a different but no less-thrilling emotion to reverse-engineer a magic trick. I felt like a mad scientist in a workshop, and this trick was my Frankenstein. Then I went back to my father and showed HIM the trick he had shown me just hours earlier. Once again, the experience was thrilling, but this also tickled a slightly different emotion: this performance, for an audience of one, was theatrical and dramatic and exhilarating and felt like a chess match. It was my first-ever magic show.
That experience--of seeing a trick, solving it, and performing it--encapsulates my life to this day. I LOVE appreciating magic now as much as I loved seeing my first trick. And figuring out new methods or how to recreate a particular feat or trick, is still an itch I love to scratch. I adore figuring out how to do new tricks, and developing material for my shows. And finally, there’s performing. It’s a unique high unlike anything else, and I yearn to be onstage.
This origin story was a microcosm of my life, and that combination of all three elements hooked me forever.
Early Days in Magic
I was fortunate to have two supportive, inspiring parents, and both helped foster my love for magic. With their help, I put together my own show, and performed at school talent shows and birthday parties for kids who went to my school. By the time I was twelve, I was a busy local entertainer, performing at boy scout troops and Elks lodges for small fees. I was gaining performing experience.
I was experimenting with my own original tricks, too, though most of them were terrible in concept and cobbled together with duct tape and construction paper. Again, I was finding my way.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio meant there was no Magic Castle or youth programs or teachers. I had to figure things out on my own. I had to invent solutions to my problems. And while my solutions weren’t very good at the time, the tactics I was developing were enormously helpful. I was learning how to create magic in a systematic way.
I won a big contest in the 1990s called The Desert Magic Seminar. It was advertised on the back of all the major magic magazines. I put together an act in which a selected card was revealed shaved into the back of my head--I know, I know, but it sounded fun at the time. And I ended up winning this competition, which helped insert me into the magic stratosphere of conventions and shows. I was able to perform all over the world, and I started lecturing on my original ideas. Back home, when I wasn’t traveling, I was performing at three restaurants per week, working in close-up material that was, for the first time in my life, sort of interesting. I was getting better reactions with my magic, and finding a performing identity unlike the vanilla, generic “magician” I had been as a kid.
Meeting Andi Gladwin
I first met Andi Gladwin at the filming of Lance Burton’s Young Magician’s Showcase, a special you can still look up on YouTube. It featured a bunch of young magicians doing spots alongside one of magic’s biggest personalities: the incomparable Lance Burton.
A teenage Andi Gladwin appeared on the show in an ugly red suit. He was awkward teen mumbling his way through a parlor routine. Unfortuantely, I wore an uglier red suit and mumbled my way through my own routine, so I suppose we were destined to be friends.
Young Magicians Showcase cast
Although Andi lived across the Atlantic in England, I stayed in touch with him over the years, occasionally sharing original magic ideas and asking for feedback on tricks.
Years later, I had turned pro and was making a living performing and lecturing all over the world. When I came up with original ideas I sold them to other magic shops for fees that they could then market to magicians.
On a tour through England I stayed with Andi for a few days, and one night we waxed philosophical about what it might look like to go into business together. We talked about the “ideal” magic shop and how amazing it would be to own our company and feature the work of ourselves and our friends. We jammed on some card tricks and went our separate ways for the night. The next day Andi greeted me by saying, “I’ve got our name: Vanishing Inc.”
Within six months, we had a website and our first products: a book and trick by our friend Caleb Wiles. I filmed a few of our first downloads, and in April 2010 we were off and running.
The Early Days of Vanishing Inc
I suppose this isn’t entirely unique in business, but I’m grateful for our lean, early years because we were both forced to learn every role in the company. I assembled our first trick, Caleb Wiles’ “Holy Blank,” on my apartment floor while watching Seinfeld reruns. We filmed our first DVD, Prevaricator by Patrick Redford, in my apartment. Since we couldn’t afford a backdrop, we draped my rug over my NYC loft and...voila...a stylish backdrop. In the earliest days of Vanishing Inc, if you called to ask a question, you would speak to either me or...my mom.
Andi has always designed our website, and he has also designed every book we’ve ever published. He also designed all of our earliest packaging and ads (yes, we used to run ads in MAGIC Magazine which we received free in exchange for the columns I wrote).
When we could finally afford it, we moved our shipping operations to California, where we hired one lone team member to do all of our packaging, kitting, shipping and storage...and she did it out of her home! Those were lean times, and for the first three years or so, neither Andi nor I took one single dollar out of the company. We lived off of our performing careers while we made sure the company established a firm, reliable foundation. We were building a reputation.
Early into our company, we were able to take over two magic conventions that are cornerstones of our business even now. Andi had been running The Session magic convention in the UK since its inception. I joined the ranks to co-run this convention with him and we’ve grown it to be one of the largest and most acclaimed close-up conventions in Europe.
And in a classic case of right-place right-time, my childhood convention dream… Magifest, announced they were shutting down after nearly 70 consecutive years. Andi and I stepped in to see if we could take over the duties to run the convention. And in the time we’ve held the torch, we’ve grown the convention to over 1000 attendees. We’ve hosted some of the best stage shows I’ve ever seen, and grown the dealer’s room to one of the most happening places in our industry.
Each year, we’re most proud to present talent attendees have NEVER seen before. We bring in the big names, of course, but it’s the new faces and the many convention debuts we’ve orchestrated that make us most proud.
How We Run the Magic Store Remotely
Running a magic shop remotely isn’t what either of us envisioned for ourselves when we began, but the world has changed in some remarkable ways. We’re a team of twelve, and yet the “magic shop” runs out of seven different time zones, and entirely through computers.
The secret, I suppose, boils down to two things:
- Trust in our team
- Andi “The Man” Gladwin
Andi always tells me he feels deficient next to me when it comes to magic, because I’ve been a professional all my life. Meanwhile, he was in tech for the start of his career. But his tech background has proven invaluable to our business because Andi has tremendous experience and skill at managing a team. He knows how to get the most out of people, and how to interact with people who are all doing different things but with the same end goal. I am in awe of his work acumen, and he just keeps getting better.
We’re tough on our team members in the beginning, and if someone isn’t working out, they don’t last very long. But for those who do remain with us, they tend to remain with us for years. We take good care of our team members, and we care deeply about them as people. Everyone on our team pulls their weight, and the business keeps growing.
The Challenges We Have Faced
I suppose that if you’ve read this far, you might think that our progress has been a steady rise without much adversity. That’s far from the case.
As mentioned, we weren’t profitable at all in our first few years, and we chose to reinvest what money we did earn back into the company. Reputation and exciting projects always mattered to us far more than a hit trick.
We also survived the Great Recession, a time period marked not by extreme hardship, but by a general malaise in sales as many American families struggled to stay in their homes. The silver lining, I suppose, is that this downturn eliminated much of our competition. We survived--albeit leaner and without much to show for those two years--but we emerged stronger and with far less competition in the landscape.
Our current struggle is a good one: growing pains. Neither Andi nor I ever imagined we would be running a small corporation, but that is exactly what it’s turned into. When I decided to become a professional magician, I was seven years old. I assumed my work life would be consumed by stages and airplanes and magic effects. I never dreamed I would be examining health insurance plans for our team, or researching a warehouse to purchase, or hiring a lawyer to protect our intellectual property. We never thought we would have to go through hiring (or firing) team members, or that we’d need accountants and bookkeepers. That stuff is SO adult and so NOT magic. But, it comes with the territory.
As much as possible, Andi and I both prefer to remain on the creative side of our business, so we’ve put in place checks and balances and other positions to maintain the business aspects of our enterprise. We’d love it if we could just talk card tricks all day, but I’m happy to report that about 70% of our focus is on new projects and things related to magic. The other 30% is the necessary workload of running a company.
People often ask how I balance my performing career, my personal life, and Vanishing Inc. And I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question, since I doubt many outsiders would view my life as “balanced.” More like “obsessed.” When you love magic as much as I do, there isn’t much need for balance because balance implies that there can be too much magic.
I’m happiest when I’m focused on magic. There are times when I’m entirely locked in to our business, and there are times when I’m performing a show onstage. But no matter what I’m doing, I seem to be at my happiest when it’s something related to magic.
The Future of Vanishing Inc
We have SUCH ambitious plans for Vanishing Inc. For one thing, we run a charity associated with the business that seeks to help advance the art of magic, with a particular emphasis on young magicians. We have plans to expand this to events just for young magicians, and to continue supporting the College of Magic, our preferred beneficiary in the field.
We have plans to expand our publishing efforts too, even outside of magic.
We have plans to hold more curated events, based on the success of The Retreat.
We have plans to establish a headquarters where we can film, ship, and run our affairs from one place. These are major plans--dreams at this point--but we’re enthused about where we’ll be in ten years. And we hope to always be the magic shop where professionals learn their tricks.