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Howie G

I heard about ENTRE 472/473 (Creating a Company) during the summer after my junior year at the University of Washington when Connie Bourassa-Shaw, the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), recommended that I take it.

Creating a Company is a two quarter class taught by Professor John Castle, where students form teams, come up with a business idea, spend the first quarter planning the business and creating a business plan, and then spend the second quarter running the business. At the end of the first quarter funding is awarded to each team, anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars is given to each company (any revenue made during the second quarter of the class is given back to the class fund in order to fund the following quarter of classes).

My team formed over the first few days of class and quickly came up with an idea for the business plan. We decided we would make a drinking game kit to sell in stores and bars around the Seattle area. Each team member was given a position within the company; I was the chief operations officer.

The first several weeks of the course were spent researching the idea. Because our target age group was the same as our friend base, we used Facebook and SurveyMonkey to collect information about what games and supplies our target audience would want in the kit. We also found information on pricing and what stores people would expect the game to be sold in.

We also spent time finding pricing information for all of the parts that would go into the kits. Below is a picture of the logo we had created for our company: Bottoms Up Games.

Other members of the group spent their time talking to stores and bars, making a list of those who were interested in carrying the kit.

One week before we were supposed to present our business plan to investors, our project was cancelled. The business school, understandably, decided they would not fund a company that made a drinking game kit.

We were now forced to come up with a new plan in one week. Luckily one of our team members knew a local photographer, Howard Goldstein, who had at one point sold his photography in the form of cards and large prints. We decided to resurrect this company, and in one week we went from Bottoms Up Games to Howard Goldstein Photography.

The business plan was put together in about two days and we received $2,800 in funding from the class. We spent the next two weeks ordering framing materials and images to use at our first marketing event, an art gala at a local restaurant. The image below shows the framing operation we set up prior to the event (no one in the group had experience framing).

Photo: Stephanie Toler, Erik Roby, Khoa Pham (left to right)

We ended up with fifteen images for the event as well as bundled packs of cards which Howard had in inventory. The event was very successful with around 60 people and sales of almost $1,600. The two images below are from before and during the event.

The image below was taken of our team and professor at the event.

Photo: Sheila Bui, Stephanie Toler, Ben Resnick, Khoa Pham, John Castle, Erik Roby (left to right)

After our initial success we ran into some problems. All of our framed pieces had to be dismantled so the images could be mounted onto a thin piece of wood to keep them from warping. This added a significant amount of time and money to the framing process. We also had to spend extra time removing dust and hair from between the glass and matting.

During January we spent most of our time fixing the framing problems and attempting to get the framed pieces into stores with little success. At the beginning of February we had another gala with a much lower attendance. We were barely able to break even because of the cost from food and wine.

In mid-February we were able to get most of our framed pieces into a store in the Seattle area on consignment. We also signed up for a booth at the Seattle Home Show along with another company from the class. A picture of our booth at the event is shown below.

Shifts at the nine day event were split between all members of the group. At the event we had the leftover framed pieces as well as cards and smaller mounted images that Howard had in his inventory.

By the end of the quarter our company's total profit was close to zero, considering the number of framed pictures we had added to our inventory we looked at breaking even as a success. Overall the class was a great experience, it gave us a chance to see what it is like to start a company, including dealing with everything that does not go as expected. While we wish we would have had more time to plan our business during the first quarter, after looking at everything that did not go as planned, it is hard to say if extra planning would have made the business any more successful.

Team members: Sheila Bui, Khoa Pham, Ben Resnick, Stephanie Toler