This guest post comes from good friends who created and are now marketing a game that helps young children learn to read.
My wife and I consider ourselves well educated business people. We collectively have 25 years of real world business experience. Yet, when we began our entrepreneurial adventure to create sight word games, we failed to appreciate a few obvious realities.
Is Patience One of Your Virtues?
College business classes taught us that it is important to be the first to market. Why didn’t they also stress not to rush to market? Maybe they did and it just didn’t stick. My wife and I learned this latter lesson the hard way. Two years ago we went to production and were the first to market with a board game that uses sight words and basic phonics to move through “literacy land” – the game board. While we spent considerable time, money and effort designing the game board and game cards, we failed to pay similar attention to the packaging. We were up against the choice of going to market with a rather plain black box top and receiving the games in time for the holiday season or spending additional time and money to develop a flashy enticing box top and missing the holiday season. Despite some hesitation, we became impatient and chose the black box and rushed to market.
This turned out to be a significant mistake. The black box has been a “show stopper” for numerous retail stores that we were courting in hopes they would carry our game. We will never forget one gentleman, who owned a chain of eight toy stores say, “I love the concept, the game board and the cards.” (We were thinking cha-ching.) Then he asked, “What does your packaging look like?” After we showed him the black box he said “I cannot sell this in my store – if you change your packaging, let me know.” After hearing similar messages from a few other retailers, a few months ago we decided to spend the time, effort and money to fix our packaging. Had we not rushed to market we would have saved considerable coin and probably be in 60 toy stores instead of the 30 we are currently in.
Do You Like Roller Coasters?
Over the past couple years we have learned that entrepreneurs need to be adept at riding roller coasters – well at least emotional roller coasters. The frustrations and disappointments encountered when running your own business are more severe lows than those felt when working for “the boss.” Similarly, the excitement and satisfaction felt when you succeed as your own boss eclipses the highs felt when working for someone else. When we began our business we did not realize this phenomenon, despite being rather logical. Most entrepreneurs pour their heart, soul, pride, reputation, thousands (or more) of their own money, and countless hours into their venture. Most people cannot say that about a job in corporate America. Entrepreneurs simply have more at stake and more to gain.
We have had many emotional ups and downs over the past couple years. A recent week in early November provides a particularly good example. On Friday we were in the last stages of proofing our second product, a sight word activity & coloring book focused on basic reading concepts. Over that weekend we each planned to perform one last proof before going to print with 5,000 copies. We knew the printing company was making the press plates over the weekend so any changes would be costly. But we did not expect to find any mistakes since the book had already been proofed multiple (at least 25) times by many different people.
We were feeling pretty good that we were about to launch our second product and hopeful that months of hard work was about to pay off. Then we found a mistake. We realized that the font that we bought to help illustrate each letter’s formation was outdated. After a weekend of pondering what to do, we called the printers on Monday and told them to stop the presses. They had already made the plates. As a result, they said there would be an $850 additional charge. To add insult to injury our print job lost its place in the queue and would be delayed three to four weeks. We were certainly on an emotional roller coaster – just two days prior everything was roses. Despite thoughts of throwing in the towel, we bit the bullet, kept the faith, and pressed forward.
Two days later, we received a substantial order from a school district for the Erudition board game. Then, the next day, one of our retailers placed the second largest order in our history. We sold more games that week than any other week to date. We were back on an emotional high. That week’s events drove home something about entrepreneurship; it is full of emotional highs and lows.
Are You a Collector of Hats?
Entrepreneurs should also enjoy wearing hats – many different ones. Most new business ventures are strapped for at least two things; money and personnel. As a result, new entrepreneurs often need to be a jack-of-all-trades. Whether the start-up plans to deliver products or services, there are many aspects of running a business unrelated to the primary business focus. Tasks like marketing, accounting and negotiating contracts are just a few of the new adventures that new business owners encounter on a regular basis. While there are ample advertising agencies, CPAs and lawyers that are happy to take care of these tasks and bill hundreds of dollars an hour, many new entrepreneurs simply cannot afford to outsource many of these jobs.
In our case, we chose to outsource most of the graphic design work, but tackled the other tasks ourselves. Some of the areas were totally foreign to us. However, through the help of friends (thank you DoughRoller) and the power of the internet (thank you Google and Bing) we were able to create a website, handle the accounting and tax issues, copyright and trademark our products, and negotiate contracts with manufacturers without paying for professional services. While certainly frustrating and overwhelming at times, researching and learning to perform these tasks ourselves proved personally rewording and kept our costs down.