Art Of The Deal
Staff Writer
Jerry Cahn, a professor of strategic management at Baruch College, is also a serial entrepreneur. The Upper West Sider, whose varied career includes work on Capitol Hill and a stint as director of research and evaluation at Planned Parenthood, has launched three companies with the same name: Brilliant Image. He sold the first, a presentation graphics company, in 1999 to C2Media. The second, which he later renamed Target 3 Communications, is a branding, investor/public relations and marketing communications firm.       He recently launched the third company, now re-branded as MyLife-MyArt, which turns prized family photos into large, canvas-sized paintings. “People get it; I take a picture of my life and I turn it into my art,” he says. “It’s all about giving nachas [a sense of being proud].”   Cahn’s goal is to build solid businesses. He’s also passionate about mentoring the next generation, and boasts of having managed and advised more than 500 interns throughout the course of his career.       So when his 12-year-old twin sons, David and Jack, who attend Ramaz, needed help brainstorming a bar mitzvah project, Cahn offered them a business proposition: He’d help them design a Web site similar to MyLife-MyArt that would allow people to transform their bar mitzvah pictures into larger-than-life canvas paintings. The twins, in turn, would be responsible for marketing and selling the pictures. All proceeds from these sales would go to a charity of the twins’ choice.      In bucking the trend, Cahn hopes to instill in the boys not only the value of chesed and tzedakah, but also an entrepreneurial mindset.      “Most of the bnei mitzvah projects are like bake sales — you raise money and then you forget about it,” Cahn says. “I wanted to help the boys build something that lasts beyond us. That’s why I build businesses.”      The Cahn twins, who are identical, liked the idea. And so, MyMitzvah-MyArt was born. “The canvas paintings are really nice; we have one in our living room of me and David at Bear Mountain,” says Jack, with the confidence of a seasoned salesman. “The more paintings people order, the more money we raise for charity.”     Noticing that many friends travel to Israel for the holidays and to celebrate their bar/bat mitzvahs, the entrepreneurs-in-training decided to launch a sister Web site, MyIsrael-MyArt, which converts favorite photos from Israel trips into digital paintings. The profits will also be earmarked for charity.      “We decided to raise money for Meshi Educational and Rehabilitative Center in Israel, which helps children overcome their disabilities,” says Jack. “If we can help someone when they’re younger, that’s better. Plus we can relate to them more.” The twins learned about the Meshi School during a presentation at the Safra Synagogue.      The boys plan to advertise MyMitzvah-MyArt in school newspapers and by spreading the word among their friends and acquaintances. “I want them to see the power of referral marketing at work,” Cahn says.    To jumpstart “buzz,” the Cahns began marketing the project by donating gift certificates for digital paintings to several day schools’ Chinese auctions  WHAT’S A CHINESE AUCTION?, where sample paintings were displayed. Cahn, a psychologist by training, is employing the psychological principle of “adoption of innovation” — simply put, the belief that people are more likely to buy something when they see it on display at the home of someone they respect.     “You need to see the product to appreciate it,” he says, adding that while competitors sell enlarged photos, his digital paintings are two inches deep and when gallery wrapped (the photo stretches across the sides and is not framed), they seem to float off the wall.      David and Jack are already learning to be savvy businessmen. “They’ve approached me and said, ‘Dad, how do we squeeze more profit out of this to raise more money for Meshi?’” Cahn recalls, with audible pride. “They’re pushing to make it even more efficient.”     In addition to raising money for The Meshi School, the Cahns plan to partner with several Jewish organizations so that proceeds from the sale of paintings can benefit a variety of charities. “My sons asked me, ‘What if everyone uses a nonprofit code — then MyLife-MyArt will die!’” Cahn recalls. But Cahn isn’t worried. “I don’t think people will abuse it.”      The Cahns plan to deliver the first check to the Meshi School this summer. “Next February, around their bar mitzvah, we hope to go to Israel with bigger checks,” he says.   In the meantime, the twins’ younger brother, Daniel, is helping out, too, and hoping MyMitzvah-MyArt succeeds. “Just make sure it continues, so when it comes to my bar mitzvah, I can do something, too,” Daniel told his father.